Fighting for Equity in Education

The struggle is long but hope is longer

Australian Teachers Work Longer Hours and Face More Challenges Than Teachers in Many Countries

Tuesday July 8, 2014

Despite working longer hours and facing more challenging circumstances than teachers in many other countries, Australian teachers report high job satisfaction and strong self-belief about their ability to help students learn. However, they need to be better supported by the community in the challenging job they do on behalf of society.

These results come from the Teaching and Learning International Survey, recently published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It provides a detailed picture of the experiences of lower secondary teachers across 34 countries, including 24 OECD countries.

Australian teachers in lower secondary schools work longer hours than teachers in most other countries participating in TALIS. The average working week for an Australian lower secondary school teacher is 43 hours compared to 37 hours in Korea, 32 in Finland and 38 across all countries participating in TALIS. Teachers in only seven other countries work longer hours than Australian teachers – the countries are Canada (Alberta), England, Japan, Malaysia, Portugal, Singapore and the US.

Australian teachers spend an average of 18.6 hours a week teaching compared to 18.8 in Korea, 20.6 in Finland and 19.3 in TALIS countries. Hours spent on class preparation and marking in Australia is similar to the average across TALIS countries. However, Australian teachers spend more time on school management and general administrative work compared with TALIS countries. Australian teachers averaged 7.4 hours a week on these tasks compared to 4.5 hours across TALIS countries.

A high proportion of Australian lower secondary teachers face difficult challenges in their daily work, including teaching students whose first language is not English and teaching students who come from low socio-economic family backgrounds.

Twenty per cent of Australian teachers work in schools that have more than 30 per cent of students whose first language is not the language of instruction compared to none in Korea, two per cent in Finland and eleven per cent across TALIS countries. The Australian percentage was the fifth highest of all the countries participating in TALIS.

One-third of Australian teachers work in schools that have more than ten per cent of students whose first language is not the language of instruction. This compares with none in Korea, nine per cent in Finland and an average of 21 per cent across TALIS countries.

Just over one-quarter (26 per cent) of Australian teachers work in schools that have more than 30 per cent of students from socio-economically disadvantaged homes. This is the eighth highest proportion of all the 34 countries participating in TALIS. Only nine per cent of Korean teachers work in similar schools, only three per cent in Finland and 20 per cent across TALIS countries.

Nearly 60 per cent of Australian teachers work in schools where principals report that students are absent at least weekly. This compares to 20 per cent in Korea, 64 per cent in Finland and 39 per cent across TALIS countries.

Ten per cent of Australian teachers work in schools where intimidation or verbal abuse of teachers by students occurs at least weekly compared to none in Korea, four per cent in Finland and three per cent across TALIS countries. One quarter work in schools where intimidation or verbal abuse occurs at least weekly amongst students. This compares to 28 per cent in Finland, eight per cent in Korea and 16 per cent for all TALIS countries.

In addition to these challenges, nearly half (48 per cent) of lower secondary teachers in Australia work in schools whose principals report a shortage of qualified and/or well performing staff. This compares to 17 per cent in Finland, 37 per cent in Korea and 38 per cent across TALIS countries.

However, Australian teachers are well served in terms of instructional materials, computers, teaching software, internet access and library materials. Compared to other countries, Australia has a very low proportion of teachers working in schools where principals report that supplies of these materials are inadequate.

Class sizes in lower secondary years in Australia are similar to those in many other countries. The average class size in Australia is 25 compared to 24 across TALIS countries. Average class size is 32 in Korea and 18 in Finland. Average class size in upper secondary school in Australia is 18.5 compared to 20 in Finland and 24 across TALIS countries (no figures for Korea).

Virtually all lower secondary teachers in Australia have completed university or other equivalent higher education. This compares with nearly 100 per cent in Korea, 96 per cent in Finland and an average of 91 per cent for the countries participating in TALIS. Ninety-eight per cent have completed a teacher education program compared to 96 per cent in Korea, 93 per cent in Finland and 90 per cent in the countries participating in TALIS.

Despite the challenges they face, Australian teachers report high job satisfaction and are confident in their ability to help children learn.

Nearly 90 per cent of Australian lower secondary teachers said that the advantages of teaching clearly outweigh the disadvantages and 81 per cent said that if they had to choose again they would still choose to teach. These percentages are significantly higher than across all TALIS countries. Only seven per cent said they regret becoming a teacher compared to ten per cent across TALIS countries and, interestingly, 20 per cent of Korean teachers, which is the highest of all countries.

Eighty-seven per cent of Australian teachers believe they can succeed in getting lower secondary students to believe they can do well in school work and 81 per cent believe they can get students to value learning ‘quite a bit’ or ‘a lot’. These are higher proportions than in either Finland or Korea and are higher than the averages for the TALIS countries.

However, most Australian teachers do not feel their work is valued by society. Less than 40 per cent agree that they are valued by society compared to nearly 60 per cent of Finnish teachers and 66 per cent of Korean teachers.

But, Australian teachers are not alone in feeling undervalued and unrecognised. Only 31 per cent of teachers in all TALIS countries feel valued by society. Education and political leaders in Australia, and other countries, need to do more to acknowledge the critical work teachers do for our children and society.

Trevor Cobbold

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