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Top teachers: sharing expertise to improve teaching

Teacher training Learning and teaching Australia

A new career path for expert teachers could transform Australian schools and boost student learning by 18 months by the time they turn 15.

As the performance of Australian students is falling in international tests in reading, science and especially maths, we are failing to use our best teachers to improve teaching across all schools.

A Grattan Institute survey of 700 teachers and principals, conducted for this report, finds that top teachers are often given ‘add-on’ coaching roles, with inadequate time, training, or support to do the job properly. And some teachers believe those promoted to instructional leadership roles are mates of the principal rather than the best people for the job.

The report calls for two new roles for Australia’s top teachers, giving them dedicated ‘day jobs’ to improve teaching across all schools. 

‘Master Teachers’ (the top 1 per cent of the profession) would have no formal classroom load but would be the overall pedagogical leaders in their subjects, working across a network of schools in their region. They would help identify teacher needs and coordinate training. They would guide ‘Instructional Specialists’ (limited to 8 per cent of the workforce), who would split their time between classroom teaching and instructional leadership. Instructional Specialists would work in their own schools to support and guide other teachers.

Both roles would focus on specific subjects such as maths, science, and English. By 2032 there would be more than 20,000 Instructional Specialists and 2,500 Master Teachers. Every teacher, in primary and secondary schools and in government, Catholic and independent schools, would benefit from more than one
hour a week with Instructional Specialists in their subject area. The new roles would help to spread teaching practices that have been shown to work well, and to generate new research in high-priority areas where Australian teachers or students may be lagging.

The roles would be prestigious and well paid. Master Teachers would receive salaries of about $180,000 a year ($80,000 more than the highest standard pay rate for teachers), and Instructional Specialists up to $140,000.

The new expert teacher career path would cost about $560 per government school student per year by 2032. Governments can afford it: our blueprint would cost less than the planned increases to government school funding through the Gonski 2.0 model, and it would be one of the best possible ways to use the extra money. Non-government schools have had significant funding increases over the past decade and should fund the new model through their existing resources.

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