Professional Learning for School Teachers

Tabled: 20 February 2019

3 DET's knowledge of professional learning

For professional learning to become ingrained in the everyday practices of teachers, education systems must support schools to create and sustain cultures that value continuous improvement. This is critical to DET's vision for a smarter, fairer and more prosperous Victoria, as increasing the effectiveness of teaching is positively correlated with improvements in student outcomes. DET encourages this systemic change through FISO—the Education State agenda's flagship strategy. FISO informs schools' four-year strategic and annual planning cycles—including the development of their SSPs and AIPs—and emphasises the importance of key professional learning principles, such as collaboration, reflection, and inquiry.

Planning is essential to the development of strong professional learning cultures, as principals and teachers must explicitly prioritise their development to ensure that it occurs amidst their busy schedules. The four-year strategic and annual planning cycles contain various milestones, which, if analysed appropriately, may provide DET with critical information regarding the uptake of key professional learning activities in Victorian government schools.

In this part of the report, we assessed whether DET understands:

  • the professional learning that teachers practise and prioritise through the four-year strategic and annual planning cycles, and their PDPs
  • the cost of professional learning incurred by schools
  • the impact of professional learning—including its key initiatives—on teachers' practices.

3.1 Conclusion

The new SPOT highlights DET's commitment to significant structural change. It provides DET with oversight of schools' four-year strategic and annual planning cycles, including their professional learning needs and practices. SPOT reduces schools' administrative burden, as it enables principals to submit information using a central, interactive template. Overall, SPOT is a positive development for the sector, as it shows DET's willingness to engage with schools on a deeper level by capturing vital information about the barriers and enablers to their success.

The Continua, as well as DET's four-year strategic and annual planning cycles, emphasise the importance of best practice professional learning principles, such as collaboration, adaptation, and reflection. Despite this focus, DET has minimal insight into how each school's improvement priorities align with the goals of their individual teachers. This is because the targets outlined in schools' SSPs and AIPs do not prepopulate in teachers' PDPs, and DET does not conduct any aggregate analysis of the latter's content. DET also lacks assurance that principals conduct teachers' performance and development cycles in a manner that encourages ongoing discussion and collaboration. It is critical for DET to address this gap in its oversight, as the success of the Education State reform agenda hinges on teachers' uptake of its key professional learning strategies.

DET lacks guidance that helps schools to accurately record the cost of their professional learning. As a result, it is unlikely that schools consistently use the correct codes to catalogue their expenditure, which diminishes DET's understanding of the costs schools incur to support on-site and off-site professional learning. This lack of information about costs also means it is difficult to demonstrate the extent to which schools' Student Resource Package allocations sufficiently cover the cost of professional learning—a factor which could discourage principals and teachers from participating in best practice activities.

DET's program-specific evaluations regarding the impact of professional learning have a robust methodology, as they draw on multiple data sources to paint a comprehensive picture of performance and outcomes. DET, however, could investigate additional opportunities to use the data collected through its annual School Staff Survey, which provides valuable information regarding teachers' attitudes to professional learning and the broader school environment.

3.2 DET's knowledge of professional learning

Professional learning at the school level

DET supports government schools to participate in four-year strategic and annual planning cycles composed of various milestones, including a pre-review self-evaluation, a formal review, and the development, implementation, and analysis of their SSP and AIPs. Schools must create a professional learning and development plan as part of their AIPs. This helps schools to identify their professional learning priorities for the following 12 months. As discussed in Part 1, FISO's Improvement Model outlines six high-impact initiatives for schools to enact during this cycle, including the obligation to 'build practice excellence'. This obligation requires schools to establish collaborative teaching teams that thrive on self-reflection and constructive feedback.

DET's management of schools' four-year strategic and annual planning cycles

In late 2017, DET transitioned schools from a static, offline planning system to SPOT—a more robust, interactive platform. SPOT is a comprehensive, web‑based repository that enables schools to manage their pre-review self‑evaluation, SSP, and AIPs in a single location. DET's previous system increased schools' administrative burden, as it required principals to submit multiple, static files through different software applications, which diminished DET's ability to monitor the contents and completion rates of schools' SSPs and AIPs, as its systems did not support centralised analysis. DET, therefore, had limited assurance that schools effectively engaged with the cycle, used up‑to‑date templates, or embedded key Education State reform strategies—such as the Continua—into their planning documents.

SPOT, however, provides DET with greater visibility regarding schools' participation in their four-year strategic and annual planning cycles. It requires schools to input their goals, targets, key improvement strategies, and monitoring arrangements in a consistent format. If used effectively, this should enable DET to map schools' needs and preferences regarding professional learning. In addition, SPOT aligns each planning milestone against FISO's Improvement Cycle and requires schools to biannually assess their performance against the objectives outlined in their AIPs, as well as the Continua. As discussed in Part 1, the Continua enables schools to pinpoint their status as either emerging, evolving, embedding, or excelling, and outlines their expected capabilities at each stage. SPOT, therefore, requires schools to engage with FISO and regularly exposes them to best practice principles for school improvement, such as the need to participate in regular professional learning. DET plans to incorporate schools' formal review function into SPOT during Term 2, 2019. This will further ease schools' administrative burden and provide DET with greater oversight of how the recommended key directions from schools' four-year reviews translate into their strategic planning.

