Annual Conference 2017

Growing emergency of 'educational triage'

Kerri Carr

Presentation to conference: Susan McGrath-Champ, left, and Meghan Stacey

Teachers have plenty of ideas about how their work could be better structured to devote more time to teaching and learning, a new survey commissioned by Federation has revealed.

Delegates to Federation’s Annual Conference heard from academics Susan McGrath-Champ, from the University of Sydney’s Business School, and Meghan Stacey, from the university’s School of Education and Social Work, who are conducting research on teacher workloads for Federation.

Ms Stacey said teachers are having to make “complex and often difficult decisions ... regarding what to let go in the working day”, which she dubbed “educational triage”.

“But, we consider that schools are not hospitals — intentions, processes and goals are quite different — and while triage may be a creative survival method, we consider that education should actually not be about survival in some kind of constant state of emergency, but rather about having time for learning and for growth.”

The survey found that in some cases new, often administration, tasks are having an adverse effect on core teaching and learning duties.

Teachers reported that changes are in addition to existing workloads. One respondent said: “It’s like we’re fighting to go up a mountain with a massive rock on our back and then they’re like, ‘By the way, do you mind taking mine as well?’”

Another said: “There’s less time to effectively pay to students. The quality of teaching, I think, has in some ways depreciated because you physically don’t have time to plan engaging, interesting, exciting, high-quality lessons as often as you used to be able to. You’re spending more time at the end of the day, or in the morning, catching up on the paperwork you have to do rather than spending that time researching new ways to teach or to engage students.”

Survey respondents’ suggestions about managing workload include:

  • time off from face-to-face teaching
  • fewer committees, meetings and better timing of meetings
  • additional teaching staff and/or increased administrative support
  • effective management of parent-teacher contact
  • resistance by school executive to embrace everything that’s new (as this increases workload).

Teachers suggest the Department:

  • eliminates ineffectual policy and seek more feedback on changes
  • institute fewer new policies, initiatives and changes
  • initiate, where new policy is needed, prior assessment on the effect of the workload on teachers
  • reduce face-to-face teaching correspondingly, with tasks to be streamlined with other Departmental requirements
  • require less frequent collection of data, form-filling and “tick box” tasks
  • trust teachers more and establish a more positive attitude towards the teaching profession
  • reinstate curriculum support and consultants
  • provide more money for staffing, change the staffing formula to reflect complex student cohorts and reduce class size.

Twelve school leaders (three principals and nine other school executives) and 19 teachers took part in the study.

A full report will be made to Federation later in the year.

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