Teachers face deskilling threat from government policies
A new study exploring teacher workloads has found that teachers are at threat of being 'deskilled' due to governmental policies.
The study, which was part of a collaboration by researchers from UNSW Sydney and University of Technology Sydney, found that bureaucratical overreach could be of detriment to the already-overworked teacher profession, adding to the existing heightened work pressures and paperwork burdens.
Looking specifically into the NSW Government's Quality Time Program - which launched in 2021 and aimed to simplify administrative practices in schools improving support for school staff - lead author Dr Meghan Stacey, senior lecturer and researcher in the UNSW School of Education, is concerned that the policy may actually reduce the quality of teachers’ work by taking away essential tasks such as lesson planning.
"We conducted an analysis of the NSW Department of Education’s ‘Quality Time Program’," she says.
"The initial action plan for the program was produced in 2021 under the NSW Perrottet government, in an effort to reduce school administrative burdens. We applied an analysis framework called ‘What’s the problem represented to be?’, which helped us to work out how the ‘problem’ of workload, and in particular administration, was being constructed, and consider implications of this for teachers and schools."
Policy fails to address the root of the problem
The research paper - Reducing teachers’ workload or deskilling ‘core’ work? Analysis of a policy response to teacher workload demands - argues that the policy fails to address the root causes of teacher workload, which are related to the lack of resources and support, and heightened teacher and school accountability and responsibility in the education system.
"It is clear that there is currently a workload crisis in teaching, which is closely related to the teacher shortage issues that schools are grappling with every day," Dr Stacey says.
"We were interested in analysing the Quality Time Program because it was an effort to address this problem and we wanted to see how it was going to do so. Like the Department, we were keen to see teacher workload being effectively addressed."
Utilising Bacchi's (2009) What's the problem represented to be? (WPR) approach, the team of researchers sought to analyse the assumptions, silences and effects of the Quality Time Program, to understand if the program's claims of improved teacher support were, in fact, substantial.
They argue that problems raised in the Quality Time Program, such as the reduction of administrative practices and what is being defined as 'core' work (such as lesson planning) for the sake of efficiency, has the potential negative result of deskilling teachers by removing them from shaping their own teaching methods.
Sustainable solutions needed
Co-author of the paper and senior lecturer in employment relations at the University of Technology Sydney, Dr Mihajla Gavin, called for a system-level solution towards policy formation in the future.
"Our previous research found that years of devolutionary reform and school autonomy policies have increased the workload and administrative burdens on public school teachers in New South Wales.," Dr Gavin said.
"The scale of the workload problem facing teachers needs a system-level solution, so understanding how policy responses are attempting to address this problem is vital.
"We've also seen examples internationally where the work of teachers is being 'carved up', so we were concerned when conducting our analysis that policies like Quality Time could remove or diminish key elements of teachers' professional work."
Ongoing analysis is critical
Dr Stacey warns that future policies like the Quality Time Program could undermine the professionalism and autonomy of teachers and calls for more critical scrutiny of workload reduction efforts, suggesting ongoing monitoring and analysis are necessary to better understand the implications of policies such as this.
"The thing that really surprised us was to see activities like lesson planning, differentiation and assessment addressed in this document, given it was focused on administrative work (that is, organising and delivering)," she said.
"To us, work like lesson planning is complex intellectual work requiring interpretation and creation. Including these activities in a workload reduction policy that is focused on ‘admin’ sets them up for reduction.
"This is something to think carefully about because it could potentially have an effect of deskilling teachers’ work – even if this is not what was intended.
"We were also surprised to see that many of the changes were about improving efficiency of processes, rather than reducing the ‘load’ itself.
"That is to say, many of the improvements were about how administrative work was to be done, rather than whether or not it was to be done at all."
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