Importantly, DET is beginning to leverage the information collected through SPOT to understand how schools progress through FISO's Improvement Cycle. For example, DET has advised that its analysis of SPOT shows that 79 per cent of schools selected 'building practice excellence' as a priority in 2018, demonstrating that principals are targeting enhanced professional learning as a lever for school improvement. According to DET, the data also shows that 91 per cent of schools completed their mid-year monitoring in SPOT, with 74 per cent indicating that their improvement initiatives are either completed or progressing as scheduled. SPOT also has a dashboard functionality, which enables DET to filter the results of schools' self-assessments against the Continua by area and region. Going forward, this type of analysis should enable DET to assist schools in a more targeted and informed manner.

Another aspect of DET's management of schools' planning cycles is through the work of its senior education improvement leaders (SEIL). The Regional Services Group uses SEILs to oversee the development, implementation, and evaluation of schools' planning milestones. Each SEIL helps approximately 25 schools to embed FISO—and thus professional learning—within their day-to-day operations. SEILs tailor their support using the Differentiated School Performance Method. This draws on various datasets to determine whether a school's achievement places it in either the transform, recharge, renew, stretch or influence performance group. These groups respectively correlate to low, declining, static, improving, or high performance. This enables SEILs to purposefully target schools that require greater assistance.

We encourage DET to provide SEILs with ongoing guidance that supports them to confidently discharge their duties regarding the four-year strategic and annual planning cycles—particularly their obligation to help schools embed professional learning within their SSPs and AIPs. In 2017≠–18, DET offered various training sessions to SEILs to enhance their capabilities, which demonstrates a commitment to workforce development. We also advise DET to evaluate whether an average of 25 schools is an appropriate workload for SEILs, as stakeholders conveyed to us that regional staff are becoming increasingly burdened with new responsibilities due to the extensive reform agenda. It is important for DET to address this issue, as its strategic risk register notes that the school review process is critical to enhancing teachers' practices and improving student outcomes.

Figure 3A shows that SEILs are integral to the four-year strategic and annual planning cycles and thus the implementation of professional learning in government schools.

Figure 3A
Key components of schools' four-year strategic and annual planning cycles

What is the process?

Who is involved?

Who oversees this process?

Pre-review self-evaluation

The pre-review self-evaluation is an in‑depth assessment undertaken every four years in the term preceding the school's formal review. To complete the pre-review self-evaluation, the school compiles information from various sources to demonstrate its performance against the objectives of the previous SSP. This involves identifying the barriers to and enablers of success, as well as collaboratively determining the school's proficiency levels against all 16 dimensions of the Continua.

The school's principal and improvement team are responsible for leading the pre‑review self-evaluation. They should seek input from the wider school community, including students, parents/carers, and staff.

DET's Regional Services Group directly oversees this process through the SEIL. The SEIL's role is to constructively challenge the evidence put forward by schools, provide feedback, and assist with analysis.

Upon completion, the principal, school council president, and the SEIL endorse the pre-review self‑evaluation in SPOT.

School review

Led by the School Review Panel, this multi‑week process encompasses a more in-depth, evidence-based evaluation of the school's performance against the previous SSP. The panel builds on the pre-review self-evaluation undertaken in the preceding term and aims to validate the school's proficiency levels against the Continua—particularly regarding the Excellence in Teaching and Learning dimension—through a day of dedicated fieldwork.

Reviewers primarily assess the school's teaching practice, whether staff successfully 'amplify' and consider the student voice, the efficacy of leadership, and curriculum content. The panel collects this information through targeted questioning, and undertakes further fieldwork, such as classroom observations and focus groups with members of the school community, including students and staff. At the conclusion of the review, the panel produces a final collaborative assessment of the school's proficiency levels against the Continua, and recommends key directions for the school's new SSP.

The School Review Panel conducts this process. Its core members include an accredited reviewer independently appointed by DET's central office, as well as the SEIL, the principal, and the school council president. The panel also comprises two challenge partners (leading educators or experts in other fields relevant to the school's improvement focus selected by the principal and SEIL) and members of the school community.

DET's central office manages the contract for a panel of independent school reviewers. It provides reviewers, principals, SEILs, and challenge partners with dedicated professional learning to support their involvement in the process.

In addition, DET's central office quality assures all reports undertaken by new reviewers, and those produced for schools in the transform performance group (DET's most vulnerable schools). DET has also advised that it randomly assesses a further 20 to 25 per cent of all other reports. These reinforce the quality assurance checks undertaken by SEILs and principals at the completion of each review.

SSP

Following the review, the school produces a new SSP with support from their SEIL. The SSP is a single-page, high-level document that outlines the school's vision, goals, and targets for the next four years, as well as the key improvement strategies and FISO dimensions that underlie their achievement. As a living document, the school may update its SSP each year.

The principal develops the SSP in conjunction with the school improvement team, school council, SEIL, and wider community.

Upon completion, the principal, school council president, and SEIL endorse the SSP in SPOT. DET's relevant regional director also approves the plan as the Secretary's delegate.

AIPs

The AIP outlines 12-month targets that contribute to the achievement of the SSP's four-year objectives. Schools, therefore, will complete four AIPs over the course of DET's planning cycle.

The AIP articulates the key improvement strategies that school will employ, as well as the actions and resources that underlie them. Schools must also state what success looks like, as well as the evidence they will use to demonstrate its achievement. Importantly, each school must complete a professional learning and development plan to enhance the capability of its workforce.

The principal develops the AIPs in consultation with the school's improvement team and the wider community.

The principal and SEIL approve the AIP in SPOT, while the school council president endorses its contents.

