An overwhelming majority of NSW public school teachers (89 percent) agree their capacity to continue delivering quality education is hindered by a high workload among staff, according to the largest state-wide survey of teachers conducted by University of Sydney researchers.
Commissioned by the NSW Teachers Federation, the survey of 18,000 primary and secondary public school teachers reveals the severe and intrusive impact of data collection requirements on teachers’ core job of providing quality teaching to support student learning. Preliminary findings of the survey were released in May, and the final report will be released today.
Lead author Dr Susan McGrath-Champ from the University of Sydney said the report marks the first time teachers have been comprehensively asked about their experience of schools as places of work as well as learning.
“Our survey shows that in schools, teachers are confronted with the monster of datafication, or an ever-growing mountain of data and compliance requirements,” said Dr McGrath-Champ, Associate Professor in the University of Sydney Business School.
In corporate workplaces we tend to think of a heavy workload as an ever-growing mountain of paperwork. We haven’t had a wide-ranging picture of the workplace conditions for teachers until this survey.
New data shows the majority of teachers (91 percent) reported administrative demands introduced by the Department of Education were a hindrance to their core job while 89 percent cited high workloads and 86 percent said compliance with state policies was a hindrance.
Teachers work an average 54 hours per week (43 hours at school and 11 hours at home) in order to meet these administrative and data collection demands.
Dr Rachel Wilson and Dr Meghan Stacey from the University’s School of Education and Social Work, and Dr Scott Fitzgerald from Curtin University Business School, co-authored the report.
“The complex demands on teachers’ workloads have the potential to negatively impact the quality of teaching and learning. This is a worrying trend for the future of the education system, and our country,” said Dr Rachel Wilson from the University’s School of Education and Social Work.
The state-wide survey was conducted in NSW public schools in Term 1, 2018. Understanding work in schools: The foundation for teaching and learning presents the findings of the survey.
Participants were asked to rank the frequency of activities undertaken in schools including planning and preparing lessons, reporting to parents and playground duties on a daily, weekly or less frequent basis.
“We found teachers’ daily activities were dominated by work relating to getting to know students, planning and engaging in teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of students,” said Dr Wilson.
“However, other frequent activities were more diverse and dominated by administrative duties, often involving paperwork, data and reporting.”
Survey responses to the open-ended questions were unusually lengthy and “overwhelming” in terms of depth and detail, noted Dr McGrath-Champ, conveying the great concern teachers hold for the intrusion of unnecessary tasks and activities on their core teaching work.
There was a widely-held sentiment among teachers that data collection impedes their core job. One participant said, “The amount of paperwork I need to complete is totally unachievable”, while another noted, “Data and paperwork for accountability has increased exponentially.”
Dr McGrath-Champ said the need for systemic change is urgent. “The weight of evidence within this report makes it abundantly clear that teachers as a whole are subject to new and overwhelming demands imposed by the current policy landscape.”
The report provides a range of strategies and recommendations to reduce the obstruction to teaching and learning caused by excessive workloads.
“Teachers are calling out for more time within the school day to be dedicated to collaboration in core, teaching-related activities like lesson planning, getting to know students and adjusting classwork for students’ individual needs,” said Dr McGrath-Champ.
Greater professional respect would also increase their capacity to teach. The survey shows teachers do not have an issue with reasonable data collection, rather the volume, processes and methods by which this is done are too time-consuming.
“Rather than the piercing eye of scrutiny over every requirement, teachers would be more effective if their professional judgement was valued.
“The data collection requirements at the moment are intruding deeply upon their capacity to teach, so eliminating processes that are unnecessary, cumbersome, and time-consuming would set the sector on the right trajectory.”
Another strategy that was highly preferred by respondents was the need for more specialist teacher support for students with special needs.
One participants said, “The range of student levels and need for differentiation of activities to deal with these can be exhausting and, as a teacher, you sometimes feel that you do not have enough time to get around and check in with every one of your students.”