25 February, 2022


Our exciting partnership with the University of Melbourne’s New Metrics Project continues to forge ahead in 2022. In parallel with this ground-breaking work on the future of assessment across Australia, we continue to embed Scotch Oakburn’s Learner Attributes across many student learning opportunities – inside and outside the classroom. Ultimately this will lead to the development of our Scotch Oakburn Learner Profile, which will be a very meaningful portfolio representing all aspects of each student’s performance, contributions and activities during their time at the College. An important component of these changes in the way we consider the success of a young person is the idea of Learner Agency. Last week Sarah Lillywhite and I attended an on-line workshop on Learner Agency, held over two days as part of the New Metrics program.

Ben Reeves, a research fellow at the Melbourne University Graduate School of Education provided an initial overview of what Learner Agency is. The important message is to see it as part of the bigger picture and how it is being delivered in partnership with students. He succinctly describes Agency in Learning as knowing what to learn, how to learn, and who to learn it from to attain expertise in an area of interest. By working towards an environment that provides more Learner Agency, students are given more opportunity to take responsibility, establish purpose, plan and organise themselves, act with courage, show persistence, use feedback and develop diligence. This affirms the importance of the work we are doing at Scotch Oakburn with our ten Learner Attributes that are increasingly being valued by students, staff and parents.

Practical ways that schools are enhancing learner agency and hence developing the all-important skills and attributes, include student surveys, providing for more student voice through committees and councils, student conferences that focus on change in the school community, pastoral coaching that provides students with the skills to take on more responsibility, student mentoring of younger students and providing a new emphasis on teachers being coaches. Many of these initiatives are already established at Scotch Oakburn and there are other great ideas that we will look to include. The central idea is that students become informed consumers who take responsibility for their own learning. Learner Agency does not just happen, there needs to be processes and organisation to make it effective. It is not just a case of giving control of all learning processes and decision making to the students as is sometimes the perception, it is about developing a range of skills and attributes that better prepare young people for the transition into an independent adult learning environment and the world of work.

The final keynote speaker was Professor Yong Zhao from the University of Kansas. He referred to Learner Agency as the capacity to make choices and for students to reach their potential as learners and he invited all of us to consider how much agency do we actually provide to the students in our schools. Professor Zhao has grave concerns that restrictive curricula, which are pre-determined, do not suit all learners and questions whether students can have any agency within these structures, he asserts that “curriculum is made by old people”. Professor Zhao proposes that students should at least be able to create part of their own learning plan. He emphasises the importance of creating a culture where students use agency to make the right choices as preparation for their futures where successful adults have the capacity to make their own decisions, which is when they have agency. It is concerning that most systems across the world try to teach students too much, without enabling them to think on their own, which detracts from our role as good educators, which is to facilitate purposeful human beings.

Here at Scotch Oakburn we are committed to working within the current curriculum structures so that we can best provide for the success of every cohort of students within the educational landscape that they are operating, but at the same time we are equally committed to challenging the current practice by incorporating the latest research ideas on what our young people need for their futures, which are likely to be very different from what graduates needed in the past.

Stuart Walls
Head of Senior School