Australia’s school students are forced to play a damaging ‘lesson lottery’ because governments have dramatically underestimated how much support teachers need to get curriculum planning right.
Most teachers carry a heavy curriculum planning load, and too often are left to try their best in near-impossible circumstances.
A Grattan Institute survey of 2,243 teachers and school leaders across Australia, conducted for this report, finds that only 15 per cent of teachers have access to a common bank of high-quality curriculum materials for all their classes. Even more troubling, teachers in disadvantaged schools are only half as likely to have access to a common bank as teachers in advantaged schools.
Teachers tell us they often plan alone from scratch, searching social media to try to find lesson materials. This creates Australia’s lesson lottery – it undermines student learning and adds to the workload of our overstretched teachers.
Our survey shows that having access to a common bank of high-quality curriculum materials for all subjects makes a big difference. Teachers say students are then almost twice as likely to consistently learn the same things, no matter which classroom they are in.
When teachers have access to a common bank of materials, they are almost four times more likely to say they are satisfied with their school’s planning approach. Teachers also save about three hours a week, because they don’t have to source and create materials themselves.
Great teaching requires classroom instruction based on well-designed, knowledge-rich, and carefully sequenced lessons that build student knowledge and skills over time.
Without a whole-school approach to curriculum planning, even the hardest-working teachers will struggle to give their students the best education.
The Australian Curriculum and its state variants provide high-level direction only, leaving vast gaps for teachers to fill in. Teachers are crying out for change and schools need much more support.
Some schools are doing whole-school planning well. This report profiles five role-model schools: Marsden Road Public School in south-west Sydney, Docklands Primary School in central Melbourne, Ballarat Clarendon College in regional Victoria, Aveley Secondary College in outer Perth, and Serpentine Primary School in a regional town near Perth. But these schools are the exception, not the rule.
We recommend a three-pronged strategy to end the lesson lottery and help Australia’s schools improve their curriculum planning.
First, governments should invest in high-quality, comprehensive curriculum materials, and make them available for all teachers, whether in government, Catholic, or independent schools.
Second, governments should strengthen curriculum expertise in schools. Principals, curriculum leaders, and teachers need much more professional development to implement a high-quality, whole-school curriculum approach, and adapt teaching materials effectively for their schools and their students.
And third, governments should closely review curriculum planning in all schools, to track implementation on the ground and target more support to the schools that need it.