Making time for great teaching

14 Mar 2014

The report examines the timetables and budgets of six diverse schools across the country to identify ways they can change their practices in order to free up time for teacher development.


School education in Australia is slipping. We are falling down the international rankings and our students are performing at a lower level in some subjects than they were a decade ago, according to the OECD. How we respond is vital for our students’ future.

High-performing systems around the world know that improving the effectiveness of teaching is the way to lift school performance. They seek to increase the quality – not the quantity – of teaching. They know teaching improves when teachers learn from each other. So they ensure teachers are mentored and teach classes in front of skilled observers, who provide constructive feedback. They make time for teachers to undertake practical research in their schools on how to lift student learning.

Governments and many schools have tried to implement similar professional learning programs. But success has been limited. A major stumbling block is finding the resources and time in the school week. Each year we ask schools and teachers to do more. In fact, we need to get them to do less, so they have more time to improve their teaching. This report shows how.

We worked extensively with six diverse schools across the country that are striving to give teachers more time. We talked to their teachers and school leaders to develop, fully cost and find time for intensive programs such as intensive mentoring, observation of teachers and feedback on their work, active collaboration and school-based research.

Ideally, teachers would have at least three extra school periods a week for these programs. Most of the time can be found by reducing the time teachers spend on ineffective professional development, staff meetings, school assemblies, extra subjects and extra-curricular activities. Schools must make difficult but crucial trade-offs in how teachers and school leaders spend their time. We must be explicit that every time we ask teachers to perform extra activities we are decreasing the quality of teaching and learning in schools.

Education strategy must change. Governments must lead the way and prioritise how money is spent at all levels of education. They are still funding ineffective professional learning that lacks accountability. Government regulations restrict schools. Enterprise bargaining agreements restrict changes to work schedules, and duty of care requirements restrain schools that want to free their teachers from child minding to focus on improving teaching. We cannot expect teachers to lift our students to the world’s best while also insisting they spend time on yard duty, pastoral care, and supervising extra-curricular activities.

Similarly, we should not follow low-performing systems around the world that have tried to improve schools by decreasing class sizes and increasing the time teachers spend in the classroom. Instead, we must make time for programs that develop teacher skills and deliver great teaching. Some Australian schools, even those with scarce resources and high levels of disadvantage, are making hard choices right now. For the sake of our students all schools and school systems should follow their lead.

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