Breaking: Report reveals alarming trend

by Brett Henebery07 Feb 2017

Forty per cent of students in Australian schools are disengaged from learning and falling one to two years behind their peers as a result, a report has found.

The report, published by the Grattan Institute, also found that some teachers lack the skills to get disengaged students back on track.

Grattan Institute’s school education program director, Peter Goss, told The Educator that the report has some important take-aways for principals.

“Principals should do three things: push teacher training courses to put more priority on classroom management; ensure that all beginning teachers get a proper induction process where they can learn from a skilled teacher; and provide regular opportunities for all teachers to collaborate with their colleagues,” he said.

“This is an investment, but if students learn more and teachers are less stressed then it will pay off in spades.”

One of the key points from the report was that student engagement does not necessarily rely on old fashioned ideas about education. Goss said that as such, schools should rethink their approach when it comes to combating the issue.

“First, compliance is not the same as learning. Students who are passively disengaged might not be in trouble with their teacher, but they are on average 1-2 years behind their peers and that is setting them up for trouble in life,” Goss said.

“Secondly, think about raising your expectations of students who are zoning our or acting out, rather than lowering them. We saw evidence that close to half of students say they are being challenged in class, and two of the top reasons for misbehaving and not participating are boredom and lack of challenge.”

Goss added that the report confirms that low-level disruption and passive disengagement are “a serious problem, both for students and for teachers”.

“There is no magic bullet, but building the skills of teachers to create effective learning environments would help. Too often today teachers are thrown in and forced to sink or swim in the classroom,” he said.

Berwick Lodge Primary School principal, Henry Grossek, told The Educator that schools need to rethink the role that teachers play in the teaching and learning process.
“The report confirms what many principals already know, if not always acknowledging so publicly – that student disengagement is a significant issue,” he said.
“In doing so, the report identifies a number of key factors in student engagement, some of which schools have in their power to address.”
Grossek said these include approaches to teaching and learning strategies, relationship building with students and the mentoring of graduate teachers.
“It may also provide principals with the motivation to more strongly advocate for changes in teacher training programs to ones that focus on re-imagining the role of teachers in the learning process in line with current research and contain more practical teaching experience,” he said.
“It also highlights the need for more resources for schools to firstly better understand, and subsequently address the educational needs of students with special needs.”
Grossek said that “promoting student agency” in their learning is a major strategy in which he focus on at Berwick Lodge.
“To this end we work closely with Professor Brian Annan and Mary Wootton in the use of Infinity Learning Maps whereby students map their view of their current learning process as the starting point of a partnership between students, teachers and parents in their journey toward greater agency in their learning,” he said.
Chris Gold, principal of St John’s College, located in Nambour, Queensland, told The Educator that he concurs with the disengagement but was surprised that it was as high as 40%.

“Matters to be addressed are relationships between teacher and students, parental involvement and support for schooling, reduce content across subjects, teacher training in classroom management and strategies,” he said.

“There are many more areas of concern related to this and perhaps keeping it simple and address student happiness, wellbeing and school culture.”
Gold said his focus this year would be on growth mindsets, respect, responsibility and resilience.


  • by Susan Hyde 7/02/2017 1:04:42 PM

    The students at the where engagement levels are high, talk about being able to make choices as a key to their engagement. This points to a curriculum design where a range of opportunities are designed for students to enter the desired learning. If the learning design has different ways of connecting to the desired learning outcome then students can decide how they will approach the learning. The issue also talks to the context for the learning. If they cant see the connection they may not engage. Interdisciplinary themes are very useful for learning design as they can offer more entry connections. The issue also goes to the mix of students. Larger classes of cross aged groups with more that one teacher can create more resources for the students and encourage them to work collaboratively. Schools could create larger spaces to accommodate a collaborative learning space. Students like to help each other, they like to share what they know, they might feel less self-conscious if they aren't sure of something.

  • by Steve Francis 7/02/2017 5:29:00 PM

    Engaging students is challenging for a number of reasons. The attention spans of students appear to have shrunk in recent years through access to digital technology. Respect for authority and the status of teaching have both fallen in recent times. These declines are accompanied by an outsourcing of parenting as many parents struggle to make ends meet and juggle competing demands and roles.
    The report highlights the importance of providing practical support to teachers in implementing effective classroom management strategies and provide engaging learning experiences.

    Part of the process should include seeking formative feedback from students about what is working in the classroom and what isn’t. If the teacher’s approach is not working for the majority of students in the class then, as a professional that teacher has a responsibility to reflect on their practices and make the changes necessary. “What is taught and the way it is taught are crucial. But creating a good learning environment in the classroom is necessary too”.

    Great teachers already seek feedback from their students on a regular basis and use this to reflect on their practice. A number of schools are experiencing great success using instruments such as
    However, many teachers fear and are not open to the feedback from their students. Many of the teachers who are dismissive of the student’s feedback are the ones who need to hear it most.

    Teachers who fail to engage their students and are not open to reflecting on why this is the case and what they can do to make the learning experience more engaging for their students do the teaching profession and their colleagues a disservice.

  • by Dr Brian Annan 8/02/2017 9:45:23 AM

    The media report and Susan Hyde make excellent points about what teachers and school leaders can do for students to become more engaged. No point repeating those - agree with them all and schooling systems world-wide are working hard on curriculum design and classroom pedagogies to reduce disengagement. Those educator-led curriculum and pedagogy developments need to be balanced with students taking more responsibility to engage themselves in their learning. Students can map out and analyse their learning situations and identify their level of engagement and then make decisions about how they could take more responsibility. Last year, we thoroughly enjoyed talking about that balance with Henry and Deborah Grossek's teachers in Melbourne. They were introduced to Infinity Learning Maps - as a way of replacing passive and contientious compliance with active and more connected ways of learning. The gamebreaker is to position students as decisions makers to improve the way they are learning-how-to-learn. Energy levels and excitement went up as students, with support from teachers and parents, focused on improving aspects of positive engagement in learning, as distinct from teachers and parents stamping out disengagement by doing more things for students.