2021-07-16 05:44:02

Grattan Institute surveys teachers' time

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By Emma Westwood

Attention educators! Have your say on teacher workloads in Australia and help influence better practices for our schools moving forward.

Not having enough hours in your workday is a universal complaint, although particularly so when it comes to those working in education. The responsibilities placed on school leaders, educators and administrators continue to grow with governance and compliance commitments, yet the hours in a day remain the same.

While the coronavirus has only exacerbated these workloads, the increasing demands on teachers’ time is a trend that’s been growing over many years. To understand why this is happening, researchers at the Grattan Institute in Australia – an independent policy think-tank – are calling on primary and secondary school educators to take part in their survey (both teachers and school leaders) about the pressures on teachers’ time.

"Teacher time use has been a really long-standing issue,” explains Julie Sonnemann, Education Fellow at the Grattan Institute. “The thing that's prompted us is there have been a number of reports in the last few years showing not just that teachers feel stretched but they’re also not getting enough time to do some of the core parts of their job. In some circumstances, teachers feel like they're unable to help struggling learners and they don't feel they have the time to give students feedback."

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Teacher wellbeing is also a key issue that Julie and her team want to investigate as part of the Grattan Institute survey.

“There are lots of negative flow-on effects around teacher burnout and teacher wellbeing that come from teachers that are too stretched in their roles, which is really very concerning,” she explains. “I think what we're seeing now is it reaching an even new level where teachers aren't supported to actually do the things they really should be doing as teachers.”

“Time pressures and time use are reaching a point where we really want to question – what are the strengths of teachers?” she continues. “What special skills do they bring and how should we be using their time most effectively to make sure we're making the most of their expertise?"

Researching teacher time demands is familiar ground at the Grattan Institute. A 2014 report called Making Time for Great Teaching – narrower in scope than the current survey – took a case study approach to highlight where schools could find efficiencies for enabling more time for teacher professional learning.

“It asked schools and teachers about prioritisation decisions; basically asking, if you want to make time for teacher professional learning, what are the things that you would drop in order to make that time?” says Julie of the 2014 report. “It found some very simple solutions around making school meetings more efficient, and it found basically that there'd be five to 10 percent of time that could be opened up in schools for professional learning.”

“For example, there’s something like 27 hours a year that teachers are spending on taking students to swimming and gymnastics, and there's a number of duties that teachers are doing where it just seems like, perhaps, you can get somebody else to do that role and then give teachers a bit more time to just look after their job."

Instructor in training class with students

Where this previous study focused on efficiency in non-teaching activities, the 2021 survey forms part of a much more encompassing study of teacher time, including finding efficiencies in the way lesson planning is undertaken.

"This report is going to cast the net much broader. We're not just looking at low-hanging fruit for the five to 10 percent but also asking, how are teachers actually doing some of the core parts of their job? How are they supported to plan their lessons? What common resources and what common materials are they provided so they don't have to reinvent the wheel every time themselves?"

The survey also aims to understand a range of solutions that could be placed on the table for both schools and governments to consider. Julie says the report aims to uncover practical solutions that could be implemented in schools tomorrow, while also identifying what the longer term issues might be, as well as different ways of working that may need to be considered in the future.

Teacher priorities also come into consideration in the survey. "What are the priorities for teachers?” asks Julie. “If extra money was to be given to schools, for example, would they want that to go towards protected lesson planning time or would they prefer it to go towards more specialist staff for a student who might have special needs?”  

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“So really, it’s about trying to get a good hold on where the biggest spending priorities should be if more money was to be given to schools. And we know that there is more money going into schools in the next five years under Gonski, particularly in government schools. So, I think this information will help school leaders and governments think about where they could be investing some of this extra money to help teachers with their time."

The survey will be made public in a report scheduled to be published in the later part of 2021. For teachers who are feeling the added pressure on their time from COVID-19 or teachers concerned at the number of colleagues leaving the profession, Julie believes this is an important opportunity to contribute to solving one of the biggest issues we face in education.

“Teachers are already stretched. They don't have a lot of capacity in normal times and then you throw a curveball like COVID. It's no wonder that teacher stress has gone through the roof! I think now is a real pressure-point in terms of teachers’ time. And I think it's the right time to be talking about these issues so we can survive these unexpected occurrences whenever they may end up happening."

Grattan Institute’s survey takes around 10 minutes to complete and is open until early August 2021. Teachers can take part in it here, and school leaders can take part here.

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