Australian Politics 2022-10-18 08:23:00


Teachers turning to YouTube and Facebook to source lesson material, damning new report says

I am not at all sure I am on-board with the idea of government-provided lesson plans for teachers. It would certainly help if experienced teachers passed on their usual lesson plans to newbie teachers but having the government do that would reduced the already limited diversity in what is taught. It could make a lesson into not much more than a video.

There is a better option: The teacher could know her subject matter so well that no preparation is needed. The teacher could just look at the curriculum and talk about it. It's what I did as a teacher of High School economics. I just talked about what I found interesting or exciting about economic issues. That generated real student interest and my students did very well at exam time.

So subject knowledge should get heavy emphasis in teacher training. I had not one minute of teacher training but I have an almost missionary zeal to communicate the realities of economics

Teachers are relying on YouTube, Facebook and Pinterest to source classroom materials in a “lesson lottery’’ for students that will prompt a ­national review of curriculum planning.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said he would raise the Grattan Institute’s alarming findings of “rudderless teachers’’ at his next meeting with state and territory ministers in ­December.

He said teachers were working unnecessarily hard because they often had to plan lessons from scratch. “If we get this right, this has the potential to really reduce the workload on teachers,’’ he told The Australian.

“I am keen to talk to teachers about the findings in this report, as well as ACARA (the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) and my state and territory colleagues when we meet in December.’’

The Grattan Institute survey of 1915 teachers and 328 principals across Australia reveals that half are interpreting the curriculum on their own to devise assignments and set lesson plans.

YouTube is twice as popular as education department websites for sourcing teaching mat­erial, with two-thirds of teachers accessing YouTube at least once a fortnight, compared to 31 per cent using government websites.

Half the teachers buy lesson plans from Teachers Pay Teachers – an online marketplace with more than 16,000 assignments, assessments and lesson plans for sale.

One in four teachers uses Facebook, one in five uses Pinterest, 12 per cent use Instagram and 5 per cent use Twitter to source assignments and lesson plans.

In contrast, one in five teachers used professional teacher association websites and 17 per cent used the Khan Academy website for inspiration.

Only 15 per cent of teachers have access to a common bank of high-quality curriculum materials for all their classes, the survey found.

A third of teachers have no access to common material for any of their subjects.

“High-quality curriculum materials are hard to find,’’ the Grattan Institute report states. “The internet is awash with options, but not a lot of detail about quality.’’

The survey found that a typical teacher spent six hours a week sourcing and creating mat­erials – and one in four teachers spent more than 10 hours a week planning lessons.

“Teachers are struggling with the curriculum planning load,’’ lead author and Grattan Institute education program director Jordana Hunter said on Sunday.

“Teachers tell us they often plan alone from scratch, searching social media to try to find lesson materials. This creates Australia’s lesson lottery – it undermines student learning and adds to the workload of our overstretched teachers.’’

The Grattan Institute estimates teachers would save three hours a week by sharing curriculum materials – adding up to 20 million teacher hours every year.

It found that a high school teacher with four subjects would need to spend 2000 hours to develop curriculum materials for all their classes if they had to start from scratch.

Ninety per cent of teachers surveyed agreed that sharing high-quality instructional materials would free up time to evaluate and respond to individual student learning needs.

“Great teaching requires classroom instruction based on well-designed, knowledge-rich and carefully sequenced lessons that build student knowledge and skills over time,’’ Dr Hunter said.

“Without a whole-school approach to curriculum planning, which carefully sequences learning of key knowledge and skills across subjects and year levels, even the hardest-working teachers will struggle to give their students the best education.’’

The Grattan Institute wants governments and the Catholic and independent education sectors to invest in high-quality, comprehensive curriculum materials, and make them available to all schools to adapt and use, if they choose.

“These materials should be quality-assured by an independent body,’’ the report states.

NSW has already announced it will build a library of syllabus materials for use in schools, while the Victorian government recommends a whole-school approach to curriculum planning to avoid repetition or gaps in learning.

Queensland’s Education Department provides lessons and assessment tasks through its Curriculum into the Classroom, or C2C, program.

The Grattan Institute survey found that only one-third of teachers agreed government-provided instructional materials were of high quality, with half saying the resources were hard to find.

