March.18.2024

The one report on teaching you need to read

By Rachel Wilson

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. 

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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.

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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.

Republish this article for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.

3 thoughts on “The one report on teaching you need to read

  1. Rosie Thrupp says:

    An ABC report on 19th March involving a leading maternity specialist stated clearly that many learning and behavioural issues currently evident in our classrooms are aligned with babies being born between 37 and 39 weeks. Such information would most certainly support teachers currently considering leaving the profession because they can no longer manage these difficulties to government expectations that all children should be able to achieve “A”s. Instead of blaming teachers or blaming children for being uncontrollable compared to earlier generations, changes in these earlier stages of life could work to maintaining the teaching profession

  2. Rachel Wilson says:

    Hi Rosie, There are so many societal factors, and recent changes to human society, that are indeed creating new demands upon teachers – and it is very unfair that teachers are blamed for the failings of systems that haven’t changed and kept up with these challenges.

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