Australia’s education outcomes have deteriorated, despite increased spending on teachers and policies to increase the quantity and quality of teachers.

Education policy is dominated by inputs-based approaches, which see increasing inputs — such as the number of teachers (and, correspondingly smaller class sizes), salaries, and narrow indicators of ‘quality’ (such as level of credentials, years of experience, and teachers’ test scores) — as the path to better education outcomes. But there is little evidence that increasing inputs improves outcomes.

Common misconceptions about the quantity and quality of the teacher workforce compromise evidence-based education policy.

Many of the factors commonly assumed to result in better quality of teachers are not supported by evidence. For instance, more experienced, more confident, higher credentialed teachers are no more effective than less experienced, less confident, or lower credentialed teachers. Smaller classes, higher pay, and teachers’ work conditions are all also unrelated to the achievement of students.

Teachers are critical to lifting Australia’s education outcomes. The quality of teaching is the greatest controllable factor impacting on student achievement. But greater commitment to evidence-based management of the teacher workforce is needed to ensure better decision-making, and ultimately, to lift Australia’s education outcomes in the years to come.

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CIS Research Report 43