Chapter 5 - Committee View

Chapter 5Committee View

5.1Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard that student behaviour and engagement in Australian school classrooms is of growing concern to many teachers, school leaders, and parents. This is reinforced by recent international and domestic surveys of teachers and students, which point to a decline in the disciplinary climate in Australian classrooms.

5.2Many teachers who made submissions to the inquiry reported being subjected to increasingly challenging behaviours, including verbal and physical abuse from students and parents. Multiple submitters said that managing disruptive classrooms impacts the psychological wellbeing of teachers, leaving them feeling overwhelmed. This, in turn, contributes to teacher burnout, job dissatisfaction and early exit from the profession.

5.3Evidence to the committee suggests that the causes of disruptive behaviour are complex and influenced by a range of biological, social, environmental, and educational factors. Further, the committee heard that many teachers feel they are not adequately equipped to manage disruptive and disorderly classrooms.

5.4More generally, teachers reported that they are increasingly expected to manage students with complex needs without timely access to relevant supports— particularly qualified professional, health, and school counselling services. Increased workloads were also identified as affecting the ability of teachers to manage student behaviour effectively.

5.5Crucially, disruption to teaching and learning means students receive less instructional time, which can significantly impact learning outcomes. Thecommittee strongly believes that students should not miss out on education because they feel unsafe, nor should they miss out on learning because their lesson is disrupted or fall behind because their needs are not identified and supported. Several participants also noted the positive association between students' perception of their classroom disciplinary climate and their academic performance, even after accounting for socioeconomic status.

5.6In the committee's view, effective evidence-based strategies for addressing classroom behaviour should facilitate calm, safe, and supportive environments where students and staff can succeed in safety and respect.

Addressing the gaps in initial teacher education (ITE)

5.7Better equipping early career teachers to manage disruptive classroom behaviour was a recurrent theme of the inquiry. Participants called for more behaviour management training to be included in ITE courses. However, many submitters strongly suggested that behaviour management skills must be developed and honed in classroom settings, not just learned from a course.

5.8The committee notes that many issues raised during the inquiry regarding ITE have been addressed by the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review and the subsequent recommendations of the Teacher Education Expert Panel, in its 'Strong Beginnings' report, released in July 2023.

5.9The committee supports the recommendations of the Teacher Education Expert Panel with respect to strengthening ITE programs, including establishing and embedding core content and mandating it in national accreditation. This core content should include best practice teaching methods of classroom management and behaviour.

5.10The committee is concerned that implementing these recommendations will take several years. Accordingly, the committee urges Education Ministers to fast-track the implementation of the recommendations. This includes ensuring that core content for ITE programs include evidence-based methods and techniques on classroom management and best practice for teaching and learning.

5.11To that end, the committee recommends that Education Ministers prioritise implementation of 'Priority Reform 1: Strengthening ITE Programs to Deliver Effective Beginning Teachers' from the Teacher Education Expert Panel report.

5.12Further, the committee supports participants' proposals for the employment of preservice teachers within schools, whether through formal mentorship or placement programs, to better prepare them for managing challenging classroom environments. This would help preservice teachers gain experience while providing additional support within schools.

5.13As such, the committee urges Education Ministers to fast-track implementation of 'Priority Reform 3: Improving the Quality of Practical Experience in Teaching' also from the Teacher Education Expert Panel report.

5.14The committee also notes that the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership is developing national guidelines to support early career teachers and new school leaders, including mentoring and induction, as part of the National Teacher Work Force Action Plan. The committee trusts that the new guidelines will also support the effective transition from ITE into the workforce and better prepare teachers for the day-to-day challenges of classroom teaching.

Recommendation 1

5.15The committee recommends that Education Ministers fast-track implementation of the recommendations from the Teacher Education Expert Panel, encompassed in:

Priority Reform 1: Strengthening ITE Programs to Deliver Effective Beginning Teachers; and

Priority Reform 3: Improving the Quality of Practical Experience in Teaching.

Introducing the 'Behaviour Curriculum' into the Australian Curriculum

5.16The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) noted that the Australian Curriculum contains behaviour-related content, focusing on areas such as self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and social management.

