Focus needs to be on more high quality teaching - The Centre for Independent Studies
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Focus needs to be on more high quality teaching

All too predictably, the NSW state election could become the latest education bidding war — but this isn’t what taxpayers, teachers and students actually need.

Both the NSW Government and Opposition have made competing proposals, chalking up $253 million and over $400 million respectively. This is a well-trodden path in education politics.

The bigger the spend, the bigger the commitment to the state’s teachers, parents and students. At least, that’s how the logic goes. Yet as countless research shows, big education spending doesn’t itself translate to better outcomes.

A recent Productivity Commission report makes this clear. Decades of spending increases, among the fastest in the developed world, have made little mark on students’ achievements. As a result, nobody can credibly say a lack of funding is what’s responsible for disappointing results.

Yet, that hasn’t prevented proposed spending that reheats tried and failed education policy, with acceleration in across-the-board school funding and teachers’ pay rates. What’s new for both sides is a focus on small-group intensive tutoring in schools as the proposed investment to improve outcomes.

While a version of this was initially introduced to address temporary pandemic-related learning loss, it’s now expected to be continued — or in the opposition’s case, to become permanent. But policymakers would do well to take caution before going down this path, not least because the program’s evaluation is still months away.

Now, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with small-group tutoring per se. Under the right conditions, it can, and does, work for the students who really need it.

In many cases, it is often used to help children with learning difficulties and disabilities or students not well-suited to mainstream classes.

Tutors can provide them extra teaching time, give more support with homework tasks, or help children who lack confidence participating in class. And small-group tutoring can catch up struggling learners and those who’ve missed out on consistent lessons.

Research shows that some interventions — especially in early reading —can be highly effective and can see children progress and catch up when they wouldn’t otherwise.

But bigger and more permanent dependence on it can be counterproductive because while the approach might help those who have already fallen behind, it’s not the best way to prevent more falling behind in the first place.

Most struggling children don’t have a learning difficulty or disability.What they lack is consistent, high-quality teaching — children sometimes described as ‘instructional casualties’ of the school system.
What these students need is more, and more effective, whole-class teaching, not more time outside the classroom. So the only scalable and sustainable remedy is to better tool up teachers so they’re able to deliver evidence-based teaching in every class for every student.

A December report from the Australian Education Research Organisation showed that while most teachers believe they’re using evidence to inform their teaching, just as many aren’t up to date with the latest and best evidence about how to be the most effective.

Helping to bridge this gap — while not a quick-fix — is what all education policymakers should give their undivided attention.

An uncompromising commitment to scaling up and promoting highly-effective teaching, aligned to evidence, is the most cost-effective and  scalable solution to making the state’s teachers the best in the nation (and beyond).
With the right training, professional development and resources, teachers can help all students maximise their learning.
It’s welcome to see education as a priority for both sides of politics. But they must be focussed on improving the one thing known to improve outcomes — consistent, high-quality teaching — and not engaging in the failed politics of education spendathons.

Glenn Fahey is Director of Education Research at the Centre for Independent Studies.

Photo by Pixabay