‘Schools are a microcosm of society’: the quest to close Australia’s education gap | Australia news

At Keilor Views primary school in Melbourne’s western suburbs, teachers are always talking about “hitting the zone”.

“The zone of proximal development,” Helen Butler, the school’s assistant principal explains. “It’s the difference between what a student can and can’t do … the aim of every lesson is to hit the ZPD, to make sure every student is challenged.

“If it’s not working, we’re asking, ‘How do we go about hitting the zone for this kid?’”

By most measures, Keilor is a typical Australian public school. The socioeconomic background of its students is roughly standard, Naplan results are about the average and there is a growing cohort of students from a multicultural background.

But about 18 months ago Keilor began using the Evidence for Learning toolkit, a global database of education research that schools can use to introduce new teaching programs into the classroom.

The difference between it and the multitude of other education fads? The material is evidence-based and has plenty of research behind it.

These days, in classrooms and staff meetings, Kielor’s teachers and students are speaking and acting like education researchers.

“We started from the premise of simply looking at what works in the classroom,” Butler says. “For our teachers it’s about developing the capacity to identify the most effective research, employing it, and then evaluating it to make sure it has been working.”

The Evidence for Learning toolkit was introduced in Australia by the not-for-profit Social Ventures Australia (SVA), but was developed by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in the UK. The foundation was set up in 2011 with a £125m grant from the British government and a brief to establish a research base to help schools make better-informed choices as new needs-based funding was rolled out.

It’s an issue Australia is now grappling with. After the federal government secured the passage of the Gonski 2.0 funding arrangement in June, the education minister, Simon Birmingham, established a review panel to look at how the extra money should be spent.

Its terms of reference ruled out revisiting funding calculations and instead focused on how to improve student outcomes and Australia’s national performance, as measured by national and international assessments of student achievement.

The panel, headed by David Gonski, is due to report its recommendations to the government next year.

In the meantime, Sir Kevan Collins,…

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