Alison Bedford

Top of the pops: AARE’s Hottest Ten 2022

Thank you to all our contributors in 2022. We published over 100 blog posts this year from academics all over Australia, from research students to DECRA fellows, to deans and professors. Thank you all for being part of our community and many thanks to the AARE executive, especially newly-minted Professor Nicole Mockler.

Didn’t get to write this year? Want to contribute? Here are notes for contributors. Pitch to me at jenna@aare.edu.au.

The 2022 AARE EduResearch Matters blog of the year, announced at the AARE conference in Adelaide: “Why restoring trust in teaching now could fix the teacher shortage”. La Trobe’s Babak Dadvand wrote a compelling account of one way to address the teacher shortage.

It is genuinely hard to choose the best because every single blog reveals new ideas and new thinking about education but I’ll just list our ten most read for 2022 (and of course, some of our older posts have racked up thousands and thousands of views). So many others were excellent and please look at our comprehensive archive.

Here we go! 2022 top ten.

Babak Dadvand on the teacher shortage.

Inger Mewburn: Is this now the Federal government’s most bone-headed idea ever?

Debra Hayes: Here’s what a brave new minister for education could do right away to fix the horrific teacher shortage

Kate de Bruin, Pamela Snow, Linda Graham, Tanya Serry and Jacinta Conway: There are definitely better ways to teach reading

Marg Rogers: Time, money, exhaustion: why early childhood educators will join the Great Resignation

Rachel Wilson: What do you think we’ve got now? Dud teachers or a dud minister? Here are the facts

Simon Crook: More Amazing Secrets of Band Six (part two ongoing until they fix the wretched thing)

(And part one is now one of our most read posts of all-time)

Alison Bedford and Naomi Barnes: The education minister’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea*

Martina Tassone, Helen Cozmescu, Bree Hurn and Linda Gawne: No. There isn’t one perfect way to teach reading

Thank you to all of you for making this such a lovely community, looking forward to hearing from you and a special thank you to Maralyn Parker who has now been retired from the blog for two years but is still a fantastically supportive human when I need urgent help.

Jenna Price

What you should know now about the NSW government and Dolores Umbridge’s evil ways

The NSW Government has announced the creation of an ‘expert teacher’ role, to be paid almost $150 000 pa.  While this could replace the ineffective Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher [HALT] system, the work expected of these expert teachers is already part of many teachers’ standard practice, as social media was quick to highlight

These reforms, while offering some positives, do not address teachers concerns about pay and conditions for all teachers, not just an elite few.  The recent announcement of a behaviour expert to be appointed as part of the NSW government’s plan to resolve the teacher workload crisis was also met with derision online, with many invoking JK Rowling’s brutal disciplinarian, Dolores Umbridge, in their responses.  Can Hogwarts solve the education crisis, or is that magical thinking?

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry offers a vision of an idealised (if at times fairly dangerous) school. As Katherine Firth explains, Hogwarts can be seen as an example of Michel Foucault’s construction of schools as sites of social control and discipline. In most readings, the teachers are part of the disciplining apparatus, however, I would argue that in the current circumstances, the teachers themselves are being subject to disciplining through the exertion of government power over their workplace. 

At Hogwarts’ NSW campus, the Ministers for Magic(al Thinking) (State Premier Dominic Perrottet and Education Minister Sarah Mitchell) have waved their wands to produce resource packs, disregarding teachers crying out for more planning time to allow them to collaboratively develop materials suited to their students’ needs. Just as Umbridge’s secondment at Hogwarts was as much about ensuring staff compliance as student behaviour, so too does the appointment of a behaviour expert suggest that NSW teachers aren’t doing their job well, further perpetuating the media narrative that it is teachers failing their students, not the system failing the teachers. 

French philosopher and theorist Michel Foucault explores how schools, hospitals, the military and other large-scale public institutions work as sites of “discipline”, training individuals to comply with social expectations. These sites of discipline “establish in the body the constructive link between increased aptitude and increased domination” (166): the more you comply, the better. Teachers (products of the schooling system themselves) reinforce structures and behaviours for students that they replicate in their own work. Yet what happens when teachers reject these attempts at discipline?

