Donna Pendergast

Teachers are NOT under-qualified and NOT under-educated: here’s what is really happening

Australian teachers are doing well. They are not under-qualified and they are certainly not under-educated, as some media stories would have you believe. They are doing an admirable job managing exhausting workloads and constantly changing government policies and processes. They are more able than past generations to identify and help students with wide ranging needs. They are, indeed, far better qualified and prepared than those in our nation’s glorious past that so many commentators reminisce wistfully about.

In fact, our teachers today are the best qualified ever. They are educational specialists. So are their teacher educators, people like us, who prepare teachers for their professional calling. Contrary to the opinions of some media commentators and politicians, our teacher educators are also better prepared and more qualified than ever before. They design and implement innovative, intensive and rigorous teacher education programs, they deal with constantly changing policy and government requirements, and they expertly mentor and supervise their student teachers’ classroom experience.

So let’s unpick this a little just to demonstrate the trustworthiness of our opening claim.

Teacher qualifications

A two-year course was enough to educate teachers in the 1970s. And this was an improvement on the “pupil-teacher” apprenticeship approach that preceded in the 1960s which allowed a person to start teaching before they finished high school.

These days, four or five years of tertiary education is the base line for preparation to be a teacher in Australia. This is followed by mandatory ongoing professional development. Teachers possessing a higher degree are also not uncommon. The profile of teachers in Queensland, for example, shows that 70% of QLD teachers in 2016 possessed higher degrees in the field of education beyond their initial teacher qualification.

Entrance to teacher education courses

The use of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) has come under scrutiny in the news recently as a measure for entry into teacher education courses in Australia.  However less than half of those entering teaching education rely on an ATAR in any way to indicate their academic suitability. Many others enter with a post-secondary academic qualification as their measure of academic preparedness for initial teacher education. That is, they have higher than Year 12 academic achievement as their claim to academic ability.

Further, ATAR as a measure alone is not used for teacher education entry in any institution in Australia. The ATAR has been shown to have limited value for teacher education as it oversimplifies the complex attributes that assist someone to start teacher education well, and it ignores the value of the teacher education program itself.

Students entering teacher education today are assessed carefully for their motivation and capacity for a teaching career before entry. They must demonstrate they have numeracy and literacy skills better than 70% of the population. Then candidates for primary teacher education programs in Queensland must have satisfactorily completed their secondary education with demonstrable achievement in maths, a science, and English. Indeed, each regulatory jurisdiction has their own set of requirements. New South Wales, for example, requires three band five ratings (better than 80% achievement) in their senior school results.

We think much of the public debate regarding the entry standards required for teaching programs is testament to an insinuation that a four-year teacher education course can somehow be devoid of any content, or development. If we just waited four years before letting teacher candidates loose on our poor unsuspecting students, then yes, the entry standards would be pertinent. But that’s not what happens of course.

As they are studying to become a teacher, student teachers today have to meet a stringent suite of requirements to develop and demonstrate pedagogical skills, theoretical understanding, conceptual and discipline knowledge across the National Curriculum, communication skills, planning and cultural development capabilities, and so on. This is coupled with substantial in-school teaching experiences and it is all assessed through a rigorous Teacher Performance Assessment.

Teacher education courses and teacher educators

But maybe the real problem is teacher educators and the courses they teach. Are teacher educators just academics who haven’t been near a classroom for years, or in the spirit of the statement “those who can’t do … teach”, are teacher educators just a crew of failed teachers? Certainly that is what some would have you believe. It is simply not true.

Take one of our institutions for example: in our teacher education unit we have 28 academics and all of us are fully qualified and registered teachers. Over 70% of us have been school leaders, heads of department, deputy principals, principals, and/or have held regional leadership roles. The remaining 30% are no slouches; they have all had long and successful careers of an average of 10 years in school classrooms before attaining higher degrees and moving to academia. All are deeply committed to providing a quality program to develop the next generation of teachers.

The teacher education programs we use are all heavily and nationally accredited. They are rigorous and vigorous. These courses are definitely not for the fainthearted. Every student that graduates with a teacher education degree has demonstrably changed and has developed as a professional in response to the program of study and experience we provide. Every graduate meets the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Their professional registration and our accreditation as a higher education provider depend on this. Teacher education institutions are required to provide clear evidence that this is always the case.

Coping with an exhausting workload

Meanwhile for teachers, curriculum areas have grown and the reporting and record keeping obligations have become more onerous. For the average Year 6 class where a single teacher is typically responsible for pulling the entire year of learning together, there are at least eight discipline areas aligning to the national curriculum, supplemented by no less than three cross curricular priorities and seven general capabilities. On top of this there may be cultural or pastoral studies if they are at a faith-based school. So that could be 13 teaching fields for the one teacher with the one class.

