The Australian and British Education Systems

Three or four years ago, I had a teenage rant in response to something on some expat forums, and it became my most successful post. I’m constantly getting comments and questions from people who, for some reason, think I’m an expert on education system comparison and want advice.

Some of the information on that post is now outdated, and most of it was unclear to begin with. It wasn’t meant to be an informative post, just a rant! The main point of the post was that the Australian and English systems are really very similar. One is not really better than the other (although a couple of rankings would say that the Australian system is actually better.

If you want to find out about the education systems or how the curriculum compares, the best thing to do would be to look at the curriculums for yourself.

If you want to compare a couple of schools, contact those schools directly.

Here is a table comparing the three systems (Australia, England/Wales/NI, and Scotland) in terms of school years, curriculum phases, certificates, and so on:

school-system-comparison-table

Click to enlarge, of course. And here are links for the curriculums themselves:

Australian National Curriculum

British National Curriculum

Scottish Curriculum for Excellence

Here are the links for the overseeing institutions:

Education Scotland / Foghlam Alba

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)

Here are some school comparison and finder sites:

The Good Schools Guide (UK)

The Good Schools Guide (Australia)

The Australian Schools Directory

My School (Australia)

And finally, here are the online educational games, support materials, and websites:

BBC Bitesize

Learning Scotland

ABC Splash

So, if you have a problem or a question:

Compare the curriculums, visit the school comparison sites, ask the schools.

If you really, for whatever strange reason, decide you want to ask my opinion on something I really have no right to have an opinion on, here’s what I’m going to say:

Australia, New Zealand, and all the UK are all well within the top 20 education systems in the world, and more than that, all the systems are fairly closely aligned from either years of contact or a similar origin.

In primary school, there’s really not going to be much difference between the countries – in fact, you’ll probably find more difference between two schools in the same country than between two schools in different countries. Your main problem’s probably going to be dealing with the different school years between the northern and southern hemispheres.

In high school or secondary school, it’s better to change sooner rather than later, so that you or your child can be settled into a school before beginning the leaving certificates, which do actually vary quite a bit in terms of composition and requirements between the three countries, and even within Australia.

In university, there’s more difference between Scotland and England than between either with Australia, but all three countries recognise high school qualifications from each of the others, and it really doesn’t matter if you’re a year or two older when you start.

And again, do your own research. Don’t rely on the opinion of a random not-still-a-teenager expat kid. Check with the curriculum authorities. Take a look at the curriculums yourself. Visit or phone the schools in question to get accurate information about that school. And use your own common sense.


Also, if you want to read about the problems of a bunch of other people who have considered moving from one system to another, as well as my replies to them, check out the original post.

 

 

Adelaide French School

A bilingual French-English school will be starting in Adelaide with the first Reception intake next year. Apparently they’ve been plotting it for up to two years, but with sheer dozens of submarine-builders arriving from France in the next few years, it’s being launched at exactly the right time for it to seem like an economically-wise initiative. Check out their website or visit their FaceBook page.

Une école bilingue française-anglaise commencera à Adélaïde avec la classe première du Reception (Grande section) l’année prochaine. C’est dit qu’ ils ont prévu l’école jusqu’à deux ans, mais beaucoup des constructeurs du sous-marin arrivera de France au cours des prochaines années et donc c’est le bon moment pour annoncer l’école comme un investissement économique. Regarde leur site-oueb ou visite leur page FaceBook.

Alternative Education Styles

This was a short (very, very short 1000-word) paper I submitted for a subject called “Christianity and Culture”. I got 21/25 for it, which was quite pleasing. The brief was:

“Write a short research paper (1000 words) that analyses a particular cultural trend. This can build on the example presented in class, but must not be a simple repetition of what was presented to the class. This should follow the pattern of the examples given in the text. The goal is not simply to pick a current cultural trend with which Christians disagree. The goal is to learn to recognise and interpret the more subtle influences the culture around us and the proponents of that culture are trying to have on us.”

_________________________________

As the world transitions from the ordered world of absolutes in the modern period to the more relativistic world of postmodernism, schools and the education theories underpinning them are not unaffected.

