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School fund strings risk hurting students

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February 12, 2018

The Grattan Institute says the government's Quality Schools policy is a step in the wrong direction.

The federal government is being urged to resist the temptation to intervene excessively in school education if it wants students to do better.

The Grattan Institute's school education specialists Peter Goss and Julie Sonnemann say the Turnbull government's 2016 Quality Schools policy - which outlines 15 potential new requirements for states to receive extra funding - was "a big step in the wrong direction".

"The extra commonwealth money for schools under Gonski 2.0 is welcome," they write in a new report.

"But for Australian students to get the most benefit, the commonwealth must resist the temptation to over-reach by intervening heavily in school education policy."

They point out the extra $23 billion the federal government has promised over the next decade is a relatively small proportion of all school funding and the overall reform agenda is mostly the responsibility of states.

They want to see a serious shift to focus on student growth rather than achievement.

If the commonwealth must attach strings to the money it gives to the states and territories, it should choose only a small number of reforms.

"If federal policymakers pull the wrong levers, the consequences can be very damaging," Mr Goss and Ms Sonnemann warn.

Instead, the pair wants the commonwealth to set up a new independent body to research teaching methods and widely disseminate information about what works best.

The Grattan report also recommends the government develop new diagnostic and digital tools for teachers to use in the classroom to quickly see how students are progressing, and invest in research into how best to measure non-cognitive and critical thinking skills.

It says that overall there needs to be a more "adaptive" school system that supports teachers to know what works best in their own classrooms.

The federal government has commissioned businessman David Gonski to lead a review of how to get the best bang for buck from its extra funding for schools.

His panel will report in March, but the government is already pushing for states to sign up to a number of measures including new phonics tests for Year 1 students.

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