Strategic Plan 2018-2022 – a conversation with the Secretary
Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, hosted an online discussion about the Strategic Plan 2018-2022 with department staff. The recording and transcript are available here.
Video: Mark Scott on the Strategic Plan 2018-2022
Well, good morning. I'm Mark Scott, the Secretary of the NSW Department of Education and I'd like to welcome you all here to our conversation this morning. I want to talk with you a little bit about the new strategic plan we've developed for the NSW Department of Education and there'll also be an opportunity to answer your questions.
Can I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. Here in Sydney, I'm meeting on Gadigal land, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and I'd like to pay my respect to Elders past and present, and I'd like to pay my respect to Elders past, present and all Aboriginal people who are joining us for this video conference today.
I want to talk about the strategic plan. We've done a lot of work on it and I want to explore its vision and the thinking behind it, but also give you an opportunity to ask questions, and the Deputy Secretary, Murat Dizdar, will be joining us a little bit later on to put your questions to me. So I look forward to hearing those, and there's an opportunity there for you to contribute questions now and through my presentation.
I know it's a busy day in schools, and a particular welcome to schools in the Western Division of the state. I held a similar one of these meetings last Monday for schools in the Eastern Division, and I welcome the Western Division schools too and any other schools and corporate offices that might be joining us.
This strategic plan covers all the activities of the Department of Education and a lot of work has taken place to develop it and there's been a lot of contribution from our staff, and I really want it to be a living and breathing document that we use extensively and we reference completely as we do our work serving the children of New South Wales. So I'm going to take you through some of the details, some of the background and some of the priorities that emerge in this strategic plan.
As you can see and as I hope you know, the strategic plan is a 2 page document and we've posted it on the intranet, and you would have seen a draft of it when we sent it out for consultation last year.
You know, it's a 5 year plan, but we don't have to absolutely lock it in. We use it as a guiding document for our work, but we'll be reviewing it over time and finetuning it, given feedback and given how it works in practice.
Good strategy is all about reflecting where we are today, but it's also about developing the key steps that we need to take in order to drive us to our future, but it only becomes a living document if you're using it where you work and if it's guiding your thinking and guiding your practice.
And I want it to be a living document. Many a strategic plan gets written and then gets parked and we only think of it when next time we need to develop a strategic plan. Well, I really wanted this strategic plan to be a living document, and that's why I requested that it be written in a recognisable form of English, and I hope we banished all the bureaucratic jargon from it.
I wanted it to be on 2 pages so it was easy and recognisable, and I wanted to talk about our ambition and talk about our schools in practice. And I want to thank all of you who helped us develop the strategic plan because for the first time ever we've put it out for consultation with all our staff around the state.
So let's talk about the plan in a bit of detail. We've a great history of public education in New South Wales and all of us who work here today stand on the shoulders of those who've gone before us and we want to create an environment where every child succeeds in our schools.
Now, one of the lines we put into the strategic plan, and I really valued your feedback on this, was this simple ambition to be Australia's best education system and to be one of the finest in the world. And I questioned whether we wanted to put this in the strategic plan, but you told me in your feedback you thought this was a worthy ambition for the NSW Education system. And we want to be one of the finest education systems in the world, not for our boasting rights, but because of the benefits that would come for the young people in our care if this is what we actually achieve.
We've got a lot going for us in New South Wales. We've got a very professional staff, we've got good facilities, we have political stability, we've received increased funding, but now we really need to turn that into creating one of the world's finest education systems, and that's all about just having great schools all across the state, great schools that are continuing to improve the learning outcomes of children in our care, who have very, very engaged students, where we're creating a wonderful place for teachers to work and the reputation of that system known throughout the world.
One of the interesting things, I think, about this vision that we developed was the question about, well, are we a world class system already? And I was interested, in the consultations, that a lot of people seemed to say to us, "Look, we've got many good schools, we've got some great schools in our system, but we want more great schools," and that's what we want to have as part of this strategic plan in execution, more great schools, more schools that are helping students overcome significant disadvantage, more schools that are adding value to student outcomes every year, more schools that are truly innovative and truly engaging for all people who work there and are part of that community. And so that's what we're working on together, and that's the clarity of our vision; Australia's best education system and an education system right up there with the very, very best in the world.
