initial teacher education

Why we must talk about teacher professionalism now

In 2016, Judyth Sachs reflected on her 2003 monograph ‘The Activist Teaching Profession’ and asked, ‘Teacher professionalism: Why are we still talking about it?‘. In that paper, she argued ‘the time for an industrial approach to the teaching profession has passed’ and made a case for ‘systems, schools and teachers to be more research active with teachers’ practices validated and supported through research’ (p.413). I am not sure what Judyth would say five years later but I think this is the discussion that still needs to be had. We do need to talk about teacher professionalism in Australia in 2021 and particularly the way it is being constructed and reconstructed through teacher education policy.

In 2020, Martin Mills and I compared teacher professionalism as it was constructed in teacher education policies in Australia and England, and concluded,

… derision and mistrust of teacher education is evident in both contexts. The construction of teacher professionalism through the policies in Australia and England reflects a managerial approach dominated by performance cultures, increased accountability, and teacher standards … the extent to which teachers research and improve their practices, and invoke professional judgement involving interrogation of available research … rarely feature .

Mayer & Mills, 2020, p.14

The 2014 Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) review and the resulting updated accreditation standards and procedures have constructed teacher and teacher educator professionalism in Australia. Two key drivers are evident: making sure the ‘right’ people come into the profession and making sure beginning teachers are ‘classroom ready’. Teacher education was clearly positioned as a problem that could be fixed by tighter accountability mechanisms related to these drivers.

While the TEMAG review claimed to consider ‘wide-ranging evidence and research’ in recommending that the Australian Government act ‘on the sense of urgency to immediately commence implementing actions to lift the quality of initial teacher education’ (Recommendation 2), previous government reports, governments commissioned research consultancies, and/or reports from multinational entities like the OECD and McKinsey & Company, were used to support a perceived need for change. Peer reviewed and published research by teacher education academics rarely featured. In this way, evidence to support the claims and recommendations was constructed in a particular way, supporting Helgetun and Menter’s (2020) claim that evidence is often a rationalized myth in teacher education policy because policies are regularly politically constructed and ideologically based. 

An important component of the TEMAG argument and recommendations, as captured in the report’s title, was that graduates from teacher education programs must be ‘classroom ready’. As a result, teacher education accreditation requirements changed to include a final-year teaching performance assessment. This caused much upheaval, requiring significant changes to the teacher education curricula and to teacher education resourcing in order that programs remained accredited. However, little attention was given to what should be assessed; that is, what beginning teachers should know and be able to do. More attention was given to how teacher educators must design and implement the performance assessment, and various accountability mechanisms for surveillance of this process. The assumption seemed to be that the already developed Australian Professional Standards for Teachers accurately detailed the required professional knowledge, practice, and engagement, and that what was needed was a tighter accountability framework for teacher educators and their practices. Of course, regular critiques of such standards highlight how they construct a particular type of professionalism by focussing on what teachers do rather than what and how they think. None of this was not interrogated in the TEMAG review.

In addition, great emphasis was given to ensuring that the ‘right’ people come into the profession. This focus on the person (i.e., on teachers, not their teaching) resulted in recommendations about required academic skills and desirable personal attributes and characteristics for entry to teacher education programs. In the end, measures of academic skills ended up being the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) and levels of personal literacy and numeracy. Of course, many teacher education entrants are not secondary school graduates. Thus, the political and media hype about ATAR and the quality of the teaching profession is misguided. In relation to personal levels of literacy and numeracy, TEMAG recommended that teacher educators ‘demonstrate that all preservice teachers are within the top 30 per cent of the population in personal literacy and numeracy.’ Not surprisingly, this 30% category proved rather challenging to associate with a score on the Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education Students.

Another aspect aimed at ensuring that the ‘right’ people were admitted to teacher education was the recommendation for selection processes to assess the ‘personal characteristics to become a successful teacher’ (Recommendation 10).

At its worst, this conjures up visions of the 1930s so-called teacher characteristics ‘research’ associated with what makes a good teacher (which inevitably included being female and liking children).

Ensuring the ‘right’ people come into teaching was translated into accreditation requirements for providers to use non-academic selection criteria and, in practice, this has meant everything from a short personal statement attached to applications to the use of commercially produced tests designed to assess personal characteristics. Moreover, teacher education providers were required to ‘publish all information necessary to ensure transparent and justifiable selection processes for entry into initial teacher education programs’ suggesting a mistrust in providers to make appropriate decisions about selection of entrants to their teacher education programs.