With rising numbers of homeschoolers and unschoolers, expanding Montessori and Waldorf-Steiner campuses, and state schools espousing Reggio-Emilia and nature-based learning styles, it is important for Christians to know what to think of these methods, how to respond to them, and how much to accept them into their daily lives.

Observation

The local government primary school at the end of my road has a sign which proclaims that “Bush School is a Success – Accepting Enrolments”. I have often wondered what a “Bush School” is. According to the school’s website: “Upper Sturt Primary School is the perfect bush school site. Out beautiful bushland is inspiration for nature play-based learning, bringing the latest wellbeing and engagement research together… [We teach] within a personalised framework for each child.”[1]

The school eschews technologies such as wi-fi, and describes itself as “small by design”, with less than fifty pupils and no school uniform. It is, according to the views of many Hillsites, along with nearby Bridgewater Primary, the perfect example of a forward-thinking school.

Homeschooling is also popular in the Hills, and is growing nationwide, with an estimated 12 000 registered homeschooled children and up to 30 000 unregistered[2]. Homeschooling methods vary, and ranged from the “school at home” textbook method to “unschooling” un-teaching, with many degrees in between, including “eclectic”, “classical”, “natural”, and “unit studies”.[3] Reasons for homeschooling vary, but around 25% list the primary reason as unhappiness with the conventional style of the local school.[4]

The Hills is also home to several alternative private schools, including one Waldorf-Steiner campus and two Montessori campuses. The Montessori method is similar, teaching in small groups of mixed ages, basing learning on play rather than books, and listing one of its values as “educating the whole child and guiding their individual development[5].

This isn’t an isolated trend. The current textbook used for teaching students at Adelaide University suggests that pupils be taught in mixed-age and mixed-level groups based on “need, ability, friendship or interest”.[6] The book also promotes the Reggio Emilia style, which encourages placing the child in the central role and the teacher as “co-constructor in the learning process”.[7]

Discussion

These schools and education methods span all spectrums of the schooling world, from the home to the classroom and from government to private. But they all hold three things in common: the first, that they are growing in popularity; the second, that they encourage learning through experiences rather than textbooks; and third, that they place the individual child at the centre of the learning process.

Each method discussed here encourages the child to take some amount of responsibility for his own behaviour, including interactions with others and study time. They encourage children to observe their environment and learn from that, and to gain independence and competence. However, this can be – and often is – pushed to the extreme of the children, rather than the adults, dictating what is learnt, how, and when.

On the face of it, learning through living is not contrary to the Bible at all. In Deuteronomy, parents are encouraged to teach their children, through words, at all hours and in all activities[8]. In many places, the Lord teaches people by having them observe the world around them[9], and Jesus does the same[10].

However, the Biblical order of things places children under the wisdom and guidance of their parents and other adults[11]. Although it agrees that children have some responsibility for their own actions[12], they should pay attention to what their parents (and other adults) teach them[13], because, as children, they don’t have the understanding that adults have[14].

Therefore, we can see that while a theory of education which acknowledges the child’s individual needs and his environment, and the potential use of that environment as a teaching tool, is not only prudent but exampled to us by God, parents and teachers must at the same time be careful not to put the individual child on a pedestal which allows him to make his own decisions and dictate his own learning.[15]

Conclusion

Alternative education styles and methods have become almost mainstream and are growing in popular. Theories of schooling which emphasise individual needs and learning through play and life are present to varying degrees in all parts of the education world, from the home to the classroom and from government to private schools. In the Hills, alternative education is particularly popular, with several government and private schools using alternative education styles such as Montessori, Waldorf-Steiner, Reggio Emilia, Robinson and Dweck, as well as a large and growing homeschooling community.

While some aspects of these educational styles align with Biblical ideals and the teaching method used by God and Christ, such as teaching through observation, life, and the environment, it is important that Christians remember the Biblical order of things and not allow the child himself to dictate how and what he learns.

The trend towards alternative education styles, a very postmodern way of thinking, has its merits; but, as with anything else in life, the Christian must take it with a pinch of salt and compare the education methods with Biblical values for education and childraising.