Dr Hunter said teachers in disadvantaged schools were only half as likely to have access to a common bank of curriculum mat­erials as teachers in wealthier schools. “Many teachers and students get a losing ticket in the ­lesson lottery,’’ she said.

“The Australian curriculum and its state variants provide high-level direction only, leaving vast gaps for teachers to fill in.

“For too long, governments have underestimated the subject-matter knowledge, curriculum expertise and time required to bring the curriculum to life in the classroom.’’

The Grattan Institute criticises individualised curriculum planning as “hugely inefficient’’.

“In reality, teachers are struggling to fit the hours required into their working week,’’ the report says. “The current system wastes time and results in lost learning.

“Every school and teacher should have access to comprehensive curriculum materials that they can choose to use and adapt as required.

“As an immediate priority, governments should consider buying high-quality materials from overseas, and adapting them to the Australian context.’’

The Grattan Institute report notes that students can leap ahead in learning by one or two months a year when teachers use carefully sequenced, high-quality curriculum materials.

“Materials need to be specific about what knowledge students are expected to learn,’’ the report says. “(They) should include targeted assessments that enable teachers to accurately assess student learning of particular concepts, content and skills taught.’’

Half the high school teachers surveyed were teaching a subject for the first time, and 15 per cent of primary school teachers were taking on a new year level.


Australian government betting nation's economic future on renewable energy delusion

You don’t have to be a climate sceptic to conclude that the government’s energy policy is bonkers. You just have to listen to the Energy Minister’s words. Last week, Chris Bowen outlined the challenge of meeting Labor’s 2030 emissions reduction target to a conference in Sydney. Reducing emissions by 43 per cent will require the installation of 40 seven-megawatt wind turbines every month from now until 2030, each one as tall as the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It will require more than 22,000 500-watt solar panels to be installed every day for the next eight years, 2.4 for every man, woman and child in total. New solar farms would cover an area dozens of times larger than the Melbourne CBD.

All this supposes we can buy the things in the first place. Polysilicon wafers are in short supply and 95 per cent come from China.

Let’s not even get started on the pink batts question. The rooftop solar installation business is plagued with the same shonky operators that turn up like wasps to a barbecue when subsidised, government mega-projects are announced.

Last month, the Clean Energy Regulator started investigations against a Perth company accused of fraudulently claiming $1.5m in solar panel installation rebates. NSW Fire and Rescue attended 151 solar panel fires in 2020-21, up from 56 in the previous year, faulty isolation switches being the main cause.

Jeff Dimery, the head of Alinta who has had somewhat more experience in the energy game than Bowen, says we’re on course for an energy transition “train wreck”.

“I personally don’t believe we can achieve the transition based on what we’re seeing to date,” Dimery told the AFR last week. “I think we’re headed for failure.”

Anthony Albanese was elected on a promise to cut household energy bills by $275 in his first term. A survey by Compass Polling last month found 70 per cent of Australians don’t believe him. Last week Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb told a parliamentary committee household energy bills had risen by $300 since April.

Dimery predicts energy costs will rise by at least 35 per cent in 2023. Jim Chalmers says energy is the most “problematic aspect of our inflation problem over the course of the next six or nine months”.

Yet Bowen stood as steady as the legless Black Knight in a Monty Python movie last week, refusing to budge. He told the conference that “getting more renewables in the system will mean lower power prices”. He added: “I don’t think that should be such a controversial statement in Australia in 2022.”

Bowen is betting the future of the economy on his counterintuitive assumption that a transition from hydrocarbons to solar, wind and batteries will bring the cost of energy down.

In every country that has gone down this path, the very opposite has occurred. Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy prices had risen between 60 per cent and 100 per cent in Britain and Germany since renewable investment began at the start of the century. In Australia, energy prices fell for 60 years until the start of the renewable era. Now they’re rising.

Bowen hasn’t said when the correlation between rising investment in weather-dependent zero-carbon energy and rising prices will start to reverse. He does, however, stand by the modelling he commissioned in opposition, which predicts that the average household energy bill will fall by $385 once we reach the magic 82 per cent renewables share in the energy grid in eight years’ time.