Thus, teacher professionalism in Australia is being constructed as being the right type of person with appropriate personal characteristics and levels of personal literacy and numeracy, who can demonstrate successful teaching practice against standards within a system that determines performance indicators and mechanisms for classroom readiness. Moreover, teacher educator professionalism can be interpreted as ensuring the production of graduates who are classroom ready at point of graduation via programs that are accredited using nationally consistent standards.

In Australia and in England, the relentless reviewing of teacher education continues in 2021. And, yet again, the wording does not disguise the goals of these reviews. In Australia, the ‘Quality Initial Teacher Education Review’ will consider how to attract and select high-quality candidates into the teaching profession and how to prepare ITE students to be effective teachers Nothing new to see here. In the UK, the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Market Review is focussing on ‘how the ITT sector can provide consistently high-quality training, in line with the core content framework, in a more efficient and effective market’

Do we need to keep talking about teacher and teacher educator professionalism? Definitely! 

Diane Mayer is a professor of education (Teacher Education) at the University of Oxford and an honorary professor at both the University of Queensland and the University of Sydney.

It’s anarchy in England. Australia’s ITE must now steer clear.

The announcement of the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review (QITER) and publication of the expert group’s discussion paper reminded some in the initial teacher education (ITE) and research communities of the continuing influence of England on Australian education policy as well as this country’s own unique history of a hundred and one damnations in teacher education reform. The QITER discussion paper refers to English innovations such as  Now Teach as well as to policy documents like the 2015 Carter Review. And the QITER expert panel has met with their English equivalents, according to panel members at a recent Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE) event.

 Since that ACDE event, the English panel, tasked with conducting a review of the ‘ITE market’, has published its report. The panel proposes dismantling much of England’s ITE infrastructure, forcing all providers to be reaccredited from scratch (to financially unviable criteria and unrealistic timelines); mandating 28 weeks’ placement in schools in all 38-week postgraduate ITE courses; and requiring absolute compliance with a government-prescribed curriculum – the Core Content Framework – under threat of dis-accreditation through inspections by the government’s schools inspectorate. Despite having demonstrated high quality ITE provision over at least the last ten years, according to the government’s own data, it is now possible for universities and school-based providers to fail inspections on the basis of what some of their staff believe and say in interviews with inspectors (there is no observation of training). Indeed, in the last few weeks, courses have started to fail because of what some people believe about teaching and programs have closed.

Unsurprisingly, these proposals shocked the sector and have led to unprecedented collective opposition: from all types of ITE provider (indeed, the response from school-based trainers has been the strongest); the UK Chartered College of Teaching; teacher unions; and individual professionals. Some high-profile universities like Cambridge have intimated they will close their courses. In an interview with Times Higher Education, Jo-Anne Baird, director of Oxford University’s Department of Education, said ‘I don’t know any university that would be able to create a model that runs counter to the principles of academic freedom.’ Even leaders of so-called ‘Teaching School Hubs’, likely to benefit from the proposals, have ‘expressed fury’ at the government’s response.

 So, in these last few weeks, especially, I wasn’t surprised that colleagues in Australia, noticing what they describe as ‘similar voices’ here, have asked me, as a relatively recent arrival in Melbourne  from London, whether what is happening in the UK could happen here? 

My answer has been ‘no, at least not yet’ and this is why.

First, England is not the UK. Historically, Scotland has always had greater independence in education and, since political devolution in 1999, Wales has been developing its own distinctive education system that is largely autonomous. So, my summary of the current state of ITE pertains to England only. We are not talking about comparisons with ‘UK policy’ but considering Australia (crucially, a federation) in relation to one out of the four UK jurisdictions.  And what has gone on in England, as I will explain, makes it an international outlier – or aberration, depending on your point of view.

Since 2010, the school system in England has become increasingly ‘academised’ – meaning the majority of secondary schools and increasingly large numbers of primary schools are either directly controlled by the education minister for England or controlled by that minister through an intermediary trust (a ‘multi-academy trust’). Local government has been marginalised to the extent that it now has few residual powers. England therefore has a highly centralised school system in terms of lines of accountability; schools are ultimately directly controlled by the education minister. These centralising, controlling policies come from a different branch of British conservatism to the one that has historically emphasised small government.

