Opinion | Sep 05, 2022

Australia’s ambition in jobs and skills start in the classroom

By Dallas McInerney, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Schools NSW

First published in the Financial Review 5/9/2022

In his remarks to last week’s Jobs and Skills Summit, the prime minister highlighted the need for more Australians to learn the skills required for a rewarding career; in the room were industry leaders who had come to Canberra with a common message, their businesses are struggling to find the right type or level of skills to meet Australia’s needs.

Like most large-scale public policy challenges, solutions will need to be farreaching and move beyond the immediate, the fi nal communique laid down somegood next steps, a white paper process will follow to provide long-range options.

The good news is that Australia already has a policy framework responding to the labour force challenges identified at the Summit; the Measurement Framework for Schooling has been in place since 2015 and oversees a suite of national and international school-based tests, the main component being the domestic NAPLAN (literacy and numeracy) assessments administered in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9.

NAPLAN is coupled with several international tests, such as the OECD’s Programfor International Student Assessment (PISA) which measures emerging attributesprized by employers of the latter 21st century, such as critical thinking andproblem-solving.

The labour force challenges reported by the business leaders confront all of us, every citizen has an interest in the success of an integrated economy, the ready supply of goods and services, and employment opportunities that support personal fulfillment.

Several of last week’s announcements focused on better engaging seniors and the semi-retired into the workforce as laudable as that might be, the real policy dividends will be reaped by foregrounding the needs of tomorrow’s workforce and that focus should start in our classrooms.

Thanks to the reforms pursued by successive governments, the average annual income of Australians has increased significantly over the past 40 years; a critical driver of this was a productivity measure in the form of higher educational attainment.

In 1970, only a third of Australian boys undertook the Year 12 HSC or equivalent; 50 years later, it is 75 per cent, and for girls, it is more than 80 per cent; the transformation of our human capital allowed Australian industry to reap huge opportunities in the global economy.

This pace of global change will continue, and as the world leaves behind the industrial and information revolutions for the uncertainty of the knowledge and human economies, it should prompt consideration of how assured our prosperity is continuing through the 21st century – and what will deliver it.

In the coming knowledge-based world order, there is the potential for our humancapital to reach the economic signifi cance of the commodities and agriculturalsectors of last century, certainly it will be an essential means of participation.

Noting the borderless workforce of tomorrow, Australia’s participation in these international tests provides rich comparative insights into the relative position of our students against global peers. Recent data for Australian students shows wehave work to do with static or declining performance in several key domains, writing for boys and numeracy generally, need an early focus.

NAPLAN continues to attract criticism from within and outside the education sector. Teacher unions were early and vocal critics of its design and alleged high-stakes impacts, and it’s to Julia Gillard’seternal political credit that she overcame opposition and put the focus on NAPLAN’s long-term benefits.

Over time, several reforms have taken the edges off these tests and increased their educational utility, with a rich longitudinal data set emerging that can be mined to inform classroom interventions and improvements. NAPLAN can be both a barometer of performance and a compass for future policy in the ongoing development of Australia’s knowledge and skills base.

Far from being a neo-liberal artefact that commoditises students, standardised testing can monitor and support the learning journey students as they prepare for post-school training, further study and ultimately, employment.

To not measure the progress of our students through 13 years of schooling wouldbe a failure of accountability, not to government, but to the students themselveswho deserve to have the full benefi ts of a quality education, there isn’t much equityin substandard literacy levels or limited employment opportunities.

An ongoing commitment to monitoring students’ progress and maximising their educational opportunities is vital for success, done correctly, the jobs of tomorrow will be theirs for the taking.

Latest News

Oct 04, 2023

Response to Disability Royal Commission report

Catholic Schools NSW supports the fundamental and universal right of all children to an education. Catholic education supports families in educating their children across a range of settings, including mainstream schools, support classes within mainstream schools and specialist settings. Catholic...
Read More
Sep 07, 2023

Discussion Paper: Patterns and Developments in Single-Sex Schools

Download the Discussion Paper: Patterns and Developments in Single-Sex Schools
Read More
Sep 06, 2023

2023 Annual Report: Aboriginal Education Outcomes in NSW Catholic Schools

Download the 2023 Annual Report: Aboriginal Education Outcomes in NSW Catholic Schools. 
Read More