Distinguished research award for Flinders education academic

Dr Andrew Bills has been recognised for his long career in education research by recently being bestowed with the Distinguished Contribution to Research in Educational Leadership Award by the SA Branch of the Australian Council for Educational Leaders.

The award, which ‘honours those educational leaders who in the view of their peers have made a significant contribution to the understanding and practice of educational leadership’, will be presented at a ceremony in June.

Dr Bills’ work has significantly impacted the Independent, Catholic and Public-school sectors, regarding policy critique for a more equitable and inclusive educational ecosystem over many years.

Dr Andrew Bills

This has included social justice education policy activism through research projects, discussion and collaborations with state education ministers, school sector chief executives, media, initiation of conference forums with the Commissioner for Children and Young People, translational research, books and research papers.

Recently, Dr Bills and frequent collaborator Nigel Howard released a new report before the state election, fearlessly declaring the Education Department’s ‘World Class’ policy ensemble was taking SA’s public schools in the wrong direction.

The report – It’s Time to Reflect – demonstrated how the McKinsey-inspired NAPLAN centric measurement approach, the primary policy agenda of the Department since 2018, works against school inclusion, futures focussed pedagogies and systemic equity.

The report concluded that “World Class” incentivises school exclusion of disadvantaged and “difficult” to manage young people. Dr Bills and Mr Howard called for a rethink of the policy and recommended greater autonomy and systemic trust be returned to school leaders and teachers.

This research followed an Industry report released late last year, calling for cross-sector joined up action on poor attendance and poor school retention rates. The report, It’s Time to Act, found significant problems with school student attendance and retention rates in South Australia that have not been addressed with adequate resources and strategies, remaining a serious concern.

“South Australia can lead the way in addressing school disengagement, but we need a government and education sector that is willing to work closely together in the interests of those young people who fail or fall out of our schools,” said Dr Bills at the time of the report’s release.

These very public research interventions have meant that the longstanding Department for Education’s Flexible Learning Options (FLO) flagship, which has largely been unable to deliver on SACE completion for participating students over 17 years, costing taxpayers over 30 million dollars in FLO enrolment costs, is currently being reviewed and reconfigured by the Department to an approach that highlights equity and excellence as the key characteristics of a redesigned program.

In the Catholic and Independent schooling sectors, Dr Bills is leading research in the new and emerging schools network called the Special Assistance Schools.

These schools have grown exponentially since the economics of Gonski and the failure of mainstream schooling made these new forms of schooling a business proposition for new providers and a necessary social inclusion initiative for the over 100,000 young people nationally who fail, fall out and often disappear from schooling each year, primarily through a lack of school belonginess or dissatisfaction with the logics of mainstream schooling.

Activism and research for educational equity and excellence define how Dr Bills works with school systems, schools and research colleagues. He is currently the Chief Investigator for three industry funded research projects and will soon be leading a fourth project in collaboration with the SACE Board that seeks to understand how the SACE currently meets the needs of disadvantaged students and what needs to change for more students to be able to gain their SACE entitlement, without diluting the integrity of the certificate.

New appointed Chief Executive of the Education Department Professor Martin Westwell passed on his congratulations and commended Dr Bills on “shaping the conversation about education in SA”.

Dr Bills is leading an ACEL HOT Topic forum on Wednesday, the 25th May on It’s Time to Act and It’s Time to Reflect, critiquing the policy assumptions underlying World Class and FLO, starting at 5.30 pm, online. You can find more information here.

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College of Education Psychology and Social Work