Yet back in the 70s, at least in Queensland, teachers were responsible for only six or seven subject areas (depending on whether music was considered in the mix) and they were able to develop their own approaches. They did have more students per teacher: the student/teacher ratio was 24-1 in 1970 compared with 13.7 in 2016. But, there was less content to teach, and a markedly reduced requirement for record keeping, obligations to prepare for national standardised tests, and so forth.

The point is, teachers today are highly qualified professionals who cope with an astounding workload.

So, let’s stop distrusting teachers and stop questioning their qualifications to do their job. Teachers today are well prepared. They are qualified, caring and capable professionals who can be proud of their achievement in graduating from one of today’s rigorous teacher education programs.

And let’s stop distrusting teacher educators. They too are well qualified and are well placed to provide effective teacher education based on their own well-developed capacity to relate to classrooms and students.

Our teaching profession is healthy and strong, and providing a wonderful service to our children, youth and communities. Why is that so hard for some commentators and politicians to believe?

 

Professor Nan Bahr is Pro Vice Chancellor (Students), Professor and Dean of Education at Southern Cross University. In this role she is responsible for oversight and strategic management for improved engagement, experience and retention of students across the University. Professor Bahr also has specific responsibility, as Dean of Education, for the quality of the Teacher Education programs, research and service in the field of education for Southern Cross University. 

Professor Bahr has a national and international profile for educational research with over 100 publications including four books (one a best seller). Key research has been in the fields of music education, educational psychology, teacher education, adolescence, resilience, and teaching innovation in higher education. As a University Teacher, she has been awarded the University of Queensland Award for Excellence in Teaching, has been a finalist (twice) for the Australian Awards for University Teaching, and has been awarded for extended service with the Australian Defence Force.   Nan is on Twitter @NanBahr

Professor Donna Pendergast is Dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University. Her research expertise is educational transformation and efficacy, with a focus on: middle year’s education and student engagement; initial and professional teacher education; and school reform. 

Donna commenced her career as a school teacher working in secondary, P-10 and senior college settings before shifting to the role of academic, first at Queensland University of Technology, The University of Queensland, and since 2009, at Griffith University.  She has served in many roles associated with the profession including Chair of the Board of Directors of Queensland Education Leadership Institute (QELI) and Chair of the Queensland Council of Deans of Education (QCDE).  Donna has more than 160 refereed publications, 16 commissioned reports and 19 books, including the popular Teaching Middle Years: Rethinking curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, now in its third edition and the recipient of an international Choice Award as an Outstanding Academic title. Donna played a pivotal role in preparing school leaders for the shift of Year 7 to secondary and the implementation of Junior Secondary in Queensland.  In 2015 she received the Vice Chancellor’s Research Supervision Excellence Award, and in 2017 she received a National Commendation from the Australian Council of Graduate Research for Excellence in Graduate Research Supervision. Donna has recently been awarded the Australian Council for Educational Leadership Miller-Grassie Award for Outstanding Educational Leadership. Donna is on Twitter at @pendergast_d

Associate Professor Jo-Anne Ferreira is Director of the Centre for Teaching & Learning and Academic Director, SCU Online at Southern Cross University. She is responsible for enhancing teaching quality and the student learning experience, both face-to-face and online. Prior to this, she was Director, Teaching and Learning in the School of Education at Southern Cross University. She began her teaching career as a secondary English and Geography teacher in South Africa and Australia.

Jo-Anne has developed and delivered award winning professional development programs in Australia, South Africa and across the Asia-Pacific region to teachers and student teachers. She has also taught in universities in South Africa and Australia. Her research interests are in online education and the sociology of education with a special interest in post-structuralist theories of identity, embodiment and power, in systems-based change, and in environmental and sustainability education. She has most recently led a decade-long research project on systems-based change as a strategy for embedding sustainability education in teacher education.

 

NSW Education Standards Authority: is this new authority genuine reform or political spin?

A key recommendation of the recently released Review of the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) is a call for “a more risk based approach to the Authority’s regulatory work”.

The BOSTES, renamed in the review as the NSW Education Standards Authority, is the authority that governs school education standards in New South Wales, including standards for curriculum, teaching and assessment, as well as school and teacher registration. So in this context ‘risk’ is an alarming concept. For us it conjured images of failing students with damaged futures in the hands of ill-prepared and incompetent teachers.

