Professional Learning for School Teachers

Tabled: 20 February 2019

Audit overview

Throughout their careers, teachers undertake various formal and informal learning activities to strengthen their practice, known as professional learning. It is important for education systems to invest in professional learning, as teacher quality has a considerable influence on student outcomes. Overall, the benefits of professional learning should extend beyond the individual teacher to the broader school environment. This is because professional learning is most effective when teachers collaborate with one another to challenge their pre‑existing beliefs and practices.

Two major entities oversee professional learning in Victorian government schools:

  • The Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) is an independent statutory authority responsible for regulating the teaching profession. VIT requires teachers to renew their registration each year to demonstrate their continued competence. As part of this process, teachers make legally‑binding self-declarations that assert whether they have completed at least 20 hours of professional learning over the preceding 12 months.
  • The Department of Education and Training (DET) oversees the provision of primary and secondary schooling in Victoria. DET delivers some professional learning to teachers, but it is neither the major nor the sole provider. Instead, DET's key role is to support schools to create and sustain strong professional learning cultures that encourage collaborative and reflective practices. In 2015, the Victorian Government launched its Education State reform agenda, which committed to enhancing each student's learning outcomes—regardless of their classroom, school, upbringing, or postcode.

VIT and DET are currently implementing widespread change. They are re-evaluating their policies, procedures, and programs with the aim of improving their knowledge of teachers' professional learning needs and practices.

Considering this change, this audit did not examine the efficacy of a specific initiative, rather, we assessed whether VIT and DET have a clear and accurate understanding of the professional learning that occurs in Victorian government schools. As a result, we have not made formal recommendations to either agency, but aim for our observations to influence the development of their professional learning agendas.

Conclusion

Overall, DET's professional learning agenda conforms to best practice principles, as it recognises the importance of student-centred, classroom-based, and teacher-led activities. DET's flagship strategy—the Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO)—encourages principals and teachers to focus their efforts on the areas known to have the greatest impact on school performance. Importantly, FISO's Improvement Cycle reconceptualises professional learning as a routine, everyday practice that requires thorough planning and review. This Improvement Cycle is critical, as principals and teachers must explicitly prioritise their development to ensure that it occurs amidst their busy schedules.

There are also opportunities for DET and VIT to enhance their support for professional learning through improved data analysis. Addressing current gaps in their knowledge will assist both agencies to better target their efforts and evaluate how well their professional learning initiatives are working.

Findings

DET's central and regional offices have significantly improved their oversight of schools' four-year planning cycles through the development of the Strategic Planning Online Tool (SPOT). SPOT enables principals to document their improvement agenda through their four-year school strategic plans (SSP) and associated annual implementation plans (AIP) in an interactive, centralised repository that facilitates systemwide analysis. These plans include a professional learning and development component, which assists DET to monitor how principals plan for the collective growth of their teachers. Despite these planning documents, DET has minimal insight into how teachers' individual goals align with their schools' improvement priorities. It will be increasingly important for DET to enhance its knowledge in this space, as the success of the Education State reform agenda hinges on teachers' uptake of its key professional learning strategies.

DET has commissioned an extensive evaluation of its Professional Learning Communities (PLC) program. This evaluation represents best practice, as DET's external consultants have triangulated multiple sources of information to paint a comprehensive picture of teaching and learning outcomes. There is potential for DET to overlay its various feedback loops—such as the School Staff Survey and teachers' performance and development processes—to develop a broader and better understanding of teachers' practices, perceptions, and priorities.

We also found that DET lacks a thorough understanding of the costs schools incur to develop and implement robust professional learning programs for teachers. It is critical that DET increases its oversight of this area, as insufficient funding may discourage schools from pursuing high-quality professional learning. Without ongoing exposure to professional learning, there is a risk that teachers' practices will stagnate, hindering their ability to nurture students to reach their full potential. DET, therefore, must assure itself that it understands the recurrent costs associated with embedding high-quality professional learning activities—such as coaching and mentoring programs—into teachers' everyday practices. The information will complement DET's strong understanding of schools' planning processes and is necessary to ensure ongoing support for the Education State reforms.

There is also potential for VIT to increase its value to the system by strengthening its data collection and analysis procedures. VIT occupies a unique position, as it interacts with all practising teachers on an annual basis through the renewal of registration process. While VIT collects information from 1 per cent of the workforce regarding the focus and impact of their professional learning activities, it rarely scrutinises this information to gain insight into teachers' professional learning needs and priorities.

The lack of insight diminishes VIT's ability to inform the Minister for Education about teachers' developmental needs—a legislated requirement under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (ETR Act). DET, as a stakeholder of VIT, is also missing a potential source of information that may help it to plan for professional learning in schools.

Given the extensive reform occurring across the school system, it is now opportune for VIT and DET to undertake improvements that enhance their professional learning knowledge in Victorian government schools.

Responses to this report

We have consulted with DET and VIT and considered their views when reaching our audit conclusions. As required by section 16(3) of the Audit Act 1994, we gave a draft copy of this report to those agencies and asked for their submissions or comments. We also provided a copy of the report to the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The following is a summary of those responses. The full responses are included in Appendix A.

DET acknowledged that an enhanced understanding of the cost that schools incur to develop and deliver professional learning programs will strengthen support for the Education State reforms.

VIT plans to implement various actions in response to our findings, including redeveloping its business systems, reviewing its renewal of registration audit, and analysing data to understand teachers' professional learning needs, which it will report onto the Minister for Education and DET.

Back to Top