The one report on teaching you need to read

There’s a lot going on in the world, so you’d be forgiven for missing a big story that was announced nearly two weeks ago. It’s certainly bigger than Rupert Murdoch’s sixth fiancée , and Taylor Swift’s hotel choices, but naturally got a lot less coverage.

Although confronting troubles around the world desperately deserve immediate attention, this story focuses on a neglected, less visible issue, with calls for urgent action to address an “ongoing and worsening crisis”. It’s about a long game, ways of transforming and lifting our future outlook, it’s about ensuring we do our best to avoid conflict, mitigate natural disasters and work towards peace, democracy and shared prosperity

It’s about teachers

.. and it couldn’t be more important to the future of humanity and the planet.

The “high level panel on the teaching profession” report was commissioned by UN secretary, Antonio Gutierrez. Led by two former heads of state, and sponsored by three international organisations, the UN, the International Labour Organisation, and UNESCO, the initial announcement of the panel in July 2023 got much more media coverage than the recent release of the report. One has to wonder why.

The report puts forward “ an urgent call to action” needed to “ shape a stronger, more sustainable future” and “ our best hope for building a more sustainable and socially just world”. It outlines critical support, governance, investment , and a “new social contract” urgently needed to shift mindsets, leadership and discourse. 

The report highlights the critical and dangerous problem of current, international teacher shortages (estimated to be 44 million teachers worldwide), linking this to the low status and working conditions of teachers, insufficient capacity for teacher leadership, autonomy, and innovation and lack of professional development opportunities. Shortages are highly evident in wealthy countries, like Australia, but importing solutions has already been shown to produce “domino effects”. Add to this the challenges of stagnant and declining performance in many countries, the impact of covid, the rapidly changing technological environment and growing conflict and climate crises, it’s a nasty cocktail.

To address such wicked and interacting problems, the report argues, we need to reshape societal perceptions of teachers and transform their roles to create better education for all.

The report provides 59 recommendations, I have grouped and summarised these below. These are easily said and read, but challenging to implement. The value of the recommendations lies in their clear articulation of values and principles, which recognise the central and pivotal role of teachers in strengthening society.  

Challenging to implement

The recommendations essentially provide a checklist against which countries can evaluate their social, political and policy attention to teachers. I will consider this in relation to Australian teachers later. 


1. Enable transformation of the teaching profession:

  • Teachers need an enabling environment with holistic social support.
  • Governments should implement rights for education and decent work.
  • Education goals should promote varied learning pathways.
  • Adopt comprehensive national teacher policies through dialogue.
  • Establish mechanisms to tackle shortages and ensure equitable deployment.
  • Implement Teacher Management and Information Systems.

2. Invest in teachers:

  • Ensure at least 6% of GDP and 20% of government expenditure for education.
  • Long-term investment in teachers is essential for system sustainability.
  • Monitor and evaluate education spending and ensure financial autonomy.

3. Promote equity, diversity and inclusion:

  • Develop policies to promote equity and diversity in teaching.
  • Provide incentives for teachers in rural and hardship settings.
  • Develop policies to support teachers in crisis-affected areas.
  • Facilitate the integration of refugee teachers into host communities.

4. Educate for Sustainable Development:

  • Integrate sustainability education into curricula.
  • Train teachers for global citizenship and human rights.
  • Develop adaptation strategies for climate resilience.

5. Foster Decent Work in Teaching:

  • Ensure secure employment and working conditions for teachers.
  • Ensure fair salaries and gender pay equity.
  • Provide supportive working conditions for teachers’ well-being.
  • Promote mental health and well-being policies for teachers.
  • Support education support personnel to reduce non-teaching tasks.

5. Nurture leadership in Teaching and Human-Centred Education Technology:

  • Foster collaborative school leadership for recruitment and retention.
  • Encourage distributed leadership within schools.
  • Promote policies for diversity in leadership.
  • Pedagogically integrate technology for active learning.
  • Ensure autonomy and privacy in technology use.
  • Train teachers and learners to use technology effectively.


