Kevin Bates

Federal government feels the pressure on NAPLAN

President's comment, Kevin Bates, 21 February 2018

When Queensland teachers voted overwhelmingly to call for a review of NAPLAN, we knew that we had started something big. Recent comments by the Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham begin to tell us just how big this is going to get.

Two weeks ago, our own Education Minister, Grace Grace, called for a review of NAPLAN, the testing regime which has run for 10 years. With news that the ACT has joined Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia in supporting QTU and AEU calls for a review, the next Education Council meeting will surely have to consider this issue seriously.

Two national associations – one representing government secondary school principals and the other parents in Catholic and independent schools – have also supported our call for a review.

The message is loud and clear to everyone except Minister Birmingham, or so it would seem.

Birmingham has confirmed that our campaign is taking hold with an escalation of his comments, from a simple rejection of the call for a review just a week ago to this:

“Opponents of accountability should cease running scare campaigns against NAPLAN and realise that if they just treated it as a part of the child’s regular assessment then much of the excessive attention it gets would simply vanish.” Brisbane Times, 20 February 2018 

It is hard to imagine a more internally contradictory statement, but let’s look at what the Federal Minister is really saying.

  • NAPLAN is not a diagnostic tool to inform teaching practice but an accountability measure.
  • Teachers, principals and parents raising concerns about the impact of NAPLAN on the wellbeing of children constitutes a scare campaign because the Minister has no intention of recognising the possibility that the tests may have negative consequences for students and families which outweigh any educational value.
  • The teachers, principals and parents raising concerns are the cause of the excessive attention given to NAPLAN, rather than the blatant misuse of data through MySchool, conservative government policies to tie student NAPLAN results to teacher pay, and the fixation of public commentators (including the Minister and ACARA) on creating competitive “league” tables purporting to compare student results across schools as a measure of performance.

One thing is clear, we have hit the federal government hard around its entire “reform agenda” by bringing into question the educational validity of NAPLAN. Indeed, a raft of “reforms” it has proposed simply cannot be delivered if schools are not required to do NAPLAN.

This should be all the motivation we need to redouble our efforts to oppose NAPLAN Online and get a review of NAPLAN supported by all eight states and territories. With a genuinely independent review that looks at all the features, impacts and contexts of NAPLAN, we have a chance to shape the future of our education system in a more positive way.