Schools work in lesson-units, where both students and teachers are expected to be present, and behave in particular ways, according to a set schedule. All of these organisational structures are designed to promote compliance and therefore increase productivity.  While analysis of this often focuses on the regimenting of the student’s day, it is also a disciplining act that teachers are subject to. The point of this scheduling is to allow for what Foucault labelsexhaustive use” –“extracting from time, ever more available moments and, from each moment, ever more useful forces” . As teachers shout into the online void about unsustainable workloads, the (disciplining) government seeks only “maximum speed and maximum efficiency”, refusing to concede that the workload is the problem. It is here we come to the (hor)crux of the teacher shortage crisis: The Ministry have lost their grip on teachers and they are in open revolt, just as McGonagall and the staff of Hogwarts united and fought back against the He Who Must Not Be Named.

Just as McGonagall led an internal resistance to the unreasonable demands of the Ministry, so too NSW teachers have united to protest the expectations being forced upon them in recent strike action.  They see the institution to which they have subscribed for their own schooling, and their careers as fundamentally flawed, and they begin to resist the powers that have sought to direct their conduct. This abandonment of and loss of faith in schools as an institution by the very workers who are meant to maintain them presents an existential crisis to our governments. If they wish to maintain schools in something resembling their current forms, they will need to change how they exert their power. How will higher pay for a select few entice people to the profession? How will the provision of generic resources, when teachers already have robust collegial networks for resource sharing, reduce workload and burnout? How will the maintenance of national systems of testing (a form of observation and control) reduce teacher stress? How will the appointment of one behaviour advisor make every classroom safer? These rewards for compliance, for docility, have lost their power for many teachers, and so they seek an escape, just as one would when wrongfully held in another institution Foucault describes – the prison. 

If the governments which control Australia’s education sector hope to restore trust in schools, they must regain the good will of teachers, as their compliance is what makes the system work.  Increased reward and reduced workload are the common elements of teachers’ calls for reform, not yet another consultant, off-the-shelf package or reward for a select few. Having pushed teachers beyond the limits of their productive capacity, and thus united teachers in a way that supersedes the partitioning of schools, sectors and states in protest and solidarity, governments must reform the institution itself if they hope to restore the magic of learning in our schools in the future. 

Dr Alison Bedford is a lecturer (curriculum and pedagogy) in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland and a secondary school history teacher.

The education minister’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea*

When will governments learn their lesson? Worksheets won’t fix workload crisis.

The teachers of NSW are at breaking point, and the government solution is to take away the part of their work they most expert in – lesson planning.  As Queensland’s experience shows, this ‘quick fix’ will not solve the workload issues which underpin NSW’s teacher shortage crisis.

The social media response to the SMH’s article, which featured the NSW education minister Sarah Mitchell (pictured in the image with department secretary Georgina Harrison) on lesson planning reform has been swift.

and more.

Teachers are decrying the government strategy. Of most concern,  the resources will be produced in under eight weeks, for a curriculum that is currently under review. The lack of transparency about how this feat will happen makes this approach look like this wasteful, impractical splurge on public funds during a time we are all being asked to tighten our belts.

The thing is, resources are already available and attached to the National Curriculum website via Scootle. Many of them arrived there because of a similar initiative by the Queensland Government. So our question is, why hasn’t the NSW government done its homework or listened to the teachers before addressing the core issues fuelling the teacher crisis?

Lesson planning is not the issue

While the Grattan Institute report, which forms the basis of the NSW government’s strategy, identifies the biggest demand on teacher time is planning, they have neglected that this lesson planning is the part of their work that teachers want to be doing – it is their core work. The top three activities teachers would choose to do if they had a  spare hour are working on student assessment, preparing effective classroom instruction, and adapting teaching.

 The Grattan report goes on to argue that providing teachers with centralised planning resources will alleviate pressure. But the report’s own findings show the issue not the planning per se, but the time needed to undertake it – teachers could develop common lesson plans and resources, tailored to and developed within their school context, with their colleagues, if the time that they identify as the biggest impediment is provided to them.

Increased administrative duties and expanding pastoral care pressures are chewing into time teachers once had to collaborate, plan and prepare their students for success. Time is the issue, but time could be made available by strategies that deal with the administrivia of teacher workloads, rather than removing the core work.

Queensland tried and failed

Queensland tried the centralised provision of “curriculum lesson plans, texts and learning materials” a decade ago in the Curriculum to Classroom (C2C) reforms, designed to support the initial implementation of the Australian Curriculum. This project, while well-intentioned, was not as simple as the Queensland Department of Education first imagined. It became plagued by multiple issues which both slowed down the roll out and reduced the quality of the resources in comparison to what a teacher could develop themselves, if given the time. For example, according to Naomi Barnes who was a Senior Writer on the program, copyright meant that only resources which were made freely available by those who owned the copyright, or were out of copyright, were approved for use in the C2C program. This means that in an era where teachers are trying to increase the diversity of texts in their classrooms (which they could do through purchasing class sets and designing their own lessons)  they were instead provided with worksheets that referred to dated works that were less prone to copyright issues.  To include diverse texts would mean adequately compensating authors, rather than financially cutting corners through inferior resourcing.

