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Diverse schools are successful schools: AITSL report

A diverse school workforce is the key to a successful school, according to a new report released by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), the country’s federally funded body for excellence in teaching and leadership.

Entitled Spotlight: Diversity in School Leadership, the study concludes that schools which are more diverse promote a range of benefits, including smarter and more effective teams, increased innovation and enhanced performance.

As the report explains: “Evidence suggests diverse teams may treat information differently compared to homogeneous ones. For example, research has demonstrated that during decision-making, racially diverse groups consider more facts with greater care and accuracy when compared with homogeneous groups (Rock &Grant, 2016; Sommers, 2006). In the education context, this can mean better decisions around pedagogy in the classroom, or how pastoral care is provided."

Workplace research has shown that schools which encourage more diverse educational leadership teams and staff reap a host of benefits, regardless of geographical location. A more diverse teaching staff has benefits for students both academically and for their wellbeing. Indeed, research by Buskin, 2015 concluded that "the learning needs of a culturally diverse student population is better served by a diverse workforce, and accepting and encouraging diversity helps avoid discrimination and ensures we have the best possible leaders”.

However, the report importantly highlighted that, while students were broadly representative of Australia’s diverse population, school staff diversity – in terms of gender and cultural diversity – needs to dramatically improve in order for schools to succeed.

For instance, although the percentage of female and male students is fairly even, the study concluded that females accounted for more than 70 per cent of all primary and secondary teachers, while males accounted for just 18 per cent of primary school teachers; in secondary schools, the percentage of male teachers increased to 40 per cent.

Another concerning finding was that, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) students accounted for close to 6 per cent of Australia’s students, they were represented by only 2 per cent of teachers, with an even smaller percentage in leadership roles.

AITSL CEO Mark Grant said: “It would be a tremendous boon for the education sector if teachers and leaders truly represented all of our community demographics, like different cultural and societal backgrounds, or individuals who identify as having a disability.

“Improving diversity in schools begins with increasing diversity in Initial Teacher Education (ITE). As ITE students are the teachers and school leaders of the future, there needs to be just as much focus on diversity in this group as on the current teaching and school leadership workforce.

“Today’s report highlights the importance of increasing the diversity in our schools. Leadership teams need to put a stronger focus on ensuring they reflect the broader community in their schools. One way this can be done is with recruitment processes that are better targeted to under-represented groups to achieve the broadest possible pool of high-quality suitable candidates.”

While a diverse teaching workforce is an essential factor for success, the report does not discount the fact that “teacher quality is the single most important in-school factor influencing student achievement (Hattie, 2009), therefore it is vital to consider both diversity and expertise in recruiting teachers and school leaders”.

AITSL’s report concludes that, while more workforce data is required, the available research highlights that teachers and school leaders are not representative of Australia’s population and the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of Australian students.

“Evidence suggests that there are numerous benefits to representative teaching and school leadership teams. Thus, the lack of diversity in leadership teams limits the availability of effective role models for our most vulnerable students,” the report warns.

It ends by underscoring the multicultural and multilingual nature of Australia and cautioning that this must be reflected in school leadership and teaching teams in order to “best meet the needs of our diverse young people”.

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