Christine Cunningham, Maggie McAlinden, Michelle Striepe, Christa Norris, Madlen Griffiths, Zina Cordery, Wei Zhang.
We are a group of exhausted expert teacher educators from Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia with a long and proud history following in the footsteps of Edith Cowan who did so much to improve the lives of women, the poor and the under-educated. As teacher educators, we understand the influence that those in power have over others and we were dismayed to see yet another Education Minister call for yet another review of teacher education in these times of turmoil. Despite being highly educated professionals, our agency is being eroded by the current precarity of all work in higher education, yet we feel compelled to speak up on behalf of those who can’t. We write this blog to ask the Education Minister to trust teachers and teacher educators and to stop the decay of public trust in our education system through a stopgap review.
Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has decided to again review Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in Australia.
We do not believe another review is necessary.
While we acknowledge the capabilities of the four commissioned reviewers, chaired by former Department of Education secretary Lisa Paul AO PSM, there have been many, many government reviews into teaching in recent decades but there is little implementation of recommendations.
This latest review is being justified by the Minister because Australian student achievement trends in two international standardised tests, the PISA and TIMMS, are slipping down on what we consider to be a problematic global league table.
The results which concern the minister are shown in the graphs below. The first is taken from the Australian Council for Educational Research’s report on 2018 PISA data about Australian year 10 students and the second and third graphs from the 2019 TIMMS data about year 4 then year 8 Australian students.
Citing results from the 2018 PISA testing round ( Figure 1), the Minister is concerned that achievement standards have been slipping:
This review claims it will focus on ways to attract ‘high-quality’ candidates into teaching and investigate how ITE courses prepare teachers. We note that while it is a noble and worthwhile aim, as we always welcome high-quality candidates into the teaching profession, to conduct yet another review of ITE will not resolve the problem of declining standards alone.
A range of corresponding factors are intrinsically interlinked to impact on students’ academic performance. Improved student outcomes may be a result of joint efforts from parents, school communities, neighbourhood safety, the list goes on. It is unrealistic to rely on a single factor, i.e. Review to lift students’ learning engagement or academic outcome. Efforts by teachers and educators to cater for distinctive contexts and individual needs have to be valued and rewarded, not scrutinised.
Yet again, the blame for declining standards appears to be shifted onto individual teachers. After reading media reports on the new review, it is clear that the underlying message of this review seems to be that individual teachers are yet again being unfairly blamed for the decline in standardised test scores. Teachers are sick of being portrayed in the media as being to blame for circumstances that arise from a complex mix of historical, cultural, sociological and ideological factors.
So if we do not support a new review then what will stop the decline in standardised test scores which concern the Minister?
We think the solutions are already available and they revolve around trust. Pasi Sahlberg and Timothy Walker in their recent book In Teachers We Trust advocate a trust-based school system; where we trust in teachers, pay them highly and recognise them as essential workers.
At the individual level, trust is a relational and moral emotion that reduces anxiety and makes people feel secure. When we feel safe, we learn better, we feel better. At the societal level, the trust between citizens/teachers and institutions is more complex, but has more or less the same effect. The erosion of trust increases anxiety at both levels and for everyone concerned. When trust is absent or diminished in a society or institution, anxiety rises and our capacity to teach and learn declines which is what we may be seeing reflected in the PISA results.
The development of trust is the best path forward. Supporting teachers in this way is important because, after all, it is the work of teachers and principals that has the greatest impact on school effectiveness and student learning (Grissom et al., 2021; Leithwood et al., 2004).
Teachers who have taught for a long time and then study to the PhD level are the professionals who teach people to become teachers. They are essential, highly qualified workers who can be trusted.
Trust in teachers themselves, trust in those who educate them.
We are concerned this new review may potentially negate the ‘Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers’ report from the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group, or TEMAG. This report, issued late in 2014 was prepared by a panel of experts based on wide-ranging evidence, research and international best practice.
Instead of focusing attention on ITE, we’d like the current government to show some trust in teachers and have the moral courage to implement recommendations from previous reviews alongside leaders of State/Territory governments, leaders of the various State/Territory educational systems and leaders at the school level. We’d like to see the government start listening to the experts rather than wasting taxpayers money on yet another review.
Improving an entire system can only come from the will, collective work, shared knowledge and moral leadership of all those who work within the system (Fullan, 2002).
Top left and then clockwise:
Dr Christine Cunningham is a secondary trained HASS, dance and ESL teacher with a PhD in Educational Leadership and is currently the School of Education’s Higher Degrees by Research Coordinator at Edith Cowan University.
Dr Maggie McAlinden is the TESOL program leader at Edith Cowan university, and has a PhD in Intercultural Education).
Dr Michelle Striepe is a senior lecturer within the School of Education at ECU with a Masters and EdD in Educational Leadership.
Dr Donna Barwood is a Lecturer in the School of Education with a PhD investigating the teacher workforce.
Wei Zhang is a humanities and Chinese language trained teacher and current PhD candidate with the School of Education at ECU.
Zina Cordery is a digital education specialist with a Masters of Research Practice and is a current PhD candidate with the School of Education at ECU.
Madlen Griffiths is an ITE professional experience specialist with a Masters of Research Practice and is a current PhD candidate with the School of Education at ECU.
Dr Christa Norris is a lecturer and leader of the Internship program at ECU with a PhD in STEM education.