Education Nation | Day Two Session Three | Corinne Campbell

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

As Leanne and Elizabeth were wrapping up their session, I saw a tweet that Corinne Campbell (@corisel) was beginning her session. This was unexpected, as it was about fifteen minutes before the scheduled start time for her session. I quickly collected my belongings and head upstairs, missing only a few minutes of her session. Corinne was speaking about the empowering or disempowering of the teaching profession as a result of the focus on evidence-based practice.

When I entered, Corinne was discussing that research by John Hattie (@john_hattie and @visiblelearning) shows that all interventions have an impact, however, it is the size of the impact that varies. Corinne also brought up the Teaching and Learning Toolkit by AITSL, which includes a page that outlines a series of pedagogical practices and, relative to each other, their implementation of cost, time for them to produce their overall effect as well as the overall effect size. I have included a screenshot below of what this looks like. The filters (not in the image) allow you to refine the search based on a range of parameters and the list can also be sorted high to low across all four columns. It is another tool on the AITSL website that I have never seen before and reinforces, for me, the feeling that the AITSL website is a vastly underused and under-respected toolbox; I cannot recall the last time I heard any reference, positive or negative, to it in any discussions with other teachers.

Screen capture of the Teaching and Learning Toolkit. Retrieved from on 13 June 2016


Corinne then spoke about unintended consequences of the focus on evidence-based pedagogical practices, beginning with a burgeoning standardisation of practice without consideration for specific contexts. An example of this is the apparently mandated use of direction instruction in remote Aboriginal schools which has been in the media recently. I say apparently as I have not read the articles surrounding the issue and cannot comment either way on it.

The above tweet was the theme for the next portion of Corinne’s presentation. The focus on evidence-based practices is leaving many experienced teachers second-guessing themselves and their teaching strategies despite having many years of experience in the classroom. This has come from, Corinne elaborated, the use of microdata within schools which is causing many teachers to doubt their own practices if they are not achieving growth in their students learning outcomes. It occurred to me at the time that teachers without confidence in themselves and their pedagogy will teach by the book and not take risks pedagogically or instill passion in their students.

Corinne then introduced the thinking of Gert Biesta (@gbiesta).

Corinne Campbell discussing the thinking of Gert Biesta in the Rethinking Reform stream at Education Nation on 8 June 2016.


The last sentence of the quote is, I feel, the important piece here. It relates to a theme that had arisen in earlier sessions at Education Nation; that what works in one context will not necessarily work in another. Corinne then showed us a graphic, which I, unfortunately, did not get a photo of, but which shows three ways of thinking about pedagogical practices and their impact on a student; qualification, socialisation, and subjectification, which, the way that Corinne spoke about it, was a method of thinking that encouraged questioning the purpose of education. My notes on this section are rather lacking, which is disappointing as it struck me as being an important point. I even went to the trouble of (badly) drawing the graphic in my notebook. Rather than include that messy diagram, I have included below a form of the graphic I retrieved from another site which outlines, I feel, the message that Corinne was aiming to impart to the audience.

Slide Two from a slide deck by Dr. Karin Murris. Retrieved from on 13 June 2016


Corinne elaborated on this as her closing point. If we put in place a program which aims at improving a student’s acquisition of knowledge in a particular learning area, without paying any attention to the contextual use of that knowledge (socialisation) or the impact that knowledge may have on the student’s self-efficacy or self-perception (subjectification), then while the qualification may improve we will ultimately see a negative impact. We need to be making contextualised and informed professional judgements about pedagogical practices that will have an overall positive impact in our classroom. That was my understanding of what Corinne was saying, at any rate.

I would have liked to have heard all of Corinne’s presentation, and for her to have had more time to elaborate on some of her ideas. I have a gut feeling, a sense of something itching away at the edge of my consciousness, that there was something in Corinne’s presentation, that I was missing; an idea or concept that would have….I do not actually know. There is a sense that I am missing something important from Corinne’s presentation, however.

