Governments should tackle teachers’ workload but don’t touch lesson planning

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Teacher workload is a growing problem in Australia and internationally. When teachers are working long hours with few supports, this negatively affects their wellbeing and has an impact on their students’ learning.

Teachers took large-scale industrial action in NSW in 2021-22 in response to these pressures, and demanded reduced workloads, better pay and improved professional respect.

Reducing unnecessary workload burdens like paperwork is needed. But taking teachers away from the work they value most won’t solve the problem.Credit: istock

Part of this industrial response was based on research findings with colleagues which showed a concerning trend. Teachers in NSW were working very long hours – more than 50 hours per week – and faced very high administrative and paperwork demands, a situation that reflects trends globally.

Governments, both federal and state in Australia, are now working to address the workload problem. This is a good thing, but solutions which fail to recognise what teachers really want and need in their work risk creating more problems.

In a recent article, we analysed one policy aimed at tackling teacher workload, the Quality Time Program. Produced under the previous Coalition government in NSW, the policy aimed to reduce the administrative burden on teachers through various strategies.

Our analysis found interesting ways in which the policy categorised the “administrative” work of teachers. Reducing paperwork, a key burden identified by teachers, was one area targeted for reduction.

Stripping tasks like lesson planning from teachers risks chipping away at work that teachers highly value and are experts in.

But the policy also proposed making work such as planning and varying lessons simpler for teachers. Lumping tasks like lesson planning in with general administrative work is concerning.

In our study of more than18,000 public school teachers in NSW, they said “planning and [the] preparation of lessons” was their most valued work. When asked what they needed more time and resources for, they highlighted as priorities tasks like developing teaching programs and differentiating the curriculum to meet students’ needs.

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