Australian Greens Dissenting Report

Australian Greens Dissenting Report

1.1From the outset the framing of this inquiry has had the potential to demonise children and young people and punish parents and carers. Instead of considering the real issues that lead to students struggling and disengaging in classrooms, it has engaged with the topic in ways that are wholly detached from socioeconomic and psychosocial challenges.

1.2This inquiry should have started with the question ‘why are these students coming into school today feeling distracted, unheard or frustrated?’. We either believe that students are inherently ‘badly behaved’, or we can engage with the reality and circumstances of their lives and feelings:

… 72 per cent of children have been exposed to at least one adverse childhood experience such as bullying, family violence, sexual abuse, racism, neglect, death of a parent, parental mental health or substance use issues, food or housing insecurity or environmental disaster.[1]

1.3Evidence indicates that part of students struggling can stem from a failure of accommodation for disability. Autism CRC submitted that ‘students, including students with disabilities, may have difficulty communicating their needs and may express frustration if these needs are not understood or addressed’ and that this could ‘lead to the interpretation of behaviours as being disruptive rather than communicative’.[2]

1.4Students with a disability are disproportionately suspended and excluded.[3] This profoundly undermines the right to an education, and focusing on increasing support rather than removing it should be a priority.

1.5Information that Queensland Advocacy for Inclusion (QAI) obtained through right to information processes showed that nearly half of suspended and excluded students have a disability. Students from First Nations communities and students living in out-of-home care are also disproportionately represented in these statistics.[4]

1.6Everyone working in the education system has a right to feel safe, secure and protected in their workplace. Schools have a unique place in society, serving as both places of education and workspaces. Educators often bear the brunt of broader socio-economic challenges as one of the few institutional touchpoints for disadvantaged children. Ensuring that these workspaces are free from risk is critical.

1.7This can be partially addressed by expanding teacher training. However, this risks shifting the burden of student’s struggling wholly onto teachers, with the premise being that these teachers simply don’t know how to manage their classrooms.

1.8Critical to any expansion of professional learning opportunities is that teachers are provided with both the time and funding support. Mandating or increasing professional development, without increasing in parallel the amount of support and administrative staff, and a reduction in face-to-face teaching time, simply means a further expansion of teacher’s working hours, rather than a reduction. Teachers must have the time and space to actually take up development opportunities. Any expansion of professional development or curriculum must take this into account.

1.9Further, rather than assuming that behaviours of concern drag down literacy and numeracy, it is worthwhile to also interrogate whether the overemphasis on standardised testing leads to an environment that is more conducive to misbehaviour. This was referred to by Dr Helen Egeberg in the course of hearings:

Teachers tell us that their instructional time is being disrupted by testing, data collection and form filling. Research indicates the demoralising impact of incessant standardised testing. Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, the gurus of assessment for learning, pointed this out to us in their seminal work from 1998, explaining that as teachers we need to recognise the profound influence of assessment on students' motivation and self-esteem, both of which are crucial influences on learning and behaviour.[5]

1.10It is for similar reasons that an overemphasis on explicit instruction as a silver bullet removes the autonomy of teachers to cater to the students and classrooms that they know. Removing the ability for teachers to adapt their instruction in the classroom means a sliding disconnect between students and teachers. Education policy should fundamentally be about inspiring enthusiasm and enjoyment of learning. Dr Helen Egeberg noted that a study of early childhood teachers’ experiences of behaviour in their classrooms showed an increase in challenged behaviour with the onset of mandated explicit direct instruction in their classrooms.[6]

1.11Scripted routines and approaches are a profoundly simplistic way to manage students in a classroom. It demonstrates a failure to understand outside purposes, as well as removing any space for nuance and empathy and, importantly, freedom for teachers to manage their classrooms using their expertise and judgement.

1.12These recommendations are based on the premise that challenging teaching environments can be improved through increased training and a more rigid curriculum. In reality, and as the inquiry has borne out, it is not a problem of disruption, it is a problem of disregard and neglect by governments.

1.13Central to the issues of classroom conditions is the funding crisis in our public school system. Just 1.3% of Australian public schools are funded to 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS). Public schools are overwhelmingly responsible for teaching young people experiencing various forms of disadvantage or additional need. The immediate full funding of public schools should be the starting point for any reform.

Recommendation 1

1.14Fully fund public schools at the beginning of the next National School Reform Agreement in 2025.

1.15Final recommendations are reserved for the final report.

Senator Penny Allman-Payne

Substitute Member


[1]MacKillop Family Services, Submission 34, p. 1.

[2]Autism CRC, Submission 25, p. 6.

[3]Ms Sophie Wiggans, Systems Advocate, Queensland Advocacy for Inclusion, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 April 2023, p. 6.

[4]Ms Sophie Wiggans, Systems Advocate, Queensland Advocacy for Inclusion, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 April 2023, p. 6.

[5]Dr Helen Egeber, Senior Lecturer, Edith Cowan University School of Education, Proof Committee Hansard, 7 June 2023, p. 1.

[6]Dr Helen Egeber, Senior Lecturer, Edith Cowan University School of Education, Proof Committee Hansard, 7 June 2023, p. 1.