Schools, with the support of their SEILs, have a responsibility to monitor the implementation of their AIPs using the Continua. To complete this, schools must self-evaluate their performance biannually and submit evidence of impact through SPOT for their SEILs to review.=spelle>

Source: VAGO, derived from DET.

Schools' professional learning and development plans

Since October 2017, DET has required schools to complete a professional learning and development plan as part of their AIPs, which requires schools to identify up to three professional learning priorities that promote collaborative and inquiry-driven practice. As discussed in Figure 3A, these support the achievement of schools' key improvement strategies, which breakdown their yearly targets into smaller, incremental actions. Importantly, schools must also define 'evidence of impact,' such as the anticipated changes to teachers' knowledge, mindsets, and skills. Schools record their professional learning priorities in SPOT using an interactive template. This provides DET with assurance that schools input their data in a consistent manner. Against each professional learning priority, schools must specify:

  • who will attend the activity
  • where and when the activity will occur
  • the key professional learning strategies that it will employ, such as peer observation or inquiry-based research
  • the organisational structures that will permit the activity to occur, for example, timetabled planning days
  • the type of expertise accessed, such as SEILs, in-school experts, or external professional learning providers.

The 70:20:10 model suggests that employees should derive 70 per cent of their development from on-the-job experiences, 20 per cent from interactions with others (such as coaching), and 10 per cent from formal sessions (such as attendance at conferences, courses, and seminars).

In 2018, DET developed the quality assessment tool to help schools create comprehensive AIPs. The tool reiterates the importance of FISO's Improvement Cycle by echoing its four key stages—evaluate and diagnose; prioritise and set goals; develop and plan; implement and monitor. It describes DET's expectations for each step by outlining a comprehensive suite of criteria. For example, the professional learning and development plan must align to the school's broader 12-month targets, promote collaborative and evidence-based practice, and prioritise classroom-based activities (as per the 70:20:10 model). The latter is important for schools to implement, as they are not presently investing in the most effective forms of professional learning. DET-commissioned research by a private consultancy firm in 2015 shows that most professional learning occurs through formal sessions—75 per cent of surveyed teachers participated in courses and workshops, while 63 per cent attended conferences and seminars. Part 3.3 provides more information about the size of school investment in this type of learning.

SEILs use SPOT to provide each principal with feedback regarding their AIP. This includes whether their school's AIP conforms to the quality assessment tool's criteria. Overall, the quality assessment tool is a positive development, as it should promote consistency across DET's regions.

Monitoring the AIP and the professional learning and development plan

SEILs endorse schools' professional learning and development plans through SPOT as part of the AIP submission process. This provides them with oversight regarding their schools' needs and priorities. DET expects schools to continually monitor their AIPs in short learning cycles of six to eight weeks throughout the year. This encourages schools to practise adaptive and reflective behaviour. Likewise, principals must formally document their mid-year monitoring discussions in SPOT and evaluate their progress at the end of the year against the AIP's goals and targets, as well as the delivery of their key improvement strategies. The latter should occur with the support of their SEILs, who have a professional obligation to ensure that principals establish an on-site, evidence‑based professional learning program that embraces collaborative practice.

The VGSA introduced four professional practice days for teachers each year. Professional practice days free teachers from their scheduled duties, such as classroom instruction, and enable them to undertake activities that enhance their knowledge and skills.

To ensure its reform agenda is appropriately targeted, we encourage DET to routinely analyse the information that it collects through SPOT about schools' professional learning and development plans. This is important, as internal documentation shows that the four-year strategic and annual planning cycles are DET's chief mechanism to support the implementation of the VGSA's new entitlements, including professional practice days. Despite this, neither the professional learning and development plan nor teachers' individual PDPs contain a section dedicated to the organisation of their professional practice days. DET should consider strengthening the link between the professional learning and development plan and teachers' professional practice days during bargaining for the next enterprise agreement.

Likewise, the Continua states that high-performing schools should develop, implement, monitor, and evaluate their professional learning and development plans using student data. We encourage DET to develop checks to ensure that this occurs in practice. DET should also interrogate the plans of high-performing schools to understand the conditions that led to their success and share these with the broader system. This will encourage schools to learn from one another, reducing duplication of effort.

Professional learning at the teacher level

In systems that value continuous improvement, there is a strong connection between professional learning and staff performance and development processes. This is because high-performing staff embrace new opportunities, innovative research, and reflective behaviour—all facets of high-quality professional learning. In the context of schools, this means that professional learning is neither a discrete nor isolated practice, rather, it should permeate all aspects of teachers' day-to-day operations.

According to DET's Performance and Development Guidelines for the Teacher Class (2018), principals must support teachers to engage in collaborative practices such as mentoring and inquiry-based research. The guidelines also note that teachers' PDPs should explicitly link to the activities and milestones outlined in their schools' SSPs and AIPs. The link between individual and group priorities is pivotal to the Education State's reform agenda, as firmly embedding professional learning into schools' day-to-day routines requires a concentrated, collective effort from DET, principals, and teachers.

The development of teachers' PDPs

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound. According to research, it is important for teachers to set detailed goals with a clear starting point. This concentrates their actions and increases the likelihood of their achievement.

