Making time for great teaching: How better government policy can help

by Jordana Hunter, Julie Sonnemann, Rebecca Joiner

30.01.2022 report

Teachers in Australian schools don’t get enough time to prepare well for class, and student performance is suffering as a result.

Download the report

Download the principals’ guide

Download the survey results

Download the chart data

Teacher workloads have blown out in recent decades, and many teachers are now too stretched to do everything we ask of them.

A Grattan Institute survey of 5,442 Australian teachers and school leaders, conducted for this report, found more than 90 per cent of teachers say they don’t have enough time to prepare effectively for classroom teaching – the core of their job.

Teachers report feeling overwhelmed by everything they are expected to achieve. And worryingly, many school leaders feel powerless to help them.

The survey results amount to a cry for help from the teachers of Australia. If governments don’t hear this cry and act on it, they will be letting down our children.

Governments should pursue a three-pronged reform agenda.

First, they should let teachers teach, by better matching teachers’ work to teachers’ expertise. Governments should find better ways to use the wider schools workforce, including support and specialist staff, to help teachers focus on effective teaching.

Second, governments must help teachers to work smarter, by reducing unnecessary tasks, not only in administration but in core teaching work. Governments should reduce the need for teachers to ‘re-invent the wheel’ in curriculum and lesson planning.

Third, governments need to rethink the way teachers’ work is organised. They should ensure industrial agreements give school leaders the local flexibility to strike a sensible balance between class sizes and teachers’ face-to-face teaching time. Governments should find ways to smooth out workloads over the school year by scheduling more time for teachers to work together on preparation activities in term breaks, so they can focus more on classroom teaching during term time.

As a first step, the federal, state, and territory governments should spend $60 million on pilot studies of new ways to make more time for great teaching.

That would be a tiny fraction (less than 0.1 per cent) of the $65 billion Australian governments spent on schools each year, so it would be a small price to pay to improve the quality of our children’s education.

Our accompanying report, Making time for great teaching: A guide for principals, identifies practical steps school leaders can take immediately to give their teachers more time.

Principals should cancel unproductive meetings and reduce teachers’ extra-curricular and yard-duty responsibilities. They should lighten teachers’ lesson planning load by making sure teachers have shared, high-quality resources across subjects and year levels.

Principals don’t need to wait for governments to embark on new reforms – they can act now. But our reports show government action is essential. Governments need to fundamentally rethink the way schools operate – for the sake of our children.