It's important to recognise the great significance of the work that we do, and some wonderful work done by the department last year was around Education for a Changing World, and we commissioned all these papers from leading academics globally, and what that work just simply reinforced was how dramatically different the world young people at school today will inherit when they leave school. It's globalisation, it's technological change, it's a rate of change that's increasing, and so we know that that world is just more complex and we want our young people to live rewarding lives as engaged citizens in a complex and demanding society.
We know some of the hallmarks of what will help young people flourish in that dramatically changing world. We know that we need to help every young person in our care lay a foundation of literacy and numeracy mastery. There isn't going to be a job out there that doesn't depend on strong levels of literacy and numeracy. We then need to help young people develop mastery in areas of their interest so they can come to a deep knowledge in those areas of interest, and then there are general capabilities that come, are developed as part of that knowledge as well; communication skills, collaboration skills, critical thinking skills, and these are all going to be important for the workplace of the future.
And then we need to ensure that every young person has a growth mindset. Every young person understands that they're not going to have instant mastery in an area, they are going to have to learn new things and develop new skills, but they back themselves to have the confidence that they can take on new areas, dive into new fields and come to an area of mastery over time. So a growth mindset, as well as literacy and numeracy and deep knowledge and general capabilities, this is all going to be essential for young people of the future.
We don't know precisely what the jobs are going to be. We know that many jobs are going go, we know that many new jobs are going to be created, but we do have an understanding about the kind of education that lays a foundation for young people to flourish, and that's what we all need to be focussing on as part of our work in schools and as part of the strategic plan.
Central to this strategic plan at its very, very cornerstone is a commitment that this work, the work that we all do in the NSW Department of Education is all about children and young people. That's why we signed up, that's the work we do, and in all our thinking and all our decision making and central in this strategic plan is a commitment to children and to young people.
I've increasingly been thinking that there are only two kinds of jobs in the department, no matter where you work, and the two kinds of jobs are jobs that are supporting the learning of young people every day, and many of you working in schools have those kinds of jobs.
And then there are jobs like my job and the work that people do in corporate offices. Our job is to support you and to support you as children, and that's absolutely central and absolutely critical as part of this strategic plan.
The work of the department is actually very broad. We have big responsibilities as a regulator in early childhood education, we run 100 early childhood education centres ourselves. We then run one of the world's biggest school systems and we have very close associations with universities as well. But in all the work we do, no matter where you work in the department, we are in the business of helping young people learn, and I think as we work and as we think and as we plan we should never have our commitment to young people far from our sight.
The strategic plan identifies a number of priorities and things we're going to focus on, but it also articulates very important values and, no matter where you work in the department, these are the values which we want you to bring with you to work each day and to be a feature of how you work with students and work with each other.
A commitment to excellence, we want the very best for the young people in our care. We know that high standards and high expectations are essential for lifting learning outcomes of young people, and no matter where we work and what we do, a commitment to excellence, but also a commitment to equity, a fair education system.
We know the best education systems in the world are fair education systems. That's why our Gonski commitment has been about putting most money, directing additional money to students in greatest need, a fair system, a system that works so hard to overcome educational disadvantage. We want that to be the hallmark of NSW Education over the next 5 years.
We want there to be accountability. We don't just want to try hard, we don't just want to put in best endeavours, but we want to deliver great outcomes and be accountable for great outcomes.
We want to be a system that's based around trust, where we can trust each other to do important work where we act with integrity, where we do what we say we're going to do and also an absolute commitment of NSW Education is a commitment to service.
And we know through the People Matter Survey that service is what drives people to work in NSW Education, and that commitment to service, service to children, service to young people, service to the community, service to our state and to the nation, that's absolutely central to the values we have here in NSW Education.
So let's look a little bit at some of our goals. Now, when you look at the strategic plan you'll see that there are 10 goals that are outlined – and they're all important – and what I want to do now is just put a spotlight on a few, a few that have generated a bit of comment, that we've been talking about and I want to just particularly draw to your attention.