Footnotes

[1] Upper Sturt Primary School, 2014, Where the wild things are… Introducing Upper Sturt Primary School, Government of South Australia, Upper Sturt, accessed 30 November 2015, http://www.uppersturtps.sa.edu.au

[2] Homeschooling Downunder, 2015, Essential Facts for Homeschooling in Australia, Michelle Morrow, accessed 30 November 2015, https://www.homeschoolingdownunder.com/homeschooling-australia

[3] Homeschooling Downunder, 2015, Explaining Homeschool Methods, Michelle Morrow, accessed 30 November 2015, https://www.homeschoolingdownunder.com/homeschool-methods

[4] News ABC, 2012, Thousands of Parents Illegally Homeschooling, Ian Townsend, accessed 30 November 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-01-28/thousands-of-parents-illegally-home-schooling/3798008

[5] The Hills Montessori School, 2015, About Montessori Education, Alex Kebbell, accessed 30 November 2015, http://montessori.sa.edu.au/introducing-hills-montessori/about-montessori-education

[6] Groundwater-Smith, S, Ewing, R & le Cornu, R, 2011, Teaching: Challenges and Dilemmas, 4th edn, Cengage Learning, South Melbourne, Victoria. – Chapter 4 The nature of learning, Grouping for different purposes, pg. 81

[7] Groundwater-Smith, S, Ewing, R & le Cornu, R, 2011, Teaching: Challenges and Dilemmas, 4th edn, Cengage Learning, South Melbourne, Victoria. – Chapter 4 The nature of learning, Reggio Emilia, pg. 84

[8] Deuteronomy 6:7

[9] Genesis 15:5, Job 38-41

[10] Mark 13:1-2, Luke 21:29-33

[11] Ephesians 6:1-4, 1 Peter 5:5

[12] Proverbs 20:11

[13] Proverbs 1:7-10

[14] 1 Corinthians 13:11

[15] Proverbs 22:6, also see Hugenberger, GP, 2007, ‘Train Up a Child’, Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar, pp. 162-163.

Film: Make Me Welsh

About: In some parts of Wales, the majority language is still Welsh. In Gwynedd, the language of instruction in all schools in Welsh. Children moving from other parts of the world who don’t speak Welsh, like non-English speakers coming to Australia, must spend a term in a language-cramming unit before being allowed into mainstream school. This documentary follows several of these children for a year.

Language: Bilingual (English and Welsh)

Subtitles: English subtitles, only on Welsh dialogue

Year: 2015

Time: 58 minutes

This is a series of posts showing you some of the films and documentaries I’ve been watching in the past months.

Film: An Féidir Linn?

About: The Irish treat their language much too clinically, with targets and deadlines and one body responsible for realising the dream: the education system. Marketing Institute of Ireland CEO Tom Trainor takes that a step further, visiting similar language communities in Wales, Scotland, and Spain (Basque Country) in order to form a business plan for the Irish language.

Language: Irish (some English)

Subtitles: English subtitles

Year: 2013

Time: 52 minutes

This is a series of posts showing you some of the films and documentaries I’ve been watching in the past months.

The Referendum

Well, one of the issues that has been at the back of everyone’s minds for the last two years is the Scottish Independence Referendum. Well, I thought so, anyway, but I’ve spoken to a few people in the last week or so who had no idea. Go figure!

Anyway, I’ve been watching the coverage live on the BBC website. It’s great! I never watch the election coverage normally, and I think part of that is due to the fact that it happens overnight. Now, usually the 8-and-a-half-hour time difference (or 10-and-a-half-hour, depending on the time of year) is the bane of my existance, resulting in lessons at awkward times and so forth, but it’s worked to my advantage today. Referendum coverage happened between 10pm and 6am Scottish-time, which is roughly 7am-3pm Australian time. It was slow-going at first, so I didn’t watch much, but by 11am (my time – about 2:30 Scottish time) it was quite riveting. And also right over REM-sleep time for people in Scotland.

What is the Referendum?

The Referendum 2014 is Scotland voting on the question “Should Scotland be an independant nation?”. There are two options: Yes or No. “Yes” results in Scotland becoming an independant nation, while “No” results in them staying with the United Kingdom.

Key issues

Obviously, there are a lot of key issues associated with independence of that sort, but my main concerns would fall in the areas of infrastructure and of political ties.