What this means for Australian education

There’s a lot in this relatively thin 44 page report, so I’ll just touch on a few points regarding the first recommendation. In full, it reads like this:

“1. Teachers are the central element in the transformation of education systems. Yet teachers do not work in a vacuum. To be effective, they require an enabling environment and holistic social support for their work. Governments should develop economic and social policies that support teaching and learning through adequate and equitable funding for education and lifelong learning. Such policies should ensure that parents and families have the time and capacity to support learners, that learners have access to adequate nutrition and healthcare services, that learning spaces are safe and inclusive, that learning institutions have adequate infrastructure and connectivity, and that the teaching profession enjoys high status and support.” 

I’ve highlighted a few weak points for Australia, the first relates to holistic social support for teachers. Australia could clearly do better here. In particular media discourse and analysis of educational problems, often point the finger at teachers as responsible for our current educational malaise. Educational accountability is often placed solely at the feet of teachers, yet, as the panel points out:

“Just as teachers need to be accountable to students, education systems and communities overall, teachers themselves require accountability from the system. This involves providing decent working conditions, including sustainable workloads, work-life balance, appropriate class sizes, adequate infrastructure and resources, professional autonomy and agency, and safe and healthy working environments. “ ( p.27)

Given the documented issues related to Australian teachers’ ’decent working conditions’, both accountability frameworks and teachers’ sense of holistic social support are important considerations if we are to progress – and meet the international benchmark laid out in this recommendation. 

What we need to progress

So too, the arrangements needed to meet “adequate and equitable funding”. On this front, Australia has an extremely poor record and is unable to meet requirements for “the efficiency and efficacy of education funding and spending on teachers needs to be monitored and evaluated” and  “ budget tracking and evaluation mechanisms and analysis should ensure transparency and accountability for spending. “  detailed later in the report. Successive reviews, including by the national audit office, have made this clear.

In the first recommendation, and throughout the report ,there is a strong focus on lifelong learning, both for teachers and students. Lifelong learning is one of Australia’s national goals, as laid out in the Mparntwe declaration, however it is rarely rates a mention in high level policy (e.g. the National School Reform Agreement, where it is never mentioned), indicators of it are underdeveloped, and not evident in government national  reporting.  Developing lifelong approaches to learning, firstly among teachers, their students, and system architecture is currently an area of national policy with unrealised potential. 

There’s a lot more to be unpacked in relation to this initial recommendation. It raises many questions about how we support families so they can support learners, and also how we might integrate nutrition, healthcare and other services into education in schools. Many other countries do this highly effectively and it would be worth reviewing our current arrangements.  

Nutrition and health care. What else?

In order to tackle the many challenges the report later specifically suggests:

“Governments should establish national commissions or other mechanisms, which should include relevant financial authorities, representatives of teachers’ organizations and other relevant stakeholders, to assess and tackle shortages of adequately trained teachers. Such commissions or mechanisms should address labour market analyses, recruitment, teacher migration, attrition and retention, compensation, status and rights, workload and wellbeing, equity (including the ratio of qualified teachers to students), equality and infrastructure.” p.4

To me, this is the most valuable recommendation, echoing calls around Australia for the last 10 years. We need an independent body to review and advise on education and strengthen system accountability. If we had one we might not find ourselves with inequitable funding, poor working conditions and a teacher shortage crisis. It’s not too late to start and turn things around. There’s a new commission for higher education being developed now – can we expand on that vision?

Can we respond to the panel and Guterres’ call and join the “powerful global call to action”?

Rachel Wilson is Professor, Social Impact, University of Technology Sydney Business School . She has expertise in educational assessment, research methods and programme evaluation, with broad interests across educational evidence, policy and practice. She is interested in system-level reform and has been involved in designing, implementing and researching many university and school education reforms. Rachel is on Twitter@RachelWilson100.

International Day of Education: why Jason Clare and Sussan Ley must get to class immediately

Today at school I will learn to read at once; then tomorrow I will begin to write, and the day after tomorrow to figure. Then, with my acquirements, I will earn a great deal of money, and with the first money I have in my pocket I will immediately buy for my papa a beautiful new cloth coat,” said Pinocchio. The goals of Carol Collodi’s famous puppet character expressed in 1883 are no different from the goals set for today’s students across the globe. Become educated so that you can make decisions about your future. But education is more than a pursuit to fulfill personal goals. It is also about responsibility to others and to the community. Pinocchio begins to understand this concept as he contemplates buying Geppetto a new coat.