Thank you for reading, as always. If you have kept up with the articles I have written as a result of Education Nation, then well done, as they have been rather lengthy articles. I can only hope that my readers have found them useful, particularly for those sessions they were not able to attend themselves. If you have missed any of the articles, you can find the consolidated list by clicking here. Take heart, however, there are only two more articles to go!

Education Nation | Interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

Education Nation is fast approaching, and this time next week, the final session of the conference will be concluding. One of the most hotly anticipated events of Education Nation is The Great Debate between Dr. David Zyngier (@dzyngier) and Dr. Kevin Donelly (@ESIAuatralia). Last week, I published an article from an interview with Dr. Zyngier, which was widely read. Dr. Zyngier is speaking on the side of public education at The Great Debate, and there are some strong arguments available for him to draw upon. This article will be an exploration of Dr. Donnelly’s responses to a series of questions similar to those presented to Dr. Zyngier. As with the previous interviews, I have included Education Nation Interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly for the sake of transparency.


Dr. Donnelly provided a short summary of his stance on the issue of public versus private education. He posits that the claims that private schooling systems, e.g. Catholic and independent schools, are over-funded and cause residualisation of government schools, particularly those with disadvantaged students, is incorrect. He cites the simple fact that non-government schools receive significantly less public funding than government schools. For example, the below graph shows the relative expenditure across the two sectors and highlights the disparate nature of the level of public funding.

Retrieved from on 31 May 2016

Dr. Donelly also decries the claim that private schools only achieve strong learning outcomes comparative to public schools because they take the best students, noting that public schools are not truly open to all. This is a valid point to make as there is a range of public schools, particularly secondary school, which are selective based on academic results, requiring a certain academic ability for enrolment into those schools, often requiring prospective students to sit an entrance exam. Additionally, Dr. Donnelly notes that many public schools are situated in suburbs which are classed as high socio-economic areas (SES) and are therefore unaffordable for many people. Linked to both arguments, Dr. Donnelly notes that the socio-economic status of a student’s family is only ten to eighteen percent of the overall factors influencing learning outcomes.

I have noted in previous articles the recent discussions that have appeared in the media regarding teacher quality, and admission to and the quality of, initial teacher education (ITE) programs. Dr. Donnelly’s views on this are somewhat similar to Dr. Zyngier’s views. Dr. Donnelly cites Parsi Sahlberg (@pasi_sahlberg), a Finnish educational researcher who found that although half of the first-year ITE students are drawn from the fifty-one to eighty percent range, rendering the argument that pre-service teachers should be drawn from the academic top thirty percent, invalid. Sahlberg has also commented that “a good step forward would be to admit that the academically best students are not necessarily the best teachers.” Dr. Donnelly also notes a 2012 submission to a Commonwealth inquiry into teacher education by Professor Geoff Masters, who commented that restricting entry to ITE programs to top academic students “…is a blunt approach to improving the selection of teachers and falls well short of international best practice.”

Findings from Section 2.2.3 of Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers.

In addition to discussing the prospect of restricting pre-service teachers to those with the top academic results, I asked Dr. Donnelly for his views about a different method of raising the expectations of ITE programs. In Finland, ITE programs are delivered at Masters level, rather than Undergraduate level here in Australia. He explained that research conducted by Andrew Leigh into effective teaching showed that holding a Masters degree does not necessarily equate to being an effective teacher, which seems to be consistent with Pas Sahlberg’s comment mentioned, regarding the fact that there is not a causal link between the academically best teachers and the most effective teachers.

