Why this parent is for NAPLAN

Memo to teachers: surely transparency in schools is a good thing.

TeachersĀ are truly wonderful people. Anyone who has wandered onto the grounds of an ordinary neighbourhood public school gets that these people aren't in the occupation for the glory.

Teaching is hard work, no doubt - and everyone's an expert, which must drive them all bonkers. (You know how I could be doing this better? Excellent, then pop in and take year 9 science on a Friday afternoon when Johnny's only interest is setting fire to Stevie's hair with the Bunsen burner.)

So I sympathise, truly I do, and I still give thanks very often for my own teachers, who gave me a start in life, in every sense - a desire to look out over the horizon and a sense of the value of quality work.

You can hear the ''but'' coming can't you? There is a ''but'' in this column and it's this: what is going on with the transparency discussion right now?

Am I the only person in the country who thinks the publication of Australia's school results has been a huge advance? Because sometimes I feel that way.

NAPLAN, for me, is a guide. Not a stone tablet falling from the sky but an indicator. One of many.

I gather from all the hand wringing and headline hogging in recent times that a lot of teachers and many very learned educational experts don't like NAPLAN. I saw a survey very recently (indeed, on the front page of last Monday's Age) from the Universities of Melbourne and Western Sydney (of 8353 teachers, members of the Australian Education Union and the Independent Education Union) reporting in essence that the whole exercise was a basket case - kids vomiting from stress, organised absenteeism, teachers teaching the test, thereby crowding out other valid educational activities.

''NAPLAN may be having a detrimental effect in areas such as curriculum breadth, pedagogy, staff morale, schools' capacity to attract and retain students and student wellbeing,'' the researchers reported.

Good God. Sounds terrible.

It also sounds a very long way removed from what Prime Minister Julia Gillard might call my lived experience.


Being a parent and not a teacher I take a parent's view. Transparency is a good thing. It's informative to know how the school is tracking. It's good to have a concrete starting point in routine discussions with teachers, rather than a ''vibe'' that things at the school are not quite as they should be. Discussions tend to be more productive if they are informed; if there are sources to draw on. ''Vibes'' can be easily shot down.

NAPLAN, for me, is a guide. Not a stone tablet falling from the sky but an indicator. One of many. I feel a strong obligation in the primary school setting to know the teachers, to come into the classroom to contribute when I can, and to know the kids in the class - all of this information gives context to the NAPLAN data and the data, like everything, needs to be read and understood in context, otherwise it's a disservice.

I don't want to get into too much detail but I'll say this with absolute certainty: my youngest child is getting a better education than his older sibling did at the same public school several years ago - and it's because of transparency.

The school leadership is energised and engaged, and the school as a whole has lifted considerably both in terms of morale and organisation around the teaching.

This is a great thing for the kids and for the community.

I'm sorry if this process has put extra pressure on educators who are already under a great deal of pressure, but no one these days lives in a world where they are not accountable to their stakeholders. I can no longer imagine a world where readers didn't give me their view of the quality of my insights, in my inbox, on social media, in comments, on blogs.

Journalism is quite a lot like teaching: it's another line of work in which everyone's an expert. Sometimes that might be irritating. But being accountable is a natural brake on becoming indolent or ridiculous. A simple principle, but it applies as much in education as anywhere else.

I'm not saying the NAPLAN and My School system is perfect. I'm certain it could be improved. I'm not in denial of the facts about the downsides of this change in the Australian system, which were unearthed by some excellent reporting on the education round.

I understand that the evidence from overseas about school ranking programs provides reasons for caution. I know there are parents who are more ambivalent about the Australian system than I am.

I can imagine the pressure some teachers must feel in schools where there are not enough resources, where the leadership isn't focused, where the kids and the parent community are disengaged. It must be nightmarish.

But I'm going to stand up for the principle of transparency. We can't just have ''the educator's perspective'' in this debate, because the educators are not the only stakeholders.

It is not the educators who will wear the consequences of a suboptimal education.

Children deserve the best possible education the system can provide - and a public education system that is genuinely responsive to its community, that is prepared to listen to inputs from outside, and that is prepared to prioritise quality, is an education system that more people can have confidence in.

Katharine Murphy is national affairs correspondent of The Age.