The education system has undergone rampant, unrelenting change since the last independent inquiry into the nature of the teaching profession in 2003. Consider the fact that Google was only 5 years old in 2003. Students having their own laptops was likely non-existent. Below is an overview of the NSWTF President, Angelo Gavrielatos, public hearings for the Valuing the Profession investigative inquiry with our own additional research and comments.
1. Coercive Federalism - the Nation or the State?
Gavrielatos highlighted from the beginning the power struggles between Federal and State governments as an underlying issue that challenges the education system. The Federal governments since John Howard have increasingly blurred the lines of education systems between the states and nation. This is clear in the creation of the Australian curriculum and the National Teaching Standards. These aren’t inherently negative, but consultation with the teaching profession and relevant bodies has shifted between coercion to collaboration to competition.
The repeated curriculum reviews are more evidence of this political interference while syllabuses were being implemented over the last 15 years. The ideological battle of politics in these reviews, such as the appointment of Kevin Donnelly by Tony Abbott in one of the last reviews, shows this strained and manipulated relationship between federal and state educational goals.
2. Devolution - More local responsibility and pressure
These government changes have been a reflection of the desire for the last 30 years to devolutionise – when a national government gives up some of its power to local authorities while retaining ultimate control – the education system. This appears to be motivated by a mixture of cost-cutting and quality control goals. Gavrielatos emphasised repeatedly that this is an economic, not educational, theory. The OECD has shown over 30 years that this approach has not led to improved educational outcomes internationally with systems that have followed devolution policies. The Local Schools, Local Decisions policy in NSW – pitched as giving principals more power as leaders of their local context – was a good example of the blame game and shifting responsibility to principals for all student outcomes. This came with overlooked cuts to schools supporting staff, such as consultants and literacy experts and other supporting roles outside of schools. Ultimately this has led to pushing more administration onto principals, executives and teachers.
Gavrielatos mentioned that Principals moved from being expected to control 15% of the budget to 70%. Despite this, staff funding is often dependent on student enrolment numbers and restricts flexibility in staffing. Meanwhile the increasing casualisation of the Western workforce has spread into schools with 27% of staff on temporary contracts. Staff funding disparities can often lead to school counsellors to student ratios of 1:1000. On top of this, the funding for release time hasn’t changed for primary school teachers since 1984 (2 hours per week release time for planning, away from face-to-face teaching of students). It was mentioned, and has routinely been said for years in education circles, that Australia has one of the highest face-to-face teaching rates among Western nations, restricting the amount of time for planning and collaboration.
The introduction of national teaching standards, My School and NAPLAN has many agencies and management above schools more focused on accountability than supporting schools. This increasing pressure has meant teachers are expected to do more with the same or less time than previous decades despite the increased role, workload and accountability measures.
3. Technology's Impact on the Teaching Profession
The technological influence on the teaching profession is quite profound. While Gavrielatos did not get to go into as much detail as we have below, it is truly worth reflecting on just some of the changes since 2003. Consider the following list of just some technologies and software that plays a role in the life of teachers:
1. Cloud based data management and administration software – such as Sentral is only as old as Google as well – to help keep rolls, attendance, reporting, student profiles and wellbeing documenting.
2. Learning management systems – such as Google Classroom and Canvas started in 2014 and 2008 respectively – to help teachers create online spaces for teaching resources, lessons, assessments and communication.
3. Ebooks took off with the Kindle, which was only released in 2007, pushing libraries and literature online.
4. iPads (only released in 2010) and other tablets, alongside laptops, have steadily moved students away from pen and paper.
5. Smartphones have become commonplace for students and challenges for teachers to manage, but the iPhone was only released in 2007. We are still learning about their impact on students learning, but most teachers will tell you they’re a problem and early research suggests they aren’t wrong.
6. Video and social media platforms – YouTube, Facebook and Instagram – are all friends and foes of teachers with equal capacity to democratise and undermine learning. Each of these technologies are still in their teenage years or younger than the students who use them.
7. Data collection softwares that are changing, being brought down and overtaken with millions of government funds spent to improve and supersede one another. Applications like SCOUT and ALAN in the public sector are rolled out often only years after teachers have become comfortable with the previous literacy and numeracy tracking software.
The technology revolution was referenced with the influx of laptops into schools, though the policy was abandoned quite quickly and received significant criticism during and after rollout. Many educators have had to learn and adapt in real-time to these technologies while managing the continual changes of teacher accreditation and curriculum delivery. Gavrielatos mentioned the Fax machine as a significant piece of technology at the time of the last review, which highlights the speed of innovation in technology. Within less than 2 decades the fax machine is now obsolete in schools. This led into the president’s comments on the increased expectations that technology has brought along with it… mountains of data collection.
4. Drowning in Data and Differentiation
Gavrielatos mentioned a quote from a conversation he recently had with an educator that many teachers can likely resonate with: “Teachers spend more time inputting data than lesson planning.” Increased testing and new technologies have increased the role of schools as the heart of the community. NAPLAN, Best Start and HSC have led to overwhelming amounts of data to track students’ literacy, numeracy and curriculum based knowledge. School-wide management systems like Sentral have increased the level of documentation that teachers must input and keep track of – student attendance trends, truancy, wellbeing, bullying and differentiation for students with disabilities, behavioural and emotional challenges and non-native English speakers. This also includes surveys like Tell Them From Me, designed to understand students sense of wellbeing, that adds further comparison with schools and students beyond the curriculum.
The NSWTF President mentioned the increase in students with disabilities – up to 500% in some instances – since the last review as an example of the volume of work put onto teachers. The expectation for schools to complete Individual Education Plans for each student with special needs was highlighted as one example of unsustainable and unrealistic policy pressure on teachers. All teachers are supportive of inclusive and differentiated learning, but the NDIS and other agencies have not been as collaborative or smooth in working with schools. It’s clearly overlooked the unsustainability of planning and implementing this level of individualised learning support within a classroom of 30 students.
5. Review the Process of NESA Accreditation
Gavrielatos highlighted the NESA teaching standards have been respected and seen as a positive by teachers and the Federation. However, the process of applying and maintaining accreditation at different levels is in need of review as it has increased the administrative burden on teachers. The Highly Accomplished and Lead teaching has only 200 teachers at that level, despite the early estimates that 30% of teachers would fit this category. This is a prime example of the deterrents – including the $700 application fee – for teachers to achieve these promotional awards. Gavrielatos pointed out that the Standards themselves don’t need a review and they are agreed upon, but the process and systems for application and maintenance need review as they have not so far been scrutinised.
6. Parents Increasingly Value Teachers in Pandemic
Gavrielatos referenced 2 studies, one conducted in March by the Federation and another independent study later this year, which covered parents attitudes to the profession. Close to 100% of parents had an increased value and respect for the professionalism and satisfaction of teachers. This was particularly made evident during the pandemic as many parents recognised the challenges of supporting their own child, acknowledging the efforts of teachers, while realising how difficult it must be for a class of up to 30 students.
If you would like to see more of the hearings from the inquiry following the link here – Valuing the Teaching Profession: an Independent Inquiry.