Karen Peel

Examining the crucial role of remote education tutors: Who are they? What problems do they face?

The events of 2020 have shone a spotlight on learning remotely from home as schools and teachers shifted their classes online.  However, for many children in Australia, distance education, that is education delivered in the home, is the norm rather than a response to exceptional pandemic circumstances.

Central to the delivery of distance education in Australia are remote education tutors who are accountable for the face-to-face supervision and educational support of students. Unlike schooling at home during the pandemic, it is a requirement that children in Australian schools of distance education have adult supervision for the duration of their school day. Distance education would not be possible without the commitment of these tutors.

There are many problems with the provision of distance education in Australia today. Debates continue over availability, accessibility, and affordability. However we are especially interested in the remote education tutors, the vital role they play and the problems they face.

Remote Education Tutors

Outside the metropolitan cities and regional towns of Australia, much of the country is sparsely populated, with many students requiring remote access to education through distance education schooling. The qualified distance educator who organizes and administers the curriculum for students is often located hundreds of kilometres from where the learning takes place. Families are directly responsible for setting up a dedicated area at home as a formal schoolroom space for children who are being remotely schooled and for supplying a tutor who will oversee the learning.

The tutor who plays this vital part could be a parent or adult family member, a governess, or someone employed by the family to tutor children using the lessons, resources and tools provided by the assigned state or territory government distance education teacher.

The tutors act as facilitators, conduits, and connectors. Successful distance schooling is seen as a shared responsibility of distance education teachers, students and the remote education tutors. Research has highlighted the importance of the partnership between distance educators and the home providers for quality learning outcomes.

Problems with Remote Education Tutors

Although a recommendation to conduct research into the role of the remote education tutors was made over 20 years ago by the Queensland School Curriculum Council, this has received limited research attention.  The remote education tutor supervisory responsibility often falls on mothers, who feel obliged to fulfill this multiple and sometimes conflicting role.  The assumption that mothers are available to provide this supervision is changing in concert with broader social changes, and many now see it as no longer valid.

However, there is limited literature currently available on the demographics and the work identity of the remote education tutor. 

We believe the opportunity for quality distance education is unsustainable and inequitable because of the:

Our research

In addressing these issues, we are researching who is doing the work of Remote Education Tutors, where they are located and their perceptions of their work, including their needs satisfaction. This research is part of work being undertaken as a partnership between Australian Geographically Isolated Learner Education (AGILE) project an the University of Southern Queensland (USQ).

We have just recently activated a national survey to map the experiences and perceptions of remote education tutors.  The purpose of this research is to: identify who represents the remote education tutor workforce in Australia; understand how this role impacts on personal lifestyles and professional work; find out how to support those in this role; and inform change.

There are three parts to our survey:

  • Part A Australian Remote Education Workforce;
  • Part B Remote Education Tutor’s Personal and Professional Perspectives; and
  • Part C Remote Education Tutor’s Basic Needs Satisfaction in the Work Domain.

Participation in this project is entirely voluntary and 100% anonymous.  For those who are interested, the survey takes about 20 minutes to complete.

As educational researchers from the University of Southern Queensland, we see the potential of the project lies in its capacity to acknowledge the work of remote education tutors, recognise the lifestyle and professional impacts of this essential work, and raise the profile of this role as an occupation. 

The often-overlooked role of a remote education tutor In Australia is crucial to ensuring the sustainability and equity of children’s access to consistent and quality educational support.

Dr Karen Peel is a Senior Lecturer of Initial Teacher Education in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland.  She has extensive experience in curriculum design and implementation of practices for effective teaching and learning.  Her research is situated in the fields of self-regulated learning, classroom behaviour management, teacher resilience and currently in the work of Remote Education Tutors.  She has published and co-published in educational journals and refereed books and has presented at a number of national and international educational conferences.

Patrick Danaher is Professor (Educational Research) in the School of Education at the Toowoomba campus of the University of Southern Queensland. Patrick has continuing research interests in rural education, including the educational aspirations and outcomes of occupationally mobile families such as circus and show people who travel through regional, rural and remote communities. More broadly, he is interested in formal education’s ambivalent capacity to perpetuate sociocultural marginalisation and to contribute to sociocultural transformation.

Dr Brad McLennan is a Senior Lecturer of Initial Teacher Education in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland.  He has 30 years’ experience in collaborative curriculum design and implementation of practices for effective teaching and learning in both the primary and higher education sectors.  His research is situated in the fields of classroom behaviour management, teacher efficacy, self-determination theory and currently in the understated work of Remote Education Tutors.  He has published in international and domestic journals and refereed books. As a priority, he continues to forge strong relationships and partnerships between the University and key stakeholders across all facets of education.

The national survey closes on Sunday, 17 January 2021.  If you are, or have you been, a governess, home tutor, parent or family tutor, or distance education tutor in Australia, tell us about your experiences because there is not much information about this, and Australia needs to know.  We also encourage you to share the survey link.

‘Zero tolerance’ is the wrong approach to classroom behaviour management

The Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, has demanded a zero tolerance approach to students’ bad behaviour in Australian classrooms. He was reponding to key findings from the latest PISA report which found Australia scored “significantly lower than the OECD average” for classroom discipline levels. From the perspectives of the students surveyed, Australian classroom environments were not “consistently conducive to effective learning”. In part the results “indicated a poor climate of classroom discipline”.