It was this mention of risk that made us particularly interested in the review, and what it might mean for us as teacher educators. We make the point here that while the review was written to guide developments in NSW, neighbouring jurisdictions in Queensland, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory and South Australia also will be paying attention. Teacher candidates and teacher graduates are very mobile these days. Changes in NSW will have a ripple effect.

We discovered the review does not suggest NSW students or schools are failing. Indeed the opening comment of the Overview synopsis states “The review found there is confidence in education standards…

So where is the risk? We decided to search for what the panel might conceive as risks. We used backward mapping from the review’s recommendations, to try to infer the risks involved. But first we looked at who was involved and who was consulted in the writing of this review.

The voice of teacher educators is largely missing

The three-member review panel held 105 consultations with organisations and individuals, but only 10 could loosely be thought of as involving teacher educators because of their connection with the Education faculties of universities. However, initial teacher education is not the only exercise of Education faculties, so indeed the connection between these 10 and actual teacher education programs and their design and implementation isn’t at all clear.

The 4,722 survey respondents comprised “principals, teachers, parents and students”. So teacher educators were not represented there either.

The review made 13 recommendations; several of these directly or indirectly affect our work as teacher educators.

The call for clarity and streamlining

The first recommendation is that education standards in NSW need to be reorganised. The argument is this is necessary to provide “greater clarity of regulatory roles and responsibilities and streamlined processes and systems” (p.5). The inference is that such clarity doesn’t exist and that processes are not clear. The regulatory processes are reported as “administratively burdensome”.

As we saw it, this is the first ‘risk’ we uncovered. We’ll call it Risk #1. It is that valuable time will be wasted and complex layers of processes and regulatory requirements will constipate vital reform.

As far as teacher education goes national authorities impose many of the processes so these cannot be part of the state’s streamlining process. Perhaps the streamlining could be of the additional requirements that NSW itself requires.

However there is no suggestion in the review that the extra layers imposed by NSW for initial teacher education accreditation should be removed. The new authority will still require initial teacher education accreditation and teacher registration to have unique NSW state based requirements. These will continue to be piled upon the rigorous national processes and requirements of AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership), ACECQA (Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority) and TEQSA (Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency).

It’s hard to imagine how a call for streamlining and unburdening might work without some attempt at removing the layers of additional state-based processes and requirements.

So this appears to be an empty recommendation. Let’s move on to another inferred risk.

Teacher quality

The review focuses on teacher quality, and declares that teacher accreditation should remain the responsibility of teacher accreditation authorities. Setting the registration/accreditation of individual teachers aside, if there was respect for the national authorities, then the story should have just ended there. But the review highlights a need for “risk based auditing” of “Teacher Accreditation Authorities for ongoing quality assurance” (p. 33).

In other words, the review panel seems to be dissatisfied, or at least lacks trust, in the effectiveness of the national teacher accreditation authorities’ to exercise their role. This is a clanger. The NSW BOSTES leaders have been at the table for the development of the nationally consistent teacher accreditation policies and processes since they were birthed.

The report indeed acknowledges this by detailing the “engagement with the Education Council and inter-government forums” (p. 33) and declaring the NSW BOSTES as a partner in developments at national levels.

But whatever the inference is here, there are some well-crafted soothing words for the benefit of the national accrediting authorities in the following statement:

“It is the Review Panel’s view that, unless there is a material difference in policy and New South Wales is setting specific and higher standards, the Authority (BOSTES) should not reproduce existing resources” (p. 33).

So what is the risk being conjured up? Is it that fine and well-designed teacher education programs might not emerge from the nationally consistent and rigorous accreditation processes? This is an unlikely risk for NSW, especially given the ongoing input NSW BOSTES has had in creating those national frameworks.

Therefore, sadly, it is more likely that we have identified Risk #2: that BOSTES will not be able to maintain control of the nationally consistent accreditation requirements. It needs to do this to sufficiently satisfy the local electorates that NSW offers bespoke education.

Another key recommendation under the heading of teacher quality is that “the authority’s oversight of initial teacher education provision… is strengthened” (p. 35). Yet again this smacks of distrust of the nationally consistent processes and policies, but also of distrust of the quality and motives of teacher education providers.

Compounding this is the review’s call for “the power to place conditions on the approval of ITE programs and the suspension and revocation of program approvals” (p. 35). We can only wonder about all of that.

Final school practicum

Specific attention is given to the final school practicum in an initial teacher education program (Recommendation 6, p. 36). This is when student teachers do their last supervised teaching in classrooms before they graduate. We believe it is seen as the greatest of all risks. We identified it as Risk #3: that incompetent graduate teachers might attain teacher accreditation due to ineffective assessment of their capabilities in the final practicum.

