Senator Hanson Young -What is the opinion of the Tasmanian education department when it comes to how information that is presented on the My School website is used by other parties?
Mrs Lidster -Are you referring to particular other parties like the media or-
Senator Hanson Young -You could take the media, yes.
Mrs Lidster -I think it is important that the information is presented responsibly. That is always our government's policy. We certainly work to ensure that we educate people-and media are one of the stakeholders-in responsible reporting of information about schools. We provide them with as much background as possible to interpret the information that they are reporting.
Senator Hanson Young -Have you had any concerns that particular media reports have not done that?
Mrs Lidster -Yes.
Senator Hanson Young -I guess there is a limited amount you can do in terms of educating people. If people want to use the information that way, then I guess they can. Do you think there is anything that can be done to avoid that?
Mrs Lidster -At the moment, we are investigating improving our website in line with improvements that I understand will be happening to My School-that is, to have people sign in to the website and actually be educated at the point of entry to the website about responsible use of the information. I think it is a huge dilemma. I know there have been discussions nationally around legislating, but we have a dilemma between a right for the public to have information and appropriate reporting and use of that information. I do not think anybody has a simple solution.
Senator Hanson Young -What are the concerns if information is not reported or used responsibly? What concerns do you have in terms of the impact that has on the various interest groups?
Mrs Lidster -I think it harms communities and the relationship between communities and their schools. They are working closely together. Education is a partnership. When you see on the front page of the paper that your school has not performed very well-without context, taken as one piece of information without a whole range of other pieces of information-it is hurtful and damaging to the relationship and the confidence that the public has in their schooling system.
Senator Hanson Young -Do you think it is simply other parties, whether it be the media or anyone else for that matter, misusing the information that is currently on the My School website, and that is just them being irresponsible? Or could something be done to complement the information that is currently there, something that would help put that context in?
Mrs Lidster -I think that is the point I was making earlier. It is really important to put the range of measures there. It is also important that schools are able to provide comment and commentary around the information on the websites so that the whole picture can be presented. Then, when there is a report that says the school has done very poorly in, say, reading, it can be seen that perhaps there has been a focus on numeracy in the school or perhaps development in the early years has improved in terms of reading. It might be a particular area-say, in grade 5-where they need to pay some more attention. Further information would provide a broader picture of the educational focus for that particular school and their community.
Senator Hanson Young -You talk in your submission about the need to expand or build upon the like-school comparisons and the index used to manipulate that. What do you think tangibly needs to be done? Is it that ICSEA does not provide the information that we need or is it that it is too narrow?
Mrs Lidster -The best information-and this is acknowledged broadly-that we can have is the individual student information on parental education and occupation. We have been improving nationally the collection of that information. At the moment in Tasmania we have that information for 95 per cent of students. That will enable us to do the analysis that Dr Ben Jensen referred to, in relation to taking into account the background variable data that will improve the way we report.
Senator Hanson Young -Dr Jensen referenced Victoria as a state that has a lot of that data.
Mrs Lidster -They do, yes.
Senator Hanson Young -You are saying that the Tasmanian education system does as well?
Mrs Lidster -Yes, and there are other states and territories that have been really improving the percentage of that collection. It has been a focus across the nation. We should, if we continue to focus on improving the collection of that information, have the best opportunity to provide that background, better than we are able to at the moment.
Senator Hanson Young -What do you think is the purpose of the like school comparison?
Mrs Lidster -Comparing a very privileged community to a very underprivileged community, we know that children arrive at school having had very different experiences. They do not all start at the same place. Therefore it is really unfair to judge a school where, in three years of working with those children, they have not been able to achieve the same results as a school where children have predominantly come from a much more privileged background. So we need to take into account the background of our students in order to evaluate the quality of the education that we are providing.
Senator Hanson Young -I asked Dr Jensen this question: if we are not going to be as broad sweeping around the current make-up of the ICSEA index, where we should we be looking at the baseline in terms of them being able to make those determinations about like school comparisons or even cohorts of students as they move through the generations? Where does that baseline start?