We can only wish a simple solution such as a zero tolerance approach would fix the problem. However from my teaching experience, and as is recognised in research evidence, control and quick fixes more often exacerbate behaviour problems in schools. As I see it, the Minister’s response appears to be aimed at punishing students’ non-compliance where a proactive response, such as focusing on practices to increase student engagement in learning, has the potential to be much more effective.

Student behaviour in contemporary schools can be a contentious political issue for policy-makers. Regular negative media coverage creates concerns for politicians, principals, teachers, parents and students.

For teachers, the prevalence of low-level disruptive behaviours can be especially difficult and frustrating to manage. Indeed, a disruptive classroom climate can hinder the learning process and lower the achievement of the entire class. As such, reducing disruptive behaviours in the classroom has a positive effect on students’ learning.

However, it is unlikely that students will flourish as learners in classrooms that are narrowed to obedience and sheer compliance.

I would much rather see students taught to self-regulate their learning and behaviour within productive and supportive learning environments. This is an alternative to teachers viewing classroom behaviour management as the use of tools, tricks or interventions to control students’ behaviour.

The emphasis on controlling student behaviour

Historically, classroom behaviour management has been viewed with an emphasis on controlling students’ behaviour. Behaviour management is usually focused on actions taken by teachers to establish order, elicit students’ cooperation and engage them in learning.

In both the UK and the US there are moves to give teacher control of student behavior more emphasis in teacher education. In the UK the talk is about “expectations of compliance and effort” and the “3Rs of the behaviour curriculum”: Routines, Relationships and Response strategies. Similarly, in the US, five key strategies for effective classroom management were identified that include rules, routines, praise, consequences for misbehaviour and active student engagement.

I argue that there is a serious omission here. There is a fourth R: teaching students to take Responsibility for their learning. The ideals of students sharing the responsibility for their learning are not included as a future priority for effective classroom behaviour management in either of these strategies.

Also there is the added layer of complexity in that teachers might think about instruction as teacher- and student-centred, and then view classroom behaviour management only through the teacher-centred lens.

Approaches matter

I believe the approaches teachers choose to take to manage classrooms and behaviours impact on students, now and into the future. And yes indeed teachers do have an overall responsibility for providing all of their students with access to high-quality schooling.

However when teachers try to seek compliance by administering rewards and consequences, students have limited opportunities to regulate their own learning. Hence, a vicious cycle can be established and perpetuated through excessive teacher control, with the potential to compromise a conducive learning environment. For instance, it is possible that students’ compliance reduces when opportunities to regulate their learning are not met, which in turn increases the likelihood that the teachers’ quest for compliance will continue through implementing control, or worse an arsenal of punishment for non-compliance.

Also it should be noted that students who are compliant can be quietly disengaged from learning.

Self-regulated learning

Providing opportunities for students to engage actively to self-regulate their learning, shifts the aim of classroom behaviour management beyond the function of maintaining order in the classroom to a focus on learning, being responsible and having fun.

Self-regulated learning integrated into classroom management can empower students to take control of their own learning and can empower teachers to share the responsibility for creating positive classroom cultures. As opposed to a teacher reflecting on “how well did I manage the students’ behaviour in the classroom?” the emphasis is on whether the teacher provided opportunities for the students to regulate their learning within a social environment. After all, no one has control over the students’ behaviour and learning success more than the students themselves.

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) has developed the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) to provide a clear vision of what teachers are expected to know and be able to do today. These call for an approach to creating environments for learning that can inspire students as self-regulated and lifelong learners to connect with a learning desire. This goes beyond the teacher just maintaining acceptable standards of behaviour. For teachers in contemporary classrooms, this shift in thinking considers the needs of all their students to feel responsible and respected.

I believe understanding and valuing the development of students’ self-regulatory capabilities can lead to an approach to classroom behaviour management that offers a pathway for fostering lifelong learning skills.

When teachers provide their students with opportunities to set goals, monitor progress and reflect on their learning within supportive social communities, the approach to classroom behaviour management moves away from thinking that students are not capable of controlling their own behaviour and what becomes important is teachers knowing their students and how they learn.

This shift in thinking requires the policy makers and the teaching profession to recognise the value of a proactive approach for “improving student learning as opposed to controlling behaviour”. The challenge is for those involved in education to understand the classroom as a social system for learning and to see beyond the immediate behaviour of students with the aim of knowing who they are and how to engage them in learning.


Karen Peel has extensive experience as a classroom teacher.  She shares her expertise in making the connections between practice and theory as an initial teacher educator within the field of classroom behaviour management at the University of Southern Queensland.  Karen’s current research is situated in the primary to junior-secondary school transition years and focuses on exploring teachers’ proactive pedagogical approaches that empower young adolescent students to take control and responsibility to self-regulate their learning.

Karen will be presenting at The Learner conference in July in Hawaii- The Learner Research Network: “A Pedagogical Model for Self-Regulated Learning: Why aim for behavioural compliance when we can inspire learning?