European Union and Common Travel Area

As far as the EU is concerned, there is no precendent for a member state dividing into two sovereign countries after joining. So no-one knows whether Scotland would automatically become a member state, or whether it would have to re-apply, and whether any of the UK’s current opt-outs of EU policy would apply to Scotland in either situation, or whether it would have to re-negotiate for them, too.

Currently, Scotland, as part of the UK, isn’t part of the Schengen Area – the area that enables people to travel within mainland Europe/EU without passport control. It is, however, part of a Common Travel Area with Ireland, which means that there aren’t any passport controls within the British Isles. (This does lead to the rather interesting point that it’s possible to get from mainland Europe to the UK without border controls if you go through Ireland, which is part of the Schengen Area.

The plan for an independant Scotland was do remain outside the Schengen Area but join the CTA with the UK, which basically means it would be in exactly the same situation as before.

Commonwealth of Nations

This is one thing which I don’t believe has been discussed at all. It’s such a non-issue that it’s barely worth mentioning, but since I talked about the EU, I thought I’d talk about the Commonwealth, as well.

If you don’t know what the Commonwealth of Nations is, it’s basically an association of about 50 countries, mostly former British Empire nations (although not all), with a common history, common philosophy and goals, and a major sports competition. Also, an interest in cricket not shared by most of the rest of the world.

As far as I know, the only former British Empire nation which isn’t part of the Commonwealth is Ireland, because they became a republic before the Commonwealth rules were re-written to allow for republics (this happened when India and Pakistan became republics). On the other hand, the Commonwealth now has member nations with no history with the British Empire, like Rwanda. So even if Scotland had never been part of the UK, it would still be able to join the Commonwealth. And really, after holding the Games this year, of course they would join the Commonwealth. In fact, I think Scotland’s already considered an independent nation within the Commonwealth. They certainly compete independendently, unlike, say, Cornwall, but like Wales.

Currency

This is more of a complex issue than it first seems. I can see a lot of Australians going, “Well, the English have the pound. Scotland should get the euro.” Well, it’s not that simple. You see, Scotland’s national bank has been producing Scottish pounds since before England started producing English pounds. The pound is just as much the Scottish currency as it is the English one. And, in fact, Scotland has three banks currently producing currency, while England has only one.

The way I see it, an independent Scotland has the following three options:

1 – Create a new currency, the Scottish Pound. Not very viable in the current world situation, where countries are uniting to create economic zones with each other.

2 – Keep the Pound Stirling, and create a “Great Britain Economic Zone” with the UK.

3 – Join the Eurozone and adopt the Euro.

Health Care

This was one of the ones I was more concerned about. I knew that Scotland had its own parliament and its own curriculum and education system. Governance, education and health are the three things most commonly discussed coming up to elections, and as far as I knew, Scotland was part of the NHS and thus didn’t have its own healthcare system.

However, I found out recently, NHS Scotland has actually been operationally independent of the NHS in the rest of the UK since 1948, and in fact has a number of different policies in place to those in England, particularly since control of healthcare was devolved to the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

Another interesting thought is that there’s talk of budget cuts to the NHS in England, which would effect funding to NHS Scotland as part of the UK, but not as an independant nation.

Monarchy

This is another of those tricky ones, where people associate the Queen with England. This is, in fact, not true. The monarchy is just as much Scotland’s monarchy as it is England’s. James IV was King of Scotland before he was King of England, and he’s the one which united the two monarchies.

No real answer was given on the topic of the monarchy in an independant Scotland, but the general concensus was that it would be kept… Just like Australia.

(I also had the thought that the title of King of Scotland should be given to one of the younger children: Edward or Andrew, or even Harry. Historically, this would be considered a perfectly reasonable thing to do when faced with multiple kingdoms and multiple children.)

Flags

Obviously Scotland finding a flag isn’t an issue. They have a flag. No, the question is, “What will happen to the Union Flag?” That’s the one you might know as the Union Jack, the one in the corner of the Australian flag. The one you probably associate with England. That one. You see, all the blue on that flag is actually Scotland’s.