5.17However, several submitters argued that a more robust framework for the teaching of behaviour—one that outlines consistent expectations for student behaviour—is necessary.

5.18While the committee recognises that the Australian Curriculum does not outline the pedagogical approach for delivering its content, the committee expects that the explicit teaching of behaviour should be a vital component of the Australian Curriculum. As such, the committee believes that ACARA should introduce a 'Behaviour Curriculum' that will explicitly teach behaviour to help students understand their school's behavioural expectations and values, allowing them to navigate their school's social environment successfully while ensuring that the best possible learning climate is achieved.

5.19Introducing a 'Behaviour Curriculum' will enable a whole-school approach to addressing behaviour in classrooms, which affects the overall learning climate of the school. The committee recognises that the intent behind a 'Behaviour Curriculum' is not to dictate a list of unwanted behaviours but to represent the essential habits and routines that are conducive to learning in a school environment.

5.20For example, staff at Marsden Road Public School receive specialist coaching in how to teach classroom behaviour and students and their parents have a clear understanding of the school's behavioural expectations and values. This is an example of the nurturing of essential habits and routines which support a positive learning environment. Less classroom disruption, in turn, supports improved learning which is key to student wellbeing and teacher satisfaction in the workplace.

Recommendation 2

5.21The committee recommends that the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority strengthen the focus on behaviour within the Australian Curriculum by specifically introducing a 'Behaviour Curriculum'.

Implementation of evidence-based pedagogy and practices

5.22Many submitters argued that there is a clear link between highly effective instructional environments, leadership within schools, classroom management, and behavioural outcomes. To this end, several participants suggested evidence-based practices and frameworks that could help address disruptive behaviour in school classrooms.

5.23The committee heard that explicit instruction models have proven to be effective in addressing disruptive behaviours. The committee also observed first-hand that schools which perform well in classroom behaviour management tend to have a strong commitment to, and knowledge of, explicit teaching practices and the delivery of effective learning environments. For example, the committee saw how the evidence-based Positive Behaviour for Learning model was applied in practice at Marsden Road Public School. This included using explicit instruction, clear expectations of student behaviour, and teaching those expectations and types of behaviour.

5.24The committee recognises the importance of proven teaching methods in the teaching of classroom behaviour, noting that some submitters told the committee many teachers did not feel well supported or have the resources to implement evidence-based teaching methods.

5.25The committee notes that the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) will soon release the first tranche of materials from its 'Engaged Classrooms' initiative to support classroom engagement and professional learning for teachers and school leaders. AERO has also collated and translated the evidence on proven practices which improve student learning into practical guidance for teachers and other educators. The focus of this work is to ensure that teachers can easily apply the best evidence-based teaching strategies in their classrooms.

5.26A number of submitters also emphasised the importance of positive family-school relationships in improving student behaviour, engagement, wellbeing, and self-regulation. It was noted that teachers and schools, working together with parents in managing behavioural issues, can significantly reduce disruptive behaviours in classrooms and foster a shared responsibility for improved student behaviour and academic success.

5.27The committee heard from submitters that early career teachers should also have access to adequate professional learning opportunities on behaviour management that are ongoing, involve active participation, and align well with teachers' professional development goals.

5.28Additionally, the physical learning environment should be conducive to supporting the implementation of these evidence-based teaching methods. While ultimately each school should be able to determine whether traditional or open-plan classrooms work best for them, consideration should be given to the evidence and feedback from students, teachers and parents around classroom layout, with recent pushback, particularly in New South Wales, around the prevalence of open-plan classrooms.

Recommendation 3

5.29The committee recommends that government and non-government education authorities are required to invest in the professional development of teachers, so that they are supported by the latest evidence-based teaching skills to manage classroom behaviour.

Recommendation 4

5.30The committee recommends that Education Ministers, as part of the next National School Reform Agreement, require evidence-based instructional models, such as explicit instruction; formative assessment; mastery learning; and spacing and retrieval, which have been proven effective at creating a learning climate that manages disruptive behaviour in classrooms and provides the best possible learning conditions, to be implemented.