 This degree of tight control over a national school system is fundamental to understanding ITE reforms in England and what is possible in Australia. To create the conditions for the English situation to be replicated here, a new constitutional settlement between the states and the Commonwealth would be essential so that Mr Tudge and his successors directly control all Australian government schools. 

Control over schools in England – cleverly presented by Conservatives as an opportunity for a ‘school-led’ system – is critically important in explaining is the situation in England because when the state controls school funding, the curriculum and assessment, teachers’ professional standards, in-service professional development and qualifications, it is a comparatively small (if significant) step to then control how teachers are trained.

 Secondly, the distinctive context for the English ‘ITE Market Review’ has been produced in part by the abolition of virtually all autonomous, non-governmental regulatory or deliberative bodies (known as ‘QUANGOS’) in education in England following the 2010 general election. Justified by austerity policies following the global financial crisis, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Training and Development Agency for Schools, the National College of Teaching and Leadership and others were all abolished by the education minister, Michael Gove, alongside then special advisor, Dominic Cummings, an architect of the Vote Leave (Brexit) campaign.

In the Political Economy of Teacher Education (PETE) project, my colleagues and I drew on the work of Jennifer Wolch to describe the abolition of these agencies as ‘selective dismantling’ of key institutions that provide democratic oversight and scrutiny. As we pointed out, such selective dismantling ‘reduces opportunities for public deliberation and accountability while strengthening the decision-making powers of policymakers’. Governance structures, professional regulation and accreditation, curriculum and assessment policies, funding – are all now owned by the ministry – the Department for Education – right across England, with few exceptions. One exception is Ofsted (the schools inspectorate) that also inspects all ITE providers. However, in addition to being seen less as an independent agency than a tool of enforcement for party-political purposes, Ofsted has also been empowered to conduct ‘research’ that becomes an integral part of justifying policy. Concerns over the quality of Ofsted’s ‘research’ reached a peak recently concerning its review of Mathematics teaching when authors of several studies cited asked for the review to be withdrawn over misappropriations of their research.

So, beyond a single national government school system controlled by the minister, for similar conditions for ITE reform to exist in Australia, all Commonwealth and state regulatory and deliberative bodies would have to be abolished – goodbye AITSL, ACARA, the teacher regulatory authorities, etc – and their powers redirected to the federal minister in Canberra.

Additionally, a national inspection agency would be needed, with right of entry to all government schools and all universities and powers of dis-accreditation. And finally, that inspection agency would have to be controlled by the federal minister and the agency led by a political appointee who, even if they didn’t gain the approval of parliament, as would normally be expected, would nonetheless be empowered by the minister.

 In addition to these structural differences, the cultural, political and economic contexts for education in England have also developed along highly distinctive lines, something we identified in the PETE project as a new political economy of teacher development, In 2016, Verger, Fontdevila & Zancajo characterised English education policy as ‘privatisation as state reform’ where ‘public sector monopolies’ had to be marketised to be made more efficient and radical policy interventions were justified by ‘crisis frames’. In our early work in the PETE project we aligned ITE policy reforms in England with the loose coalition of interests known as the GERM – the Global Education Reform Movement. Under this analysis – and consistent with Wolch’s research on outsourcing public services to the private sector – a market of new entrepreneurial, private providers would emerge that would challenge ‘vested interest’ legacy institutions such as universities.

Innovation would come through market disruption.

However, what has happened in England – or, at least, has become more obvious – is that successive governments have not primarily intended to create a market of any kind; there has been no genuine interest in new forms of enterprise and competition. Their intention has not been merely to create what Wolch called a ‘shadow state’ – an assemblage of multiple non-state providers functioning in a (quasi-) market ‘administered outside of traditional democratic politics’.

 Rather, for these Conservative governments, the ‘market model’, as Wendy Brown observed, is just familiar narrative cover for increasing state control. 

Since 2010, reaching its apex in the recommendations of the latest report on ITE, England has experienced the heightening of the fundamental ‘free market/strong state’ contradiction in modern British conservatism where an absolute commitment to restoring/sustaining (often regressive) cultural traditions and traditional forms of authority has trumped free market principles and libertarian instincts and has done so in increasingly authoritarian ways.

