Dr Jordana Hunter, the Grattan Institute’s education program director and the report’s co-author, said the findings were a “cry for help” from Australia’s teachers.
“Teachers should be able to get the core parts of their job done in a standard working week,” she said.
“We know at the moment in schools teachers are being asked to do a whole lot of things that don’t actually require teaching expertise, particularly around the supervision of extracurricular activities. We need to ask ourselves if that is the best use of teachers time?”
The Grattan report noted the remit of schools had expanded to dealing with issues such as childhood obesity, swimming safety, mental health challenges, cyberbullying, and consent in personal relationships, with a vast majority of teachers reporting they had insufficient downtime to re-charge.
Glenn Fahey, an education researcher at the Centre for Independent Studies, said there was a consensus view in the sector that the burden of non-teaching tasks was a problem affecting student learning.
“Any teacher in any school would recognise this is a problem,” Mr Fahey said.
“When you look at teachers’ time use and how it relates to student achievement, what makes the biggest positive difference is the amount of time they spend providing written, detailed feedback to students. Those who spend more time on that, have higher-performing students.
“Those who spend more time on administration and non-teaching tasks tend to have lower-performing students.”
Data from the 2018 OECD teaching and learning survey showed Australia was below the OECD average in terms of teaching hours but had comparatively long work weeks, with activities including administration, professional development, counselling students and communicating with parents adding to the workload.
To address the problem, the Grattan Institute recommended governments look to the example of the UK, which has conducted systematic evaluations of the role of teachers and support staff in classrooms and managing workload. It proposed the federal, state, and territory governments invest $60 million on pilot studies on ways to improve teacher time-use, such as examining the option of using support staff to lighten the load of teachers, or whether it was feasible for schools to run larger class sizes to free up more preparation time.
Andrew Pierpoint, president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association, said the stress on teachers and school leaders to help students with mental health concerns in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic would be one of the biggest ongoing challenges for schools.
“Teachers are the ones who have to pick up that stress because if we’re going to educate kids, we’ve got to make sure that they’re in a mental state to be educated. So we’re going to have to do this ‘pre-learning’ work.” he said.
“There’s going to be a multi-year lag in getting students caught up and back to the level keel where they were prior to the pandemic,” he said.