It's remarkable, and you'll feel it this week, if you have students starting this week – I know in other parts of the state they've seen it in the past week – evidence of the extraordinary trust that parents place when they enrol their student in a government school.
In fact, I was talking with Murat, who is coming in shortly, dropped his son off for his first day of school at a NSW Government school this morning, what extraordinary trust our parents place when they give us their children for so many hours every day and every day of every week through the school year. And I think it's a very legitimate thing for parents to sense that when they drop their children off at a government school, that child is known and valued and cared for, and that's one of our strategic goals to ensure that we can make that commitment to every parent that no matter where that child goes to school that child is known and valued and cared for.
We understand that child and the young person. We understand their background and we understand their progress of learning, we understand the challenges that they might be facing or any incidents that might be having an impact on their learning, we really know that young person and so when we talk and engage with families, as well as talking and engaging with the child, we bring real insight, real professional understanding and a real commitment to every child.
It's interesting, I think our primary schools are well-structured for this with a classroom teacher, but I think it's harder in a high school where a student will have many different teachers and different arrangements in the operation of the school.
Well, I can tell you that when I'm visiting a school, I'm going to be asking how do we know that every child in that school is known and valued and cared for, what structure have we put in place, what strategies have we put in place to ensure that no child is lost, no child disappears, that we really do understand where every child is up to. And so that's a good commitment for us to make and I want to be able to make that commitment to every parent who sends their child to a NSW government school that their child is known and valued and cared for.
Another one of our goals is a goal around commitment, a sense that we don't just have good intentions in NSW Education, but we deliver good results and we deliver improvement every year. I mean, part of this owes its thinking to John Hattie who said, well, this is what school is all about, isn't it, a year's progress, a year's improved outcomes for a year that every student spends in school and, of course, that's important.
But it's not just the students, it's also to do with teachers and leaders and schools and, no matter where you are in the department, a commitment to improvement. I like the intentionality of this. It's not just good intentions, it's a commitment to deliver improved outcomes every year, and it's a commitment for everyone to be on a learning path.
And, again, when I visit schools I'll be asking questions about this. How do we know that every student is improving and what strategies do we have in place for every teacher and every leader to be improving their craft, their professionalism, their work every year?
The one thing I think we recognise through our work through the Education for a Changing World project is that the world is changing so quickly we know that the status quo will not be good enough. Just delivering in the way we've always delivered, assuming the world isn't changing, well, that will sell our students short. We need to be committed to lifting our practice, lifting our standards, improving every year so that our schools are improving and the life opportunities for young people are improving as a consequence as well.
We know that if you work in NSW Education you are our key asset. We can have great buildings, great facilities, great technology but, finally, it's the people who come and work every day in NSW Education, that's what makes a difference.
And we really want to make NSW Education a great place to work, a great place to develop a career, a great place to develop new skills and to have that extraordinary reward of working with young people and delivering a truly world class education system. And so that's part of our strategic plan as well, and we're taking the advice that you've given us in the People Matter Survey very, very seriously.
We have a series of strategic projects that we're rolling out now to try and address some of the issues and some of the irritants that could come into operating in a big system. But I want to assure you that they're central as part of the strategic plan as a commitment to make education a great place to work and to ensure that our workforce is of the highest calibre.
We know that we're building many new schools, we're going to need many new teachers in our system as well, we need to hold onto the great teachers that we've got and so as we think through what our standards should be and how we recruit and how we keep the levels of professionalism very, very high, that's a centrepiece of the strategic plan as it works out over the next 5 years.
I mentioned school infrastructure and you'll know that we've got a very big building program underway because we have a population boom that's coming into our schools and many schools are feeling this now. So the government has announced over $4 billion worth of expenditure to build new schools and to renovate schools to deal with this population increase. But we know that school infrastructure, having good facilities that work well isn't just an issue in growth areas of the state, it's an issue all around the state and so that's why we're really focussed on maintenance and renovation of schools everywhere.