The Union Flag is what happens when you superimpose the flags of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland onto each other. You have red spokes on white in eight directions due to the flags of England and Northern Ireland, and a blue background from Scotland. You could take out the blue and just have eight red spokes on a white background, but it’s a chance to let some other nations be seen. Wales, for example, and Cornwall.

The Cornish flag, actually, offers an option. The Cornish flag is a white cross on a black background, so it would make perfect sense just to swap the blue for black and call it the Union Flag, reflecting the flags of England, Cornwall, and Northern Ireland (still no Wales). However, there’s a slight problem in that a “black Union Jack” is associated somehow with fascism and the devil.

Another question would be, “So what happens to all those Commonwealth nations and territories which use the Union Flag in the corner?” Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, parts of Canada, and many other nations have flags based on the Naval Ensign, or a Union Flag on the top left-hand corner with a blue field. The answer to that is: these flags belong to those nations to do what they like. They’re under no compulsion to change the flag just because the UK changes theirs. And, in fact, for some of us, it’s better to reflect Scotland in our flags because Scotland (and Scottish people) had such influence on our countries.

Citizenship

Okay, this is a bit of a selfish one. I’m a dual-national, with both British and Australian citizenship by birth. If Scotland were independant, what would I be? Given that such things are usually dependant on birth, it would probably come down to the fact that my father was born in England. However, weirdly, I’d rather be Scottish than English. If I had to choose, and had the choice, I’d pick Scotland. It’s not that I’m particularly anti-England (and for quite a bit of my childhood, I identified as “English”), it’s just that these days, with fiddle-playing and learning Gaelic, I feel more of a connection to Scotland than to England. (One thing in favour of the UK: ambiguity in the term “British”).

This, however, is one of the few issues relating to independence which was actually given a decent answer. Basically, the same sort of things apply to Scottish citizenship as to British citizenship currently: being born there, or having a parent or grandparent born there, or living there legally, or who has lived there for ten years and has an ongoing connection, etc. (British citizenship is contingent upon “father or grandfather” rather than “parent or grandparent”, though).

Why I wanted a ‘Yes’ vote

I have two reasons, really, and they both come down to a comparison to Australia. Of course, not actually living in Scotland means I’m not entirely familiar with the status quo and thus have no particular desire to keep it. No doubt, if I actually lived there, my perspective would be a little different. On the other hand, I’ve grown up around people who talk about Scotland like it’s its own country, I’ve heard about the Clearances almost us much as about convicts, and I spent at least a term in Year 4 learning all about Scottish immigrants in Australia (thankyou, Lochend House Refurbishment).

Firstly, I’ve got to think about how I’d vote if Australia had another referendum. My answer there is firm: No. So why is my first instinct ‘Yes’ on the Scotland front? I’m not the only one: I’ve spoken to a number of Scottish expats and a lot of them are with me: Yes Scotland, No Australia. In my case, I think it comes back to familiarity with the status quo, but surely this isn’t true of the others.

To me, the difference here is that Australia has never been a unified and independent nation. Before European settlement, Australia was hundreds of separated nations and countries. It’s only since European settlement we’ve been unified, and we have no unified and independent history to fall back on. Scotland, on the other hand, spent almost a thousand years both unified and independent, and, if we’re being honest, have suffered a lot since joining with England in the late 17th century.

The other major difference is that Australia was voting to become a republic, like the US, rather than remaining an independent nation with a constitutional monarchy. The problem with that proposition is that, being as far away from where the Queen lives as we are, we are to all practical intents and purposes already basically a republic. But I think we like the idea of being part of something bigger, and as such a young nation with no history of our own to speak of, it’s nice to have the Queen there to make us feel like we’ve got a history.

Scotland, on the other hand, is not as independant as Australia. Australia is its own nation, who just happens to share a monarchy with England. Scotland was its own nation who happened to share a monarchy with England for 104 years, from when James IV became James I in 1603 to the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. Since then, it’s existed in an awkward state of being a nation but not a kingdom… or something.

Basically, I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think a nation with as much history and as much independence of Scotland should be, on paper, less of an independant nation than somewhere like Australia. If nothing else, I think the two nations should be equal.

