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Tougher courses, emotional intelligence tests for trainee teachers: the experts respond

Trainee teachers would be tested for literacy, numeracy and emotional intelligence under a suite of teacher training reforms…

Federal Minister for School Education Peter Garrett announced the teacher training reforms today. AAP/Dan Peled

Trainee teachers would be tested for literacy, numeracy and emotional intelligence under a suite of teacher training reforms released by the Federal Government today.

Under the plan, the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) needed to enter a university teaching course may also rise.

A media release issued by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, Chris Bowen, and the Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, said there were four main parts to the plan:

  • More rigorous and targeted admissions into university courses, potentially including interviews, demonstrated values and aptitude, and a written statement;
  • A new literacy and numeracy test, building on the National Plan for School Improvement, that each teaching student will have to pass before they can graduate;
  • A national approach to teacher practicum to ensure new teachers have the skills, personal capacity and practical experience they need to do well; and
  • A review of all teaching courses by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).

Here are some expert responses to the plan:

Dr Nicole Mockler, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Newcastle

This idea that we need to focus on teacher quality and drive the ATAR up – ATARs in this country are set as a consequence of supply and demand. The courses that have the highest demand have the highest ATAR.

If teaching was well remunerated and had high status in our society, like law and medicine, we would see ATARs go up.

They are trying to make ATARs go up, but without focusing on the status of the teaching profession. These ongoing arguments around teacher quality, in fact, have the potential to do the exact opposite.

I am not against the idea that we need to have a quality teaching profession. It’s hard to argue against quality. But what exactly does that mean?

We absolutely need teachers who are literate and numerate, but we need teachers who have so much more than that, for example, who are good at creative and innovative thinking, who care about kids.

A focus on just literacy and numeracy is looking at the baseline rather than the top.

When we frame the argument in this way, we look at what they bring into the teaching program, not about what they bring out at the other end.

It’s a four year program. It’s not that you come into a program and then you go out into schools four years later with the same understanding of education.

It’s about understanding how to teach, the art and science of learning and teaching, developing an understanding of the content they are teaching and how to put it all together to cater to students. It’s also about developing a disposition toward professional learning and understanding that professional learning is a career-long process.

The teaching profession is quite strongly regulated already and teacher education programs are as well.

I would be interested to see what kind of emotional intelligence test is being proposed.

We seem to take as our starting point the idea that we have a big teacher quality problem. I am not sure of the evidence of that. I am sure there are great teachers and not-so-great teachers.

My experience from being in schools is not that we are beset by people with low literacy, low numeracy skills and low emotional intelligence.

The pay issue goes back to ATARs. If prospective teacher education students saw that teachers were held in high esteem and remunerated well, the ATAR would go up.

It’s a very tough job.

Dr Tony Loughland, Director of Professional Experience, Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney

I welcome the focus on improving the quality of the practicum, especially in relation to providing professional learning for teachers who mentor our students teachers.

The broadening of the entry requirements for teacher education with the inclusion of interviews and aptitude tests is also to be commended, as long as the Federal Government provides the resources for this to happen in cash-strapped schools of education.

Dr Matthew Clarke, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales

It seems, to me, to be part of a pattern of putting the blame for the ills of education onto individual teachers rather than looking at systemic or structural issues.

It is diverting attention away from the structural reforms outlined in the Gonski report.

It’s also a huge vote of no confidence in this country’s teacher education programs.

I don’t think the medical or legal professions would countenance these requirements.

This is responding to anecdotal stories and media scares – what real evidence is this based on?

It was interesting the NSW government announced their teaching and learning platform at the same time as they were introducing quite dramatic cuts to education funding.

There’s also the issue of the completely ad-hoc nature of the induction into schools of new teachers. You have a 30% attrition rate within the first three years of the job because teachers are so overwhelmed by the demands of the role.

Belinda Robinson, Chief executive, Universities Australia

The plan announced today by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Chris Bowen, and the Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, will ensure that Australian school students are taught by teachers trained in the highest quality teaching education system.

The significance of the Federal Government’s intervention shifts the responsibility for achieving teacher quality to the national arena. In effect this national plan displaces the recently announced NSW plan.

All Universities will act on the basis of a national plan and NSW universities will not implement any proposals that are inconsistent with it.

It is critical that our teachers have the skills, capabilities and aptitude that is necessary to equip our children with the education they need to prepare for a future in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world.

The plan announced today acknowledges the role of universities in selecting students based on a range of factors that go beyond final year school results. This is particularly important since fewer than 40 per cent of students enter teacher training straight from school.

Its focus on the quality of the teacher graduate rather than a government-set final school result means that those with the ability, commitment and drive to become a teacher will have the opportunity to do so.

Universities Australia encourages all states and territories to support the plan to enable agreement by the Council of Australian Governments.

We look forward to working collaboratively with the Government, the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency on a national approach to lifting the quality of teaching graduates to the highest level.