Distinctively, too, English education ministers have relied on a very small number of individuals (a few teachers, current and former, often with very limited classroom time, usually active on Twitter, and one with unsuccessful experience as a nightclub bouncer; some chief execs of those multi-academy trusts; and always, always the same professor) upon whom they have bestowed political patronage, a sub-set of whom have also been funded to compete with legacy providers like universities or traditional education entrepreneurs. In the PETE project, we characterised these types of organisations as ‘co-created shadow state structures’ as they arose out of the meeting of the needs of an authoritarian state with the entrepreneurial instincts of some of those in receipt of political patronage. In our analysis of one policy intervention in 2017, for example, we found one organisation had won the largest proportion of the available funding for teacher CPL despite the fact that it didn’t exist at the time of the tender and had no track record.

Again, for similar conditions for ITE reform to exist in Australia, a different kind of conservatism would have to be dominant in policy-making, similar to the variety that has taken control of education in England. My limited experience of Australian politics suggests that while cultural restorationism and authoritarianism are not entirely absent from politics here, what tends to dominate are more classical liberal models that value ideals of small government, free markets and personal liberty. 

That’s not to say that traditionalism and authoritarian statist instincts, in the way that Poulantzas conceptualised them, do not have influence but they are not determining education policy in quite the comprehensive and urgent way that they are in England.

Finally and crucially, ITE providers in England – including, perhaps especially, the universities – lost the arguments about teacher education a long time ago, largely because they were not present in them. 

The organisation representing universities involved in ITE in England went along with the general direction of reforms and only recently seems to have woken up to the fact that it is now ‘do or die’ for the sector

Additionally, sector leaders in England, often in the research intensive universities, prioritised research performance and league tables and were prepared to proletarianise teacher educators (and I use that word technically) in pursuit of ‘research excellence’, as Jane McNicholl and I showed. What has been missing in the years leading up to the current crisis in England are confident, non-defensive voices arguing the case both for genuine diversity of provision and innovation in ITE and for building strong research programmes in teacher education, just as would be the aspiration in any other area of research. Universities, especially, if they believed they had a strong contribution to make to ITE and that, as universities, that contribution was partly in the form of research and innovation, failed to make it happen in England.

In discussing what might happen in ITE in Australia, I have met a few people who have argued vigorously for a more ‘joined-up’ education system here. I have heard frustration that good ideas emerging from the Commonwealth government are not picked up by states and that children and young people do not always get the education they deserve. One or two have even said to me they wished Australia was following the example of England in both the direction, coherence and pace of reform. My response has been ‘be careful of what you wish for’. Australia needs to aim a lot higher than England when looking for good ideas to influence innovation here. There are excellent examples of evidence-based interventions elsewhere in the world that can improve the quality of teaching. We need to look up, not down, we can’t be complacent, and we shouldn’t let the empire strike back. 

Viv Ellis is Dean of the Faculty of Education at Monash University. His latest book (with Lauren Gatti and Warwick Mansell), The New Political Economy of Teacher Education: The Enterprise Narrative and the Shadow State, will be published by Policy Press in 2022.

The One Teacher Test Which Won’t Make A Difference

Improving teacher quality has been central to recent education reform initiatives around the world. However, what counts as ‘quality’ within different educational contexts is highly contested, value-laden, vague and misconstrued. The Australian media, in particular, continues to circulate key political messages surrounding teacher quality, with the media suggesting that the problem lies with teachers themselves rather than the teaching practices, curriculum and resources they employ. The most salient solution, or that which is then offered to its readers for consumption, is the need for more national policy reform measures to address the failures or inherent decline of our education systems.   

National policy reform initiatives, in Australia and the US for example, have aimed to combat the seeming decline of their nation’s educational achievement as measured through scores on international achievement tests (e.g., PISA, TIMSS). This decline signals a loss of international competitiveness, contributing to a failure narrative which continues to haunt many education systems around the world. In Australia, concerns have been raised that a decline in national and international test scores signals a problem with the quality, or performativity, of its education system. Given that it is widely assumed that good teachers are inextricably linked to their students’ achievements, many educational policies have been underpinned by the assumption that quality in education can be quantified. In other words, the idea that teacher quality can be quantified and measured through the same measures we use to measure student achievement—standardised tests. However, the limitation of such an approach ignores the importance of context when determining what counts as quality in education. 

The Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education (LANTITE)

My research colleague, Russell Cross, and I were intrigued when the Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education (LANTITE) was introduced in 2016. LANTITE was part of a suite of educational reforms introduced and which aimed to ensure that we selected the best and brightest into teaching. While we both agree that teachers should have strong literacy and numeracy skills, we are also aware that standardised tests can be powerful gatekeepers—determining who enters the profession and who does not. To better understand the impact of this policy on teacher education and the teaching profession more broadly, we endeavoured to critically interrogate LANTITE as policy. We wanted to problematise the assumptions that underpinned the policy and consider the (un)intended consequences of such an approach. We drew upon Cochran-Smith and colleagues’ four-dimensional framework which examined:

  1. The discourses and influences which shape policy formulations
  2. Constructions of the problem and solutions of teacher education
  3. Policy enactment or how policies are interpreted into practice
  4. The outcomes of the policy

As I outline below, this framework allowed us to explore the power relations involved and examine the relationships between key actors (e.g., teacher candidates, initial teacher education programs, TEMAG, etc.). Given that policy is described as a web, cycle and enactment, with policy being created, directed, translated, and interpreted within different contexts, policies are not transactional and/or one-dimensional but are a complex web of compromises and settlements among policy actors. 

Addressing the teacher quality problem with policy solutions

In countries like the US and Australia, a discourse of outcomes has shaped discussions about quality within teacher education. This entails a focus on quantifiable and measurable outcomes, such as student test scores, retention rates and job placements, which then become measures for determining the quality of teachers and teacher education programs more broadly. However, recently in Australia, there has increasingly been a focus on inputs, in addition to outcomes. We observe this in regards to how the LANTITE, a federal initiative, is positioned as a policy solution to the perceived teacher quality problem. The LANTITE as a policy solution suggests that the problem lies within initial teacher education programs—in how they select teacher candidates into their programs and whom they allow to graduate. Initial teacher education programs have been criticised for being ‘cash cows,’ establishing minimum entry criteria so that universities can meet financial targets. This suggests that the teacher quality problem is due to the selection of low quality teacher candidates. Therefore, LANTITE is offered as a cost-effective solution (not for teacher candidates who pay for it but for the education system more broadly) to filter out those who should not be in teaching.  

We also argue that LANTITE as a policy solution—a standardised literacy and numeracy test for teachers—attempts to directly respond to the decline in Australian students’ literacy and numeracy test scores on national and international standardised tests. This suggests that the decline in Australian students’ standardised testing scores in literacy and numeracy skills is directly related to the literacy and numeracy skills of their teachers. Therefore, one might assume that if we ensure that teacher candidates score well on a standardised literacy and numeracy test, so too should their students on similar tests.  While, again, we argue that teachers should have strong literacy and numeracy skills, we argue that this might be too simplistic and care should be taken in thinking that a standardised literacy and numeracy test can (or should) 1) ensure that those teachers passing this test will ensure strong student scores in national and international test scores and 2) act as a valid measure of teacher quality in such as wide range of Australian school contexts.

Reforming teacher education?

Educational reforms are a natural part of a progressive society—the desire to improve what we are currently doing and how we are doing it. However, we wanted to examine whether or not the LANTITE, as a policy solution, was creating substantive reform within teacher education. Given the financial burden placed on teacher candidates to take the test, we wanted to know how many students were being excluded from the profession of teaching and how this test influenced the perspectives of teacher candidates. Our quantitative analysis on 2,013 LANTITE scores from a large metropolitan university were consistent with the national LANTITE pass rate of 90-95%. However, our analysis found that when students failed an attempt, they had a 50% chance of passing the test on their subsequent re-sit. Therefore, the 5-10% who failed the test, in our sample, did not reflect the number of teacher candidates who failed the maximum number of attempts but who had failed at that particular point in time. This suggests that many of the 5-10% would later go on to pass a subsequent attempt.  Given that most students receive up to four opportunities to sit the test and the overwhelming majority of students who sit the test pass it, LANTITE does not appear to be a very effective policy measure in clearly discerning who should enter teaching and who should not. With this said, however, there is still more research needed to investigate who is failing the maximum number of attempts and the reasons why. Some teacher candidates have argued that LANTITE discriminates against those with learning disabilities, those who suffer from test anxiety and those who are mature-aged. This calls into question how test accommodations are (or whether they should be) made and whether a standardised test is the most fair and balanced way to measure literacy and numeracy skills. The teacher candidates in our study argued that the test was just one of many hurdles that they have had to endure and will continue to endure as they must incessantly fight to prove that they are capable of being a good teacher. 

