The long-awaited report of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) was released last week, with the catchy title Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers.
Action is very much a theme of the report, which gives us five ‘key directions’, six ‘key proposals’ and 38 recommendations. Most of them focus on the creation of new accountability measures or the ‘strengthening’ of old ones. Basically it is saying teacher education courses have to show they are producing ‘quality’, ‘classroom ready’ teachers.
Nothing wrong with that you would say, but I am bemused in the least. Surely if accountability and compliance were the answer to intractable educational problems, we would not still be talking about what makes a ‘quality teacher’ – or having governments tell us how to produce them. We have been awash with suggestions and answers to the question of what makes a good teacher for decades. And yes every institution that offers teacher education courses has been paying attention.
The report predictably calls for increased rigour in processes of accreditation of teacher education programs. I am one of many involved in teacher education who are not particularly impressed. Tales abound within the sector of universities transporting truckloads (literally, truckloads) of paper to accrediting agencies for the current round of accreditation of initial teacher education programs in the name of rigour. The mind boggles to think what this new, enhanced version of rigour might look like as stacks of paper.
Provisional approval will be given, under new regulations, to initial teacher education programs upon application, with full accreditation given when institutions have provided evidence of producing high-quality beginning teachers, supported by ‘data’.
What data? Who will collect and track the data? Neither is clearly articulated in the report. All we know is it will involve the development of a ‘national assessment framework’ to provide ‘robust assurance of classroom readiness’. This points to yet another framework for compliance that universities and schools will have to deal with.
Institutions that are unable to produce ‘robust assurance’ will be provided with ‘stronger accreditation requirements’, which ‘will not preclude innovation in program design and delivery, but will require evidence and research to support innovative approaches to the delivery of initial teacher education’.
I see this as one of the most interesting aspects of the report, for in it we find a kernel of something bigger.
If institutions use predominantly out of date or ‘traditional’ approaches to initial teacher education, will they also be required to provide evidence and research to support the employment of their (maybe outmoded) practices? Or perhaps it seems impossible to TEMAG that those institutions who stick to the ‘traditional’ would ever find themselves in such a position. It reads to me as though innovation is to be regarded with suspicion.
‘Sophisticated and transparent selection for entry to teaching’ is another interesting proposal. It’s hard to argue against ‘transparency’, but at the same time it’s hard to identify a teacher education program (or, for that matter, a dentistry program, a fine arts program, a physiotherapy program) where the selection process is not made clear to potential applicants (or anyone who wants to read the entry requirements) at the outset.
While some teacher education programs, as noted in the report, do incorporate selection methods other than the blunt instrument of ATAR, these are generally small boutique programs where economies of scale are not an issue. The challenge of applying ‘sophisticated’ processes that incorporate ‘desirable personal attributes’ for selection of students into the 28,000 commencing places in initial teacher education programs nationally is considerable.
My prediction is that an online test will appear on the scene soon as the answer to this one. I predict heated debates around whether such a solution responds to the call for ‘sophisticated entry selection’.
What I do like about the report (yes I like some of it) are ideas around portfolios for pre-service teachers, and stronger partnerships between universities, school systems and schools. These suggestions seem sensible to me. However I will point out the vast majority of universities already see these things as priorities, have for some time, and most have acted on them.
The question remains for me: will anything around teacher selection and education be improved or enhanced by the addition of more layers of standardisation and compliance, mostly in the name of ‘consistency’?
There’s an old farming saying that goes ‘you don’t make a pig fatter by weighing it’. What we find in the TEMAG report are many recommendations for weighing the pig and very few for fattening it up.
Dr Nicole Mockler is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Newcastle and Convenor of the University’s (unashamedly innovative) Master of Teaching Primary and Secondary Programs.