AITSL

Creativity in Australian schools suppressed by onerous testing regime and crushing teacher restrictions

Once upon a time early childhood teachers used to learn singing and playing the piano, primary school teachers could study electives (and even majors) in areas such as drama and art, and universities could add new courses (such as ones in teacher as entrepreneur or global citizenship) through putting in a course variation form to a university committee.

Teaching was seen by many as a truly creative profession.

Not anymore. You would be hard pressed to find examples of any of the above anymore.

As a teacher educator this is distressing to me, not because I am longing for some ‘golden age’ past but because I am deeply worried about our future.

If we want creative futures, we need creative teachers, and we need systems that enable them to thrive and not be crushed by mountains of paper work and regulation.

Teacher education is a field which is absent from innovation discourses. However teachers are the ones working with children and young adults and helping to shape their perspectives and capacities. So I argue it is imperative that creativity and innovation be taught and supported as part of teacher preparation. This includes both creative teaching, but also teaching for creativity and cultivating critical and creative thinking for our students.

However teacher education, like schooling itself has been taken over by regulation and standardization requirements and instrumentalities, much of this through the rhetoric of raising teaching standards.

Teacher education standards have become a crushing set of regulations

 The increased levels of regulation and requirements for teacher education programs means there has been a reduction in the scope for approaches that cultivate creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation for pre-service teachers. Opportunities for elective studies or minors in areas such as the arts have also been reduced, with more mandated units having to be included in generalist teacher education programs, and new specialisations for primary teachers being targeted in Math/numeracy and Science.

Furthermore, there is no mention of creativity and innovation in our teaching standards, not teaching for it, or teachers themselves demonstrating it.

Teacher education standards were developed to articulate the key features of the profession. Their development and first phase of implementation proved useful for providing a common language for talking about teaching and to student teachers about what the profession entailed and how to get there.

However their initial conceptualization has now been turned into sets of regulations and checklists that are in danger of killing off rather than nurturing creativity and innovation.

While in the current version of national standards developed by AITLS (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) used in Australia there are 7 professional standards, underneath that are 37 focus areas and teacher education students must demonstrate evidence collected across all of these.

To be able to offer teacher education courses, teacher education providers must likewise provide evidence across a set of similarly numbered program standards.

In fact the instructions of what needs to be included takes up 42 pages in a guidelines document, which also emphasises that once a program is accredited no changes can be made to that progam. This type of approach encourages a compliance and tick box mentality.

It also means enormous energies and person power are devoted towards generating mountains of paperwork and which other poor reviewers must then wade their way through. While a so-called ‘light touch’ regulatory model was to be used for the re-accreditation of programs, one university education faculty recently reported that their accreditation submission amounted to over 1000 pages of documentation.

While consistency and regulation are important it does tend to stifle the ability for educators to respond to changes in industry and the economy. Systems that are being built around certification and compliance make it impossible to be nimble and flexible and reduces the capacity of course designers and teachers to be creative and responsive.

Where is creativity, improvisation, flexibility, risk-taking, productive failure in such models and approaches?

Of further concern to me are some of the comments emerging from a senior member of the AITSL staff, who when asked at a forum about how she saw creativity and educating for the future being promoted through the professional standards, the audience was somewhat surprised to hear her say she did not believe in a futures oriented curriculum, that she has no problem with the existing curriculum but with how it is taught.

Furthermore when discussing projects on their horizon for assisting teachers, mention was made of more psychometrically calibrated assessment instruments developed to use across the curriculum. Audible gasps of horror could not be contained from teacher educators around the room. AITSL staff have since assured me that the intention is to create banks of formative assessment tools and the intention is that that teachers will find them helpful. This proves the point that terminology and language really matter, and psychometrically calibrated assessment instruments does not say formative assessment to most teachers.

I can understand that much of what AITSL may be tasked to do is driven by political agendas (with AITSL being entirely owned by the Australian government with the federal Education Minister its only member) but what teachers want is not more psychometrically calibrated assessments. What they want is to be trusted to make professional judgements and design learning and assessment strategies that support their students. As I see it, our current interest in certain types of ‘evidence’ is becoming an obsession, at great cost to the students we teach.

If we believe our future requires creative and critical thinkers, we need to cultivate the conditions where creativity can be nurtured by teachers and teacher educators. We need to make sure this is not drowned in regulation, distrust of teachers and lack of belief in their capacity to be professional as well as creative.

 

Susan Davis is Deputy Dean Research for the School of Education & the Arts at CQ University, Australia. Her research has focused on drama, arts-education, engagement and  digital technologies. She is one of the Co-Convenors of the Arts Education Research SIG of AARE and a Board member for Drama Australia and the Sunshine Coast Creative Alliance. Sue was previously a drama teacher and performing arts Head of Department and has created and managed many arts-based projects in collaboration with various education, arts industry and community groups. Susan was one of the convenors of a Creative Education Summit held at ACMI in 2016, with summit outcomes contributing to an Arts Education, Practice and Research group submission to the “The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training Inquiry into innovation and creativity: workforce for the new economy”. She was also invited to present further evidence at a roundtable for the inquiry. 

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