While LANTITE may not appear to have made a substantive impact on who is entering the teaching profession statistically (I acknowledge that it can have a significant impact for teacher candidates at a personal level), our research findings suggest that it is shaping how society, through discourses in the media, and how teacher candidates themselves view the profession. Unfortunately, the LANTITE policy positions the profession, teacher education, and teachers at a deficit. There is an assumption that the profession attracts those who are seemingly not very capable and therefore the best solution is a consistent, national approach to regain some semblance of quality. I, as an educator and researcher, wholeheartedly want to attract (and keep) the right people into the teaching profession but I am unsure as to whether the LANTITE is the most effective way to do so. 

Dr Melissa Barnes is a senior lecturer in Monash University’s Faculty of Education, working within the fields of teacher education, assessment, policy and TESOL. She teaches and leads research initiatives that focus on policy construction, interpretation and enactment, with a focus on how policies, including structures such as curriculum and assessments, impact and shape teaching and learning.

The government must know how to fix the teacher shortage. Why won’t it act now?

Schools are struggling with major teacher shortages and the reason is clear.

Australia’s education system is missing one fundamental part – a national teacher recruitment and retention strategy. 

Every other country I have reviewed has one; here’s England’s, here is Bulgaria’s, Zimbabwe’s is recently announced.  I’m not emphasising this because we should copy other countries. There is a much stronger argument –  internationally the importance of the teaching profession is widely understood, with appropriately weighty policy attention.

Australia’s current Quality Initial Teacher Education Review will make a contribution in this regard and it has broadened terms of reference to include “attracting and selecting high-quality candidates into the teaching profession“. However, the scope does not include retaining teachers nor effective allocation of them to areas of need. This is an area of pressing need and one of the structural systemic failings of our education system.

It will not be addressed with piecemeal policy shots. 

Policy gaps

The fact that we don’t have a national strategy on this speaks volumes about how teachers are undervalued in Australia; and how few with political power recognise the foundational role teachers hold in our economy, social fabric and democracy. 

The difficulties arising from this neglect, and there are many,  include: the current crisis in recruitment of teachers (shockingly evident in NSW where every week another school has to  take action because they are so understaffed), shifts to a less secure workforce, declining academic standards in admission to teaching degree, deteriorating work conditions and workload.

We desperately need a teacher recruitment and retention strategy – as a tool to redress this neglect, provide due respect to teachers and contribute to broader systemic reforms to reverse the declines we are seeing in many educational indicators (and no, I don’t just mean PISA scores). Piecemeal initiatives here and there are not enough, and those initiatives sometimes appear to willfully neglect the evidence base for what works in attracting and retaining teachers.

NSW’s recent announcement to provide what amounts to a cash incentive to attract mid-career professionals over to teaching, with six months of coursework and a six-month paid internship is yet another example of foolish policy. 

This approach has already failed once, as demonstrated by the Commonwealth Government response to the Action now, classroom ready teachers report some years ago. 

Attracting, recruiting and retaining candidates to a profession is a complex, multifactorial and lengthy process that will not be solved with a single incentive. It needs coordinated, comprehensive strategic response, with a long-term plan and system wide reform. This is not the same as the National teacher Workforce Strategy which does not lay out a plan to adress problems, but suggests monitoring via the Australian Teacher Workforce Data project which is still not fully operational after more than a decade in development.

We need a strategic plan built on evidence.

What the evidence says

A systematic review published earlier this year by See, Morris, Gorard and El Soufi provides an up-to-date analysis of the relevant literature. As a systematic review, which excludes research that does not meet research quality benchmarks, it provides a quality-assured evidence base. What does it say?

I am guessing this will not be news to the teachers out there:

“The only approach that seems to work at all is the offer of monetary inducements, but there are caveats” (See, Morris, Gorard and El Soufi, 2021, p.2.)