In 2017, DET implemented an online PDP system for teachers to use from 2018. To initiate their performance and development cycles, teachers meet with their reviewers to reflect on the previous year and discuss their aspirations. Teachers describe their learning intentions through four SMART goals that align with their schools' overarching improvement strategies, as well as with AITSL's key domains—professional knowledge, professional practice, professional engagement—and student outcomes. Teachers then identify the strategies that will enable them to achieve these goals and the evidence they will use to underpin their achievement. According to AITSL's Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework, published in 2012, the latter should encompass—at a minimum—data that shows a tangible impact on student outcomes, evidence of collaboration with colleagues, and information derived from peer observation sessions. We encourage DET to develop checks to ensure that these activities occur in practice.

In addition, teachers have a mid-cycle discussion with their reviewers to discuss any barriers to or enablers of success, and a formal review at the end of the year. DET expects teachers to engage in regular, informal discussions with their reviewers over the course of the cycle.

Analysing the data captured in teachers' PDPs

According to its guidelines, DET will only ever scrutinise PDP data at the aggregate-level. It will never assess this information for individual teachers or schools. This means that DET has limited assurance that the goals outlined in teachers' PDPs align with their schools' SSPs and AIPs. We encourage DET to develop a robust accountability mechanism that maintains the privacy of its teachers. This mechanism should not be punitive, but simply aim to ensure that DET's strategic planning cycle functions as intended.

In addition, we saw no evidence that DET uses its online system to assess the integrity of teachers' PDPs—such as their completeness, accuracy, or timeliness—or that it conducts any of the aforementioned aggregate-level analysis. In future strategic planning cycles, we encourage DET to assess this data to produce high-level insights regarding teachers' professional learning practices, as well as the barriers and enablers to their success. This will provide information about the value of the performance and development process to teachers, as well as the use and impact of their professional practice days.

Link between teachers' PDPs and their schools' professional learning and development plans

DET's new PDP process is separate to the SPOT platform and forms part of its eduPay system, which covers human resources and payroll. As a result, the goals and targets outlined in schools' SSPs, AIPs, and professional learning and development plans do not prepopulate in teachers' PDPs, which limits DET's assurance that teachers' PDPs reflect their schools' overarching improvement strategies. To bridge this gap, DET released a factsheet that helps teachers to link the SSP and AIP to their individual aspirations. It also enables teachers to articulate how their goals relate to FISO. While this factsheet is a good prompt, it is a non-compulsory element of teachers' PDPs, as DET has not embedded it within the online template. We encourage DET to consider ways to further align its systems and strategies to ensure that it formally includes the importance of collaborative professional learning in the PDP process.

3.3 DET's knowledge of the professional learning costs incurred by schools

In addition to the strategic insight discussed in the previous section, DET needs accurate information regarding the cost of on-site and off-site professional learning to ensure that schools have sufficient funds to budget for these activities. This information should improve the uptake of DET's reform agenda, as to implement their professional learning and development plans, schools may require funds to release teachers from their regular classroom duties.

The Grattan Institute's 2014 report, Making time for great teaching, observes that professional learning programs often fail due to insufficient resourcing, so governments must thoroughly understand the true cost of professional learning, as well as the time required for its effective implementation.

Funding arrangements for Victorian government schools

Since 2005, DET has funded Victorian government schools through the Student Resource Package. The Student Resource Package determines each school's unique budget by assessing their complexities against 49 reference points. These reference points consider the school's operating environment—such as its size and location—as well as the needs of its cohort, including the number of students with a disability. The amount of funding that schools spend on professional learning will vary, as DET's central office empowers principals to make local decisions for local needs. DET, however, has no guidance regarding the expected cost of professional learning for different school types, nor does it conduct any overarching analysis.

Budgeting for professional learning

Principals—in conjunction with their school councils—develop an annual budget that operationalises the goals and targets of their SSPs and AIPs. Ideally, this budget should reflect the priorities outlined in their professional learning and development plans. According to the Student Resource Package 2018 Guide (Revised), DET expects principals to develop a staff replacement strategy that considers teachers' planned and unplanned absences. Schools must budget for casual relief teachers (CRT) as part of this process. CRTs are a valuable resource, as they cover classes while teachers attend on-site and off-site professional learning activities. It is important for schools to appropriately budget for CRTs, as failure to do so may derail the achievement of their professional learning and development plans.

Reporting the cost of professional learning

Schools use CASES21—DET's standardised administrative system—to manage their budget, including the cost of professional learning. DET requires schools to enter their expenditure using the Chart of Accounts for Victorian Government Schools (Chart of Accounts).

The Chart of Accounts groups transactions into programs, sub-programs, and initiatives. DET has a sub-ledger for each school to oversee their individual transactions. This information feeds into DET's general ledger, showing the net transactions across Victorian government schools. The Chart of Accounts contains various reporting codes, as well as their associated descriptions. It is DET's chief mechanism for ensuring that schools enter their financial information in an accurate manner.

When schools record an expense, they must input a general ledger code, followed by a subprogram code. The former categorises the type of expenditure, while the latter provides more specific information regarding its content. DET has one general ledger code that explicitly relates to professional learning—see Figure 3B. Schools then enter the subprogram code '7010—Professional Development' to finalise the expenditure's entry.

Figure 3B
DET's general ledger code for professional learning

Account code

Account title

Account description

86910

Conferences/Courses/ Seminars

Incurred for conferences, conventions, lectures, meetings, speeches, Q&A sessions, training sessions

Source: VAGO, derived from the Chart of Accounts for Victorian Government Schools (Version 7.5.5 July 2018).

In addition, DET has a general ledger code that enables schools to record their CRT-related expenses—see Figure 3C.

