Reducing Teacher Admin
It has been great to hear a change in tone and implied respect in the few bits of communication we have had regarding education with the recent change of state government. It has been a long time since we have had communication that didn't feel like we are being reprimanded, misled or gaslighted. One fo the key messages we are being told is that there will be a concerted effort to try to reduce teacher administration so that we - as teachers and schools - can focus on the key to education - teaching and learning.
Many reports and articles have been written about teachers' perceptions about teacher administration (or "administrivia") and the impact these types of task have on teacher morale and the core purpose of the job. A couple of articles/reports you might like to read are:
AITSL: Shifting the balance: Increasing the focus on teaching and learning by reducing the burden of compliance and administration.
Teachers need more support, less admin to deliver quality education
Reports such as these outline that teacher administration, accountability and unreasonable demands are crushing staff morale and reducing time available to work with students.
I'd like to take this in a new direction and identify what this administrivia is and how it can be reduced, from someone working within a school. I'm going to start by thinking broadly at the system and whole school level, and then look at faculties.
Problem 1: Curriculum Reform
Following Geoff Masters' review and report on NSW Curriculum which wrapped up in 2020, the former NSW Government announced the comprehensive rewriting of K-12 Curriculum. This needs to be considered in the context that ACARA introduced a whole suite of new curriculum documents in 2013, which NESA (then BOSTES) rewrote into the NSW syllabuses. Schools have already been through the process of implementing new syllabuses in many subjects reasonably recently - Geography 7-10 was fully implemented as late as 2018. Some of the phase 3 subjects in other KLAs were implemented as late as 2019-20 (TAS).
The former NSW Government set a very ambitious agenda to develop, consult formalise and implement the new syllabuses very quickly. In HSIE alone, 2023 will involve planning and preparing for Senior Geography, consultation and release of Geography, History, Aboriginal Studies, and Commerce, with planning and preparing in 2024 and implementation in 2025. Consultation and release for Geography Elective, History Elective, Work Education in HSIE will occur in 2024, with planning and preparation in 2025 and implementation in 2026. These are the changes for one KLA alone, and mostly only for 7-10. Primary schools are already well under way implementing new English and Maths syllabuses.
We are now beginning to see the implication of these changes across subjects and years. Schools developing new teaching and learning program proformas, scope and sequence proformas, and assessment proformas for the new syllabuses. Faculties and teachers designing new programs, scope and sequences, teaching activities, and assessments, reviewing existing resources, and choosing new textbooks or online programs.
Solution 1: Slow down the implementation. It is not necessary to implement so much change so quickly. If we want the new curriculum implementation to be successful we need to allow time for teachers to really engage with the syllabuses, and have time for proper planning and collaboration.
The previous NSW Government announced five hours available per teacher per term to be used for planning. At the time no thought had gone into how this would be staffed, paid for or organised. Advice since has been scant. Given the extensive changes and period over which these changes will occur, why not provide funding to reduce teachers' teaching hours by half an hour per week and timetable it in?
Problem 2: Organisational overlap, discord and change
There are too many layers and levels of organisation, policies and documents that influence schools and teachers, and these are constantly changing. In the area of subject teaching alone ACARA designed the National Curriculum and looks after external testing like NAPLAN, NESA designs the NSW curriculum/syllabuses and the department then designs and implements additional layers such as literacy, numeracy and physical literacy continuums. Sometimes these layers don't always correlate with each other, and even when they do it still create fiddly jobs like coding one document against each other.
In addition, the roles and responsibilities of different departments and organisations are constantly changing so that teachers complete a task one way, and then soon after have to learn to do it a new way, or understand which organisation completes which role and then it changes.
Solution 2: Collaboration between the federal and state government is required to align the organisation goals, roles and objectives of federal and state curriculum authorities and government departments to reduce duplication and overlap. This would reduce time that teachers spend having to code and cross-reference multiple layers of policy and curriculum documents, and hopefully ensure that once a job is done once it doesn't need to be re-done.
Problem 3: Teacher shortage
The teacher shortage is not new. The impact of the teacher shortage on existing teachers in a school includes: taking extra classes, liaising with casual teachers for positions that are not filled, helping casuals plan lessons and assessments, preparing extra lessons, writing extra reports, dealing with additional behaviour management issues as students don't have a regular teacher (including assisting with recording information on the school's online systems).
Solution 3: The recently announced strategy of converting long-term temporary teachers into permanent teachers is a good one. Another option would be to provide extra funding to schools to employ multiple teachers to work full-time on casual loads (for sick leave, long service leave, professional learning, etc) under contract for the whole year., or perhaps even a few years. This would informally convert more casual teachers into temporary teachers, and ensure a steady, reliable way of covering leave periods and ensure students are familiar with those covering the classes. Many schools do this in an informal way anyway, so why not formalise this process a bit more? Providing more predictable work is a way of encouraging teachers without permanent jobs to stay in the system.
