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Dean Ashenden: An open letter to Tanya Plibersek MP

TJ Ryan Foundation Research Associate, Dean Ashenden, writes in Inside Story (5.3.18) that Labor’s shadow education minister, Tanya Plibersek, faces the problem of working out why school reform has failed, and what a federal education minister could do about it.

‘I write to you because you may well be the next federal minister for education, and the second most powerful figure, in a government with a mandate for significant change. And I write because the word is out that you are looking for bold policies for schools but not getting much help in developing them.

‘Boldness is badly needed — boldness in developing policy, in abandoning policies that haven’t worked, and in facing up to what can and can’t be done from Canberra. Above all, you will need to make a clear-eyed assessment of the educational achievements and failures of the last Labor federal government and its “education revolution.”

‘This means your priorities must be very different from those of the Rudd–Gillard and Abbott–Turnbull governments — and, indeed, significantly different from those you have flagged so far.

‘… The shift towards a grammar of that kind would (or will) bring with it a problem that the right kind of intellectual effort could help tackle: how can systems and schools make what they’ve got work better and at the same timemove towards what’s needed? Now here is something for an institute to do, not by “research” or even research and development, but by something closer to development-research-development, a well-organised, sustained interaction between thinking and doing.

‘Not every school system will see that as a priority, or not yet anyway, in which case such an institute could be (like the OECD) subscription-based. The role of a federal minister? You could float the idea and see how many hands go up. You could encourage, convene and, perhaps, use some of that $73 million to subsidise, but all within a clear understanding: this is your call, systems, not ours.’

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