AITSL The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership

Reflecting on the purpose of school education

Reflecting on the purpose of school education.

- Margery Evans, Chief Executive Officer of AITSL, 24 April 2013

With so much attention on school funding at the moment, it seems appropriate to step back and reflect on the true purpose of school education in the twenty first century. In any discussion of the financial contribution required to educate a child, it’s equally important to reflect on the return we should expect from this investment.

I use the word investment intentionally. Talk of the cost associated with schooling is important, but not as important as taking the longer-term view of what we expect school education to deliver, beyond success for each individual student.

One of the things that’s not always made explicit is the direct correlation between the impact of a universal system of high quality school education, and democratic, social and economic prosperity. The purpose of school has never just been about educating a child to be job-ready, it is equally about securing the future of a nation.

One of the most interesting questions to reflect on is how can we be certain that our nation is getting the best out of every young learner? Until we see every student as integral to the present and future prosperity of our nation, we will never realise our fullest potential. 

Historically our schools and our teachers have been about the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student. While knowledge and skill acquisition remain an important, although certainly not the sole purpose of schooling, the way that happens and the role of a teacher has changed considerably. At AITSL, we have attempted to reflect this in the development of the professional standards for teachers and illustrated in the Promoting Student Responsibility Illustration of Practice.

In 2013, our teachers, in classrooms all over Australia, take on a far more complex and significant role than has previously been required or expected. John Hattie’s research reminds us that teacher quality continues to be the most significant determinate of in-school success and we should never lose sight of this.

While we can continue to debate what school is for, what is, and always will be consistent is the vital importance of excellent teaching. Our schools will only ever be as good as those who transform buildings into imaginative learning spaces which open students hearts and minds to the world around them and prepare them to take their place in that world.

How would you define the purpose of school? What is the implication for quality teaching and school leadership? 

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