Problem 4: Policy
There are 219 policies that schools and teacher need to comply with. This is too many. Policies are currently recorded on a department website with duplication, multiple sections, weblinks, etc. It is difficult to find the information you need, there is a lot of waffle and much of it is not relevant to people working in schools. Trying to find some basic information can take a long time and increase the time it takes to get jobs done.
People across the state are duplicating work - risk assessments, WHS - all sorts of things.
Solution 4: Write policies in a short, simple way. Each policy should have a short summary with key points at the beginning of the document, and then further details. Policies should be in PDF form so that they can be downloaded and printed. Policies could be divided into those relevant to teachers, managers, and Non-School Based staff.
Instead of templates, ready to use documents are needed. Let's take a look at something like risk assessments for excursions. Why are people across the state writing their own? Surely someone in a Non-School Based Position (or a team) could create a bank of risk assessments that meet all the requirements and only require minimal changes by teachers.
Problem 5: External Validation and School Planning
Whole school accountability creates a huge administrative burden for teachers, head teachers, deputies and principals. External Validation involves a school being assessed on the judgements they have made about where the school sits on the Schools Excellence Framework. The Schools Excellence Framework (SEF) is a useful document that can be used to guide schools on the programs, strategies and actions needed to drive improvement. Each term Executive Teams can complete a Self-Assessment to review progress, reflect and plan forward. However the process of External Validation where documentary evidence and copious amount of data (did anyone say datafication of teaching?) needs to be uploaded and tagged according to the school plan and SEF elements, is overly formalised, time-consuming and basically a box-ticking activity that contributes little to the way schools are run. It creates stress when it isn't necessary, and takes time away from more meaningful activities.
School Planning seems like a duplication of SEF Self-Assessment and planning and discussions that come from it, and if External Validation is based on the SEF rather than the School Plan it seems entirely superfluous.
Solution 5: External Validation should be streamlined or discontinued, to be replaced by a once a term discussion with the DEL (like currently occurs for the School Plan).
School Plans should be discontinued. All schools should use the School Excellence Framework to guide improvement and not write a school plan. This is basically eliminating the "middle man", and would simplify the whole process.
Problem 6: Mandatory Training
There is an ever-increasing list of mandatory training. Mandatory training is generally repetitive, boring (mostly poorly designed online learning), and often irrelevant. The large amount of mandatory training required eats into weekly meetings and staff development days and reduces the amount of time that can be provided for faculties to undertake planning, do faculty organisation and to work collaboratively.
Solution 6: Eliminate all the superfluous mandatory training down to a list that is manageable and relevant. Reduce online learning modules - most people prefer to be spoken to by a real person, and this allows the deliverer to tailor the content for the school context.
Problem 7: Extracurricular activities
Many of the amazing things that happen in schools are run by teachers in their spare time by choice. All schools have so many extracurricular activities on offer - knockout sports competitions, breakfast club, art and drama club, SRC, robotics clubs, the list is never ending. The easy solution is to say to teachers to be more selfish with their time. Only that is not generally in the nature of teachers. Teachers tend to see a need, know what the limitations are in providing whatever is needed, and finding a way to do it regardless - usually the biggest cost is teacher time and workload. How can this be addressed by the new government? Providing period allocations for teachers running extracurricular activities would go some way to addressing this.
Solution 7: The best solution a new government could provide is reducing teaching loads, so that teachers have the time to concentrate on fewer classes, explore meaningful data to get to know those students well, and have time to create or source the best teaching materials for those classes. An extra staff development day here and there, announcing that staff should get extra release time (when there are no casuals, funding or guidance on how to provide it) and coming up with new initiatives that talk about workload but do nothing will not solve the problem.
Problem 8: Lack of support staff
Additional SASS staff to undertake non-teaching tasks could reduce workload. This could be updating the school website, maintaining social media and communications. While the amount of photocopying has reduced in schools since the introduction of digital classrooms, teachers still spend time photocopying documents, scanning work samples (another accountability issue) and maintaining organisation of digital assets. SASS staff are also overburdened by cumbersome systems so we can't just allocate more work to them.
Solution 8: Additional support to complete non-teaching tasks such as communications, collecting and completing photocopying, scanning documents, organising digital assets, etc would reduce workload. Providing a SASS person for one day a week per faculty could reduce these administrative tasks.
Additional Comments - 6 May 2023
It was great to see the announcement that the curriculum releases as part of the curriculum reform have been pushed back. I would still argue they need to be pushed back a little further, but it's still a good outcome.
Deputy Principal at a Sydney high school. Coordinating author of the Geoactive text book series.