Dr. Donnelly points to Pasi Sahlberg’s findings that a teacher’s commitment and ability to engage and motivate students, along with their communication skills and, of course, subject knowledge are more influential factors in identifying effective teachers. He also points to findings in the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers, that the level of the degree, Bachelor or Masters, is not particularly important. What is important is the quality of the ITE program and whether trainee teachers have been properly prepared and are ready to begin teaching in a class on their own. I have written previously about my own ITE program, and I would agree that there is scope for improvement

After discussing the subject of ITE, the interview turned to Finland and our relationship and seeming obsession with modelling the Finnish educational model. Dr. Zyngier is critical of this obsession, noting that Finland’s results in PISA and TIMSS have been falling in recent years. Dr. Donnelly is also critical of the way that educationalists jump on the bandwagon of whichever country is generating the best results in international testing, which has moved between Singapore, Sweden, Finland and is currently Shanghai, particularly given that Finland’s results have been falling as shown in the below images from Trends in the Performance of the Top Performers on PISA 2003-Pisa 2012.


The above image shows that the number of Finnish students performing in the lower levels of PISA mathematics tests has increased significantly. Makes sense, therefore, that the number of Finnish students at the top end has fallen in the same period.


Dr. Donnelly, after acknowledging Finland’s falling results in recent instances of PISA, notes that translating educational characteristics of other countries can be very difficult due to the variation in contexts. This is an interesting comment, and one I look forward to hearing expanded upon further, particularly, I suspect in the presentation by Lila Mularczyk’ (@LilaMularczyk) on day two of Education Nation, where she is examining trends in international education policy and the translation to the Australian context. Dr. Donnelly reminds us that we can learn from international education systems, however, it needs to be evidence based.

Dr. Donnelly co-chaired the National Curriculum Review alongside Professor Kenneth Wiltshire. Given that the National Curriculum has not been implemented nationally I questioned whether or not a National Curriculum should have even been the goal for Australian education. Dr. Donnelly indicated that greater autonomy and flexibility at the local level, should have been the goal, not a one size fits all curriculum that has been torn apart and rebuilt to suit the needs of some states, and implemented as-is by others. Dr. Donnelly points out that under the Australian Constitution, the government does not have a responsibility for school education. Dr. Donnelly believes that “…we should abide by the fact that we have a federal system where all roads do not lead to Canberra.


Social media is playing an increasingly important role in the professional learning of teachers around the world. It is free, available at any time and on any range of topics, providing an alternative to the often expensive and/or boring and untargeted professional development sessions that teachers’ typically receive. Dr. Donnelly’s view is that whilst social media has a place, there is no substitute for providing teachers, particularly new-career teachers, with time to learn on the job, receive mentoring, and the time and ability to effectively reflect on and evaluate their own practice.

I asked Dr. Donnelly was his advice to early-career teachers that would help them avoid joining the forty percent of new teachers who are shown to leave the profession within their first five years. His advice was straightforward, yet challenging to implement:

Beware of education fads and do not be drowned in the bureaucratic and the time consuming micromanagement that is being forced on schools. Also, understand that student misbehaviour is on the increase and that a lot of students, especially at the primary school level, are unable to sit still, focus and concentrate for an extended period of time. Most importantly, realise and appreciate that being with young people is a great honour and responsibility, as there is noting more important than teaching – except being a parent.

-Dr. Kevin Donnelly.

When I interviewed Professor Masters early last month, I asked him about John Hattie’s comments regarding teachers as researchers and his sentiment was that it is unreasonable to expect teachers to be both highly trained and effective educators; and highly trained and effective educational researchers. It is reasonable, however, to expect teachers to be informed users of research evidence; evidence which should be a consideration for teachers when engaging in the informal research process of evaluative reflection upon their pedagogical practice.

I asked Dr. Donnelly for his views on Hattie’s comments, and he replied that the relationship between researchers in universities and ACER, and classroom teachers, has been fractured. Dr. Donnelly acknowledges that it has been some time since he has been a classroom teacher and that he would love to see the results of academic researchers in the classroom, attempting to implement the practices they promote in their research. He sees a strong connection between theory and practice and would argue that many teachers are capable of undertaking research, which would provide the benefit of the research being grounded in the realities of a classroom.

Dr. Donnelly presents some interesting arguments, and I very much look forward to hearing him speak in The Great Debate. Remember, you can submit your own questions for The Greate Debate by clicking here. If you have not yet registered for Education Nation then click here to register.