Recommendation 5

5.31The committee notes the lead taken by the NSW Minister for Education and recommends that future school buildings are funded and constructed on the basis that they will deliver the best learning environments for students, such as traditional classrooms, as opposed to open-plan classrooms.

Early identification and intervention

5.32Along with implementing evidence-based classroom practices, the committee heard of the need for early identification and intervention for students with complex needs.

5.33Many submitters underscored the importance of early intervention to support students with behavioural issues when they enter schooling rather than leaving this until later when the cumulative impacts of years of disruptive behaviour can lead to significantly poorer outcomes for those students.

5.34While there is no doubt that better equipping teachers to identify students who may have complex needs is desirable, teachers alone cannot be expected to solve the growing problem of disruptive behaviour. The need for additional resources in schools, particularly behaviour specialists and other allied health professionals, was emphasised by many participants.

5.35Currently, however, such support is often unavailable. There can also be delays in accessing services, particularly in relation to diagnosis. The committee heard that, in some cases, it could take as long as 12 months to get an appointment with a paediatrician and about 24 to 28 months for an autism diagnosis.

5.36The committee therefore supports the need for more timely and effective pathways for schools to refer students to support services. This includes psychologists, social workers, and behaviour specialists to help identify and manage disruptive behaviour.

Recommendation 6

5.37The committee recommends that state and territory governments explore more effective integration between education and healthcare services so schools can have timely access to student support services, including psychologists, social workers, and behaviour specialists, to help identify and manage disruptive behaviour.

Currency and accuracy of data

5.38The committee agrees that better national data is required to fully understand the issue of classroom disruption, particularly the amount of time teachers and school leaders spend managing student behaviour and the effect this has on student outcomes. This should include the reporting of comparative national data on adjustments to support students with disability and the use of exclusionary discipline, including suspensions and expulsions.

5.39Improving the currency and accuracy of data in this area will help create a benchmark for student and school performance. It will also allow monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of policies and programs. To achieve this, the committee recommends the establishment of an annual national survey like the United Kingdom's (UK's) National Behaviour Survey.

5.40The committee found the evidence around the National Behaviour Survey that was introduced in the UK to be a compelling example of how the survey could be implemented in Australia and urges Education Ministers to consider it as a scaffold for how a similar survey could take place in Australia.

5.41Given that the UK survey was conducted in a series of waves and through existing panels surveys carried out by the Department for Education, the Australian version could be completed by all students as part of their NAPLAN tests for appropriate age groups, focusing on students in years 5, 7 and 9. This would also provide the opportunity for additional learning climate matters, other than behaviour, to be included in the survey, to assist schools and to measure their progress across different areas of development.

Recommendation 7

5.42The committee recommends that Education Ministers commission an annual national survey of students and staff on behaviour in schools, including school learning climate, behavioural culture and policies, and the frequency and impact of classroom disruption and schools' responses.

Coordination of a national approach

5.43The committee believes that a national approach to providing resources and access to supports should be developed to help all Australian schools select and implement evidence-informed approaches, programs, and practices for addressing disruptive behaviour.

5.44The committee notes that the upcoming development of the new National School Reform Agreement (NSRA) will provide an opportunity for the NSRA Ministerial Reference Group to consider the inclusion of strategies for addressing disruptive classroom behaviour as one of the priorities for the next NSRA.

5.45An important component of any national approach will be the role of the Unique Student Identifier (USI) in facilitating information sharing between school systems and across state and territory jurisdictions. The USI will be a valuable tool for tracking students who require additional support through the education system by ensuring they don't fall through the cracks.

Recommendation 8

5.46The committee recommends that the National School Reform Agreement Ministerial Reference Group consider including strategies for addressing disruptive classroom behaviour as one of the priorities for the next National School Reform Agreement.

Recommendation 9

5.47The committee urges the National School Reform Agreement Ministerial Reference Group to fast-track the implementation of the National Unique Student Identifier for school students, an initiative of the current National School Reform Agreement.

Senator Matt O'Sullivan