NAPLAN: A Rockhampton school principal opens up about why education standards are falling and what needs to be done.
NAPLAN: A Rockhampton school principal opens up about why education standards are falling and what needs to be done. Luka Kauzlaric

NAPLAN: School principal tells it like it is

THERE'S a collective concern across the country as NAPLAN results continue to show a flat or downward trend in the number of students meeting minimum standards.

The 2019 results showed only 60.6 per cent of Year 9 students performed above minimum standards.

So what is happening - does the problem lie in the education system or is the NAPLAN test itself the problem?

Heights College in Rockhampton is one school bucking the trend and principal Darren Lawson says calls to scrap NAPLAN "because you don't like the results is like smashing a thermometer because you don't like the temperature".

"All it does is tell you how literate the students are, it's just a temperature," Mr Lawson said.

"It's the education that produces the results."

Since results were released this week, social media has been alight with parents demanding answers and giving their own theories as to why children are under-performing, despite record government spending on education.

Teachers insist they are drowning in bureaucracy and begging to be "just allowed to teach".

 

Heights College Headmaster Darren Lawson chats about the school's NAPLAN success with  Year 7 students.
Heights College Headmaster Darren Lawson chats with Year 7 students in 2017. Maree Spencer

Heights College has been on "an improvement journey" and this year was the second highest-performing school in Central Queensland.

Mr Lawson has no doubt it comes from a focus on the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic.

"It's important we get those right," he said.

"We focus on those, not to the exclusion of all else but good teaching is about getting the kids literate, numerate and thinking."

He believes there are way too many "fads" in teaching that are not evidence-based.

"It will never produce results if we go down the road of fads," he said.

"There's way too much in the education system and sadly at teachers' colleges and that will never produce results."

He cited "whole language learning", which didn't teach phonics as one example, where kids were expected to look and guess without understanding the sounds letters made.

REMOVED: A Warwick mother has decided home schooling is the only option to protect her younger children from the relentless torrent of bullying that drove her son from the town and family he loved.
REMOVED: A Warwick mother has decided home schooling is the only option to protect her younger children from the relentless torrent of bullying that drove her son from the town and family he loved. Marian Faa

"And we need to teach tables by rote," Mr Lawson said.

"The reason we know seven sevens are 49 is because we learned it as a nursery rhyme. Kids just need to learn 10 or 12 nursery rhymes."

Mr Lawson said he believed state education unions had a "position" and it was difficult for teachers to speak out with a different position to the union.

"Without a doubt there is way more paperwork and bureaucracy in teaching than 10 years ago," he said.

"A teacher's workload has gone up without a shadow of a doubt. The job has become harder because of the extra paperwork and bureaucracy, the extra things on top of the core curriculum. Reduce paperwork, allow teachers to teach and emphasise evidence-based teaching methods."

Overall, he doesn't believe the standard of teaching has dropped, that the standard is the result of "some dodgy educational theories for 30-odd years" and societal influences.

"We have a way higher percentage of kids going to daycare much earlier," he said.

"They used to be at home until they were five or six then go to school," he said.

"They had more interaction with adults and language skills were higher."

Mr Lawson didn't agree that three-year-olds should be in formal education but said if they were going to be in daycare we needed to ask "what's the best we can do?".

He also noted the number of boys without a father at home, coupled with a chronic under-representation of male teachers, meant many students had no positive role model of their own sex.

"Teachers are some of the hardest-working people out there - most of them go above and beyond," he said.

"I agree with increased pay to attract the best people but I have no idea where the money would come from."