Why I think we got a ‘No’ vote

Aside from the fact that people don’t like change, generally-speaking, I think a lot of it is due to uncertaintly. There are a lot of issues which would need to be addressed in the event of Scottish independance, and very few of them were addressed properly in the lead-up to the referendum. Some were discussed, but no firm plan or outcome was given. So, in addition to a “Yes”-vote resulting in change, voters didn’t even know exactly what those changes would be! If I were living there and had to live with these unknown changes, I’d definately consider changing my vote over, too.

So does this change anything?

Well, if nothing else, the threat of Scotland leaving lead the UK government to offer to extend more privilages and autonomy to Scotland – which, Alex Salmond was quite firm in his acceptance speech, should be realised as quickly as possible.

It has been said in the run-up to the Referendum that, whatever the results, things won’t be the same. I think this is true. 45% of Scotland voted for independence, with four council areas at a “Yes”-majority and at least three very nearly 50-50 (as I type this, the results are not yet in for the Highland council area due to a crash on the major freeway into Inverness, I think I heard). Even if Scotland weren’t getting more privilages from the UK government, that’s still something quite significant. More than 84% voted, which, for a country without mandatory voting, is quite an achievement. This referendum has broken records.

It’s also influenced other countries. The President of the Basque Government said yesterday that it had seen that Scotland could freely decide its own future and sees it as the responisbility of the Basque government to “follow Scotland’s footsteps”.

Closer to home, this Referendum has prompted republicists to start calling for another Australian referendum, and, I think, had it been a “Yes”-vote in Scotland, such a Referendum (or discussions, at least) may well have been held. I think the “No”-vote will put a bit of a dampener on that, though.

This sort of thing doesn’t go away. In Australia, we still have people who want a republic and people who want a monarchy. (We also have people who want Waltzing Matilda for the national anthem). After a “No” result in a referendum, that doesn’t settle the matter. It comes back in fifteen or twenty years – Quebec, for example, has had several independence referenda. I don’t expect this is the last we’ll hear of Scottish independence.

In 2010, the Australian government promised not to think about having a vote for an Australian republic within the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. (After that, it’s anyone’s game). I imagine Scotland might be the same. People like the status quo, and she’s been around for such a long time that people can’t imagine or remember anything different. (Also, we don’t want to hurt her feelings). It all comes back to change, and with a change of monarch, people may be open to change of other things, such as independence and republics.

This Referendum in Scotland has put the matter to rest for now, but hasn’t got rid of it completely. It will subside for a decade or two, and it will come back. Unofficial polling in Australia suggests that a Referendum, held now, might pass – perhaps in fifteen or twenty years, a Referendum in Scotland would pass, too. We simply don’t know.

The ripple effect

I mentioned that Scotland has been promised further devolution and greater autonomy, which is great news for Scotland but has caused uproar in England. Politics in the UK is already a little unfair to England, since they’re the only one of the member states that doesn’t have its own parliament. It has the UK parliament, but there’s no English parliament, like there’s a Scottish parliament and a Welsh (something that is basically to all in intents and purposes a) parliament. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can all vote for their own parliament and about policies which effect just them, without people from the other nations interfering. England doesn’t have that – policies which effect England, and often just England, are voted on by the entire UK.

So there has now been support in England for the establishment of their own parliament, or at least further autonomy and rights – and a lot of members have said that they’re not going to allow further devolution for Scotland to pass until they’ve been given their own devolution of some sort. And Wales has chipped in, too, saying that it wants the same rights and autonomy as Scotland as a nation. It’s only a matter of time before Northern Ireland wakes up for the day and says something of the sort, as well. (It is, after all only just after 7am there).

This Referendum may have been a “No”, but it has changed opinions, it has changed policies, it has broken records, and it has set in motion a whole chain of changes throughout the UK – and even, as the Basque president point out, around the world. For all the outcome of such referenda is often subject to a resistance to change, we cannot deny that change is constantly happening. The UK has been changing since it began, and I think that over the next few years, we will see some of these changes happening a bit more rapidly.

And, as everyone is pointing out, we should just be thankful that this whole thing happened (largely) peacefully, with polling and voting, and without the outbreak of war as so many other nations wanting independence have experienced.