Schools Workforce in Australia – Productivity Commission Report

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Teacher iconIn November the Australian Productivity Commission produced a draft report on the Schools Workforce in Australia. It’s a draft because they are looking for comments and feedback by the middle of February. I’ve only recently had time to read it, and I thought I’d share a quick summary, because it’s (a) interesting and (b) a draft that they want comments on.

Why look at schools workforce issues?

The report emphasised that overall, Australia’s schools deliver good outcomes, due in large measure to the efforts of the schools workforce. Global assessments of student performance consistently show that the foundation skills of the ‘average’ Australian student are at the upper end of the country rankings, whilst spending is around average. However, performance in international tests has been reducing, relative to other countries, since the beginning of the century.

Looking forward, DEEWR are projecting that in the next decade we’ll see student numbers in Australia rise by nearly a million students – an increase of 26% on the 2010 numbers. That growth is especially strong in Queensland and WA, where it’s forecast to be 40%+. Put that alongside the likely reduction in the number of teachers, caused by more teachers retiring than joining the profession, and there’s a challenge coming up.

The Productivity Commission was asked to look into the whole education and training workforce, across early childhood development, schools and VET (Vocational Education and Training) sectors, and provide advice for the short, medium and long-term – especially around building the capability and effectiveness of the workforce.

Draft Recommendations of the Schools Workforce report

There’s a list of a seven draft recommendations, starting on page XXXV – or page 39 if you’re reading the electronic version

Why, in these days of PDF publishing, would you use a numbering system that starts with 39 pages numbered in the historic Roman numbering system, and then re-starts at page 1, on the 40th page of the document?).

The recommendations include:

  • longitudinal research into teacher effectiveness amongst cohorts of recently appointed teachers
  • postponing the introduction of a performance-related national bonus scheme for teachers until their design and impact are better understood
  • share with schools more research about the school workforce, through AITSL
  • evaluating whether paying teachers incentives helps to encourage people to join, or stay in, the school workforce
  • balance the approach to giving more autonomy to schools with more support for school leaders and governance arrangements
  • evaluate the current programs and policies aimed at tackling educational disadvantage
  • review, in 5 years’ time, ACARA and AITSL to consider how they contribute to improving access and evaluation of:
    • data on student outcomes
    • data on the school workforce
    • research on workforce policy
    • performance of the workforce

What do I make of it all?

I was interested to read the full report because of two specific issues:

The Australian teacher shortage

I’d been referring to the future teacher shortage a few times recently, but had only grasped it in the sense of the current system – with the current number of students. If we’re expecting a shortage based on today’s student body, then things are going to be far worse if the shortage is actually going to be made worse by a 25% increase in the number of students! And this will become a greater issue in states like WA where they’re expecting 40% more students in the next decade.

Either we need a lot more teachers*, or a more fundamental review of how teaching and learning take place (ooh, there’s the technology angle)

Improving access and evaluation of data on student outcomes

Although there are some exceptions, one of the things that I’ve noticed with the Australian education system is that it doesn’t automatically use data to help support improvements in student performance in the same way that other education systems do. I noticed it before I arrived in Australia, when looking at the MySchool website. It was good to see all of the performance data for a school in one place, but I was surprised by the limitations it imposed on people using the data, which seemed to fly in the face of what most parents would want the data for. And in spending more time with Australian educators, I’ve been surprised by the number of times that they’ve been forced to work without a simple but comprehensive view of student performance data – for their own students, or to compare their students against national performance. It seems that the key point where really good public data is available is at the point of leaving High School, when it’s too late for schools to do anything with it that will impact the performance of the students that are the subject it!

The proposed review of how ACARA and AITSL contribute to improving access to data could be a significant step forward on this, to help schools better serve their whole student cohort, and help them tackle educational disadvantage too.

Learn More

You can download the full Schools Workforce draft report from the Productivity Commission website. If you want to make a submission to the consultation, then you can do that on the same page, until 17 February.

* If you’re one of the teachers in England who reads this blog, perhaps there’s a ‘Get Yeself Down Under’ message here! And you could do a lot worse than the beautiful landscapes of Western Australia or Queensland

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