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Snapshot of Australian teachers and principals
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Snapshot of Australian teachers and principals

Research 10 minute read

Analysis of international survey data presents the views of Australian lower secondary school teachers and principals on equity and diversity, discipline and safety, teacher workload, principal effectiveness, school resourcing and much more.

The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) collects internationally comparable data on the learning environment and the working conditions of teachers and principals in schools across the world. The survey has been conducted every five years since 2008.

TALIS 2018 was conducted in 31 OECD countries and economies and 17 partner countries or economies. In Australia, a nationally representative sample of 3573 teachers and 230 principals of lower secondary (Years 7-10) students, and 3030 teachers and 223 principals of primary students, completed the TALIS questionnaires. ACER has conducted each cycle of TALIS in Australia on behalf of the Commonwealth and state and territory departments of education.

About the report

The TALIS 2018 Australian Report Volume 1 produced by ACER focuses on lower secondary teachers and principals. It also presents data from the primary school samples where it is relevant (comparing findings from primary and lower secondary schools in Australia) and results from particular questions that were only asked of Australian teachers, and provides analysis on trends in Australia which are not reported in the OECD report that was released in June 2019. ACER’s report also compares Australian data to five countries and economies that significantly outperformed Australia in all three assessment domains in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA): Alberta (Canada), Estonia, Finland, Japan and Singapore.

The report assembles a broad profile of some of the demographic characteristics of Australia’s lower secondary teachers and principals and makes comparisons to other countries and previous TALIS cycles.

Profile of Year 7-10 teachers:

  Australia OECD
2013 2018 Change 2018
Average Age (years) 43 42 44
Females (%) 59 62 68
Males (%) 41 38 32
Masters or doctorate degrees (%) - 22 - 46
Average teaching experience (years) 16 15 17
Total working hours/week 43.5 44.8 38.8

Profile of secondary school principals:

  Australia OECD
2013 2018 Change 2018
Average Age (years) 53 51 52
Females (%) 39 40 47
Males (%) 61 60 53
Masters or doctorate degrees (%) - 48 - 66
Average teaching experience (years) 27 23 20
Average experience as a principal (years) 8 7 10

Equity and diversity

TALIS revealed that Australian lower secondary schools and classrooms are more diverse, and so potentially more challenging, than is the average for the OECD. Specifically, Australian lower secondary classrooms have more students with special needs and migrant backgrounds, more non-native  English speakers and refugees, and more disadvantaged students than the OECD average and many high performing countries.

Proportion of lower secondary teachers in schools with the following composition:

  Australia OECD average Singapore Finland Estonia Japan
More than 30% of students come from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes 25% 20% 5% 3% 4% 8%
More than 10% of students have special needs 36% 31% 14% 31% 30% 9%
More than 10% of students are non-native speakers 36% 21% 82% 18% 13% 2%
More than 10% of students are immigrants or with migrant background 41% 10% 38% 17% 1% 1%
At least 1% of students are refugees 62% 30% 0% 51% 9% 0%

In terms of how Australian teachers respond to this challenge, TALIS shows that participation in professional development in teaching students with special needs increased by 25 percentage points between 2013 and 2018, while participation in professional development for teaching in multicultural or multilingual settings increased by nine percentage points. A high proportion of Australian teachers and principals report that their schools implement policies and practices related to equity and diversity, and teachers generally feel confident they are able to provide the appropriate leadership in multicultural classes.

In addition, a high proportion of Australian schools have additional supports in place specifically for socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Ninety-one per cent of schools in Australia have such supports in place compared to 80 per cent across the OECD on average. However, only 50 per cent of Australian lower secondary principals report that their school has explicit policies combatting discrimination on the basis of socioeconomic disadvantage, compared to 73 per cent across the OECD.

Teacher workload

Australian lower secondary teachers reported working 44.8 hours in the week prior to the 2018 survey, compared to 43.5 hours in the 2013 TALIS survey. Australian teachers spent a similar proportion of their working week on planning and lesson preparation compared to the OECD average and high performing countries Singapore, Finland, Estonia and Japan.

Proportion of lower secondary teachers’ time spent on the following activities:

  Australia OECD average Singapore Finland Estonia Japan
Total working hours per week 44.8 hrs 38.8 hrs 45.7 hrs 33.3 hrs 35.7 hrs 56.0 hrs
Time spent teaching* 19.9 hrs (44%) 20.6 hrs (53%) 17.9 hrs (39%) 20.7 hrs (62%) 20.9 hrs (59%) 18.0 hrs (32%)
Time spent on planning and lesson preparation* 7.3 hrs (16%) 6.5 hrs (17%) 7.2 hrs (16%) 4.9 hrs (15%) 6.0 hrs (17%) 8.5 hrs (15%)
Time spent on marking and correcting student work* 4.9 hrs (11%) 4.2 hrs (11%) 7.5 hrs (16%) 2.9 hrs (9%) 3.5 hrs (10%) 4.4 hrs (8%)
Proportion of class time spent on teaching and learning 78% 78% 74% 80% 86% 79%

*Expressed in actual hours and as a proportion of teachers' total working hours per week

Australian teachers in schools with higher levels of disadvantaged students spend almost 10 per cent less time teaching and learning than their colleagues in more advantaged schools. The difference in Australia is the highest in the OECD, and equates to about six minutes per hour, or more than 100 hours over a year of schooling. Most of this difference is due to teachers in disadvantaged schools spending more time on keeping order in the classroom.