Mrs Lidster -I was not certain about this when you asked the question last time. By the baseline, are you referring to what we would want to be the minimum standard that we want students to achieve?
Senator Hanson Young -If the idea is to be able to ensure that there is progression-and I do not think value added measures are just about progression; I think it is all the other stuff that you have been outlining in terms of the context-surely we need to know where we are starting from. At the moment it is year 3, but clearly putting into context students that have not had two years access to four days a week at kindergarten are going to be at a different base than students who have only had one day a week for a year.
Mrs Lidster -Thank you. I understand your question. There are two things there. One is that we would want to improve the outcome. So no matter where you start from as a young person coming into school, we would want to make the same level of progress for every student. Everybody deserves the right to improve in their learning outcomes. I think the challenge in Australia is that we want to make a bigger difference when children come whose early learning is not there. Therefore the effort that is being put in, particularly in Tasmania, is in relation to improving the preparation for starting school-so working with families. That is a pattern around Australia and that will actually help. We want high outcomes for all students.
Senator Hanson Young -I guess the reason I am asking that is because it is then about access to that resource as a parent in those early years, and that may not necessarily be based on your socio-economic background. It may be that you are in rural Australia and you do not have access to a four-day-a-week kindergarten, for example. How do we ensure that that information is captured in a way that does not then discriminate against those students when they do enter school?
Mrs Lidster -I think the challenge for us all in providing an education for Australians is that we need to be able to reach people all over Australia, no matter where they are, in terms of providing information to parents about what they can do with their young child before they come to school. It is about the things we can do to make a difference to improve learning for students rather than necessarily focusing on how we can explain where we have not done it. I am not shirking the question; I am just saying it really is important and that is a challenge we face, especially in remote areas. Even though Tasmania is small, we do have a few remote areas as well.
Senator Hanson Young -You have said that in Tasmania you have your own state based My School version that has obviously been up and running longer than the federal government's project. Do you believe that the information on the site is more contextualised than that on the national site at the moment?
Mrs Lidster -It is at the moment because we have the advantage within states of having a lot more consistent information than we do nationally at this stage.
Senator Hanson Young -Since you site was up and running have you seen an increase in the engagement between parents and their school communities, teachers and principals? If this is not about shunting low-performing schools and about encouraging parents to engage in their kids' education, which is what we are being told it is, have you seen an increase in your website and what has been the impact since the national site has been up and running?
Mrs Lidster -I can only speak anecdotally in relation to parents' engagement with their local schools. Anecdotally, there have been a lot more conversations around that. I can say that, when you provide a whole suite of information, there is probably no school that is hitting the top marks in every area. That is the nature of any endeavour, especially something as complex as a school and providing an education for students. There will be areas of strengths and areas of weaknesses. That is where it is valuable to share it publicly with parents, so that they can have that discussion with the school around how they can improve it. Because it is a partnership, things like attendance, for example, are not in the total control of the school. They can encourage attendance but in actual fact parents have a direct responsibility in relation to attendance. There are great conversations happening in relation to it.
Each year we seek feedback from our schools in relation to how we can improve what is reported on the website. As a jurisdiction we are also working closely in partnership with ACARA around how the My School websites will be enhanced. The learning that we have had in Tasmania, and also in Victoria and other states, feeds into what will be happening in My School.
Senator Hanson Young -What is your response to the argument that My School is a wonderful resource-the NAPLAN is great because we can get the baseline data and we can punch it all into the My School website-because it gives parents a choice.
Mrs Lidster -I actually do not believe that most parents have a choice.
Senator Hanson Young -Can you expand on that.
Mrs Lidster -There are instances where parents might go to the website if they are moving from state to state, but they are making their choice about where they live for a whole range of reasons, and it is not going to be predominantly because of My School. I am not saying that they will not go there and have a look, but you also have to consider that there are a lot of disadvantaged people who cannot look at the website and say, 'I am going to move somewhere or send my child to a school that has got better results than this school.' So, I do not believe that choice comes into it.