This term we're doing a review of the Assets Maintenance Unit to make sure that it's really meeting the needs of schools. Just as we did last year on school leadership, we're going to send the review teams out to talk to principals all around the state so we get a better understand about the needs of individual schools when it comes to maintenance, the kind of support school principals need, the kind of responsiveness they need, they have to maintenance demands that exist at the school. And so if you're a school principal you'll hear more about that review of assets maintenance in coming weeks.
It's not just maintaining our buildings, though. We know that we really want to ensure that our classrooms are future focussed, so we're asking the kind of questions about what kind of technology do our classrooms need as part of the strategic plan, not just on the tools in a classroom, but what's the kind of infrastructure that you need in terms of broadband and speed of broadband and capacity to fully engage with the opportunities that exist with education technology.
And really important as part of this is how do we train our teachers to be just confident about using the technology to improve the teaching and the learning that's taking place in classrooms around the state. There's a lot of research that says you can spend money on technology and you're going to waste it unless you're really investing in teacher training and teacher development and teacher confidence around technology. So that will be addressed as part of the work in the strategic plan as well.
One of the goals is a simple one and that is that community confidence in public education is high. There's a virtuous cycle here that as we invest in education we want to improve educational outcomes, but we don't just want to improve educational outcomes for young people, we want people to know that, we want citizens and taxpayers to know that so that they have the high confidence in public education and part of that is so that government can see that the investment that they've given us has been wisely spent, we are proving educational outcomes as a consequence of this and they are getting good reward for the investment being made in public education.
When we talk about being a world class system this is a hallmark of world class systems that public confidence in public education is high and that's something that we're going to be focussed on. We think that there are great stories in our schools and we want to tell those great stories, and part of the opportunity of this strategic plan is to ask you to tell us the great stories of this strategic plan in operation and we're going to use the power that we have through traditional media and through social media to bring the story of your schools to a far bigger audience far beyond your local community.
So we're launching this strategic plan this month, and you'll see it up on the intranet, and there's a hub that we're putting up there and it has a copy of the strategic plan. It also talks about the performance measures that we're going to put in place to measure our strategic plan over time to check that we're actually doing what we say we want to do, to check that we are performing, to check that we are improving over time and that we are living our values.
And so I'd like you to visit that site and to absolutely upload and tell us some of the things, some of the stories that you're doing in your schools. I know a lot of planning work takes place in schools and a lot of schools this term will be developing their school plan for coming years and I hope you use this strategic plan as a guide and a reference point for that work that you'll be doing, and if some schools have already done a lot of that planning work at the end of last term, I hope you'll use this strategic plan as a reference point and I hope that you'll also look pretty carefully at it to ensure that your school plan is on track, as I'm sure it will be given these priorities.
Just a couple of other points I want to reference before I go to your questions, just in this big year that we face in NSW Education. We announced a strong package of support for school leadership last year and I know that principals will already be seeing some of the impact of that with extra administrative support. We are putting extra money into a Leadership Institute to help train our current leaders in schools and develop our aspiring principals.
We've recast the role of directors of schools to give them a real focus on education leadership, and I hope you'll see more of your director and that your director can spend more time in your schools being a real support to principals. We know that the services that we put in your hand to help you improve teaching and learning are very, very important.
We currently have 1,500 professional staff providing educational services to schools, but we've been doing a lot of work as to how that staff is organised and what their priorities are in schools for educational services, and you'll hear much more about that from the Deputy Secretary, Georgina Harrisson and I in coming weeks.
Big school building program, as I said, including the review of the Assets Maintenance Unit and you'll see a lot and hear a lot about Gonski 2.0, the big new review of education that's been undertaken by David Gonski. We look forward to hearing about that and we look forward to the debates that will inevitably come about school funding and additional funding for education of students in need that will come on the back of Gonski 2.0.
So now we're about to go to your questions, and Murat Dizdar will be coming in and joining me shortly.
I just want to thank you for your help in the development of this plan. Some of this plan came out from the discussion and debates we were having earlier last year, but we really valued the consultative process that took place when we put this plan out and we got your feedback and we were able to change and finetune this plan as a consequence of that. As I said, we want it to be a living document, we want it to guide our decision making, guide our prioritisation, guide the choices we make in schools and all across the department every day.
