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The State of the Education Sector

Calls for “urgent action” and “practical reform” in the Australian education system and the challenges of “teacher shortages”, “unsustainable workloads”, and “bullying and behavioural issues” have been the topic of endless articles and news reports over the past two years.

The People Bench’s research and report, State of the Sector, uncovers both challenges and opportunities facing schools, education leaders and policymakers in their continuous improvement plans.

Globally, 2020-2022 saw school closures due to the pandemic become the norm. The disruption that went with the closures was massive. 2023 was a year absent of school closures. Schools were hoping for some reprieve, instead of which they faced ongoing and new problems. Developments in IT, Artificial Intelligence and mobile phones in classrooms were just a few of the issues posing challenges for teachers before Covid. These issues continued and as the Report states, “societal shifts that began pre-Covid morphed and accelerated during the pandemic and continue to affect schools everywhere”.

School Leaders in particular found themselves in a difficult place, facing issues in the supply, recruitment, and retention of staff. They were aware that educators are overwhelmed with the workload, managing the influx of students with high and complex needs, with challenging student and parent behaviour, a lack of flexibility and funding, and resourcing not keeping pace with workforce needs and expectations, all whilst attempting to manage their own wellbeing, within a culture of significant change.

Schools, as our most flexible socio-political institution, have absorbed the emotional and behavioural impact of societal shifts from exclusion to inclusion. The current state of the education sector is complex and the population of students with high and complex needs is increasing steadily. If teachers and schools are responsible for inclusion, they must be equipped in the practice and pragmatics of inclusion, not simply its ideology and theory.

Collaboration and cooperation with all stakeholders in managing complex situations is key. Reciprocal give and take fuelled by empathy and compassion for all is the elixir. However, attaining this collaboration and cooperation is not easy. Certain socio-political inequalities and difficulties are naturally occurring, and schools and teachers need the necessary political and relational skills to manage these inequalities.

Protocols that manage inequalities between the citizen (student and family) and the institution of education (teachers, leaders, and school staff), as well as within the institution (teachers to leaders) are essential and can achieve the level of cooperation required. The right protocols increase collaboration, reduce misunderstandings, make manifest transparency, increase participation, reduce anxiety, and build cooperation.

What if the use of a protocol could build community and reduce the dissatisfaction of both staff and families, whilst reducing the complaints received by leaders? Bower(schools) protocols are simple and do just that.

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