Figure 3C
DET's general ledger code for CRTs

Account code

Account title

Account description

80071

Casual Relief Teaching Staff

Salary paid to a CRT who is employed by the school council for up to and including 30 days

Source: VAGO, derived from the Chart of Accounts for Victorian Government Schools (Version 7.5.5 July 2018).

If schools use a CRT to facilitate professional learning activities, they may input the subprogram code '7010—Professional Development'. We requested an extract of this information from CASES21 for the years 2014, 2015, and 2016, but DET advised that it cannot differentiate between the expenditure used to cover the different uses of CRTs (such as illnesses or planned leave).

DET does not provide any guidance to schools regarding the cataloguing of professional learning activities. As a result, it is unlikely that schools consistently use the subprogram code 7010 to attribute the cost of CRTs to the appropriate area. Critically, this means that DET does not understand the true cost of professional learning. DET requires all schools to publish their expenditure relating to conferences, courses, and seminars in their annual reports under the category, 'professional development'. This reporting, however, is inaccurate, as it does not encapsulate the total cost associated with implementing in-school professional learning programs or contracting CRTs to cover teachers' absences. Going forward, we encourage DET to evaluate its internal reporting mechanisms to ensure that schools accurately account for the breadth of their professional learning activities. This will provide DET with better quality information on schools' expenditure and will increase the transparency of its public reporting.

Currently, DET has limited assurance that the budgets provided to schools sufficiently support them to participate in professional learning. It is important for DET to increase its understanding of professional learning costs, as failure to appropriately budget for this activity could compromise the ability of schools to realise DET's reform objectives. In 2018, DET increased schools' total student per capita funding by an average of 1.44 per cent to cover the costs associated with implementing the VGSA's professional practice days. These costs could include the employment of CRTs to ensure continuity for students. However, without an accurate understanding of schools' use of CRTs to facilitate both on‑site and off-site professional learning activities, DET has limited assurance that this is a commensurate funding increase. We encourage DET to capture and analyse this information to ensure that schools' Student Resource Package allocations incorporate the true cost of undertaking professional learning activities.

Investing in effective professional learning

During 2014, 2015, and 2016, Victorian government schools spent $107 332 725 on attendance at conferences, courses, and seminars—see Figure 3D.

Figure 3D
Expenditure coded to Conferences/Courses/Seminars, as well as associated hospitality and light refreshments costs

Calendar year

Expenditure

2014

$ 34 733 125

2015

$ 34 700 503

2016

$ 37 899 097

Total

$ 107 332 725

Source: VAGO, derived from DET.

This expenditure represents a sizable portion of schools' funding—particularly considering the consensus that attendance at conferences is the least effective form of professional learning. We encourage DET to develop guidance that helps schools to invest in activities known to have the greatest impact on teachers' practices, such as the development of in-school professional learning programs that are teacher led and classroom based. Although the Continua articulates what high-quality professional learning looks like in schools, DET should assess whether principals and teachers require more information regarding their on‑the‑ground implementation.

3.4 Evaluating the impact of professional learning

Ineffective professional learning programs waste teachers' valuable time, deplete DET's finite resources, and fail to positively harness students' potential. While there is some evaluation within its four-year strategic and annual planning cycles, DET needs further assurance that its programs improve outcomes for Victoria's teachers and their students. This is because effective evaluation processes use multiple sources of evidence to paint a comprehensive picture of school performance.

In this part of the report, we outline DET's initiatives to support best practice professional learning in schools. We then assess whether DET evaluates their impact on teachers in a routine and systematic manner.

DET's programs to support professional learning for teachers

Research suggests that governments must function as role models to induce practice and behavioural changes in principals and teachers. Historically, DET has not provided teachers with curriculum advice or information about effective pedagogical strategies and techniques. DET has recently entered this space and is developing a suite of guidelines and tools that aim to strengthen teachers' practices, which is a positive development.

Victorian Teaching and Learning Model

In February 2018, DET introduced the Victorian Teaching and Learning Model to translate FISO's improvement strategies into everyday practice. This model helps DET to deliver high-quality teaching to every student in every classroom.

DET has developed three tools to support this vision, which are available for public download on its website:

  • Practice Principles for Excellence in Teaching and Learning—this document explores nine signature pedagogies that foster high-quality learning for students. DET has collated the pedagogies' underlying evidence and developed a suite of actions and indicators that explicitly outline their best practice implementation.
  • The pedagogical model—this describes the cyclical nature of effective practice—engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate—and helps teachers to apply the practice principles in their classrooms.
  • High Impact Teaching Strategies—this document outlines 10 evidence‑based instructional practices that reliably increase student learning, such as setting goals and structuring lessons.

DET is currently conducting early analysis of the model, and monitors schools' uptake of these tools through SPOT as a proxy for their impact. It also surveyed principals at Area Forums to better understand the resources that they would need to effectively implement the model.

In Our Classrooms

DET's 'In Our Classrooms' initiative creates an online space for teachers to explore evidence-based strategies and remain abreast of new professional learning opportunities. DET has comprehensively assessed teachers' engagement with the site to increase the specificity and relatability of its content. DET has undertaken this analysis because it is wary of oversaturating teachers with conceptually vague information, inducing 'frequency fatigue'—a hesitancy to engage with updated content due to the perception that it will be time-consuming and difficult to navigate. By analysing the number of hits its webpages receive—as well as the length of time users spend on the webpages—DET has found that teachers favour resources with direct classroom application as opposed to those that require significant interpretation. As a result, DET has made various recommendations for the development of future content, such as a clearer focus on outcomes, reduced repetition, and better signposting. This shows that DET is committed to ensuring that its instructional material is valuable to teachers.