As I said, it's all about children, it's all about young people, it's about helping improve their educational outcomes, helping improve their life opportunities, laying the best possible foundation they can have and to strengthen our society today and tomorrow and well into the future.
End of transcript.
Video: Mark Scott on the Strategic Plan 2018-2022 – full version with questions and answers
Video transcript for questions and answers
So we've got a bit of time left and I know some questions have already come in and more questions can come in too. I'm being joined by Murat Dizdar who's already done a school drop off today, your boy, first day of school.
Very successful. For all parties.
Yeah. Only 13 years to go. He'll do well. So you've been monitoring the questions as they come through, just give us a sense of what people want to know about the strategic plan and I'll answer the simple questions and if there are tough questions you can answer them.
Mark, we wanted to give the first question – and I want to thank Natasha. She's a brand new teacher, first day in the profession.
There's 1,000 of our teachers joining the profession as of last Monday and today, and she asks a very pertinent question. She says, "As a new teacher, Mark, what can I, as an individual, do to assist in delivering the department's strategic plan on a daily basis?"
Well, thanks, Natasha, for your question and all the best to you for a long, happy and flourishing career in NSW Education. Look, I think, very simply, you've been well-trained and well-prepared, Natasha, for your work in our schools and I suppose two pieces of advice from me.
One, fundamentally, is to just get to know those children in your care very, very well. Know them well, understand how they learn, be committed to being the best teacher you can and track and monitor their progress through the year and be committed to their improvement and their learning and to know them very, very well.
And the second piece of advice, Natasha, is to draw on the strength of being in such a great, strong, historic department. We have a lot of support for you. There'll be support for you in the experienced staff around you and ask them questions, engage with them, get in their classes if you can, get them into your classes if they can and just be open to feedback and open to guidance and tap into all the advice we're trying to give you as well.
We have this great Centre for Educational Statistics and Evaluation, CESE. They are constantly writing reports, they are constantly scouring for best practice and to disseminate that best practice around the state. There's nothing more exhausting than being a first year teacher. That was my experience, and I know that's the experience of teachers all around the state, so look after yourself, focus on the kids, draw on the support and I'm sure there's a wonderful career ahead for you and I'm sure there are countless children who are going to be strengthened and blessed by working with you as you work in our schools. All the best to you.
Mark, a number of our school leaders have posted similar questions to this one. All schools are focussing on developing their 2018 to 2020 school plan, it's the next stage of the planning cycle, and they're asking, "How closely should our school plan be aligned to the department's strategic plan?"
Alignment is one of those managerial buzz words, but it's pretty important really. We've done a lot of work on this strategic plan at a senior level, extensive consultations around all this and we just want to make sure that it rolls through the department and rolls through our schools.
I think what we can see through the consultation is there's very little in this that I think anyone would have a serious objection to. And so we want to see this strategic plan reflected in your school plan and, certainly, if I visit your school I'll be asking about our strategic plan and your school plan and how they, in a sense, talk to each other.
I expect the school plan will be a bit more detailed, operational plans usually are but, yes, we want to see the strategic plan reflected, speak to your school plan and that the commitments that we have in the strategic plan, a student centred strategy, a strategy committed to improvement, a strategy committed to knowing every child, a strategy committed to overcoming educational disadvantage, a strategy about teachers flourishing in every school.
Yeah, we want to see that reflected in your school plan. Every school is different, so every school plan will be different and your school plan should speak to your school and your community and your local strategy, but the broad strategic plan should be reflected in it.
Frank has posted a very pertinent question, Mark, "Very ambitious vision that you articulated for the department, lots of debate and discussion about external performance measures, how will we know that we're the best in Australia, one of the finest in the world?"
Such a good question, and we're still doing some work on this. Look, there are external measures, we understand that. We've got NAPLAN, we've got PISA, for our secondary schools we've got the insights that come through the Higher School Certificate, and I suppose I'd say those measures are important, but they're not the only things that are important.
