Quality Teaching Rounds

Want quality teaching? Here’s the model

When Cessnock High School approached us in 2020 about a long-term partnership focused on developing a clear, coherent culture of teaching and learning, we were two years into an ambitious five year program of research on the impact of Quality Teaching Rounds on student and teacher outcomes.

We had evidence from the first in a series of randomised controlled trials that teacher participation in QTR could improve students achievement, teaching quality and teacher morale.

The challenge was to translate this large-scale research involving hundreds of teachers across hundreds of schools into a partnership model that deeply embedded a culture of quality teaching in one highly disadvantaged school.

Our role at Cessnock High was supporting their teachers to do the challenging work of reflecting on and developing their practice. We did this by centring the partnership on the Quality Teaching Model and engaging all teachers in Quality Teaching Rounds.

How Cessnock High achieved its goals

As reported last night on the ABC, Cessnock High School ranked first in the Hunter region and 11th overall in the state for their growth in NAPLAN results from Year 7 to 9 in 2023. Cessnock students’ HSC results also improved by more than 50 per cent in 2022, a result that was sustained in 2023.

Student attendance and engagement grew by seven per cent – triple the average across the state. Positive behaviour referrals were up 130 per cent in 2023 while negative behaviours significantly decreased. 

Importantly, teacher morale improved, their efficacy went up, as did collegiality, confidence, and the quality of their teaching.

This highly successful partnership model is at the heart of a new project, announced today, to support 25 disadvantaged NSW government schools to enhance teaching quality, support teacher wellbeing, build positive school cultures, and improve student achievement and equity. 

The partnership

We started from a position of respecting teachers and their professionalism as they were the key to changing outcomes for students. Teachers understand that depending on their context, the specific lesson, and their students, different teaching approaches can produce powerful learning. The Quality Teaching Model and QTR provide a mechanism to ensure the underlying pedagogy, regardless of the teaching strategy, is high quality and produces powerful learning experiences.

The QT Model, grounded in Newmann’s Authentic Pedagogy work and supported by a broad history of education research is centred on three key ideas:

  • Intellectual Quality: Focusing on deep understanding of important knowledge.
  • Quality Learning Environment: Ensuring positive classrooms that boost student learning.
  • Significance: Connecting learning to students’ lives and the wider world.

In opposition to a focus on the technical and telling teachers how to teach, the Model gives a conceptual lens through which a broad range of teaching strategies can be reflected upon to increase understanding of pedagogy.

Bringing teachers together

QTR brings teachers together to learn from each other and improve their practice. It is an approach to teacher professional development that involves teachers working in groups of four to observe and critically analyse each other’s teaching using the Quality Teaching Model. Importantly, it offers teachers deep engagement in their craft, intellectual challenge that is significant to their work, and the processes of QTR ensure teachers are in a safe, supportive learning environment with their colleagues.

Framing this work using the concept of school capacity to improve student outcomes (see Newmann, King and Youngs) the partnership functioned to produce program coherence among staff by centering pedagogical understanding around the Quality Teaching Model, and improved teachers knowledge, skill and dispositions, and professional community through engagement in collective, collegial professional development through QTR. In turn, leadership supported the work by providing the time for staff to engage in developing their practice. 

While quality teaching was the central pillar in this process at Cessnock High School, change of this nature does not occur without cultural change. Instructional leadership at the school was supported by academics and our non-profit social enterprise the QT Academy via the partnership. This left space for executive leadership to focus on practice and policy to promote a consistent, calm and safe teaching and learning environment that recognises that all students are capable of engaging and learning. This also meant working on better connecting the school to its community and promoting high expectations and positive aspirations for students and the community.

Thriving schools

Now, at the end of our major five year program of research on QTR, we have high quality  evidence from three randomised controlled trials that participation in the program improves student achievement in mathematics and reading, it improves teaching quality, and teacher morale and efficacy.

The Cessnock partnership provided evidence that a whole-school approach to QTR enables schools to keep a clear focus on teaching and learning despite the other matters that demand their attention. Across the four year partnership, we found focusing on the core business of teaching and supporting teachers to do this work produced strong positive effects on teachers and their teaching. This, in-turn, improved student attendance and engagement and reduced behaviour issues, with a profound impact on student achievement.