The caveats include that monetary inducements work only in attracting those already interested in teaching. The monetary inducements must also be large enough to compensate for challenging work conditions – and provide some offset for teachers who could be attracted to better paying jobs. Reforming both working conditions and financial incentives is important to attract high quality candidates to the profession. The recent Gallop review Valuing the Teaching Profession made it clear current teacher salaries are not competitive with those of similarly qualified professions – addressing this would require a 10 to 15 percent rise in teacher salaries. 

The systematic review also suggests that financial incentives also work better for attracting young females to teaching. They are less likely to work on older and male teachers. It is unclear how they would work in attracting diverse candidates to work in diverse Australian schools. Importantly, the monetary incentives are also only temporary, with no residual benefit. Once the incentive is finished, its power is gone. However monetary inducements do also work in retaining teachers, especially in changing school contexts. Thus, effective policies are more likely those with incentives for entering initial teacher education, and satisfactory pay across the full career span with special incentives for those working in challenging schools.

The review found no evidence for locally recruiting and training teacher education programs intended to supply hard-to-staff schools. Nor that teachers trained via alternative routes are more likely to stay in teaching – why would we keep investing money there then? It also found no good evidence that “pathways” improve recruitment into programs, with only one program shown to be effective in that regard.

There were some, complex findings regarding the effect of professional support for all teachers and mentoring for beginning teachers. Such effects impact on working conditions and workload, which are important considerations.

Uniquely Australian

Australia faces some unique challenges in regard to teacher recruitment and retention. In the 2020 report The Profession At Risk I had the unsavory task of analysing Australia’s declining trends in Initial Teacher Education admission standards, and degree completion rates.There are clear and disturbing trends in ATAR scores, but limited transparency on standards overall. Despite more and more students entering teaching degrees, less than 60 per cent of education students complete their degree within six years. I argue that the poor transparency and low standard for entry in Australia, far below international benchmarks, may be contributing to ( not a result of) the dwindling esteem of the profession- adding a unique element to the Australian teacher recruitment landscape. 

Other analyses suggest Australia also has specific problems with allocation of our teaching workforce.The OECD report Effective Teacher Policies shows that, uniquely, Australian schools have more teachers, and better qualified and more experienced teachers, in advantaged schools than in disadvantaged schools. 

But we also have a notably low share of top performing students who go on to be teachers; and those students are also more likely to teach in advantaged schools. This stands in contrast to the majority of OECD country who allocate the most high achieving, qualified and experienced teachers to the most disadvantaged schools. This is another reason why we need a comprehensive and coordinated national strategy. 

Like waiting for Godot

Teacher recruitment and retention isn’t a new issue for Australia. There have been periodic crises and reviews over that last four decades. A review way back in 1986 suggested a more coordinated, and politically neutral approach was needed. Recommendations have rarely been acted upon. A 2014 Australian DFAT report Teacher Quality Evidence review, exploring suitable policies for international development recipient countries found   

“The systemic development of teacher quality is dependent, first and foremost, on effective teacher recruitment strategies…Supporting effective teacher workforce management by donors can and should include strategies and interventions to deploy teachers in hard–to-reach areas as well as supporting national governments to develop rewarding conditions of service for teachers, ensuring that they are adequately remunerated

If this is the advice we are providing for international aid programs a decade ago, why are we yet to address it for our own precious education system?

Rachel Wilson is associate professor at The Sydney School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. She has expertise in educational assessment, research methods and programme evaluation, with broad interests across educational evidence, policy and practice. She is interested in system-level reform and has been involved in designing, implementing and researching many university and school education reforms. Rachel is on Twitter @RachelWilson100

Beginner teachers are NOT under prepared and NOT bad at managing behaviour. Here’s the evidence

For years claims have been circulating that newly graduated teachers are under prepared to teach in today’s often challenging classrooms, and that they are bad at classroom management. Thanks to mainstream media interest, and critics within education circles, these claims have led to an increasing array of government interventions in Initial Teacher Education in universities around Australia. What, how and to whom teacher education is delivered has been thoroughly examined and churned in the bid to improve teaching quality and student outcomes.

As teacher educators, intimately involved in teaching our new teachers and supporting them as they embark on their careers, we were deeply concerned about these claims so went looking for evidence of what was going wrong.

This blog post is about our research and what we found.

Be surprised, we found no evidence that beginning teachers in Australia are unprepared for the classroom or that they are bad at behaviour management.  