We know there are other things that give us an indication as to the success of schools, and what I'm asking CESE to do and the further work that we are doing is to get a greater insight into the things that we should be looking at and the things that we really should be measuring. So we will look at those external measures and we'll be looking particularly at schools that can add value, that can help students improve in those important measures.
I think the People Matter Survey is pretty interesting, and we've talked about this a lot, the question of student engagement. We realise that students need to be engaged to learn. So what are the strategies in a school to help switch on students and to help them be engaged and to help reconnect students with learning if, in fact, they've become disengaged.
We know attendance is important, we know teacher engagement and teacher morale is important, so there'll be lots of different measures that we are looking at to try and give us insight into well-being of students, improved educational outcomes, teacher engagement and systemic health.
Mark, parents are such an important stakeholder in education. In fact, great schools are where the triangle of students, parents and teachers share that vision for that school, 810,000 students now through our public school gates, how will we best know – not just on that number alone – that our parents have growing confidence in our public education system?
Well, I sometimes think the confidence question is a lagging indicator, not a leading indicator. I think you'll be doing a lot of things well for a long period of time and then the confidence grows as a consequence of that, but I think we need to take that parent relationship very seriously.
One of the things we're looking at more closely is our communication strategy with parents. As you know, we've got new websites ready to go, we know that a lot of parents are on social media as well, we have opportunities to create videos, for example, to communicate what's happening in schools.
I think, for many parents, we need to just communicate very well, demystify a little bit what is happening at school, help them understand how we're bringing their young people through a learning journey, through a learning progression and continue to tell our story well.
Frankly, I'm sometimes amazed, you go into the local newspaper and it can just be full of advertisements and promotion for non-government schools. Well, maybe we need to do a little bit more on that, but we just need to find more stories that tell the great things that are happening in government schools and be very confident in doing it, and when, in fact, there's a negative story – and there will be negative stories in a big system from time to time – we need to manage those things well and be quite clear about what we're doing to address the issue that's been raised.
But, yeah, a stronger push, using all the communications means available to tell our story and to communicate effectively with parents to make parents welcome at school and to help them to be partners in learning where we can.
Mark, Peter has piggybacked off your coverage with Education for a Changing World, you described that we're preparing our students for an uncertain future, "In your view," he says, "What are the changes in today's world that changes the role of teachers and how they teach?"
That's a really good question. Let me have a crack at that, and you might want to come in on that as well. Look, I think the fundamental change, very simply, is that for a long, long time education was all about knowledge. You know, you pour the knowledge in and the young people tell you how they've mastered the knowledge by pouring the knowledge back out at you.
The one thing anyone with a smartphone understands, young people understand this, that access to knowledge has never been easier and knowledge itself isn't the premium that it once was. It's what can you do with that knowledge that proves to be a very important thing.
So students still need to learn things, but it's how they learn which is just as important; critical thinking, communication skills, collaboration skills, I mean, the whole range of those capabilities based around learning.
So I think there's a real challenge for that in our curriculum, quite frankly. I think there's a little bit of an argument that says the curriculum hasn't quite caught up to the changing needs in schools now for young people. We need to develop those capabilities as much as developing knowledge and have a commitment to a growth mindset as well.
I think here's where the technology question is important too. I mean, clearly young people need to have mastery of the technology and they need to know that they can master new technology when it emerges.
So I think we need to be thinking about curriculum, I think we need to be thinking about pedagogy because I think what we know about the changing world is that jobs will be changing very, very quickly, that a young person who leaves school knows, or should know that they have a lifelong learning challenge ahead of them, many different jobs using different technology in industries that may not even have been created yet.
So it's the ability to master and the ability to learn over and over and over again, and I think that's quite a different environment to perhaps the environment even I grew up in where you could get a profession and that would be the profession for the rest of your life. I mean, what are your thoughts on it?
Yeah, I'd concur with your coverage, Mark. I just wanted to add the fact that we're always going to require great teachers. The research is quite clear that the difference between where I've dropped my son off today at the great public school that he's at is not between schools, but between classrooms. The teacher quality is going to be pertinent.
