Testing assumptions about the relationship between quality teaching and school-level disadvantage

Year: 2019

Author: Jaremus, Felicia, Miller, Andrew, Gore, Jennifer

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Decades of school choice policies and government funding decisions that have directed additional money towards advantaged schools under a neoliberal education agenda have resulted in Australia having one of the most socially segregated and inequitably funded education systems in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Within this context, teachers and teaching are often seen as the panacea for inequality; popular discourse sees raising teaching quality in relatively disadvantaged schools as key to narrowing socio-educational achievement differences.

However, challenges in defining, let alone measuring, the quality of teaching have meant that such discourse relies on the largely unsubstantiated assumption that teaching quality is poorer in disadvantaged schools. Addressing these challenges with the Quality Teaching model of pedagogy, this paper investigates the relationship between teaching quality (using the QT model) and school level advantage (using ICSEA) in New South Wales (NSW) government schools. The analysis draws from hundreds of classroom observations, conducted in 2019, in 223 Stage 2 classrooms within 120 primary schools.

We found a significant but small relationship between socio-educational advantage and teaching quality. Given the additional challenges faced by teachers in relatively disadvantaged contexts however, the small magnitude of this relationship suggests that discourses blaming teachers for socio-educational achievement differences are largely inaccurate and misguided. We call for better recognition of the good work that teachers do, grounded in robust evidence rather than unfounded speculation.