Parents and Teachers - is there a Great Divide in Education?
By Yvette Vignando - 30th January 2011
P.S. I was interviewed about this topic on The Kerri-Anne Show on 31 January. You can watch the brief interview here: Kerri-Anne Show
Today the Sunday Telegraph published a story headlined "Our Great Divide on Schools Revealed." The gist of the article is that parents want more say in the running of schools and they want the best teachers rewarded. I say yes to both of those ideas but I don't believe there's necessarily a "deep divide".
The Telegraph Report on What Parents Want
- 93% of parents said teachers should receive annual performance reviews
- 76% of parents said the best performing teachers in public schools should be paid more
- 82% of parents said feedback from parents should be part of teachers’ performance review
- 84% of parents said they want more information about their children’s schools BUT only 31% think that the MySchool website provides the "right information" to judge school performance.
The survey also indicated that:
- over 50% of parents think schools should be rated so that they can assess the performance of schools and so that pressure can be put on government to improve those schools.
To me, it's clear that parents are much more interested in improving and reviewing the quality of individual teachers than they are in comparing schools. Parents also want better public schools.
Speaking as a Parent, This is What I Want
I want this for parents in Australia:
- to know more about how our own children are performing in class and their potential to perform better. I want more individualised, less formulaic reports and a more differentiated curriculum in the classroom.
- to give regular feedback to school Principals about how our children’s teachers are performing AND how our children’s schools are being managed.
- to know that our feedback is being acted on where there is merit in the feedback.
- to know that our schools' Principals have the financial and human resources to act on the feedback they get from parents.
- to know that our children will be safe and happy at school = discipline and care for the social and emotional development of our children.
- like the 92% of respondents surveyed on the happychild website (see left-hand column) I want emotional intelligence (social and emotional skills) taught in schools.
- to have our teachers paid well and performance–managed like other critical professional groups in our community.
- Like 89% of respondents reported on in the Sunday Telegraph article, I want more money to be spent on public schools
And What Do Teachers Say About Performance Ratings?
The Telegraph article reports that:
- 49% of teachers surveyed do not want excellent teachers to receive more than their colleagues that under-perform. This could be for two reasons – either they don't think there are sufficient systems in place to provide accurate performance review (true, in my opinion) or they are philosophically opposed to the idea. I don’t know which and I would love the answer.
- 90% of teachers believe that colleagues who underperform should be encouraged to change profession.
- 48% of teachers do not want “bad teachers” to be sacked: it's not clear in the article what they do want to happen to those teachers.
- teachers "do not want parents to help review teacher performance". (I'm unsure of the source of this statement.)
I tried to contact the author of the article in the Sunday Telegraph to find out how many teachers responded to the survey and to obtain the results of the teachers' responses to the survey (not published) but I was told he is not available until Tuesday and nobody else could answer my questions. I don't know if the figures reported about teachers are from the same survey.
Is There a Divide Between Teachers and Parents?
I do think that higher performing teachers should be rewarded like other professionals: with higher pay, public recognition for their achievements and more opportunities to progress through their profession and take on leadership roles. But I don't think there is a system or resources in place to allow for Principals and the DET to conduct reliable performance reviews of individual teachers in public schools. (I suspect that a similar comment could be made about private schools and their governing associations.) Principals simply don't have the time, systems or people available to do this.
Some teachers may be feeling defensive about parents wanting more input and voice on what they expect. A minority of teachers may even feel that parents are not sufficiently qualified to comment on the quality of their child’s education. However, I suspect the majority of teachers are concerned that the same unpopular approach of the MySchool website project (that, according to the Telegraph survey, only 31% of parents support) would be applied to them having their performances reviewed. Or is it something else that teachers are concerned about? I would love to hear your views.
The bottom line for me is that parents must have a say in the quality of their children's education. And another disclosure: I don't like the MySchool website and I would never use it.
Where Does the "Divide" Between Parents and Teachers Come From?
In Australia, teachers have not been professionally developed and paid in a way that treats them as respected and vital members of the community - not in the same way that other critical professions are treated (e.g. doctors, judges). Being public servants, public school teachers are also at the mercy of ever-decreasing budgets and political debates about public versus private education. Even private school teachers, in my opinion, are a victim of this history. The HSC mark required to train as a teacher in Australia is still relatively low and teaching is, on the whole, not a first choice profession for our top High School and University graduates.
The "divide" whether it is deep or superficial has come about because parents are (rightly so) becoming more sophisticated and demanding consumers of the education system and teachers are feeling that pressure.
At the same time that parents are demanding more from public schools, the government has been reported to have more than doubled funding to Sydney’s richest private schools over the last decade. Parents are making massive sacrifices to send their children to private schools where they believe (rightly or wrongly) that their child will get a better education – the survey reports 61% of parents think their child will have a better chance of academic success in a private school.
If the Federal and state governments don't put in place a system for raising the status, quality and salaries of teachers in public and private schools in Australia and if they do not give parents more of a voice – students will continue to be deprived of the opportunity they deserve to reach their personal potential.