Revolution in the Classroom


For some time now there's been a bruising debate about the balance of funding handed out to public and private schools. No one doubts it's an important debate, but many educators believe it has helped obscure an even more fundamental question about where the money is spent. Over the past decade, the Federal Government has spent billions of dollars trying to lower class sizes, increase the use of computers and boost investment in school buildings. At the same time, Australia's educational performance relative to key neighbouring countries has been falling. The question is why?

For some the answer is simple. Money is being spent in the wrong places. Experts point to a growing body of research that says good teachers are the major determining factor in how a child performs at school. They claim that too little money is being spent on improving teacher performance. To make matters worse, state school principals are not empowered to make decisions about how their schools are staffed and run. As a result, some good teachers go unrewarded and bad teachers cannot be sacked.

As one educational researcher puts it:

"Outside of the home environment and the family situation, the biggest impact on a kid's education is teacher effectiveness. The quality of the instruction the teacher provides that student... If you have a teacher, one of the top performing teachers in Australia compared to one of the least effective teachers in Australia, that can be as much as a years difference."

Four Corners looks at the impediments to better teaching. Imagine running a business where you can't choose your own staff. Where you don't have control of your own budget to invest in innovative programs to improve the product you create. That's the situation many state school principles must deal with.

"If you want the school to have the best staff, you have to choose them and they have to be able to match the needs of the school." - School Principal

This week Four Corners visits three very different schools and talks to the people who are trying to change the system from within. As they tell the us, it's hard work but it is possible to dramatically turn a school around and change children's lives.

"Revolution in the Classroom", hosted by Kerry O'Brien, goes to air on Monda,y 6 February at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is repeated on Tuesday, 7 February at 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 at 8.00pm on Saturdays and online at ABC iview and at

By Matthew Carney and Janine Cohen  - Updated February 2, 2012 11:19:00

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