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Education degrees not ‘cheap and easy’: Pyne is wrong on teacher training

Shadow education minister Christopher Pyne’s latest statements on teacher training are counterproductive. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Opposition Education spokesman Christopher Pyne’s comments to the Sydney Institute this week provoked a new debate on teacher training.

Most of the educational community would agree, and have for at least the last decade, that teacher quality is the key to improving educational outcomes. The educational community also tells me quite often, as a teacher educator, that I need to improve our teacher education courses so that our graduates might survive and thrive in the incredibly complex and arduous workplace of schools and classrooms.

There is always room to do better. But Pyne’s comments of “cheap and easy” education degrees attracting poor quality entrants to teacher education are inaccurate and insulting to all of the outstanding young people that I have the pleasure of teaching in both graduate and undergraduate education programs.

Pyne’s statements are also inaccurate because ATAR cut-offs only reveal part of the picture. Politicians of all persuasions have used the outlier minimum ATAR scores rather than considering the mean, median and maximum admission scores. Yet the mean, median and maximum ATARs attracting offers to all of the University of Sydney’s Bachelor of Education degrees in 2012 were, respectively, 84.82, 86.32 and 99.75.

Even with the removal of Federal Government quotas allowing more students to study teacher education, in part to counteract the predicted shortfall in key teacher numbers, the lowest ATAR for admission to the University of Sydney’s teacher education programs was 80.3.

Even when considering the fact that entry scores for other institutions are slightly lower, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) already has a policy response in place. Teacher education courses are accredited on the basis that they will produce graduates that have attained “levels of personal literacy and numeracy…broadly equivalent to those of the top 30 per cent of the population”.

As a panel member for an AITSL accreditation of a teacher education course in Darwin last month, I can assure you that there was rigorous enforcement of the literacy and numeracy standards as well as the full range of program and graduate standards.

Pyne’s comments are also an affront to the entire teaching profession. It is inconceivable that the professions of law and medicine would tolerate being labelled “cheap and easy” with all of the connotations that this brings.

Now that the teaching profession has a national professional body in AITSL and rigorous processes whereby we monitor the standards of our own profession, we no longer need to tolerate these cheap political attacks either.

Ultimately, empty bickering over admissions ranks doesn’t solve the real crux of the problem. Political attacks undermining public trust in universities and their ability to produce high calibre teachers simply fuels the misguided logic that strips these institutions of their crucial funding.

Blaming educators for this situation makes as much sense as blaming the fire on the smoke.

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