Literacy and Numeracy Strategy

In June 2018, DET published the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy Phase 2: Achieving Excellence and Equity in Literacy and Numeracy (Literacy and Numeracy Strategy). This succeeded Version 1, which DET released in June 2017. The strategy supports teachers to engage in ongoing professional learning that enhances their practice. The Victorian Government's Education State agenda focuses on these foundational disciplines, as they help students to pursue lifelong learning, participate in the workforce, and contribute to society. The strategy aims to provide teachers and school leaders with access to practical, evidence-based resources that enhance their knowledge of the curriculum, pedagogical research, and different assessment frameworks.

In 2018–19, the Victorian Government allocated $22.1 million to the strategy's implementation across a four-year period. The strategy helps teachers to strengthen their practice through the following:

  • The Victorian Literacy Portal—this includes the Literacy Teaching Toolkit, which contains instructional advice, expert videos, sample lessons, case studies and collated evidence, as well as tailored support for Koorie students.
  • The Victorian Numeracy Portal—this includes the Mathematics Curriculum Companion, which assembles online resources and teaching ideas.
  • The Insight Assessment Platform—this contains a series of online assessments that teachers can use to better understand the needs of their students.
  • The Teacher Reference Group—this provides a critical interface between DET's central office and its teaching workforce to ensure that guidance regarding professional practice is relevant and targeted. In 2018, the Teacher Reference Group met once per term. It consists of 15 teachers with diverse backgrounds sourced from across the state.
  • Other professional learning opportunities delivered through the Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership (Bastow) that target schools' literacy and numeracy leaders.

The Victorian Government allocated an additional $187 million to the Middle Years Literacy and Numeracy Support Initiative in October 2018. The initiative aims to provide intensive, individualised support to students in Years 8 to 10 that are at risk of finishing school without the foundational skills needed for future work or study. From 2019, nominated teachers will receive professional learning through Bastow to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for these students.

DET's evaluation of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy

Similar to its evaluation of the In Our Classrooms initiative, DET has begun to assess how teachers engage with its guidance on school-based professional learning activities:

  • the Literacy Teaching Toolkit received 774 012 visits from 1 January to 31 October 2018, making it one of DET's most valued resources for schools—importantly, teachers' use of this tool has increased over time, demonstrating its long-term effectiveness
  • the Victorian Literacy Portal has received 33 485 unique visits from 1 January to 31 October 2018, while the Victorian Numeracy Portal had 18 932 visits
  • in Term 1 of 2018, DET surveyed 160 schools and found that 77 per cent reported using the Literacy Teaching Toolkit (it received 10 020 homepage visits during March) while 92 per cent referenced DET's High Impact Teaching Strategies
  • all primary and specialist schools adopted a literacy-focused key improvement strategy as part of their AIPs for 2018, demonstrating the overarching relevance of DET's reform agenda.

DET has performed some basic, preliminary analysis regarding the distribution of its tools and guidance. However, due to the strategy's newness, DET is yet to assess whether it has positively impacted teachers and students. DET advised it has recently developed a monitoring and evaluation framework for the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, which it will implement from 2019.

Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership

Bastow is DET's key professional learning branch. It supports DET's reform initiatives by delivering a range of programs that aim to strengthen teachers' skills and knowledge. Bastow predominately focuses on leadership initiatives, as its primary objective is to foster a pipeline of aspiring principals. Despite its objective, Bastow also delivers programs that target high-performing classroom teachers, such as learning specialists and literacy leaders. DET subsidises schools' participation in most Bastow programs and offers further financial assistance to small schools, as well as those located in rural and regional areas.

Bastow's support for the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy

In 2017, DET required all primary and specialist school principals to nominate literacy leaders—teachers with strong instructional capabilities in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. These teachers managed their schools' overarching literacy strategies and attended Bastow induction workshops to hone their skills. The course helps teachers to understand how FISO relates to their day-to-day practice, plan literacy initiatives to maximise student outcomes, and embed key departmental tools—such as High Impact Teaching Strategies—into their work. DET then expected literacy leaders to share their experiences by delivering professional learning activities to their colleagues. Importantly, teachers from 99.7 per cent of primary schools completed the literacy leader induction workshops across 2017 and 2018, with 93 per cent of participants indicating that the course was relevant to their work.

DET further encourages these teachers to build their capabilities through the Leading Literacy for Networks course—Bastow's central Education State initiative. The course encompasses five days of professional learning delivered over a six-month period, and shares up-to-date research, innovative pedagogical strategies, and effective evaluation methods. Master trainers—network‑nominated expert teachers—deliver the course, and DET later surveyed them to gauge their reflections. Of the 50 per cent that responded, 100 per cent either agreed or strongly agreed that the course enables them to stimulate professional conversations and self-analysis among their participants. This suggests that master trainers are successfully encouraging teachers to critique their pre-existing practices and perceptions. Qualitative feedback, however, suggests that master trainers require a funded preparatory day to ensure they have a thorough understanding of the course materials. Since July 2018, 1 269 teachers across 59 intakes have participated in the course, with further workshops planned for 2019–22.

By the end of 2018, all primary and specialist school principals must nominate teachers with equivalent responsibility for their schools' numeracy strategies. Secondary school principals must also appoint experts from both disciplines to receive similar training. We also encourage DET to consider offering an organised program of professional learning for regular teaching staff that is similar to its Bastow initiatives for school leaders.

