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We have done enough research already to know what will improve our schools at minimum cost, says education export John ...We have done enough research already to know what will improve our schools at minimum cost, says education export John Hattie.

Many of the intervention programs used in schools to improve student performance have little effect, according to John Hattie, one of Australia's foremost school education experts.

One reform which does not improve education outcomes, said Professor Hattie, who is director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at University of Melbourne, is Labor's promise that all schoolchildren will receive swimming lessons.

"I wouldn't have put it at the top of my priorities, " he said

Professor Hattie was speaking ahead of this week's launch of a new initiative, by social entrepreneurship group Social Ventures Australia, to zero in on the reforms that will make the biggest different in schools at the least cost.

It is an issue of key importance as Labor promises to spend more than $3 billion more than the Coalition on schools in the next term of government, while the Coalition argues that policy should focus on low-cost changes which are effective.

Social Ventures Australia says its new initiative, called Evidence for Learning, will rigorously evaluate a mass of overseas research on effective schooling strategies in an Australian context.

It is designed to bring clarity to the school funding debate.

"In the current debate there is a discussion about funding but we fall down pretty quickly in saying: 'funding to do what things', " Matthew Deeble, Social Ventures Australia education director, said.

"It should be informed by evidence and there's plenty of evidence out there."

What works, what doesn't

Professor Hattie said a lot of the things schools currently do were at the bottom of the list of cost-effective strategies, including reduced class sizes, using teacher assistants, and having students repeat a year.

Cost-effective strategies which have been shown to work include teaching phonics, collaborative learning in small groups of mixed achievement, well-targeted feedback to teachers and students, mastery learning (where students move on to a new topic after clearly having mastered the last one), and peer tutoring, where students help each other.

Other strategies which have been shown to be effective, but are more costly, include using digital technology, early-year intervention, and one-to-one tuition.

These strategies, together with their cost, their effectiveness and the reliability of the research, are among those listed on the Teaching and Learning Toolkit website. This week's announcement of the Evidence for Learning initiative will build on the results already recorded and bring in more Australian results.

"We want to increase the representation of the Australian evidence base. Is there good Australian evidence? Does it align with the global evidence?" Mr Deeble said.

Key problem

Professor Hattie said the key problem was to translate all the research already done on schooling into a form which was useable by principals and teachers.

"There has not been much traction in schools of using [research] evidence and the tool kit is a pretty good way to translate that research, " he said.

"We have an incredible amount of research, we just have no translation. We academics write it for each other. There's no point in investing in research which doesn't get translated."

Professor Hattie said the beauty of the approach used in the toolkit was the simplicity of its presentation. It estimated the effectiveness of different types of education interventions in months of schooling gained by children.

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