Even more concerning was the political interference in the development of the materials, with resources being vetoed by the Newman LNP government at the time. As such, lesson plans were held up to scrutiny via the “Courier Mail test” or whether they would hit the newspaper for content Newman’s government might determine was partisan. Issues of diversity and contestability were removed for “safer” options. In other words the government decided what was safe for children to know. This political interference in teacher’s work is still a feature of LNP curriculum governance

C2C also increased workload. Research from both C2C implementation and more recently shows that even with highly proscriptive, resourced lesson plans, teachers viewed and used the materials in a wide range of ways, negating the promise of consistency and workload reduction. For example, Mathematics teachers pointed out that the initial C2C materials did not actually address all elements of the curriculum they were meant to support and so required significant redevelopment. Barton et al’s exploration of the initial responses to C2C implementation found “prescription of curriculum materials only leads to mistrust and a devaluing of teachers’ expertise”. Hardy suggested rather than seeking to standardise teacher work, we instead recognise teachers’ professional skills as experts in lesson planning and curriculum implementation, valuing their professional collaborations and practices .

Workload correction

While having a set of resources can be a helpful starting point when planning, it is not going to fix the workload issues facing teachers because teachers will still have to spend time adapting them to their school context, which is what they already do with the myriad of resources already available to teachers in numerous resource banks, like Scootle.

A full-time teacher is currently allocated approximately 3.5- 4 hours a week as non-contact or preparation and correction time. A standard teaching load is 4-6 classes, so this is less 30 minutes per week during the school day to plan for learning and mark assessment. The Grattan report pointed out that 28% of teacher time is devoted to non-teaching activity (ie over one full day a week – more than their allocated non-contact time). As one example, the introduction of the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data (NCCD) has significantly increased the administrative workload for teachers in maintaining detailed lesson plans and tracking individual resources to ensure funding is allocated to students with additional needs or disabilities (Union survey highlights data overload (informit.org)). Properly funding learning support staff who can assist classroom teachers both with the planning for and administration of differentiated materials would be one welcome change. A reduction in teacher’s cocurricular loads would also be another easy-to-implement solution, as would reviewing the extent of classroom teacher involvement in pastoral care work, which has only increased with the increased disruption and distress of COVID and bouts of lockdown and homeschooling. 

The issue is that the proportion of non-teaching activity is taking up their allocated time to prepare for their core work – lesson planning and differentiated delivery. Rather than spending money on creating (already available) resources the funds NSW has to spend on this project would be better spent investing in additional school staff to take up some of this administrative load.

The clear and obvious solution to relieving pressure on teachers is an ongoing investment in additional staff: learning support experts, sports and arts co-curricular supervisors, and professional pastoral staff.  Recognising teachers’ professional expertise as educators and giving them the time to do their core business well is the real answer to the teaching crisis, not handing out another worksheet.

*Headline with apologies to Alexander and to Judith Viorst

Dr Alison Bedford is a lecturer (curriculum and pedagogy) in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland and a secondary school history teacher.

Dr Naomi Barnes is a network analyst and theorist interested in how ideas influence education policy. She is a senior lecturer in literacy teaching and has worked for Education Queensland as a senior writer and has worked as a secondary English, hstory and geography teacher in government, Catholic and independent schools.

The truth: what our students really learn about Anzac Day

Students taught “hatred” of the nation (even the PM thinks so). Teachers are duds. That’s the backdrop for the recent announcement of the final version of the Australian Curriculum and it shows exactly how contested is  the teaching of our nation’s history.

But let’s look at what actually happens in our history classrooms. As we approach this ANZAC Day, what will students be learning in history classrooms? 