We know that explicit teaching is what students respond strongly to and scaffold strongly from. We know the importance of deep content knowledge and deep learning, particularly in areas of student interest, and we know the power of collaboration.
In fact Maralyn Parker comes to mind in her very last article in the Telegraph, a very passionate lady about public education, said that no teacher, no teacher – this was in 2015 – needs to be professionally or personally isolated.
This is a profession where we can learn strongly from each other and grow from each other and that's what grows the expertise of the teaching profession. So I think even in the changing landscape it's great news that we're going to require very skilled, explicit teaching in every single classroom.
And I just add to Natasha, who I think was the first question in, all the research we see is a great future for teachers and teaching. A lot of professions are going to be hit very hard, a lot of careers are going to go, education is going to be changed by technology, but under every scenario that we've investigated we're going to need teachers in classrooms, we're going to need many more teachers in classrooms, and it's a great profession that you've chosen and a profession with a great future.
Just sticking with that technology theme, Mark, lots of coverage in the media today and over the weekend with our Federal Minister referencing mobile telephones and its intrusive nature and banning those in schools, I want to welcome Asan's question.
Asan says, "The millennials don't have the best reputation for patience" – I see it in my own household every day with my young family – "In a situation like this, Mark, how do we ensure deep content knowledge, given the changing technology landscape?"
As many of you know, I ran the ABC before I turned to education and I remarked that over that decade the technological transformation was just so remarkable and when the smartphone first emerged I thought it was going to be like a fancy sports car, very sleek, very expensive, impressive, probably wouldn't have one myself. I mean, we all misread the ubiquity of this technology.
There are more than 3 billion smartphones on the planet today, 2 billion will be sold this year, and the fact that we have young people in our schools, children in our schools at a very young age who have smartphones. I mean, this is a radical social experiment that is being conducted in real time and it has consequences. I think we're still trying to work through what those consequences are.
I do think it means for all of us – and I think this is adults, as well as young people – we need to make sure we have mastery of the technology, and one of the things I do constantly is just reading the research and reading the latest thinking about what impact this technology is having on our brains and the way we work and the way we're reprogramming our neuroplasty.
There is, I think, very strong evidence now that multitasking is manifestly inefficient, that we all need to know how to dive deeply and concentrate deeply and do deep work without distraction. And so I think dealing with the constant distraction that technology brings is something that we all need to master and we need to think through how that best operates in a school environment.
I appreciate it and I've seen commentary over the weekend that says smartphones can have good educational benefit in classes, that's for sure, but not always, and I think our ability, all of us, to put the phone away, to turn the phone off and to focus deeply on a task at hand without being distracted, I think this is a life skill we all need to master, starting with me.
Mark, a question from Elizabeth Webber who heads up our International Students Unit.
Elizabeth, how are you?
"You mentioned, Mark, preparing students for a globalised world. You covered the Four Cs, do we have good measures of implementation of the development of skills in global citizenship, in empathy, tolerance, analytical and critical thinking?"
Good question, Elizabeth. It's exactly the same question I've been asking the Australian Council for Educational Research. In fact, I've just joined the board of ACER. I'll be asking that question a lot more as well.
There's an old management maxim that says it's what's measured is what matters and I think part of the challenge we've got is there are some things we can measure quite well. We can measure literacy and numeracy development quite well. Now, that's what NAPLAN is trying to do.
We can measure knowledge, that's what the HSC is trying to measure. I think there's an argument that PISA, increasingly, is trying to measure general capability skills, but we're not as good at measuring those things, and I think what is really important is that we're not skewing the whole system towards those areas that we can measure well and lose sight of the fact there are other things that we may not measure as well that are equally as important at the moment and that we need better measurement for.
So I think this is a very real debate. It's something I'm discussing with CESE, it's something we're discussing with ACER and I hope that over time we put more tools in the hands of teachers so that they can actually measure improvement in these general capability areas, as we can measure improvement in other areas.
Some of the people involved with the Four C work and the Six C work have said there are some areas in our schools that we do this quite well anyway, in drama and in art and in music. Some of those things are harder to assess, but we can come to an assessment and a judgment around capabilities in those areas and I think it's an area where we need to do more work.
