“It’s about finding where there might be weaknesses”: Adrian Piccoli. Photo: Daniel Munoz A powerful new education authority is aimed at lifting standards in schools. Photo: Fairfax Media
A new, beefed-up independent education authority will have the power to close non-compliant schools and conduct random unannounced inspections in Catholic, private and public schools, in major changes announced by the NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli on Friday.
The Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards, known as BOSTES, will be renamed the NSW Education Standards Authority and given enhanced powers to lift school compliance and teacher quality with the ultimate aim of improving student results.
Independent schools will be subject to an increased number of random and risk-based audits, and the agency will have the power to formally warn and ultimately deregister any school not meeting regulatory requirements.
On teacher standards, the authority’s inspectors will be trained in special curriculum areas to conduct classroom observations, in some cases down to the level of detail of ensuring students’ workbooks properly reflect the official curriculum.
“The board ought to make schools nervous around school registration requirements, and it ought to make teachers nervous around teaching standards,” said Mr Piccoli.
“It’s not punitive, it’s not about closing schools down, it’s about finding where there might be weaknesses and helping schools address those weaknesses in their systems.”
Issues such as a rapid turnover of school boards or senior staff, concerns about finances, very poor academic results or a rush of parent complaints are the sort of things that would trigger the authority’s attention and potentially lead to risk audits and school inspections.
BOSTES, which was formed from the merger of the Board of Studies and the NSW Institute of Teachers in 2014, has responsibility for the school curriculum, the HSC and teaching and regulatory standards in NSW schools.
The new changes come out of a review of BOSTES chaired by Emeritus Professor Bill Louden, which was also critical of BOSTES for “needlessly duplicating” national reforms in regulation and curriculum areas, saying the board’s regulatory processes are “currently administratively burdensome for schools, teachers, employers and indeed for BOSTES itself”.
The changes will involve “a reorganisation of resources”, according to BOSTES President Tom Alegounarias. The authority’s efforts will be focused on schools where there is a high risk of problems, while devolving some of the administrative burden of compliance to principals.
Mr Alegounarias, who will become the part-time chair with a chief executive beneath him in the new structure, cited the highest achieving education jurisdictions globally as a target for NSW.
“It’s about setting our targets against international standards. How do we get to Shanghai, how do we get to Finland?”
Proof the reform has worked would be “a big bump” in the state’s NAPLAN results in the next few years, he said.
But Mr Piccoli cautioned that the changes to BOSTES on their own were not “a silver bullet” for lifting student results.
“It’s about information: what are the weaknesses and what do we need to do to target those weaknesses?” Mr Piccoli said.
The authority will also be required to more frequently review and update syllabuses, particularly in information technology and STEM subjects.
BOSTES’ 23-member board will be cut to less than 14 in a move likely to irritate some stakeholders.
Mr Piccoli said the powerful agency, operating at arm’s length from government, schools and universities, would ensure that curriculum, assessment, school registration and teacher standards were all working together to improve the quality of education in NSW.
The changes have been welcomed by the Association of Independent Schools NSW and the Catholic Education Commission of NSW, as well as the NSW Business Chamber.
Dr Geoff Newcombe, representing independent schools, said the new governance framework was a considerable improvement, and welcomed the authority’s random and spot inspections power. “To move it from a compliance role to look more at the impact of the teaching in the schools is a really good thing,” he said.
But the NSW Teachers Federation was not nearly as enthusiastic, saying it “noted” the release and would have more to say after closely examining the details.
The changes to BOSTES follow other reforms aimed at lifting teacher quality in NSW such as minimum entry standards to teaching degrees.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.