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Issue #1714      December 9, 2015

Bigger classes, longer hours

Australian teachers have been working longer hours with bigger classes than the OECD average, according to new research. The OECD’s 2015 Education at a Glance Report – a comparison of OECD nations – also found that Australia’s schools were under-funded by governments in the years before the Gonski reforms.

While Australian teachers are better paid than the OECD average, they are earning their money by dealing with the larger classes and bigger workloads in the Australian system.

In 2013 Australia had higher than average class sizes for Primary Schools – 24 students versus OECD average of 21. Average class sizes for Secondary Schools were 24, the OECD average.

Teaching hours were also longer. Australian teachers in Primary Schools worked 879 hours per year compared to the OECD average of 772, Lower Secondary 821 versus 694, and Upper Secondary 812 versus 643.

For the first time the OECD has acknowledged for the first time the link between bigger classes and behavioural issues. It states that: “Larger classes are correlated with less time spent on teaching and learning, and more time spent on keeping order in the classroom.”

The report found that one additional student added to an average-size class is associated with a 0.5 percentage-point decrease in time spent on teaching and learning activities.

Contrary to some claims, Australia’s school system actually received less government funding than the OECD average in the lead-up to Gonski.

In 2012, combined Australian government spending on schools was 3.4% of GDP, below the 3.5% OECD average.

The research shows that the Australian education system was heavily reliant on private funding (0.6% of GDP versus the 0.2% OECD average) in 2013.

Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe said that the report reinforced the Gonski Review’s recommendations for needs-based funding of Australian schools.

“In the years leading up to the Gonski agreements Australia was spending less on government funding to schools than the OECD average, and this led to bigger class sizes and higher workloads for teachers,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Our sector-based funding policies and heavy reliance on private funding also worsened inequity in our schools.

“Australian teachers are doing more face-to-face teaching than the OECD average, and teaching bigger classes, because our school system is under-resourced.”

Australian teachers are earning more than the OECD average and have seen their wages rise faster in recent years. But the increase of 6.1% over three years is in line with inflation, and is being compared against countries hard hit by the global financial crisis and government austerity policies which have seen cuts to teachers’ salaries.

Next article – Vow to fight mine

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