Rising electricity prices aren’t all bad news, according to Guardian Australia, which reported last week that sales of household solar arrays were through the roof. To illustrate what good news this supposedly is, the Guardian claimed rooftop solar supplied almost three-quarters of WA’s total energy demand on the weekend before last. Confirmation-biased reporting like this demands a little fact checking.

The Australian Energy Market Operator’s records show rooftop solar supplied 71 per cent of demand in WA at 12.30pm on Saturday, October 8. Between 6pm Saturday and 6am on Sunday, however, rooftop solar was supplying 0 per cent. During that period three-quarters of the power was supplied by coal and gas.

The answer to this little hiccup, as every Guardian Australia reader knows, is to install batteries, which, as every Guardian reader also knows, are getting cheaper by the minute.

The cost is falling so fast that electric cars and vans will be cheaper to buy than petrol or diesel vehicles by 2027, the newspaper reported in May last year. In February this year, however, economic reality reared its ugly head. “Gone ballistic” read the Guardian’s headline. “Lithium price rockets nearly 500% in a year amid electric vehicle rush.”

The cost of installing a Tesla Powerwall, a domestic energy storage unit the size of a fridge, has risen from less than $10,000 in 2017 to about $19,000 today.

None of this should surprise. Improved technology and manufacturing efficiency gains were only going to push battery prices downwards for so long. The International Energy Agency has analysed the cost of moving from a fuel-intensive energy system to a material-intensive one. Far from eliminating hydrocarbons, the IEA forecasts, the demand for minerals such as lithium, graphite, nickel, copper and rare earths will rise by 4200 per cent, 2500 per cent, 1900 per cent and 700 per cent respectively by 2040.

If nothing else destroys the delusion that renewable energy offers nothing but healing kindness to a desiccated planet, the rapacious hunger for minerals surely must. In an influential recent paper for the Manhattan Institute, Mark P. Mills predicts that meeting the world’s transition goals will require dozens of new mines for each of a dozen classes of minerals, each at the scale of some of the biggest mines in the world today and each requiring tens of billions of dollars of investment.

“The lessons of the recent decade make it clear that SWB (solar, wind, batteries) technologies cannot be surged in times of need, are neither inherently ‘clean’ nor even independent of hydrocarbons, and are not cheap,” Mills writes.

Having set Australia’s 2030 and 2050 emissions targets in stone, it falls on Bowen and Anthony Albanese to produce plan B. Assuming, of course, they have one.


Private all-boys school has encouraged teachers to use gender neutral language instead of the terms 'boy' or 'young man'.

Principal Deborah Frizza of St Bede's College in Menton, in Melbourne's southeast, said in a letter to staff this week that the school was looking to change the language it uses following updated Victoria Child Safe Standards.

'Can I ask that we start to use gender neutral language in our communications where possible?' the letter read, reports The Herald Sun. 'I know it can be challenging when communicating with the parents of senior students and calling them 'children', so if anyone has a better gender neutral term than this, please let me know.

'The use of the term 'student' rather than 'young man' or 'boy' can easily be made. I'm yet to find an alternative for 'Beda Boy' (graduated students), and given the history of this term, we would need to think carefully on any changes here.'

Following some backlash in the media, the college confirmed that 'at no stage' were teachers instructed not to use the gender-specific terms at all.

'There are, and will continue to be, boys, young men and 'Beda Boys' within our College community,' a statement from the school on Monday read. 'At the forefront of our minds is, and will remain, the inclusion of all students at St Bede's College.'

Victoria's updated Child Safety Standards say schools must: 'Pay particular attention to the needs of children and young people with disability, children and young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, those who are unable to live at home, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children and young people'.

School campuses across the country are increasingly sparking debate as they make changes to become more inclusive.

Northlakes High School on the NSW Central Coast was recently accused of 'going woke' when they installed 'He/They' and 'She/They' signage of their toilet block.

In South Australia schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom they feel comfortable with or provide them a private bathroom.


Federal anti-corruption body will have no limits on its power to punish the innocent

The process can become the punishment

David Flint

Acting against corruption should obviously be just and efficient. This basic consideration should not be abandoned in parliament’s unseemly rush to ram through the National Anti-Corruption Commission bills before their long summer break.

While the NACC will never be a court, its powers will limit matters surely implied in the Constitution just as freedom of political communication is. These include the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial.

