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Review calls for teacher education overhaul: experts respond

The review into teacher education says courses need to prove their graduates are classroom ready. Shutterstock

A new report into teacher education in Australia has called for an overhaul of the system amid concerns students are being selected who aren’t fit to teach and some graduates are not classroom ready.

The Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report, chaired by ACU Vice-Chancellor Greg Craven, said improving teacher quality was vital to raising the quality of Australia’s school system and improving student success at school.

A major focus of the report was the accreditation of teacher education courses due to concerns the current standards were weakly applied and the time-frames too slow.

Providers of teaching degrees should be required to provide, and publish, convincing evidence of the success of teaching graduates, including their classroom readiness, the report recommended.

It also called for greater transparency in how students are selected for teaching degrees. Other key recommendations included:

  • a test to assess that all teaching graduates are within the top 30% of the population in terms of literacy and numeracy skills;

  • that primary school teachers have a specialty – with a focus on science, mathematics and languages;

  • that higher education providers demonstrate their programs are evidence-based.

Experts respond to the report’s findings below:

Jennifer Gore, Director of the Teachers and Teacher Research Program, University of Newcastle

Like most of its predecessors, this government-commissioned report on teacher education offers hope of better outcomes – for graduates of teaching courses, their employers, and their students.

In many universities, much of what is proposed is already happening – strong partnerships with schools, portfolios of achievement, the capacity for primary teachers to specialise, enhanced literacy and numeracy preparation, and courses based on research evidence. Most of these recommended enhancements are already expected through existing accreditation requirements. And they align with the goals of teacher educators – to produce graduates who are ready to start, who impact positively on student learning, and who meet expectations of their employers.

Like other reports of this type, the devil will be in the detail – such as how already-stretched education faculties in universities will be able to annually interview applicants for around 28,000 places or how to guarantee high-quality placements and high-quality in-school supervision of professional experience in such a complex system.

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) is identified as the key body to implement the recommendations, with primary responsibility for accreditation, improvement, and, surprisingly, research leadership. While the evidence-base for teacher education is reportedly weak, a quick scan of ARC (Discovery) funding in Education over the past ten years suggests that fewer than 8% of the 174 funded projects were related to teacher education.

Investment in rigorous teacher education research as well as in teacher education provision would go a long way toward achieving the kind of outcomes sought. The action now needed if this report is to realise its vision is serious investment in teacher education of a kind not yet seen in this nation.

Stephen Dinham, National President, Australian College of Educators and Chair of Teacher Education and Director of Learning and Teaching at University of Melbourne

This is the most most far-reaching and focused review of teacher education that we’ve had in terms of getting to the heart of what we know about effective teacher preparation and effective teaching.

There’s a large number of recommendations and they are grounded in research evidence. There is still too much in teacher education and schooling generally that is not evidence-based. Too often it’s about fads and fashions and in some cases ideologies. As part of the accreditation process for teaching degrees we really need to ensure that what universities are doing has a strong evidence base, and that they can demonstrate what their graduates can achieve.

The central focus of the report is on improving the rigour of teaching courses through a proper accreditation process and this is absolutely essential. Processes we’ve had up to now have been extremely low-level, whereas teaching courses need the same sort of rigour as we see in other professions like engineering and law.

The report talks about this process being undertaken by AITSL, but this could be problematic given education is substantially a state responsibility and it would require agreement from all states. AITSL lacks regulatory powers under current legislation and this would be a significant barrier to implementation.

One of the measures the review proposed is having exit tests for graduate teachers’ literacy and numeracy, but it would make more sense to have an entry test. Those who meet that standard would be accepted, and those who don’t but are within an acceptable range could prove their capability throughout the course of their studies. An exit test means someone could waste four or five years and still not meet the standard.

The report says universities need to be able to prove their graduates’ “classroom readiness”, but this term is somewhat contentious because it involves preparing students for every classroom setting in Australia and that’s difficult. We need to look at not just the time they spend in schools which is purely quantitative, but the quality of the experience, and on collaborations between schools and universities.

The report talks about universities publishing their selection processes, but we need to get off the topic of ATARs. It’s a furphy to talk about ATARs given fewer than one-third of those entering into teacher education do so with an ATAR. We need to look more at capabilities. I’d like to see teaching move towards a graduate profession because it takes the ATAR out of the equation.

In primary education we perform less well against international measures than we do in secondary. There are issues in primary education to do with the overcrowded curriculum, to do with the teaching of literacy, and to do with teachers in primary school often lacking confidence in some subject areas such as mathematics and science. So a major focus on primary education is essential, but it has to include evidence-based approaches to the teaching of literacy and numeracy.

Glenn Finger, Professor of Education and Dean (Learning and Teaching) of the Arts, Education and Law Group at Griffith University

This report goes over much of the same ground that previous reports have highlighted. For example, it’s hardly earth-shattering that there needs to be effective partnerships between providers of teacher education courses and schools where placements occur.

There’s also a disturbing absence of speculation about how learning and teaching is changing over time with little mention of technology and new teaching research and innovation in the report. Despite these shortcomings, the report has two important and commendable focuses that teacher education is in dire need of: higher expectations for teaching graduates, and an appetite for change and action.

Unlike so many measures in education it is clear this report has been developed through extensive engagement and consultation and there is a strong sense that the authors have built in recommendations which assist implementation. Education Minister Christopher Pyne has today given support, and he encourages a collaboration between states and territories, which will be critically important for positive change to be realised.

If these measures can be implemented there is hope we can build public confidence in teachers, improve the quality of courses, and improve student learning.

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