Bastow's support for Learning Specialists

As discussed in Part 1, the VGSA introduced the Learning Specialist classification—a new position that enables high-performing teachers to progress their careers while remaining in the classroom. DET began hiring Learning Specialists in 2017 for commencement in Term 1, 2018. DET fully subsidises Learning Specialists' participation in various Bastow courses to strengthen their skills. DET has collected basic information regarding the initial implementation of this initiative through the School Staff Survey.

Professional Learning Communities

The PLC program is pivotal to DET's Education State ambitions. PLCs are teacher teams that work together to achieve a common goal—improving student outcomes. PLCs aim to enhance teachers' subject matter expertise, curriculum knowledge, and instructional capabilities through structured cycles of inquiry‑based research. This requires principals to explicitly allocate resources—such as time and money—to ensure that teachers leave the classroom and collaborate with one another. PLCs often focus on a single topic and undergo fortnightly or monthly cycles of inquiry encompassing four stages, including:

  • assessment—teacher teams review their school's assessment methods and results to identify areas for improvement
  • examining instruction—teachers share what is or is not working by observing each other and reviewing their classes' instructional materials
  • developing new practice—teachers engage with experts, each other, and up-to-date research to refresh their practices
  • planning—teachers plan new lessons in light of their learnings.

Importantly, the program frames professional learning as a routine, collaborative practice focused on improving student outcomes—it should not be a solitary pursuit that occurs annually through attendance at conferences or seminars.

Pilot of the Professional Learning Communities program

In 2016–17, DET trialled the program in 64 schools across Victoria. It required principals to appoint up to three instructional leaders to head their schools' collaborative teacher teams. Instructional leaders are exemplary classroom teachers with an aptitude for leadership. They support their colleagues to enhance their skills through focused conversations, respectful debate, and practical demonstrations. To help schools adopt the 'PLC mindset' and understand its connection to FISO's Improvement Cycle, DET delivered two concurrent streams of professional learning for:

  • school leaders (principals and assistant principals)—four modules of off-site training over four days
  • instructional leaders—five modules of off-site training over five days plus three modules of school-based activities over three days.

DET fully subsidised the cost of attending these training sessions and provided schools with access to further support, including a facilitator-coach. It also installed a full-time PLC manager in each of its four regions to guide schools in the program's implementation.

Due to the success of the pilot, DET allocated $32.3 million in 2017–18 to implement the initiative across 800 government schools by 2021.

Evaluation of the Professional Learning Communities pilot

Throughout the pilot, schools completed a comprehensive suite of evaluation activities. DET commissioned external consultants to conduct this analysis, which included surveying schools, regional staff, and PLC managers to understand their existing beliefs, knowledge, and practices. These surveys occurred in Term 1 of the school year to establish a baseline for future assessments. The evaluators collated the surveys' results into dashboards, which they distributed to schools and regions. These empowered PLCs to adapt their methodologies using up-to-date evidence.

The school-level survey had 1 255 responses, including 876 teachers. This included participants from 84 per cent of the pilot schools. The survey returned 'fairly positive' results, demonstrating that teachers, instructional leaders, and principals believe in the program's potential to improve student outcomes. Importantly, it found that while schools are working to embed PLCs, they require further time and support to transition beyond shallow, 'surface-level' collaboration to more intensive learning that challenges the status quo. This was an expected outcome, as significant changes to teachers' knowledge and skills require multiple iterations of the inquiry cycle.

DET addressed this feedback by making several early alterations to the program. This included redesigning the professional learning modules to improve their impact and delivery, incorporating SEILs into the PLC support model, and trialling an interschool network in Wodonga to facilitate knowledge-sharing amongst leadership teams. Importantly, the program's first intake of schools following the pilot responded positively to the updated professional learning modules, reinforcing the importance of regular review.

In Term 4, the evaluators compiled various sources of evidence to assess the pilot's impact on students, school staff, and regional leaders. This included an evaluation of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) scores of pilot and non-pilot schools. While analysis of NAPLAN scores found no statistically significant differences, the testing occurred in the pilot's early stages and thus does not capture the program's overall impact. Timing also affected the evaluators' analysis of the School Staff Survey results, which showed no discernible change between pilot and non-pilot schools. Despite the absence of findings, undertaking this type of analysis is indicative of best practice, as it emphasises that high-quality professional learning should measurably improve student outcomes.

The evaluators also conducted various surveys to assess the level of change inspired by PLCs. This built on the baseline data collected in the initial surveys. Importantly, the school-level survey found that pilot schools maintained their confidence in the program's efficacy and that their understanding of the inquiry cycle improved over time. The survey also emphasised that teacher teams meet regularly (around twice per month) demonstrating that schools are effectively embedding the foundational elements of PLCs, such as timetabled sessions. Despite this, only 33 per cent of teachers reported receiving 'useful' feedback from their school and instructional leaders. This suggests that most schools lack a strong culture of trust and reflection. Other indicators of openness, however, showed a marked improvement. For example, 61 per cent of teachers indicated that their school timetable supports peer observation—an increase of 9 per cent from the baseline survey. While there is still a lot to achieve, this demonstrates that the program is inducing positive structural change in schools.

Teachers also reported that they spend most of their time in the assessment phase of the inquiry cycle instead of examining their actions or developing new strategies. Remedying this issue is critical to the program's long-term success, as teachers must interrogate and improve their practices to catalyse changes in student outcomes.

