If 18 000 teachers go into a forest and voice the same opinion are they still wrong?
Make sure you’re sitting down when you read this. Someone has actually asked teachers what they think of the state of education.
This report by the University of Sydney, based on a survey of 18 000 NSW teachers, now confirms unequivocally what teachers as a collective already knew, and what many politicians and leaders have been slow to acknowledge: that “Layer upon layer of government reform is diverting teachers away from their primary task of ensuring the best possible educational outcomes for students.”
I have to confess that I have never joined a strike action by teachers - not because I disagreed with the reason for striking but because I thought there were surely more creative ways to conduct a protest without disadvantaging students and inconveniencing working parents.
But has education in Australia reached a point where inaction by teachers will mean that this current craziness wins - and everyone loses?
So is it time for teachers to push back with more than just words? Is it time for grass-roots action?
If so, what kinds of action could teachers take that would force the policy and decision makers to finally listen to teachers and stop rolling out reforms and policies that don’t work?
Do you have any ideas (apart from strike action)? And you’re allowed to be creative.
Can I start the ideation session with this: What if teachers refused to complete those compliance and evidence-gathering tasks that are meaningless and unsustainable until there was a commitment from authorities to remove them? (Maybe call it an “administrivia" strike?)
Two years ago I created a folder on my desktop called 'Teachers are (not) camels'. In it I placed any top-down requests that I knew would produce no benefit to my students' learning, and that would also add inordinate hours to my workload. (The folder is quite full!)
In January of this year I went to Finland. I saw first-hand what it is like when teachers are allowed to teach without silly burdens and top-down demands placed on them by non-educators.
I was feeling particularly reflective after my week at Roihuvuori Comprehensive School. This video shows me sitting at Helsinki's famous ‘Revolution Table and musing over our Australian problem of unsustainable administrative demands - and what we can do about it.
Please contribute any ideas/actions that you think could jolt our policy and decision makers into listening to teachers and removing senseless paperwork.
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Read the full report below...
Teachers suffer from "unsustainable" administrative demands: survey
Ninety percent of NSW teachers say changes in government policy and administrative responsibilities have significantly added to their work over the past five years and impacted on their time with students.
The massive survey of more than 18 thousand or a third of the State’s teachers was conducted by the University of Sydney’s Business School, the School of Education and Social Work, and the NSW Teachers Federation.
The majority of those who took part in one of the largest ever teacher surveys said that departmental support had remained static or declined over the same period.
The results, described as “worrying” by researchers, come in the wake of the latest Gonski recommendations that many commentators say would further add to a teacher’s workload if implemented without additional necessary support.
Many of the surveyed teachers who reported an increase in their work cited administrative tasks. Others cited new policies and procedures, government initiatives and data collection and reporting as factors that are diverting them from activities of direct benefit to students.
While nearly 90 per cent (87.2) said their hours had increased, almost 95 per cent (94.9) also said that their work had become more complex and more than 95 per cent (95.1) said that the range of their work related activities had increased.
More than 96 per cent (96.4) said there had been an increase in the collection, analysis and reporting of data and more than 97 per cent (97.3) reported an increase in administrative tasks.
The almost unanimous reporting in relation to increases in work indicates a common experience at a level rarely encountered in social science research where variance usually abounds.
"The almost unanimous reporting in relation to increases in work indicates a common experience at a level rarely encountered in social science research where variance usually abounds."
- Dr Rachel Wilson, Sydney School of Education and Social Work
Lead researcher, Dr Susan McGrath-Champ, described the survey results as “unique”.
Dr McGrath-Champ also said that anonymous comments made by survey respondents reflect a strong sense that layer upon layer of government reform is diverting teachers away from their primary task of ensuring the best possible educational outcomes for students.
“Administration, box ticking exercises and data-related menial tasks waste valuable preparation time and get in the way of delivering authentic learning,” said one teacher.
Another claimed that “administrative tasks and record keeping had more than doubled in the past five years”.
“I feel overworked at the expense of my students,” said yet another respondent.
Dr McGrath-Champ said “many teachers report that the Department’s micro managing and accountability requirements are limiting creativity and do not improve student learning”.
"While they want to support student learning, many teachers feel that accountability or proving themselves to the Department has become their primary task."
- Dr Susan McGrath-Champ, University of Sydney Business School
While teachers report an increase in their workload, they say that there has been no improvement of support provided by the Department of Education.
More than 40 per cent of teachers actually reported a decline in support from the Department in relation to student behaviour and welfare. More than 50 per cent of principals and assistant principals reported a decline in support not only with behavioural and welfare issues but also with new syllabuses and policy implementation.
This latest survey follows a 2017 study by the Public Service Commission which found that only 40 per cent of teachers believed that their level of work related stress was acceptable, leaving 60 per cent to deal with what they believed to be unacceptable stress levels.
More than half (54 per cent) of who took part in the Commission’s survey did not believe that the change process in schools was being handled well.
“It is clear from our survey and other recent studies, that current workloads and stress levels in the education sector are unsustainable,” concluded Dr McGrath-Champ.