Dallas McInerney, chief executive officer of Catholic Schools NSW, has gone back to class to learn from global leaders in the area of academic assessment.
He is undertaking a Master of Science degree part-time at the University of Oxford, specialising in educational assessment, in a mix of coursework and the writing of a thesis over two years.
Incorporating philosophical considerations and highly technical ones, the course is designed to equip educators to engage in how best to evaluate student’s progression in and attainment of knowledge, and what that means for students and the schools striving to give them the best education possible.
“It’s always important to keep in mind our context in which as catholic educators we look to educate the whole child”
“It’s always important to keep in mind our context in which as Catholic educators we look to educate the whole child, and that scholastic progression and attainment are elements of just one aspect. But it’s a critical aspect and we’ve got to make sure we do it right,” Dallas told The Catholic Weekly.
Currently his studies take him to the “magical ecosystem” for short stints three times across the year, where he treads the same cobblestone streets as alumni Saints John Henry Newman and Thomas More, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, authors JRR Tolkien and Hilaire Belloc and former Australian Prime Ministers including Tony Abbott, Malcolm Fraser, Malcolm Turnbull and Bob Hawke.
He intends for his thesis to focus on an Australian assessment experience.
“I’ll be examining what we do well in the Australian school system, and what we can improve,” he said adding that he hopes to make the best thinking from world’s leaders available to schools in New South Wales and beyond, and hopefully share some Aussie innovation in literacy and numeracy assessment with the rest of the world as well.
“There’s been a lot of controversy in this country around assessment in recent years around NAPLAN, our state-based program for nearly 15 years now, and there is still some contention around it,” he said.
“But I have a fundamental view that if you don’t measure it, you can’t track it, and if we can track it, we can improve it. So we can’t put kids through years of schooling without having something verifiable against which to track their progress and investment and also the academic support they’re receiving.”
Dallas said that Australia is well-regarded for thus far resisting “the no-assessment, no-examination lobby”, which has taken hold in some parts of North America and elsewhere. “The Catholic sector in Australia has had a long tradition in contributing to assessment policy in schools and Catholic schools were some of the first to go into basic skills testing, which was a precursor to NAPLAN,” he said.
“That is thanks to the tradition of Brother Kelvin Canavan, who was absolutely resolved that every Catholic school had to… aim for excellence.”
“And in that he was giving expression to the foundational Church documents on Catholic education. “We can never lose sight of that.”