It’s a testament to the teachers and to the leadership of Cessnock High School in sticking with the partnership approach through all the ups and downs over the past few years.

What’s really exciting is we now have the opportunity to take this approach and test it in 25 other NSW government schools, with similar low socio-educational complexities over the next three years thanks to funding from the Paul Ramsay Foundation and support from the NSW Department of Education.

Core to all this work is a commitment to both equity and excellence in Australian education. 

Drew Miller is a senior lecturer in the School of Education, University of Newcastle and the deputy director of the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre.

What we must do now to rescue Australian schools

We expect education to be a catalyst for more equitable and inclusive societies yet too often governments and systems deploy one-stop solutions without detailed plans for how exactly improvements will be achieved or at what costs.

The Building Education Systems for Equity and Inclusion report comes from an Academy of Social Sciences of Australia workshop I hosted at the Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW. Working with representatives from school systems, academia, professional associations, industry, and teachers, the report offers recommendations aimed at addressing inequities in the school system.

Recommendations centre on five key issues: intergenerational policy failure; the need to look beyond the school gate; raising the voice of the profession; data, evidence and research; and ensuring a focus on teaching and learning.

Intergenerational policy failure

While the Australian Government is spending more on education than at any point in history, disparity gaps endure for various equity groups on a range of outcomes. Needs- based funding tied to the implementation of evidence-based reforms hasve been distorted courtesy of the unique policy architecture of Australian federalism. School systems have limited resources with which to pursue their objectives and the design of school funding policies plays a key role in ensuring that resources are directed to where they can make the most difference. 

Australian federalism means there is neither a national system nor a state/territory system of school-based education. Common critiques focus on overlap in responsibilities and duplication. Achieving uniformity is difficult, time consuming, and frequently limited to the lowest common denominator. However, education is a complex policy domain whose actions impact well beyond state or territory borders. Currently, no jurisdiction wants to be the first to admit there are problems meaning systems can deteriorate substantially before action is taken. Asserting jurisdiction independence and sovereignty surrenders some of the strengths of federalism and removes important failsafe mechanisms targeting overall health of the system.

A significant policy problem for education is the current teacher shortage. Substantial attention has been directed at Initial Teacher Education programs, and the attraction and retention of educators. Less focus has been granted to affordability of housing for teachers. With housing (ownership and rental) costs rising, servicing commitments on a teachers’ salary can be difficult – particularly in major cities. The ability to live near the place where one works, or the drivability or commuting infrastructure means that workforce planning needs to take a multi-dimensional approach built on more than just raising the public profile of the profession.

Beyond the school gate

Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) data indicates that 22 per cent of children in the first year of formal schooling are vulnerable in at least one domain (e.g., physical, social, emotional, language, and communication), and 11 per cent in two. Early data indicates that the AEDC is a predictor of NAPLAN performance nine years later and with 8.1 per cent of early childhood providers operating with a staffing waiver due to a lack of qualified staff, early intervention is a difficult task.

School-based education exhibits many layers of segregation and stratification. The distribution of students from socio-educational disadvantage or requiring adjustment due to disability are not evenly distributed between sectors (government, catholic, and independent). Peer effects can influence outcomes as much as individual socio-economic status. Cultural context has a large effect (between 33 and 50 per cent) on student performance, and the further a school is located from major cities the lower level of student outcomes. Failure to control for segregation and stratification makes it impossible to identify the drivers of school improvement in different locations and better design interventions aimed at equity and inclusion.

Voice of the profession

Education is seen as ‘a’ if not ‘the’ solution to most social issues and the result is that schools are constantly being asked to do more without having anything removed. Many of the decisions to add things to schooling take place without any engagement or consultation with educators – not education bureaucracies but the educators who work in schools. The result is frequent changes in curriculum documents, additional mandatory training programs, shifting accreditation requirements, updated and expansive administrative requirements, all with negligible impact on student outcomes. This not just intensified teachers’ work but de-democratising the profession. TALIS data indicates that only 28.7 per cent of Australian teachers feel that their views are valued by policy makers. With declining educator well-being and in the context of a teacher shortage, it is timely to establish a forum for representatives from the profession to have a voice in decisions regarding the form, objectives, targets, and outcomes of schooling as articulated in the national agenda.