Discipline and safety

TALIS asks teachers to respond to statements about the disciplinary climate in their classroom. Seventy per cent of Australian lower secondary teachers agree that their students take care to create a pleasant learning environment, compared to 71 per cent on average across the OECD, 85 per cent in Japan and only 59 per cent in Finland.

Teacher reports of noise and disorder in the classroom are different to student reports: while 43 per cent of 15-year-old students surveyed for PISA 2015 reported that there is noise and disorder in the classroom (compared to 33% on average across the OECD), only 25 per cent of Australian lower secondary teachers surveyed for TALIS 2018 reported there is much disruptive noise in the classroom (compared to 26% across the OECD).

TALIS also asked principals about the frequency with which a number of incidents related to school safety occurred in their schools. On most of the issues to do with school safety, Australian principals report a higher frequency of incidents than is the case internationally.

Percentage of lower secondary principals reporting that these incidents occurred at least weekly in their school:

  Australia OECD average
Intimidation and bullying among students 37 14
A student or parent/guardian reports unwanted electronic contact among students 16 3
A student or parent/guardian reports the posting of hurtful information about a student on the internet 11 2
Intimidation or verbal abuse of teachers or staff 12 3
Physical injury caused by violence among students 7 2
Vandalism or theft 5 3
Use/possession of drugs and/or alcohol 0 1

Principal effectiveness

The proportion of time Australian principals spent on curriculum and teaching-related tasks and meetings, identified by the OECD as a key component of instructional leadership and supporting teaching, was significantly lower than the OECD average and lower than any of the high-performing PISA countries.

Percentage of lower secondary principals’ time spent on the following activities:

  Australia OECD average
Administrative tasks and meetings 34 30
Leadership tasks and meetings 25 21
Curriculum and teaching related tasks and meetings 11 16
Student, parent or guardian interactions 22 23

Almost two-thirds (63%) of Australian principals report that high workload and level of responsibility in their job as limiting their effectiveness quite a bit or a lot; while almost one-third of principals report that inadequate school budget and resources (31%), government regulation and policy (30%), and difficulty with recruiting teachers in some areas (31%) limited their effectiveness. Principals from more disadvantaged schools were more likely to report that teachers’ absences, lack of support from parents or guardians and lack of shared leadership with other school staff limited their effectiveness.

Percentage of Australian lower secondary principals that feel their effectiveness is limited quite a bit or a lot by the following factors:

  More advantaged schools More disadvantaged schools
Teacher absences 9 25
Lack of parent or guardian involvement and support 14 55
Lack of shared leadership with other school staff members 9 23


Resource shortages seem to be less of an issue in Australia than across the OECD on average. Principals were asked whether particular school resource issues hinder their school’s capacity to provide quality instruction. On only one of the 15 issues – ‘shortage of vocational teachers’ – was the proportion of Australian principals indicating that the issue hindered instruction ‘quite a bit’ or ‘a lot’ higher than the OECD average.

The top four issues for Australian principals were a ‘shortage or inadequacy of time for instructional leadership’, which was flagged by 28 per cent of principals as hindering instruction quite a bit or a lot, ‘shortage of teachers with competence in teaching students with special needs’ (18% of principals), ‘shortage of vocational teachers’ (17% of principals) and ‘shortage of qualified teachers’ (16% of principals).

Australian teachers were also asked to rate the extent to which they felt that their capacity to provide quality instruction was hindered by nine different infrastructure or resourcing issues. For each issue, more than half of Australian teachers surveyed reported that their capacity to provide quality instruction in class was not at all hindered.

However, there were very large differences in the hindrances nominated by teachers in more advantaged schools and those in more disadvantaged schools. The largest differences related to digital technology.

Percentage of Australian lower secondary teachers that feel instruction is hindered quite a bit or a lot by the following factors (four largest differences shown):

  More advantaged schools More disadvantaged schools
Shortage or inadequacy of digital technology for instruction (e.g. computers, tablets, smart boards) 13 32
Insufficient internet access 10 23
Shortage or inadequacy of digital software for instruction 8 21
Shortage or inadequacy of instructional materials (e.g. textbooks) 6 19

Other findings

Despite the shortages of digital resources reported by teachers, Australian classrooms were revealed to be the third largest users of ICT in TALIS, behind Denmark and New Zealand. In 2018, 78 per cent of Australian teachers report frequently or always allowing students to use ICT for projects or classwork, up from 67 per cent in 2013.

In Australia and across the OECD on average, supporting student learning through the use of digital technology was the one area in which novice teachers reported higher levels of self-efficacy than more experienced teachers.

Encouragingly, the proportion of Australian teachers that believe the teaching profession is valued by society increased from 39 per cent in 2013 to 45 per cent in 2018. This was significantly higher than the OECD average (26%) and that of Estonia (26%) and Japan (34%), but lower than in Finland (58%) and Singapore (72%). Further research might one day investigate what factors lead teachers to feel valued.

Read the full report:
The Teaching and Learning International Survey 2018 Australian Report Volume 1: Teachers and School Leaders as Continuous Learners, by Sue Thomson and Kylie Hillman, ACER (2019).

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