Grattan Report

Planning time is of the essence

The Grattan Institute surveyed 5442 teachers to find out what kind of preparation time teachers are getting. IEU Professional Engagement Officer Pat Devery looks at the findings.

The Grattan Institute Report, Making Time for Great Teaching, released in January, claims to have “sounded the alarm” on teacher workload and the erosion of teacher time. This would come as a surprise to IEU members who have been tolling that very bell for more than a decade.

Plenty of positives

The Grattan Institute directly consulted teachers in the field, an approach the union always welcomes. The report carefully identifies some of the complexities in teaching that contribute to excessive workloads.

Encouragingly, the report also recognises the fundamental importance of protected planning time. It calls for a reduction in administrivia, and emphasises that teachers need access to “high-quality common resources”, especially in disadvantaged schools and when supporting students with complex learning needs.

Similarly, the report pinpoints the constant churn of “new initiatives” or what the union describes as “project mongering”. As one survey respondent noted, “Nothing ever drops off, it’s just added on top of what we already do.”

Teachers are expected to implement a never-ending stream of school-specific or system initiatives with little or no consultation, and with scant regard as to the value of these schemes for their school.

Sifting through suggestions

The Grattan Report suggests a range of options to address these issues, including “buying” more protected planning time through “small increases in average class sizes” and holding “more structured preparation and planning activities in non-term time”.

The report also recommends helping teachers to work smarter through access to high-quality common units, plans and assessments that have been quality assured.

Specialist and support staff, the report contends, could assist by delivering effective teaching to struggling students. They add that support staff could assist with yard duty and chasing permission slips, thus freeing up valuable preparation time for teachers.

Cost effectiveness and flexibility are at the core of the recommendations. The report wants its suggestions quarantined from existing industrial arrangements so as to avoid a “one-size-fits-all approach”.

Class size counts

Unfortunately, the report’s take on class sizes does not stand up to close scrutiny. It would be virtually impossible for many schools in regional or remote NSW to enrol extra students to ‘buy’ additional time with larger class sizes. The students just aren’t there.

On the opposite side of the same coin, many city schools and schools in big regional centres are already stretched to the limit, so “small increases in class sizes” are impossible. With classes in many Catholic systemic schools already sitting at 30-32, more students simply won’t fit.

The IEU rejects the assertion that industrial instruments restrict individual school flexibility. On the contrary, the negotiating process for these agreements is exactly where the issue could be addressed, especially any review of staffing ratios.

It is not widely understood that creating flexibility within a school timetable has as much to do with staffing ratios as it does with class sizes, especially in secondary schools.

Most medium-to-large secondary schools would already be structuring flexibility into their timetables by running large class sizes in one area of the timetable to allow for smaller candidature courses that cater to specific student needs. This flexibility is largely dictated by existing staffing ratios.

Paper chase and program churn

The IEU agrees with the report that schools and systems should implement processes to reduce paperwork, particularly around programming, registration, and developing and resourcing of work units.

The IEU has consistently pushed for, where appropriate, centrally developed programs, work units and assessments for teachers to access. An agreed blank template that satisfies the relevant authority requirements, has no added system overlays and is not subject to annual ‘formatting churn’ at the whim of an individual within a school or system, could be implemented immediately and at almost no cost. NESA’s Program Builder is a practical example operating in NSW.

Education authorities and employers play an important role in developing programs that schools can endorse and implement with confidence – this would improve consistency across schools and eliminate the relentless program churn that consumes so much professional time.

There are several commercial programming software packages, similar to the reporting and timetabling packages currently used in schools, which could provide teachers with access to appropriate, quality assured resources, including assessment tasks.

Unfortunately, previous attempts at providing an agreed blank template have been unsuccessful, particularly in primary settings. Divergent ideas about the level of detail required in professional documentation have resulted in unwieldy programs.

Pushback on programming excess

Over the years, the union has heard various arguments resisting this request, ranging from “all teachers need to be able to program in order to meet the standards” and “forcing a standardised template on my school will prevent us from maintaining our current ‘best practice’ approach” through to “teachers need to ownthe program”.

There is still enormous need for authorities to respect teachers’ professional judgement.

The union contends that even with the assistance of an employer-endorsed or commercial programming product, there are ample opportunities for teachers to show evidence they are meeting the standards by using their professional judgement.

Similarly, teachers have no trouble meeting Standard 5.5.2 (Provide timely and effective feedback …) while utilising the commercial report writing packages that operate in virtually all schools.

Modifying resources to suit individual students and cohorts is a core part of teaching and a hallmark of best practice. The union also knows that the ‘best practice’ claim can often be the cloak behind which hides an inflexible school leader, responsible for excessive program churn.

Some education ‘experts’ seem to confuse teaching with mere content delivery, but teachers know there is a world of difference. The suggestion that teachers cannot ‘own’ a program unless they put pen to paper and write it themselves indicates a misunderstanding about what itmeans to teach.

Support staff and supervision

In most IEU-negotiated agreements, support staff can already undertake supervision duties. The Grattan Report claims this proposal was met with strong approval; however, it appears the survey question was only put to teachers, not the support staff themselves. It would be interesting to survey support staff to see what staffing capacity currently exists.

Support staff wages are typically paid on an hourly basis so any additional hours they undertake would be counted as additional costs, not simply absorbed into their existing pay structure.

Taking up term breaks

The Grattan Report suggests school leaders should be empowered “to schedule more preparation and planning during term breaks” to even out what they endearingly refer to as a “lumpy” workload. But teachers have long been reporting considerable lumps and bumps during their non-term time.

If anyone still believes teaching is a 9-3 job with 12 weeks holiday a year, we really do have a long way to go. Any significant changes to a teacher’s work pattern rightfully belong in the industrial arena. This is why so many teachers are in their union.

Food for further thought

The Grattan Report emphasises to both the public and the profession the long-standing difficulties around protected planning time. It has sparked many useful conversations.

But there is still enormous need for authorities to address teacher time issues by respecting teachers’ professional judgement and by consulting with those on the front lines through their unions, making sure that any implemented strategies allow for the variety of educational contexts throughout Australia.

More information

Making time for great teaching: How better government policy can help, Jordana Hunter, Julie Sonnemann, Rebecca Joiner; Grattan Institute, 2022 https://grattan.edu.au/report/making-time-for-great-teaching-how-better-government-policy-can-help/