The Gonski 2.0 review of education will recommend an evidence-based teaching system for schools, ranking the most successful actions teachers can take to improve student learning – although the main teaching union has warned it will resist any attempt to turn this into a performance league table.
The evidence-based teaching approach has featured in most submissions to the review and a government source confirmed Labor's recent announcement of an Evidence Institute for Schools anticipates the Gonski 2.0 review.
Last year the Turnbull government put an extra $23 billion over 10 years on the table for school education, and appointed businessman David Gonski to look at how the money should best be used, not just how much is spent.
Evidence-based systems rate different teaching interventions for their effectiveness in months gained of extra learning, for example how one-to-one tuition compares with extra homework. And it uses different techniques to give instantaneous feedback to teachers on how well specific lessons are being picked up by students.
In its submission to the review, the Centre for Independent Studies said: "Evidence-based policy is more than just anecdotes. Possessing an evidence base means reliable research has been done on the practices underpinning the policy."
Senior research fellow at the CIS, Jennifer Buckingham, said feedback systems are effective if they have a common language, use explicit results and are widely shared. Evidence shows heavy expenditure and use of technology does not have a substantial impact on student results, she said, whereas a specific program such as Maths Pathway, used by more than 200 schools, has doubled the growth rate at which students are mastering the curriculum.
The Australian Education Union said it is important any evidence database is not used in a punitive way or to reward some teachers financially over others.
President of the AEU Correna Haythorpe said the idea of performance pay, based on league tables, is abhorrent to the union. "Some schools in low socio-economic status communities have a three-year education gap. We don't provide them enough help. It would be wrong not to provide the right resources and then punish the teachers because the students weren't doing well enough."
Labor's shadow education minister, Tanya Plibersek, who has spoken extensively to the Gonski 2.0 review, said the ALP's proposed $280 million Evidence Institute for Schools would aggregate student performance in the same way the National Health and Medical Research Council pooled data for doctors.
She said the ALP wanted to improve the prestige of teaching in the community and wanted to incentivise good teachers, through career progression based on competency, not just on time served. She rejected any suggestion an Evidence Institute would be used to reward some teachers over others.
Social Ventures Australia, which directs philanthropic dollars into successful activities, has set up an education offshoot, Evidence for Learning, which ranks the impact of different interventions in school education.
Evidence for Learning pooled results from more than 10,000 education research trials and rated them by three criteria: value-add to learning, cost to implement and confidence in the evidence.
"Feedback", giving specific information on a student's performance, came top of the list with eight months' extra learning achieved at a low cost and 3 out of 5 for confidence.
By contrast, "reducing class sizes" was far more costly and added, on average, only three months of value-add with the same 3 out of 5 for confidence
At the bottom of the list was "repeating a year", which came at the highest cost but led to four months less learning and scored 3 out of 5 for confidence.
Director of Evidence For Learning Matthew Deeble said it's understandable for a funder to say they only want to spend money on things they know will work.
"You want to fund a structure that makes the best knowledge available and encourage every school to use it. There are schools in remote conditions with many challenges. They won't have the same needs as schools on the north shore of Sydney with strong family dynamics at home."
Any feedback data should be transparently available across all teachers and all schools.
The Institute for Public Affairs believes the role for Canberra in education should be so small the think tank decided to not even make a submission to Gonski 2.0.
Research fellow at IPA Daniel Wild argued student performance is driven by parents and home life. "Teachers aren't welfare workers," he said.
"Government should be looking at vouchers, more decentralisation and whether we even need a national curriculum. That should be up to schools. The state should not be responsible for curriculum."
The Gonski 2.0 review was handed to the government last week and is due to be made public towards the end of April.