Re: Valuing the teaching profession – an independent inquiry

The Teachers and Teaching Research Centre welcomes this opportunity to respond to the independent inquiry being conducted by the NSW Teachers Federation and commend the inquiry into the value of teachers’ work in NSW.

The Teachers and Teaching Priority Research Centre (TTRC), led by Laureate Professor Jenny Gore, sits within the School of Education at the University of Newcastle. Our core focus is to support the work of schools and teachers, through building capacity for quality teaching. Our work is informed by two decades of educational research, including two randomised controlled trials on Quality Teaching Rounds (QTR), conducted in NSW public schools (Gore et al., 2017; Miller et al., 2019).

Our current research project, Building Capacity for Quality Teaching in Australian Schools, supported by a $17.1 million grant from the Paul Ramsay Foundation in partnership with the NSW Department of Education, represents the largest study of teaching in Australian education history. This project is designed to investigate the impact of QTR, an evidence-based approach to collaborative professional development, which utilises the NSW Quality Teaching model (NSW DET, 2003).

This submission refers to our research findings and current work and, as such, we have limited our responses to the following three matters identified in the terms of reference:

(f) movements in attraction to the profession and retention within the profession

(h) relevant international, national and state research and reports

2 (a) how best to support teachers and principals in New South Wales public schools, including through investment in the education workforce and capital infrastructure.

Research from our Aspirations Longitudinal study found teaching to be the second most popular career aspiration for young people, including high-achieving students (based on NAPLAN results), demonstrating the continuing high value placed on teaching as a career (Gore, Barron, Holmes & Smith, 2016). Australian teacher education graduates around 12,000 new teachers each year (Mackenzie, Weldon, Rowley, Murphy & McMillan 2014), many of whom will leave the profession within their first five years in a classroom (Schaefer, 2013). While there is contention about the percentage who exit the profession in the first five years, pervasive media and policy discourse suggests varying quality of practice by beginning teachers, who are described as ‘underprepared’ (TEMAG, 2014). Graham (2015), however, argues that claims of beginning teachers as inadequately prepared lacks a solid evidence base.

Drawing from a randomised controlled trial in NSW schools, our research identified no significant differences in the quality of teaching provided by beginning teachers and their more experienced colleagues (Rosser, Gore & Miller, 2019). Despite the considerable challenges that beginning teachers face in building their identity as a teacher, familiarising themselves with organisational processes and further developing their curriculum knowledge (Schaefer, 2013), this finding suggests a need for recognition that, in general, beginning teachers’ bring quality teaching to their classrooms. A second possible explanation for the lack of significant difference in teaching quality between beginning and more experienced teachers is that teachers are not gaining access to high-quality, rigorously tested professional development that fundamentally changes their teaching.

Every year, systems of education invest millions of dollars on professional development (PD) for their teaching workforce. The bulk of this investment is spent on PD to build teachers’ understanding of regulatory requirements or specific content areas but could be better invested in supporting teachers to enhance their teaching practice, the core work of teaching (Gore & Rosser, 2020). Principles of effective PD indicate that teachers learn best when involved in active, collaborative learning, that is sustained over time, aligns with school priorities, focuses on curriculum content, and builds on and extends teacher knowledge and practice (Desimone, 2009). This consensus has been expanded to advocate for PD that is situated in classroom practice and involves teachers in professional learning communities (Borko et al. 2010). While these principles of effective PD are well-known, there is limited research to demonstrate that many PD programs have significant effects on improving the quality of teaching or learning outcomes for students (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), 2015; Kennedy, 2016).

Access to high-quality, rigorously tested PD programs is essential for teachers at all stages of their career. Beginning teachers have identified that professional learning, involving collaboration with colleagues and observations is the most effective in supporting their wellbeing and strengthening their teaching practice (Hazel, 2017; McKenzie et al., 2014). Engaging in observations with more experienced colleagues provides early career teachers with opportunities to develop and gain effective feedback on their teaching. Research from the 2013 OECD TALIS report identified that the provision of opportunities for teachers to engage in collaborative professional learning were linked to increased feelings of self-efficacy and higher job satisfaction (OECD, 2013).

QTR is a rigorously tested approach to PD that engages teachers at all stages of career and across all subject areas in observation, analysis and discussion of the practice of teaching through Professional Learning Communities. Research on the experiences of early career teachers has found that participation in QTR can support them in building valuable professional relationships and empower them to discuss practice with more experienced colleagues. Principles of trust and confidentiality that are foundational to QTR provide all teachers with an opportunity to gain feedback on their teaching without feeling judged or appraised (Gore and Bowe, 2015). For more experienced teachers, participation in QTR has been shown to ‘rejuvenate’ their dedication to practice and support the continuous development of the quality of their teaching as well as their desire to support less experienced colleagues (Gore & Rickards, 2020).

Results from our randomised controlled trials (Gore et al., 2017; Miller et al., 2019) further demonstrate that QTR not only has a significant effect on improving the quality of teaching but also supports the building of teacher morale and collective efficacy. Processes of QTR are grounded in respect for all teachers as professionals and recognition of the complexity of their work. We argue that professional learning should represent an investment on building the capacity of teachers in ways that recognise and value existing expertise within schools.


  1. All teachers should have the opportunity to participate in professional learning experiences that have been rigorously and empirically tested to show a demonstrated impact on practice. The market for PD is now flooded with alternatives, which can make selection of programs difficult for schools and teachers. In this context, the quality of evidence supporting particular initiatives should be interrogated and providers should welcome scrutiny of the effects of their programs on teaching practice.
  1. Steps should be taken to ensure teachers have the time and opportunity to engage in high quality learning experiences. Teacher workloads have been identified as the greatest barrier to teacher engagement in effective PD and collaborative work with colleagues (NSWTF, 2018; TALIS, 2018). As such, there is an onus on schools and school systems to provide adequate time, casual teacher relief and resourcing for teachers to engage in high quality PD.
  2. Pedagogy-focused PD is an important mechanism for improving teaching on a large scale, not just for a specific grade or subject, but for teaching in general. While increasing teachers’ knowledge of content is important, ultimately, what teachers do when they work with students is most powerful in shaping learning experiences. Large scale improvement of teaching requires a focus on the intellectual demands placed on students, the extent to which the environment supports student learning and the degree to which school learning is meaningful beyond the classroom.
  1. Teachers and school leaders need to be provided with a simple mechanism for assessing the effectiveness of PD programs. The new National Evidence Institute is well-positioned to develop a mechanism that provides published criteria and standards against which providers can measure their offerings. This approach would allow system leaders, school leaders and teachers to quickly identify the highest quality programs and provide encouragement for the market to raise the quality and rigor of offerings.


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