How would the recent Review of the Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) measure up to the standards of the work we require of HSC students?
In 10 years as a Society and Culture teacher, I have overseen many Personal Interest Projects (PIPs) — student-directed inquiries where candidates are led towards a significant, cohesive work of social research, demonstrating methodological and analytical skills and conclusions.
Undertaken across three terms of the HSC, the final product is more than 5000 words in length, synthesising a range of skills and capacities.
The PIP is a fine example of the very best of NSW curriculum and pedagogy, reflecting the strengths of BOSTES syllabus design, idealism, processes and intellectual rigour.
Young charges beginning their PIP are offered good advice.
1. Say something that matters. Think about your audience and the big issues of our society and aim for a unique idea or approach or analysis.
2. Assume your audience is intelligent but uninformed about your study.
3. This is no time for personal agendas. Be honest about who you are and what you believe. Reflect on your own biases (no soap boxes, please).
4. If your conclusion is “Yes (everything I originally thought was correct)”, you aren’t doing real inquiry.
5. Triangulate your evidence for each point before drawing a conclusion. Know the distinction between correlation and cause and if you don’t have adequate evidence, say so, or maybe just accept you need to let the issue go.
6. Anonymity of individuals is typically protected but always reveal and reflect upon the nature and validity of all of your sources.
So, if this is the standard we hold in NSW for teenagers undertaking inquiry as part of their HSC, just how well does the review of the BOSTES hold up by comparison?
1. Say something that matters
Neo-management-speak pervades the review and the conclusions are generally as ideological and/or as empty as the language. Suggestions that the BOSTES should be “agile” and “strategic” are hardly profound. Notions in the review of “internal champions focused on removing red tape” and seeking “external advice” to “achieve cultural change” reveal the rather clichéd “change”’ of which the reviewers dream. It is unclear from the review who has called for cultural change: the consultation actually suggested high regard in NSW for the expertise and professionalism of the BOSTES staff.
Recommendation 1, the very first gift to the profession in the review, is that the Education Minister should write one letter each year to the new Board. The transformative nature of the letter, to be known by its rather pedestrian official title as the Letter of Expectation from the minister, is apparently self-evident.
I must confess the pedagogical and strategic power of such an epistle is not immediately transparent. For a moment I thought, “If only I had written a Letter of Expectation to my class each year. Oh, how things might have been so different! — so much more agile and strategic.” Maybe not.
2. Assume an intelligent audience
In the review, the newly-branded, “NSW Education Standards Authority” has a justification that is perhaps the weakest part of the review and simultaneously the most wasteful and insulting to the intellect of teachers and the people of NSW (incidentally, it will be the third new name for the body in three years). Its big conclusion is that the distinction between the Board and the Office of the BOSTES is too confusing.
3. This is no time for personal agendas
The review panel’s conclusions are often not supported in the review’s own consultation. One of the most telling lines of the report states that: “... no stakeholder advocated ceding any of the state’s responsibilities for setting and regulating education standards”. Nonetheless, the review recommends that NSW should cede curriculum and assessment authority to Canberra.
4. If your conclusion is “Yes” you aren’t doing inquiry.
“It’s the whole vibe of the thing” is somewhat a prevailing feature of the review with declarations without evidence such as “the Review Panel has been left with the sense of a growing disengagement from national reforms”.
This may come as a surprise to teachers and BOSTES bureaucrats in NSW who have been engaged for many years in leading and working with state and national partners in areas such as teacher accreditation, university entry standards and national curriculum.
Despite pushing on to make the case for a reduced Board membership, the Panel actually found that “the representative nature of the Board and the organisation’s commitment to consultative and collaborative approaches is highly regarded by those involved”. They also find that there must be space in the new Board for someone who represents the “public interest, including business acumen and strategic advisory skills”. Meanwhile, no specific mention is made for the need for having government school principals or parents on such a Board.
5. Triangulate your evidence and understand correlation and cause.
In Recommendation 7, the review panel calls for a “streamlined”, “adopt and adapt” syllabus development and review process despite its consultation finding that stakeholders supported the “quality of NSW syllabuses and the consultative approach taken by BOSTES to their development”.
The consultation also found that the “majority who completed the online survey feel the syllabus enables them to adapt their teaching and learning according to classroom needs”.
Yet the panel concluded that NSW should abandon its historically successful approach to syllabus development, which is well supported by the teachers who implement the curriculum. Its justification is that Victoria implemented “adopt and adapt” and achieved statistically insignificant NAPLAN results when compared with NSW.
6. Reveal and reflect upon the nature and validity of your sources.
Whilst there is a complete absence of any reference to public education in the report, the Review Panel noted that, “BOSTES regulatory processes have come under increasing pressure as a result of the growth in non-government schools”.
In the section on school registration, despite opening with the statement, “Stakeholders are supportive of the organisation’s expertise in school registration”, the panel details the lamentations of two private schools that “compiling all the documents took many months, with the schools conference table covered in a mountain of paper” and “their school had uploaded approximately 600 documents in support of renewal of registration”. Oh, dear.
Regrettably, the review into the BOSTES fails on many intellectual and methodological measures to meet the standards we expect of our HSC students in NSW.
Carly Boreland has taught in a range of schools in NSW and is a head teacher