About 4 more minutes to go, so please keep your questions coming in. We've got Robert who asks a great question here. Mark, I know you've been doing a lot of work behind the scenes in this area, and Robert says he's had a state office role, as well as now back in schools and working in schools, so he's seen both roles that you've described today and he says, "How are you, Mark, and the executive going to live the values that you've outlined in the strategic plan?"
Yeah, good question. I mean, as you know, Murat, we've spent quite a bit of time at the executive thinking and talking about this. In fact, at the senior level of the department, Executive Directors and Dep Secretaries and me, we have developed a document which is basically on the way we work which is kind of deconstructing those values and it says in practice this is what it looks like, this is what it feels like, this is what we're asking people to do and I think that's a big step forward. We know that we need to model it.
Now, a couple of things that we're doing, at the end of our executive meetings now we ask someone to provide feedback to critique the meeting we've had for the last couple of hours and to just tell us how we've done, have we delivered on the values that we said we'd be delivering, have we worked in the way we say that we want to work?
And I value feedback. I mean, I find that when you start talking about values people judge you on that and if, in fact, you're not living the values or you're making decisions that don't seem to be aligned in the way we'd want them to be aligned people let me know, and I expect staff across the department will let me know and let senior members of the executive know.
But the values are important, I reckon, because it's not just about results. You can drive things hard and be very, very difficult and get good results, but you don't get results in a sustaining and enduring way. I want us to get great outcomes, but I want us to get great outcomes in the right way because if you do it in the right way, with the right values, that's becomes renewing and enduring and sustaining over time.
I just don't want a world class education system in 2019 or 2020, I want it to be enduring, I want us to land those outcomes in a way that is sustaining and renewing and enduring over time, and that's why the values are important and that's why we need to be held to account as well.
Two final questions, Mark. A very good question here. Our colleague says that you are out and about and visiting lots of schools and you've spoken about growing more great schools across the system. They've asked, "What are you looking for when you visit a school to know that it's a great school?"
Yeah, that's a really good question. I love talking with the leaders and the leadership team and I like getting out and about in schools, but I'm looking at a strategy that is in place, a principal and a leadership team that really know the students and the needs of that local community, they've got a strategy in place around improvement that are really reflective on what is happening at that school and are continuing to push levels of improvement and to deliver improved outcomes over time.
I actually find the very best schools that I go to, the schools that are achieving remarkably given what they're dealing with and in their communities are the most restless schools for further improvement. So they can tell you the strategy they've put in place, what worked, what didn't work and what they've finetuned and changed, where they've invested their money and then they go on and say and as a consequence of all of that we're up to here, here's what we're doing now.
But it's this restless commitment to every child and to improvement, I think, is the hallmark of some of our very finest schools.
And final question, Mark. "You've described a very exciting time for public education in New South Wales, one where we can all contribute to driving the strategic platform. You joined us in June 2016, you're fast approaching your second year in leading public education in New South Wales, what are you most proud of to date?"
Well, that's a good question. The time has gone by really quickly and I've heard someone say the days are long, but the years are short, and the days fly by. It's the passion and commitment of our staff, I think, that is the real hallmark. I mean, what drives people to work in public education is a commitment to young people and a commitment to their improvement.
And it's the scale and diversity of this system – big city high schools, some schools in tiny remote areas of the state, but no matter where I go in a high school of 2,000, in a school of six or eight students, I just see a passion and commitment, for teachers and all those who are working in education to help every young person in our care.
So that's what impresses me, it knocks me over every day and I want to thank everyone for the work they're doing and their commitment to having a great year in 2018.
So that wraps us up. I know busy days ahead in schools, big professional development day in some of our schools, and other schools there are children already packing into every classroom.
So thanks for finding the time today, thanks to our corporate staff as well who've been part of this activity, and I look forward to seeing many of you in our travels around the state. In fact, we'll be meeting principals all around the state in a road show that we're doing in just a few weeks' time.
So I look forward to seeing some of you there, and thanks for your work, thanks for your continued feedback and thanks for all you're doing for the children of New South Wales.
End of transcript.