Australia/November 04, 2021/By: Dr. Pete Goss and Ruth Giles -PwC Australia/Source: https://www.themandarin.com.au/
School education in Australia is at a pivotal moment. As a nation, we have pockets of great practice, but we have yet to translate this experience into improved outcomes and greater equity at scale. The past decade saw Australia’s students fall behind their international peers in OECD comparisons, even while our educators worked harder than ever. The way to reverse these trends is to harness the triple transformation that is already happening.
Australian school leaders and teachers demonstrated great agility and resilience in response to COVID-19. We need to leverage these qualities for a planned, purposeful transformation of our school education system that encompasses the use of evidence, digital technology and a changing workforce to improve outcomes for students, teachers and families.
Improving outcomes at scale
Improving specific elements of teaching, learning and student support will get us some of the way, as will refinements to system design, governance and funding – but not far enough. We need to systematise and simplify administrative tasks and teaching practices where we have sound evidence of what works. This will free up time for professional judgement where it adds most value: engaging students, adopting and adapting good practice, and innovating where required.
Improving outcomes for one child requires nuanced professional judgement. Improving outcomes at scale requires harnessing three great system transformations that are already underway: in the workforce, in the use of evidence, and in the use of digital technology (see Figure 1).
Over the next decade, the education workforce must grow — by maybe 15% — to match our growing population. At the same time, we must address dire teacher shortages in some schools and subjects, and reverse a decades-long decline in the proportion of high academic achievers who choose teaching. Education systems must articulate a clear employee value proposition and then ensure that the lived reality matches the promise.
We must also support the existing teaching workforce to further develop and use their skills. Expert teachers should be paid more and given dedicated time to work with their colleagues. Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher certification recognises teachers’ expertise but it doesn’t change their day job. Education systems should create expert teacher career pathways, turbo-charging the impact of our best teachers.
We must also address the unrealistic time- and work-related demands placed on our principals and teachers. Teachers’ time is best spent engaging with students, reflecting on student progress and planning classroom experiences to maximise deep learning. To achieve this, we must reduce time spent on activities more easily standardised, such as administration and processing assessment data.
Traditional workforce levers are powerful, but will struggle to simultaneously deliver more teachers, more effective teaching and more realistic working practices. A step change in the use of evidence is also needed.
The evidence transformation involves improving how we gather data, identify good practice, translate this back into the classroom and then roll it out at scale.
Researchers are far more sophisticated at describing best practice in school education than a decade ago. However, the connection between best practice and current practice is less well established. For example, most teachers would use a mix of explicit teaching and inquiry-based learning. But currently, system leaders have limited visibility over the balance between these two approaches (and how it varies by subject, school, year level, for example), let alone how effectively each is implemented. Among other things, greater visibility would help turn best practice into common practice.
We’re not saying that evidence is a panacea. Many current processes around evidence gathering and use are highly manual. Expecting educators just to gather more data and use more evidence would further strain teacher workloads. But digital transformation can break this trade-off.
The disruption caused by COVID-19 has radically accelerated the uptake of digital technology in schools. This transformation has two distinct parts.
Digital transformation of school administration and management will broadly resemble other organisations and industry sectors, driven by imperatives of better business information systems and reduced administrative burden and cost. At present, too many schools must piece together their own technology jigsaw puzzle, but integrated and flexible technology solutions (including one that PwC has recently developed) will streamline this.
Digital transformation of teaching, learning and student support is much more complex. Digital tools are most effective when they support, not supplant, a teacher’s professional judgement.
Connected systems and integrated dashboards will help teachers gain insight and respond to student needs. This isn’t just good for the student: mastery experiences build teachers’ belief in their ability to boost student learning. This process, known as ‘collective professional efficacy’, is positively reinforcing as it encourages teachers to try new approaches and learn new skills.
Integrated systemic transformation required
Each transformation has enormous potential on its own. Each also depends on the other two. Aligning technology with data and evidence can accelerate the improvement cycle at all levels – within classrooms, across schools and by improving policies. Good user design is essential, even as the workforce must develop new capabilities.
If we manage these transformations poorly – or if the transformations are poorly integrated – then collective professional efficacy will fall and resistance to change will rise. Manage them well and efficacy will grow, boosting educators’ willingness to continue the transformation journey and increasing the attractiveness of teaching as a vocation for the next generation.
During COVID, our school leaders and teachers showed they have the will to change and the skill to adapt. System leaders must now help them to navigate the way ahead for the next 10 years – and set up Australian school education for decades to come.
The authors would like to thank Dan Ingvarson and Matt Deeble for contributing to the original development of the ‘triple transformation’ framework.
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.