Overworked and undervalued

Australian teachers put in longer hours in bigger classes

In November last year, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) released its lengthy interim report Education at a Glance that compared working conditions and salaries of teachers across 34 OECD member states, IE Journalist Alex Leggett writes.

The data revealed that teachers in Australia are working some of the longest hours in comparison to most other countries.

Although Australian teachers’ salaries are well above OECD average, the amount of time Australian teachers spend in front of the class (on average 879 hours per year) was ahead of Germany (800 hours per year), Luxembourg (810 hours per year) and England (722 hours per year). For Australia, that is 172 hours above the OECD average of 772 hours.

With an ageing workforce of teachers, the data echoes the need to attract the best and brightest to the profession. Teaching hours and the demands beyond the classroom such as non teaching duties and adequate preparation and correction time are big factors in attracting graduates to the profession on a global scale.

But if current trends continue, the teaching workforce will continue to shrink. In 2013, 36% of secondary school teachers in OECD countries were at least 50 years of age. With large proportions of teachers set to retire in coming years, governments around the world have a duty to train and retain top calibre education professionals.

This data shows Australian teacher retention policies ultimately must address the increasing hours spent in the classroom.

Our teachers, the workers on the front line of our profession, are under increased pressure with larger than OECD average class sizes. The average primary class size in the countries surveyed has 21 students, with lower secondary classes being an average of 24 students.

Australian primary school class sizes are slightly larger with an average 23 students in state schools and 25 in private schools. However, Japan and China still top the list with on average 33 students per class for Japan and 50 in China.

The great worry for teachers is the bigger the class, the less time they actually spend on teaching.

“Larger classes are correlated with less time spent on actual teaching and learning and with more time spent on keeping order in the classroom,” the report states.

“Specifically, one additional student added to an average size class is associated with a 0.5 percentage point decrease in time spent on teaching and learning activities.”

Other data released showed larger classes are associated with a higher proportion of students with behavioural problems, which, in turn, is associated with less time spent on teaching and learning activities.

“Teachers who teach classes where more than one in 10 students have behaviour problems spend almost twice as much time keeping order in the classroom as their peers with less than 10% of such students in their class.” (OECD, 2015)

The report suggests that more time spent teaching may also indicate less time spent assessing students and preparing lessons, leaving them to perform more tasks in their own time, and having an effect on teachers’ personal lives.

Although the annual number of teaching hours of teachers differs from country to country, two main findings from the 2015 survey indicated the demands on workload. The findings showed public school teachers in OECD countries teach an average of 1005 hours per year at the pre primary level, 772 hours for primary school teachers, 694 hours at the lower secondary level, and 643 hours at the upper secondary level of education.

In most of the countries with available data, the amount of teaching time in primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education remained largely unchanged between 2000 and 2013.

Australian teachers are not the only ones working long hours in the classroom. Where annual teaching hours range from less than 700 hours in Greece and South Korea, teachers in Norway and Sweden are putting in up to 1500 hours per year.

Teachers of general subjects in upper secondary schools teach for an average of 643 hours per year. Teaching time exceeds 800 hours in only six countries: Australia, Chile, Colombia, Latvia, Mexico and Scotland.

If Australia can improve its working conditions and salaries for teachers with less time spent in classes we will be able to retain better quality teachers, and ultimately, a better educated society.

Full a full copy of the report and more information on OECD, visit http://www.oecd.org/edu/education-at-a-glance-19991487.htm