More than 270 teachers, principals and education thought leaders met at the Education Symposium 2016 in Sydney on Thursday to discuss the direction of education in NSW.
Speakers at the event included renowned Finnish education expert, Pasi Sahlberg, NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, Department secretary, Mark Scott and executive director of the leadership development organisation Agile Schools, Simon Breakspear.
One of the talking points of the event was the decline in teaching standards, which Piccoli blamed on examples such as “the primary teacher who avoids technology lesson because her own knowledge is not up to speed” and “the Year 7 geography teacher who says it’s not his job to teach children to read”.
However, despite these challenges, Piccoli said he was confident that they could be overcome through reforms being undertaken by the Department, including a five-yearly accreditation of teachers requiring them to meet set standards.
In an interview with The Educator, Piccoli acknowledged that principals were too often juggling multiple tasks at once, some of which were distracting them from their core responsibility of school improvement.
“Principals are very conscientious people. They want to do everything. They want to do the teaching and learning and performance management, but they also want to call the plumber and do the photocopying.”
“This is an issue that occupies my mind a lot. We’re trying to reduce the workloads of principals but also make sure their’ health and well-being is supported at the same time,” he said.
Piccoli said the Department was looking at giving principals permission to step back from the “lower order work” in order to devote more time and energy to teaching and learning.
“We’d like to give them the permission, as well as the resources, to ditch some of that stuff and focus on teaching and learning. After all, that’s why they’re there,” he said.
He pointed to the Department’s The Learning Management Business Reform (LMBR) overhaul as being one initiative to help relieve large workloads that many principals are struggling to cope with.
“There’s of course an initial increase in workload as you change a big system like that, but ultimately the idea is to make it a neater system so that it removes some of the duplication,” he said.
Piccoli also suggested that the day-to-day work of principals be “looked at forensically” to examine areas in which duplication can be identified and removed.
“We’ll be able to see what we can take away or stop duplicating. Many principals tell us that a lot of their time is taken up by things that are duplicated,” he said.
In terms of improving teaching outcomes, Piccoli said one of the biggest calls to action was the “de-privatisation of teaching”, which would be delivered through peer observation.
“We want to see a real difference in teacher performance, and school performance is where we’ve had teachers, instructional teachers and principals working together,” he said.
“For example, it’s not just the one teacher in front of one class. It’s one teacher in one class with someone observing them, and the next day those roles are reversed.”
Piccoli urged more “sharing of practice” between teachers which he said would allow for constructive feedback.
“That’s where I see the most positive change in terms of teaching practice,” he said.
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