Tuesday 10 September 2019

Hansard of the Legislative Council
National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy


[4.25 pm.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I am ebbing and flowing with this because what the member for Murchison has said is right.  It is a positive suggestion to go from this motion to the Government because the Government has said, 'No, we have looked at this and are not of the mind to agree because of point (7).  Was it only about point (7) that you disagreed with the motion, Leader?

If three other states have joined in this review, we should be part of that and should join in - get on the coat-tails and join in, because here is an opportunity to drill down to get the terms of reference and, as the member for Murchison said, influence those terms of reference and be part of that new review. This is where this whole operation of NAPLAN should be going.  It should be reviewed for good or ill - to find out what is actually happening, whether there are better ways of doing this assessment through the schools, of improving the literacy and numeracy, or, through that, the development of our children, and whether there are better ways we can be going about it.

Being part of this review would enable us to be at the table and we would get across information as it evolves from this gathering of states.  If you had one renegade state suggesting this is all bahfooey, that is okay.  Here we have very well considered situations from three states that are saying we should have this.  I say, 'Hop onboard and be part of it'.

I do not agree with the review.  I agree with the more positive motion of saying the Government should join the breakaway review.
[5.17 p.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, most of what is contained here has been mentioned already so there is no need to go over that, although there are some good observations about the education system and what is happening here in Tasmania and generally.  I will save that for another time when we might be talking about education.

There seems to be plenty of evidence supporting much of the criticism of NAPLAN, including the member for Elwick's points.  The aim of NAPLAN was to improve student educational outcomes in literacy and numeracy.  However, over the 10-year period we have not seen NAPLAN improve the student outcomes.  It has failed in its main purpose.  One of the people I spoke to was the former principal of the Launceston College, Keith Wenn.  Over the years he was part of my electorate and I dealt with him on education issues.  He had a lot of opinions about the education system.  This may come as no surprise to you.

Mr Dean - It probably got him transferred.

Mr FINCH - He has been a close observer of NAPLAN since its inception and says it is a waste of time.  He sent me an email that said good teachers and good schools already undertake diagnostic testing.  What we really need is to replace the generally ineffective Principal Network Leaders in the Tasmanian Education department with capable skilled professionals who have the position power to ensure all teachers are providing learning programs and specialised diagnostic testing in line with the diverse needs of their class.  Many teachers need that support, given the enormity of the tasks teachers face.

Keith Wenn put forward an alternative plan to NAPLAN.  I said earlier that NAPLAN has failed in its purpose to improve educational outcomes in literacy and numeracy.  It must be modified or replaced.  There are a number of alternative tests available around the world, tests which better reflect students' needs, and the important role of tests is to influence and guide the individual student's learning program.  It is not to compare schools or states, which is totally counterproductive and becomes a political tool.

The member for Elwick's motion points to the cooperation we have already debated between Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales.  On that comprehensive review he suggests Tasmania should join them.  I agree with the situation, as I have already suggested.

It is time to ditch a process that, as the member points out, has led to a decade of debate on standardised testing with little improvement as a result.  We will not go over that word again.

I want to truncate the notes I have here and see if there is something that might add some new aspect.

About the nationwide division of opinion with regard to the value of the NAPLAN assessment strategy, there also seems to be a flawed assumption that students bring their best to NAPLAN testing.  After a decade of implementation, attitudes towards NAPLAN have become more negative and cynical, and therefore the validity of the level of application by students during the assessments themselves is in question.  There are also ongoing concerns by educators that the NAPLAN assessment should not be the defining strategy upon which to measure literacy and numeracy standards.  Schools already have a vast amount of data based on formative and summative assessments, accrued over time, that is more valuable and reliable as a measure upon which to determine students' literacy and numeracy ability.

Ms Rattray - That was exactly the response to a question we asked, or the member for Windemere asked, through the Estimates process, about what else schools do in assessing students.  They made it very clear in their contribution that they do not only use NAPLAN, they also use a number of other tools.

Mr FINCH - I wanted to declare my vested interest as I have two sons who are teachers.  Do I win?

Ms Rattray - Yes, I think you do.  One daughter, one sister.

Mr FINCH - I highlight teaching is becoming harder and a less appealing career.  Not the case with my two sons, I might point out.  Both are enjoying their time.  But generally, teachers have increased workloads, high expectations, crowded curriculum, and are working with a more diverse range of students and high levels of accountability.  The teaching profession is struggling to retain teachers and keep them healthy.  There is a high turnover in teaching staff, which limits schools in adopting effective whole-school approaches to developing literacy and numeracy.  Data suggests almost 50 per cent of trained teachers leave the profession after five years.  Can that figure be disputed?

Mr Dean - Is that right - 50 per cent?

Mr FINCH - Okay.  I can go on about the hours our primary teachers are required to spend in schools during a year 1 to year 6 period and how elevated that is compared to other countries like Finland, which we have already heard some discussion about.  The Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development in its report on classroom instruction suggested the hours that should be spent in classrooms during those periods is far less -

Mrs Hiscutt - Before you move on, I would like to clarify your last comment about teachers leaving is not the case in Tasmania.

Mr FINCH - Okay, that was a general comment.

Mr Willie - What is the figure in Tasmania?

Mr FINCH - Can we take that on notice?

Mrs. Hiscutt - We can get that figure for you.

Mr FINCH - Thanks very much.  That was a general part of the presentation.  I did not come in with the Australian Council for Educational Research 2016 report which talked about the five challenges in Australian school education.  The curriculum was referred to as mile-wide, inch-deep and being perceived as crowded.  That was part of that report.

One of the other problems is the hours that teachers need to spend in schools.  I will not go down that track.  We have the importance of first years of life as a learner.  Therefore, programs and facilities specifically targeting these early years and the quality of experience they receive, like child and family learning centres, Parenting for Life, Launching into Learning and so on, are crucial in the holistic approach to improving literacy and numeracy.  However, engagement by preschool children in learning programs and initiatives is somewhat problematic because of issues such as autism and the increase in trauma and mental health disorders.  The impact of technology - I did have a lot of evidence on that and also the importance of the home environment.  These are all part of this issue of the changing environment in the education system. 

As a general statement, it may be prudent to consider the holistic approach to all aspects that impact the learning of literacy and numeracy.  It could be part of the review we have talked about.  In general, we need to acknowledge that the recent NAPLAN data suggests that focusing too narrowly on literacy and numeracy will not bring results.  It may be time to broaden our focus of support to improve the cognitive development of very young children, to support parents with learning more about their impact as role models, and teachers to support schools with whole-school approaches to teaching literacy and numeracy that actually work, to advance the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers, and to use a more appropriate range of assessment data upon which to base broad statements of student achievement.

I will leave my contribution there.  I support what is now an amended motion, Mr President.