1.      The April 1 Ministerial press release, claimed that in Years 9 and 10 Australian history content had previously been optional

In the version of the Australian Curriculum (8.4) currently taught in Australian history classrooms, Australian involvement in World War I and World War II and the First Nations Civil Rights Movement are ‘compulsory’, in that there are no alternative topics for teachers to choose from.   The minister’s comments do suggest that the 1750-1918 Australia will become a requirement as well. This is reiterated in ACARA’s press release, which stated Version 9 would focus on “the impact on First Nations Australians on the arrival of British settlers as well as their contribution to the building of modern Australia [and] strengthening and making explicit teaching about the origins and heritage of Australia’s democracy and the diversity of Australian communities”. However, these changes have not been widely welcomed, with Victoria and NSW insisting on an exemption citing the provision that  states and territories to “adopt and adapt” the curriculum, “casting doubt on how compulsory the changes are”. Perhaps this presents an opportunity to teach the Frontier Wars to all students, as the Wars are currently only covered in the Year 11 and 12 Modern History curriculum in some states.

2.      It is already compulsory for Australian students to learn “the places where Australians fought and the nature of warfare during World War I, including the Gallipoli campaign”

 Version 8.4 suggests students should learn the events of conflicts Australian soldiers were involved in during World War I. They should also study why ANZAC Day is commemorated in the primary years, with the secondary years considering the “nature and significance of the Anzac legend”. This idea that seemed to so distress Minister Tudge and his colleagues, is core to teaching all national days of significance. When building a nation, deliberation over the term “significance” is a key part of being a citizen in a democracy.  ANZAC Day is the perfect example for teaching this skill because it is well documented as a fact that its popularity has waxed and waned over the last century. Students can engage with a century of historical records to investigate why ANZAC Day has come to signify much more than a failed assault on a Turkish beach. The contested nature of commemoration and its role in schools has been present since the first ANZAC Day in 1916. The debate over ANZAC Day’s significance can open up Australian history for students to learn about other significant chapters in the building of Australia before and after World War 1.

3.      ANZAC Day commemorations are well-entrenched in schools.

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic lock-downs and limitations on large gatherings, schools ‘pivoted’ to ensure that ANZAC Day commemorations were still able to go ahead. ANZAC day is a significant day in the school calendar where students and teachers gather with members of their school community and returned service people to commemorate the ongoing sacrifice Australian soldiers have made since 1915.  But appreciation is not un-critical – we can both appreciate the sacrifice of ANZAC service people, recognise how the ANZAC spirit has contributed to  national identity, and still critique how First Nations soldiers were treated or discuss the bid to include the Frontier Wars in the National War Memorial. Such debates are a part of Australian history just as much as the landing at dawn on April 25th. Australian students, by the end of Year 10, are taught to: “refer to key events, the actions of individuals and groups, and beliefs and values to explain patterns of change and continuity over time”. They also  “analyse the causes and effects of events and developments and explain their relative importance” Version 8.4 Year 10 History Achievement Standard .It is important here to be clear that the ‘interpretations’ that students both engage with and develop are historical – that is, based on the analysis and evaluation of sources of evidence, including the works of historians. They are not encouraged to engage in emotive, uncritical responses such as characterising history teachers as promoting hatred. This is the real benefit of learning a national, rather than nationalist, history.

4.  Learning to be critical in times of war is preparing students to defend their nation.

Not many people recognise the value history education has for present day issues of conflict. The skills of deep investigation, critical analysis of sources including placing the sources in their historical context, are the perfect skills for developing a radar for mis and disinformation. The ability to look at a social media post and determine whether it is a Russian deep fake or a legitimate image of war, is a skill taught in secondary history, just using past examples of propaganda. The current federal Government has dedicated $9 billion to cyber security in the recent budget. The skills taught in history that investigate how events are globally linked, are preparing students to have dispositions useful for cybersecurity, including tracking and analysing big data. Our first author uses the skills she developed as a student of history, a history teacher for 13 years, and a history and English teacher educator for 10 years, to investigate patterns in big data. Many of her faculty colleagues also use their humanities and social science skills as well as STEM skills to address information disorder.

So this ANZAC Day, as our young people lay wreaths and recite the ode, parents and governments can rest assured that “we will remember them”. Those same students will then return to (understaffed) classrooms where they will “ask relevant questions; critically analyse and interpret sources; consider context; respect and explain different perspectives; develop and substantiate interpretations, and communicate effectively” (History Rationale), the skills needed of any good citizen of our nation, so they can be an informed participant in our democracy. 

Dr Alison Bedford is a lecturer (curriculum and pedagogy) in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland and a secondary school history teacher.

Dr Naomi Barnes is a network analyst and theorist interested in how ideas influence education policy. She is a senior lecturer in literacy teaching and has worked for Education Queensland as a senior writer and has worked as a secondary English, hstory and geography teacher in government, Catholic and independent schools.