UNESCO conceptualizes education as a human right, a public good and a public responsibility, key to developing opportunities, creating pathways out of poverty and foundational to global sustainability. Today, January 24 is the UNESCO declared International Day of Education, where all countries are called upon to invest in people by prioritizing education. UNESCO calls for a reduction in global poverty and the removal of the political barricades which prevent inclusive and equitable education. Each country, but especially the richer countries like Australia need to step up to address global educational responsibilities and this can begin by ensuring equity is a priority in our own educational system.

Australians hold interest in education. This can be seen in the political and media attention raised from the latest report on education released by the Productivity Commission. Equity or rather inequity is embedded in the report’s results. These results are presented as something new. However, the report reinforces what has been known for a long time – educational attainment, as measured by standardized testing is linked to parental educational background and certain groups in Australian society, such as rural students or students from Indigenous backgrounds are less likely to meet the set minimum standards. Australian education is not equitable.

Education minister Jason Clare said on breakfast television that he did not wish Australia to be a country where your chances in life depend on who your parents are or where you live or the colour of your skin. If this is the case, then the questions must be asked, are these students who are failing, the same students who do not have access to community facilities, such as libraries, sporting grounds and swimming pools? Are these the same students who live in areas with unreliable public transport? Are these the same students whose families are struggling with mortgage stress or who are unable to get a stable rental property? Are these the same students who are locked out of extra curricula activities? Are these the students who do not have a computer at home? Are these the students who in their first few years of life did not have access to child and maternal health and later to high quality child-care? Are these the same students who come from families who have had no support to maintain their first language or whose cultural practices are not valued? If yes is the answer to any of these questions, then perhaps the focus for educational reform should begin by looking outside of the school gates.

The inevitable catch cry ‘back to basics’ has begun. In the same interview as Jason Clare, Deputy leader of the Liberal party, Sussan Ley called for a ‘back to basics’ solution. This is the backhanded rhetoric that slams teachers. It implies that teachers have veered away from good, relevant teaching and are wasting time in frivolous pursuits. Similarly, Jason Clare’s solution is insulting. He suggests teachers need to spend less time lesson planning and more time in the classroom. Before reducing a vital component of the teaching role, let’s consider less time on bus duty, bin duty, lunch time supervision, endless meetings and paperwork to negotiate the red tape around NDIS requirements. Teachers planning lessons to meet the diverse needs of their students is the real back to basics. In most schools, planning is a collaborative process, which also addresses teachers’ ongoing professional learning. Planning sessions allow teachers to share what is working well for their students and seek advice from their expert colleagues about students who are facing challenges. 

Schools and teachers constantly address professional improvement. Teachers want what is best for the students they teach, not only in literacy and numeracy but across all aspects of academia and wellbeing. That’s why they became teachers! The lens has to shift away from schools and educational reform for a while, to spotlight issues of societal inequity. 

On this International Day of Education, let’s consider human rights, public good and global responsibilities. Let’s also consider out national situation and not be puppets pulled by the strings of rhetoric that call for reform in a so called failing educational system. Rather, let’s look at what is working well in schools, listen to the voices of teachers who respond daily to student diversity and work towards a bipartisan movement that addresses the issues of inequity which create the disparity evident in the Productivity Commission’s report. It’s our global responsibility to do so. Surely, this is not just a fairy tale dream.

Dr Helen Cozmescu is a member of the Teacher Education Group, at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. She lecturers in pre-service and post-graduate language and literacy subjects and delivers professional learning for in-service teachers. Helen’s research has intersected critical literacy, the early years of schooling and First Nations texts. Her current research involves understanding the role of literacy professional learning for in-service teachers and the nexus created by theoretical perspectives, research and practice. Helen has had significant experience working in schools, as a primary school teacher and leader, and as a literacy consultant.  

Header images from the Facebook pages of Jason Clare and Sussan Ley.