Data, evidence, research

Improving the equity of education is not possible without data and evidence. You cannot improve that which you do not measure and monitor. An effective school education system needs sufficient data points and appropriate data linkage to understand how well it is performing and robust evidence to identify priority areas for planning, intervention, and policy. While the Measurement Framework for Schooling in Australia details nationally agreed performance indicators, inconsistencies across states and territories datasets means that crucial insights for informing policy at a national level are being lost. Data linkage is an urgent task for understanding the relationships between multiple factors and their impact on education and social outcomes to inform effective policy making, program design and research at a national scale.

Systems and schools that embed data-driven evaluation as a core professional responsibility have a greater impact on student outcomes. This has led to schools increasingly being asked to provide evidence of their impact. At the same time, despite an impressive track record, education research is under-funded. Despite the establishment of the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) seeking to position Australian educators at the forefront of education research, without increases in total funding available, it is unlikely that research of the scale and scope necessary to effectively inform policy can be conducted. A promising avenue for increasing the quality of evidence and data use in schools and systems is co-design. However, it requires strategic leadership and matching incentives (including funding mechanisms) to better enable a systemic approach to research use, knowledge translation and breaking down boundaries between stakeholders.

Focus on teaching and learning

Pedagogical reform is a low-cost high-return approach to addressing distortions in a school system. Australian research (for example, Quality Teaching Rounds) has demonstrated that targeted and tailored interventions can positively impact student outcomes and teacher well-being. Yet, 76 per cent of teachers describe their workload as unmanageable. Australian schools have more instructional hours (828) than the OECD average (713), with teachers engaged in far more administration and school management than higher performing systems (e.g., Finland, Estonia). Attempts to recognise quality teaching through accreditation have received little uptake with only 0.33 per cent of the workforce certified at Highly Accomplished or Lead. Addressing equity and inclusion requires attention to how systems are designed to focus on the instructional core of schooling and making sure that resources (human, physical, and financial) are targeted towards achieving the highest quality of teaching in every classroom.


As the world re-sets to life under pandemic, the internal tensions for differentiation and external pressures for standardisation on education policy have never been greater. With increasing costs for public services at the same time as government revenue and household incomes falling, issues of educational equity, inclusion and excellence are amplified. The pressure to consolidate resources and pursue cost efficiencies will be felt most significantly by the poorest and most marginalised children and communities throughout the country. The stakes are high. Education is critical to human welfare, especially in times of rapid economic and social change.

Ensuring that resourcing and oversight focuses on the health of the system, with wraparound services supporting the workforce to have a voice and what they need for high quality instruction give Australian school systems the best chance of delivering equitable outcomes for all. 

Participants in the workshop

Professor Scott Eacott, Gonski Institute for Education, UNSW Sydney

Professor Eileen Baldry, UNSW Sydney 

Laureate Professor Jenny Gore, Teachers and Teaching Research Centre, University of Newcastle 

Professor Chris Pettit, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney

Professor Suzanne Carrington, Centre for Inclusive Education, QUT 

Dr Goran Lazendic, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

Dr Virginia Moller, Steiner Education Australia 

Dr Rachel Perry, NSW AIS Evidence Institute

Dr Bala Soundararaj, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney 

Rebecca Birch, Teacher, Independent School 

Cecilia Bradley, Australasian Democratic Education Community 

Zeina Chalich, Principal, Catholic Education

Mark Breckenridge, Australian Secondary School Principals’ Association 

Elizabeth Goor, Montessori Australia 

Alice Leung, Head Teacher, Concord High School

Alex Ioannou, Montessori Australia 

Matthew Johnson, Australian Special Education Leaders and Principals’ Association  

Maura Manning, Catholic Education Parramatta 

Andrew Pierpoint, Australian Secondary School Principals’ Association 

Daniel Pinchas, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL)  

Diane Robertson, Principal, NSW Department of Education 

Michael Sciffer, PhD Candidate, Murdoch University

Scott Eacott PhD, is deputy director of the Gonski Institute for Education, and professor of education in the School of Education at UNSW Sydney and adjunct professor in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Saskatchewan.