IPA Today

Let Teachers Teach

Written by
31 March 2023
Originally appeared in The Spectator Australia

As recent footage of a teacher losing control of a New South Wales classroom received widespread coverage in the media, it begs the question: just how many teachers across the country are pushed to breaking point every day and what does this say about the state of our education system?

The undeniable fact is the Australia’s education system is in crisis. Academic results, budgets, curriculum content and the classroom environment all fail the ‘fit-for-purpose’ test.

Student academic results have been in serious decline for decades, and Australian student standards of achievement trail behind comparable countries by years.

On top of this, the sector faces an already severe shortage of teachers, which is predicted to worsen as they leave the profession in droves, while the number of principals wanting to quit has tripled since 2019.

Curriculum content is profoundly compromised by an all-pervading leftist ideology courtesy of the National Curriculum’s cross-curriculum priorities. Climate alarmism; the fostering of collective guilt around the supposed racist nature of Australia’s past, present, and future; and the promotion of activism in lieu of education, are all contributing to the downward spiral of our students’ academic results, while undermining their mental health and well-being.

Teachers are overwhelmed by unsustainable demands around quite unnecessary administration and documentation. These include anecdotal notes every week on every child for every subject. And individual conferences with every child in every subject every two weeks. Any incident must be documented, including minor matters like ‘calling out’, with the expectation that the teacher contact parents to discuss matters before it is brought home by the child. And this is before they get to the genuinely important tasks of lesson planning and actual teaching! Little wonder that the cost of education is soaring at the very time academic standards decline.

One particularly shocking feature of the failing nature of our education system is the level of violence within our schools, and particularly, the abuse experienced by teachers. Last year, 80.5 per cent of principals in the ACT reported physical violence or threats from students. The figure was 75.5 per cent in the Northern Territory, 57.2 per cent in Western Australia, 55.9 per cent in Tasmania, and nearly 33 percent in Victoria. No other workplace would tolerate such a collapse in employee occupational health and safety.

Worryingly, Australian classrooms are also among the least disciplined in the world. According to the OECD, Australia has ranked 70th out of 77 participating nations for classroom discipline with Australian students saying their learning time is lost to noise and disorder, meaning they cannot work well in class.

The classrooms of the West fifty years ago had measurably higher levels of academic achievement. Studies in the United Kingdom have concluded that an E grade in a maths paper in the 1960s is equivalent to a B grade in 2010! After a decades-long decline in academic outcomes, Australian standards have decreased even further since 2010, with our worst ever performance recorded in the most recent OECD Program for International Student Assessment.

It does not stretch the bounds of credulity to believe this decline in academic standards is linked, at least in some way, to the decline in discipline in our schools. While it is too simplistic to float notions of the ‘good old days’ of corporal punishment, what is clear the pendulum has clearly swung too far the other way to the detriment of students and teachers alike.

The only way to re-establish quality education in Australia is to back our teachers. We must ensure teachers are supported by a system-wide commitment to discipline, by the immediate elimination of unnecessary administration, and by providing them with curriculum content that reflects the needs of our children rather than the agenda of the Left.

Rather than acting as political thought police, our teachers should be imparting knowledge while encouraging critical thinking and instilling a love of lifetime learning. We should let teachers teach.

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Colleen Harkin

Colleen Harkin is the National Director of Class Action Program, and Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs

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