“What doesn’t work in education? The politics of distraction” by John Hattie was published by Pearson last year. It’s an interesting read.

Michael Barber writes in the forward,

In this new paper, the first of two, he [Hattie] addresses the question of what this search for more impact means, and he does two things powerfully. The first is to make the case that the minimum goal of education, when rightly expressed, should be for all students to make at least one year’s progress for one year’s input, no matter where they start. The second is to argue that at the level of public policy there are many ideas, many of them popular and plausible, which do not pass the 0.4 test.  These comprise what he calls the politics of distraction.

Hattie argues that many popular education reforms, such as lowering class sizes, are distracting us from what will really make a difference, and that we should put our efforts into those areas evidence tells us will maximise our impact on student learning.

It’s a seductive argument. It seems so… sensible.

But, dismissing the importance of investing in school buildings and infrastructure, or of lowering the teacher-student ratio fills me with unease. Effect size on learning or not, the environments in which we learn and the relationships between teachers and students should not be undervalued.

Hattie’s reform agenda, based on impact and effect size is, I believe, a distraction in itself. The minimum goal of education should never be reduced to “one year’s progress for one year’s input”. Education has always, and must always serve a broader purpose.


Here in Australia, the gap between the richest and poorest Australians increased by 13% between 2005 and 2015, with a further widening of 10.4% expected in the next decade.

(Source: Living Standards Trends in Australia, 2015)

We have utterly failed to improve reading and numeracy outcomes, employment outcomes and life expectancy for Indigenous Australians.

(Source: Closing the Gap 2015 Progress against Targets)

Students with disability continue to face barriers to education including:

  • Difficulties in enrolling
  • Failure of schools to provide reasonable adjustments
  • Exclusion from school activities
  • Low expectations
  • Shortage of services in rural and remote settings

(Source: Education and Employment References Committee: Access to real learning: the impact of policy, funding and culture on students with disability 2016)

Almost one in seven (13.9%) 4-17 year-olds were assessed as having mental disorders in the previous 12 months. This is equivalent to 560,000 Australian children and adolescents.

(Source: http://youngmindsmatter.org.au/survey-results/prevalence-of-mental-disorders/)

There are increasing incidents of racism and violence occurring across our society and growing numbers of young people at risk of radicalisation.

A year’s growth for a year of schooling presents an impoverished view of education. For schooling is about more than academic growth. Our education system is how we  maintain a cohesive, civil society. We can’t afford to be distracted from that.

2 thoughts on “Distractions

  1. Agree entirely. Besides which, Hattie is methodologically compromised by ignoring any variables that he says he can’t control. That’s like trying to research what causes prison riots by focusing on visiting hours, and ignoring anything else that’s too hard to measure or capture as data. You end up with a ridiculous result (and meaningless, in research terms).


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