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ACT Teachers Work Longer Hours Than OECD Average

No wonder ACT teachers are concerned about workload - Australian teachers are working considerably longer face-to-face hours than the OECD average.

Minister for Education, Joy Burch, has sought to dismiss teachers' concerns about workload, describing them as 'union positioning', and suggesting ACT teachers have low face-to-face teaching hours. When Opposition Education Spokesperson, Steve Doszpot, raised teachers' concerns with the Minister in the Legislative Assembly she said "...it should be no surprise that the union are doing their bit to position themselves for these negotiations. Certainly, when you look at our level of teachers’ workload, so to speak, we have the lowest in any state or territory, the lowest face-to-face teaching hours in the country—here in the ACT, in our government schools."

The Minister did not acknowledge that ACT teachers have significantly more responsibility for producing curriculum resources - and considerably less centralised support - than interstate colleagues. It was just one of the reasons why the comparison was simplistic and unhelpful. Another is that all Australian teachers have higher face-to-face hours and longer working weeks than colleagues in comparable developed economies.

Primary School Contact Hours

The most reliable data on the hours worked by teachers internationally comes from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It releases a report called 'Education at a Glance' each year. The 2014 OECD Education at a Glance report came out earlier this year and draws on data from 2012.

The OECD reported that on average Australian primary school teachers have 871 face-to-face hours with students annually. That compares with the OECD average of 782 hours per year.

This chart shows how Australia compares to the OECD average and a handful of other OECD countries (for the full table with every OECD country go to the bottom of this post or page 485 of the 2014 Education at a Glance).

Divided by 40 weeks, the 871 hours a year performed on average by Australian primary teachers translates into 21.775 hours per week. It is true then to say that the 21.5 hours contact hours ACT primary teachers teach each week is about 15 minutes less than the national average. However, it is almost 2 hours more than the average across comparable countries. Australian teachers, including ACT teachers, face-to-face teach almost 5 hours more each week than international leading light, Finland.

This is what Minister Burch forgot to mention in her haste to dismiss the genuine concerns of ACT teachers.

Lower Secondary School Contact Hours

At lower secondary school level, the gap between the Australian experience and the OECD average grows even larger. On average, Australian teachers are in front of a group of students 115 hours longer each year than their OECD counterparts. 

With 19 contact hours per week, ACT lower secondary teachers have 760 face-to-face teaching hours a year - again, significantly higher than the OECD average.

Statutory Teaching Time vs. Actual Teaching Time

The OECD also points out that on average teachers perform longer face-to-face hours than statutorily required. It may be that the gap between ACT teachers and their OECD colleagues is even larger than reported.

"Statutory teaching time, as reported by most of the countries in this indicator, must be distinguished from actual teaching time. Actual teaching time is the annual average number of hours that full-time teachers teach a group or a class of students, including overtime, and is based on administrative registers, statistical databases, representative sample surveys or other representative sources. Only few countries could report both statutory and actual teaching time but these data suggest that actual teaching time can sometimes differ from statutory requirements. In Australia, for example, lower secondary school teachers work around 5% more than the statutory benchmark time..." (2014 Education at a Glance, p.477).

The difference between statutory teaching time and actual teaching time - and the dramatically greater face-to-face hours performed by Australian teachers - is indicated in the chart below produced by the OECD. 

Upper Secondary School Contact Hours

On average Australian upper secondary teachers have 801 face-to-face contact hours per year: 146 more than the OECD average each year and 3.5 hours more each week. ACT senior secondary teachers again perform more face-to-face hours than their OECD colleagues despite ACT teachers having dramatically more responsibility for curriculum and continuous assessment than most other systems.


Longer Working Weeks

Unsurprisingly, longer face-to-face hours translate into longer working weeks for Australian teachers. The OECD’s Teaching and Learning in Schools (TALIS) Report 2013, found that Australian teachers are working longer hours than the OECD average, doing more administrative tasks, and that our class sizes are bigger. Australian teachers worked an average of 42.7 hours per week, compared with the OECD average of 38.3, and spent 7.4 hours doing administration or management, compared with the 4.5 hour OECD average. The average class size in Australian schools was 24.7 students, above the OECD average of 24, and far bigger than some high-performing school systems such as Finland (17.8).


Making Time For Great Teaching

When teachers raise genuine concerns with the Minister for Education - like this heartfelt letter - it is incumbent upon her to take them seriously. The reality is that ACT teachers work similar or longer face-to-face and overall hours than colleagues in comparable systems. Teachers are reporting they do not get any kind of break until 3pm and work until 7pm and have to go part-time to achieve any kind of satisfactory work-life balance. These are real concerns based on lived experience that deserve to be listened to.

The cost to our students of not responding to the genuine concerns of their teachers should be obvious to the Minister. In addition to pleas from teachers, the Making Time For Great Teaching report released by the Grattan Institute earlier this year should have been a wake-up call. It's author, Ben Jensen, pointed out:

"High-performing systems around the world know that improving the effectiveness of teaching is the way to lift school performance. They seek to increase the quality – not the quantity – of teaching. They know teaching improves when teachers learn from each other. So they ensure teachers are mentored and teach classes in front of skilled observers, who provide constructive feedback. They make time for teachers to undertake practical research in their schools on how to lift student learning." (Jensen 2014: p.3)

Teachers who do not even have time to have a lunch-break do not have time to give and receive feedback, provide mentoring and engage in lesson observations and other research. It's time for Minister Burch to start making comparisons between the ACT and  other top-performing education systems internationally.

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