So, the review panel wants the new NSW Education Standards Authority to have power over whether an initial teacher education program can continue to be offered, and it will depend on whether pre-service teachers graduating from that program meet particular standards set for the final practicum. This is a truly big stick, and only possible as a recommendation from a Review panel (and suite of stakeholder consultations) that did not feature a strong representation from teacher education specialists.

If teacher educators had been given a fair voice in this review they would have explained the wicked problems of equitable final practicum assessment. The enduring fact is that classrooms are not all the same, teacher supervisors are not all the same and schools are not all the same. Pre-service teachers will teach in different levels of schooling in different regions, and with extremely divergent ranges and mixes of socioeconomic, cultural and community factors.

The story of one provider of initial teacher education, just over the border from New South Wales, explains the scope of what we are talking about. Griffith University in Queensland is our university so we confidently use it as an example to provide insight into the scale of the exercise. In 2015, Griffith placed 2639 students into school practicum at 458 schools, including some in other parts of Australia, amounting to 60,531 days of practicum which is the equivalent of 166 years. Yes 166 years for just one university. While these were not all final practicum experiences, the scale of the exercise is a powerful message about the potential for this strategy to go awry.

In Queensland, all three education sectors, together with the ten higher education institutions and the Queensland College of Teachers, have collaborated to ensure a consistent approach to final professional experience performance and evaluation. The Queensland Professional Experience Reporting Framework is a result of that collaboration. Perhaps taking a look at this might be useful.

One final practicum is not a good measure

With this in mind, many teacher educators believe performance in one final practicum is not an appropriate bar to measure the effectiveness of an entire initial teacher education program. That is, unless and until:

  • There is a greater sharing of the responsibilities for mentoring and development of pre-service teachers at the coalface, in the classroom.
  • There are reliable approaches to moderation of practicum evaluation.
  • There are specialist teachers in school that understand their role as site based teacher educators and who work in partnership with the university teacher educators.

The greatest risk

We believe the review should have seen past what might look good for politicians and or what could be used to generate simplistic “good” media coverage. A focus far more important should have been how the teacher educator sector might participate in ways of working more effectively and professionally together and how they might improve their connections with classroom teachers and schools.

The greatest risk is fussing over who has control, and who can find the best “spin” to give reforms, is distracting us from our most important collective job; that is teaching students how to succeed as learners and to be productive and positive members of society.

In all, the BOSTES Review is disappointing. It adds bricks to the already existing walls between initial teacher education and the rest of the education sector. Its recommendations are framed in ways that reinforce negative regard and disrespect for initial teacher education and those of us who work in the sector.

As we see it an unhealthy focus on risk aversion (not risk taking at all) constructs a punitive environment that separates the people in education who should be working together to raise standards. To do that effectively the voices of teacher educators should be heard.

It is about time the authorities in charge of school standards in NSW stop referring to “stakeholders” and start talking about “partners”.

 

Here is the full Review of the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES)

Nan-Bahr_250pxProfessor Nan Bahr is Dean (Learning and Teaching) for the Arts, Education and Law Group at the Griffith Univerity. She is responsible for the quality of design and implementation of programs across the Arts, Education and Law Group, both undergraduate and postgraduate and development programs, including higher degree research and coursework. The role works with the Pro Vice Chancellor with decision making responsibilities regarding students issues and applications.

Prior to joining Griffith University in 2015, Nan was Assistant Dean (Teaching and Learning) and Professor of Education for the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology. This position followed from her role as Director Teacher Education with the University of Queensland. Nan has a background as a Secondary School teacher for Sciences, and the Arts, particularly Music. Nan holds a PhD in Educational Psychology and Music Education from the University of Queensland and has postgraduate and undergraduate degrees majoring in Biology, Music, Special Needs Education, and Educational Psychology. 

Professor Bahr has a national and international profile for educational research with over 100 publications including four books (one a best seller). Key research has been in the fields of music education, educational psychology, teacher education, adolescence, resilience, and teaching innovation in higher education. As a University Teacher, she has been awarded the University of Queensland Award for Excellence in Teaching, has been a finalist (twice) for the Australian Awards for University Teaching, and has been awarded for extended service with the Australian Defence Force.

Prof Donna Pendergast colour

 

 

Professor Donna Pendergast is Dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University.  She has an international profile in the field of middle years education.  She is actively involved in policy discussions regarding quality teaching and is the Chair of the Queensland Council of Deans of Education.