Following the NSW ICAC disaster, the NACC will enjoy the power to impose, through public hearings punishment so serious that it has too often ruined the lives of the innocent, a breach of the constitutional separation of powers.

The name ICAC came from Hong Kong. This was in those halcyon days under the rule of law when the colony was a magnet not only for those escaping the brutal communist dictatorship, but also those from elsewhere who chose to live where government was benign and limited.

As Australia’s leading legal commentator, Chris Merritt, reminded me during an interview for the new media platform ADHTV, the HK model was a quality specialist unit efficiently investigating and prosecuting relevant breaches of criminal law. This remains a simple and ideal model.

While the Greiner government imported the name, it foolishly thought it could improve on the model. Its first innocent victim was Greiner, the first of three premiers..

Such is the wisdom of the NSW parliament, that when the High Court subsequently exposed the fundamental ‘errors’ of ICAC in its totally unjustified persecution of the leading barrister Margaret Cunneen, legislation was rushed through to validate the errors. Then another premier fell to the monster.

If this is typical of the quality of judgment of our ruling political class, it should not be surprising that the Albanese government has chosen too much of the NSW model for NACC.

Despite virtuous commissioners and counsel, the ICAC head was to boast to neophyte barristers that, without such tedious limitations as the laws of evidence, examining any witness that got into its clutches was ‘fun’, akin to ‘pulling wings off butterflies’.

Meanwhile, to the delight of scandal-mongers in the media, ICAC took on the trappings of a court, and imposed parallel systems of public opproprium and of punishment.

The centrepiece is the ‘walk of shame’ along Castlereagh Street where the innocent are paraded as if they are in tumbrils during the Reign of Terror. A similar process in South Australia led to suicide with parliament sensibly halting a process more suited to the Maoist Cultural Revolution.

While agencies like ICAC have no authority to convict and pass sentence, Margaret Cunneen warns they have developed a means of condemning those who should be presumed innocent, imposing punishment ‘which in many cases is far worse’, even using this to justify their existence.

Coopting the media into the role of punisher, she warned this had been embraced in some quarters with ‘a relish that could easily be confused with malice.’

Just as the police never use and cannot use public hearings, neither should the NACC. This is just not part of our Anglo-American legal tradition.

The Americans had long clung to this in even colonial times. Today corruption investigations do not involve public hearings by ICAC equivalents. They are heard by constitutionally prescribed grand juries meeting in private. Their only public words are two at the conclusion when they either authorise or refuse a public trial before a judge and a (petit) jury of 12. They are the endorsement on the bill of indictment either as a ‘true bill’ or ‘no bill’.

There is another matter which requires reconsideration. One of the weaknesses of ICAC is that its model is grossly inefficient. Evidence taken is inadmissible in court and there can be long delays in a matter being taken up by the DPP and going to a real court. With the NACC, it seems inadmissibility will be restricted to evidence which involves self-incrimination. To overcome any delay the NACC should be restricted to truly serious corruption – that is corruption which if proven would constitute a criminal offence.

The legislators should pay serious attention to a requirement proposed by Chris Merritt. This is that once the NACC concludes that it is likely that a crime has been committed, a brief of evidence should be sent to the DPP without any public comment or finding.

Finally, as to just what the NACC will examine, corrupt conduct is unwisely not to be limited to crime. As Chris Merritt points out, the pages of the legislation defining what is corrupt conduct recalls what is known as a Henry VIII clause, an unacceptable power to amend or repeal an act of parliament by regulation.

The NACC should not be tied up in the endless and wasteful distraction of trying to decide what is corrupt. That is for Parliament to define as a crime.

Acton defined the cause of corruption as power which tends to corrupt, with absolute power corrupting absolutely. This is corruption and it should be illegal.

If the political class wish to restore their credibility, they must concede that the gross and, as demonstrated here, totally unjustified abuse of executive power at all levels during the pandemic costing taxpayers billions and imposing vast suffering must never happen again. This requires not only a royal commission by a bench of eminent judges, but also urgent, immediate legislation to make serious misfeasance in public office a crime.

This would mean that where such misfeasance occurs, as it did so flagrantly in the live cattle ban case, not only would taxpayers have to pay vast damages for ministers acting deliberately or recklessly beyond power, but the politicians involved should also face a criminal trial for such corruption.