What are the main challenges facing teacher education in Australia?

Aug 16
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Field Rickards, University of Melbourne

In our series, Better Teachers, we’ll explore how to improve teacher education in Australia. We’ll look at what the evidence says on a range of themes including how to raise the status of the profession and measure and improve teacher quality.

Top-performing international education systems value expert teaching and recognise that highly effective teaching improves student outcomes.

While there are some reforms in development, further work is required in Australia to lift the quality of teaching by attracting the brightest candidates into the profession and ensuring they receive the best preparation and ongoing support.

The federal government’s new requirement for teacher education students to be in the top 30% for literacy and numeracy is important. However, an effective teacher has more attributes that this.

Of the almost 4,000 teaching students who undertook the literacy and numeracy test in May-June this year, 95.4% met the literacy standard and 93.1% met the numeracy standard. So this measure’s impact is minimal.

This was only one recommendation of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG). There are 38 others still in the process of being implemented.

With key recommendations around tougher accreditation standards, TEMAG’s framework challenges initial teacher education providers to develop high-quality programs that can be rigorously assessed.

Universities will need to be able to demonstrate the positive impact they have on their graduates and that their graduates have on student learning. The latter is the mark of effective teaching.

TEMAG’s recommendations are not window-dressing. A paradigm shift, deep program reform and university support will be required to tackle current problems in teaching quality.

Too many teachers

Poor workforce planning by governments is further exacerbating concerns about teaching quality in Australia: supply is not well matched to demand.

The uncapping of undergraduate places in 2012 led some universities to exploit the fact that they receive funding for as many students as they can enrol. This has been a factor in the oversupply, giving the impression universities use teaching courses as a “cash cow”.

The largest education department, New South Wales, hired just 6% of the state’s graduates on full-time contracts last year. Education Minister Adrian Piccoli made the point that universities:

… have doubled entrants in the last ten years … They should take fewer and do a better job [of training them].

By investing wisely in the best evidence-based teacher education programs, the federal government can foster quality teaching without increasing total funding. This would also overcome the ethical issue of preparing teachers who have little chance of being employed.

Undersupply of specialist teachers

Despite general oversupply, Australia is experiencing a significant undersupply of language, geography, computing and history teachers, as well as secondary maths, physics and chemistry teachers, and qualified teachers in some regional areas.

As a result, more than 20% of secondary mathematics and 17% of secondary science teachers are unqualified in their field. Without even year 12 training in these fields, many science and maths teachers lack the ability to spark enthusiasm for these subjects in their students. This is why TEMAG recommended the introduction of specialist maths and science primary teachers.

The Conversation/ACER, CC BY-ND


Undervalued profession

To attract the highest-quality entrants, we also need to hold teachers in high esteem.

Teaching is arguably the most challenging profession of all, yet unlike Finland – where teachers accrue similar respect to doctors – we don’t recognise that teaching deserves the same respect and trust as the medical profession. Finland also demands graduate teaching qualifications.

Graduate students bring real-world experience, including deep disciplinary knowledge, analytical thinking and personal maturity. These are more powerful attributes for selection than the year 12 Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR).

The Victorian government flagged the prospect of graduate-only entry into teaching courses in a recently released discussion paper.

This would follow in the footsteps of the South Australia government, which intends to require all teachers to have completed a graduate-level teaching degree. The state will also require government schools to preference the employment of graduates with master’s or double-degree teaching qualifications.

To attract the best candidates, prospective teachers need to see a career progression. Using the current lead teacher and accomplished teacher categories but linked with an appropriate pay level progression would be a good start.

Teachers have a crucial role in improving student outcomes. We need not only to lift course and graduate standards, but also to ensure teachers are well supported so they can contribute fully as highly developed experts in a widely respected profession.

Field Rickards, Dean of Education, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Field Rickards will be speaking at the  upcoming ‘Improving Initial Teacher Education Conference” in November.

Teacher Education 16

Submitted by Field Rickards, Dean of Education, University of Melbourne

Field Rickards, Dean of Education, University of Melbourne

Field Rickards was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Melbourne in August 2004. Prior to this appointment he was President of the Academic Board and Pro Vice-Chancellor.

He joined the Faculty of Education in 1989 from the Department of Otolaryngology in the Faculty of Medicine, having been appointed to the University of Melbourne as lecturer in 1973 to establish Australia’s first post-graduate training in audiology in 1974. He was appointed to Professor of Education of the Hearing-Impaired in 1994.

As Dean, he has guided the transformation of the Faculty of Education to the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, and the reform of the professional education of teachers with the introduction of the new Master of Teaching program.

One thought on “What are the main challenges facing teacher education in Australia?

  1. There is enormous room for improvement particularly in the way in which education departments value and reward teachers with higher education. For example: 2 teachers – 1 with a bachelor’s degree the other with 2 Bachelor’s, a master’s, a grad certificates, a post grad diploma and a cert 4 will be paid the same. Sometimes the higher qualified teacher will in fact be paid significantly less than a more experienced but less qualified teacher. Opportunities for promotion are indifferent to higher qualifications even specialist positions such as e.g. a special ed coordinator will not be required to have any qualifications in special ed. If teaching is going to be a valued profession then valuing professional development has to be an integral part of that change.

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