DET's commissioned evaluation of the pilot is indicative of best practice, as it used information from multiple sources to paint a comprehensive picture of PLCs in Victorian schools. Importantly, DET has begun to address some of the consultants' concerns by developing new professional learning modules that clarify the program's approach and intent, as well as its relationship with FISO. DET has also hired additional regional managers to ensure that schools are thoroughly resourced. The consultants will continue to assess the program during its rollout, and we encourage DET to actively evaluate and implement their suggestions.

Funding for pilot and non-pilot schools to implement the Professional Learning Communities program

DET provided the 64 pilot schools with a once-off grant of $60 000 because the schools had limited time to budget for the release of instructional leaders from their regular classroom duties. Considering the program's progressive roll-out, DET anticipates that other schools will not encounter this barrier, as they will have ample time to undertake the necessary planning. As such, these schools will not receive the once-off grant of $60 000. To assess the impact of this restricted funding, the consultants investigated whether instructional leaders in pilot schools received similar time release to those involved in the first official intake (155 schools). The consultants observed only minor variances and noted that some pilot schools did not spend the $60 000 as intended, but used it to support other improvement activities, such as the development of feedback and observation programs. Critically, pilot schools noted that the grant advanced the implementation of their PLCs faster than otherwise possible. It is important for DET to monitor the differences in pilot and non-pilot schools over time, as the grant—or lack thereof—may impact how schools embed PLCs in the short and long term.

DET's contention that schools should plan for the time release of instructional leaders within their existing budgets operates on the assumption that existing levels of funding are appropriate. As discussed in Part 3.3, we encourage DET to undertake research that investigates the true cost of best practice professional learning activities, as it is currently unable to track the expenditure associated with CRTs. We advise DET to incorporate this information into its funding methodology and share any findings with schools.

Additional tools that evaluate the uptake of DET's professional learning programs and ethos in schools

School Staff Survey

The School Staff Survey is DET's primary feedback mechanism. It allows principals, teachers, and education support staff to reflect on factors that influence student outcomes. DET requires all schools to participate in the survey each year, however, it is not compulsory for individual staff members. To complete the survey, participants respond to a series of statements using a Likert scale. DET then posts the results—including basic benchmarking data—on the School Information Portal for principals to share with their staff. The School Staff Survey is a valuable tool, as it has the potential to measure changes in teachers' knowledge and beliefs, as well as the broader school environment.

The survey has a standardised format. It is comprised of one core module and four optional modules. Schools must respond to the core material every year, and principals may select additional modules for their staff to complete. This enables principals to gather information regarding areas of local interest. DET upgrades at least one of the optional modules to mandatory status each year on a rotational cycle. As shown in Figure 3E, three modules were compulsory in 2018. These contributed to DET's internal statewide reporting.

Figure 3E
Content assessed in the School Staff Survey in 2018

Modules

Compulsory in 2018

School Climate

Yes—core

School Leadership

Yes

Professional Learning

No

Staff Safety and Wellbeing

No

Teaching and Learning

Yes

Note: Only the Instructional Leadership component of the School Leadership module was mandatory.

Source: VAGO, derived from DET.

The Professional Learning module

The Professional Learning module enables teachers to provide honest, anonymous feedback regarding their schools' professional learning cultures, which may assist both DET and principals to identify areas for improvement.

The module was last compulsory for schools to complete in 2014. DET planned to rotate it back into the survey in 2018, however, due to competing priorities, it remained optional. Despite this decision, DET advised that 58 per cent of schools opted to complete the Professional Learning module, demonstrating its value to principals.

Given the Education State reform agenda's pronounced focus on improving the quality of teachers, we encourage DET to consider the benefits of upgrading the optional Professional Learning module to 'core' status. Most of DET's key reforms, such as the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, frame professional learning as a critical lever for improving the knowledge of teachers and thus their ability to meet students' needs. Reclassifying this module will enable DET to routinely collect system-wide information regarding the efficacy of schools' professional learning cultures, which may strengthen its program-level evaluations.

Panorama reports use information from multiple sources, including students' test results, to paint a comprehensive picture of school-level performance.

DET's analysis of the School Staff Survey

DET regularly assesses the School Staff Survey's results at the local-, regional-, and system-levels. It aggregates each school's individual results, and breaks down the percentage of positive, neutral, and negative responses. DET conveys this information to schools through Panorama reports, which SEILs use to target their improvement efforts.

DET also discusses the survey's results at its Regional Performance Reviews. Regional Performance Reviews facilitate 'deep and structured' performance conversations between senior leaders from DET's central office and each of its four regions. These biannual forums use purpose-built dashboards to identify and address issues of local concern with the aim of improving student outcomes.

The School Staff Survey and the VGSA

In 2018, DET used the survey to collect demographic information from staff, such as years of service, as well as the use, occurrence, and value of teachers' professional practice days. The survey also sought feedback regarding teachers' perceptions of the learning specialist position. This information will form part of DET's evaluation of the VGSA's new provisions for teachers. It is currently unclear how DET plans to use this information, however, we encourage DET to interrogate it closely in conjunction with other sources of data.

Student Attitudes to School Survey

Each year, DET surveys all Victorian government school students from Years 4 to 12 to understand their attitudes to the school environment, including the efficacy of classroom instruction. This survey may provide valuable information regarding improvements to teachers' practices. We therefore encourage DET to consider to what extent this tool may contribute to its evaluations of professional learning initiatives.

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