We believe extensive reforms have been made to Initial Teacher Education in Australia to ‘improve’ teacher quality without any evidence to support the claim that beginning teachers are less competent than experienced teachers.

Our research, carried out in Australian schools, found that most beginning teachers in fact engaged in higher levels of emotional support than their more experienced colleagues, and for most, behaviour management is not a problem.

Background on government ‘reforms’ to make teachers “classroom ready”

Following the now infamous 2014 Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report, which formalised the (we believe false) claim that graduate teachers were unprepared for the classroom, Australian universities have responded to accreditation requirements by

Various state governments have also made changes that impact universities intake criteria and course content: Queensland, for example, has mandated that students entering primary teacher education degrees must have four semesters of sound achievement in English, Maths and Science. New South Wales has signalled that to be eligible for employment in NSW government schools, students commencing a teaching degree from 2019, must:

  • Receive a minimum credit grade point average in their university degree.
  • Prove sound practical knowledge and ability, which will be reflected by an assessment of every single practicum report.
  • Show superior cognitive and emotional intelligence measured via a psychometric assessment.
  • Demonstrate their commitment to the values of public education in a behavioural interview.

Those doing online degrees are out.

None of these measures are bad, in and of themselves, although they have created significant compliance burden for teacher educators and schools of education, as well as increasing the fiscal pressure on schools and faculties of education.

The problem is that these interventions into university teacher education have come without any supporting empirical evidence that beginning teachers are less competent than their more experienced colleagues.

Our research into the teaching quality and classroom management skills of newly graduated teachers

What research method did we use?

There are different ways of measuring the quality of teaching. The two main ways involve using test scores (like NAPLAN for example) or by observing teachers teaching, and measuring the presence or absence of teaching practices known to add positively to students’ social, behavioural, and academic outcomes. The latter method is, of course, much more expensive because it uses direct observation, but it also can’t be manipulated like test scores can.

One method of direct observation is the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) observation measure developed by University of Virginia education specialists Bridget Hamre and Robert Pianta. We used this method in our six-year longitudinal study.

In our paper published in Teaching and Teacher Education this week, we compare the CLASS scores of beginning teachers (0-3 years’ experience) and experienced teachers (more than 3 years’ experience) and found no significant differences between the groups.

We used the CLASS system in our study investigating the development of severely disruptive behaviour of students because we were interested in learning the contribution made by the quality of teaching. In the very first year of this six-year longitudinal study, we noticed three standout teachers who were all in their early 20s and wrote about it in the AARE EduResearch Matters blog.

That’s also when we decided to ask how many years our teacher participants had been teaching in our research interviews because we were interested to see whether the excellent practice we were seeing bore out over time with a much larger number of participants.

Six years later, we can finally reveal: yes, it does and no, those three early career teachers were not an anomaly. Beginning teachers really do cut it.

We then broke our experienced teacher category into two (4-5 years and more than 5 years) and compared the CLASS scores of teachers in these groups with beginning teachers (0-3 years’ experience). This time there were significant differences with the 4-5 year experience group achieving significantly lower quality in three dimensions: Productivity, Instructional Learning Formats, and Negative Climate.

Importantly, there were very few participants in the 4-5 year experience group. While these findings do align with the possibility of a post three-year decline for some teachers, the findings should be interpreted with caution as extreme outliers can have a disproportionate influence on group means.

What’s the upshot?

We followed more than 200 students over six years and very few of their teachers declined participation. Their length of teacher experience ranged from 3 weeks to 38 years.

Basically, beginning teachers performed just as well as, or better than, teachers with more years of experience, regardless of the groups we compared them with. And, while all research is impacted by self-selection to some degree, in this study that was mitigated by our relationship with and presence in seven participating schools and the longitudinal nature of our project.

We found no evidence that beginning teachers were unprepared for the classroom or that they are bad at behaviour management. In fact, we found that most beginning teachers engaged in higher levels of emotional support than their more experienced colleagues. And behaviour management was the second highest scoring dimension of the 10 dimensions measured by the CLASS.

This evidence is good news for beginning teachers who must have been feeling pretty bruised in recent years and good news for preservice teachers who are scaling an increasing number of hurdles to prove their worth. It is also good news for teacher educators who work incredibly hard under enormous pressure to continually revise and refine their content and to support their students to do well.

Rather than implementing any more graduation hurdles designed to “vet” entry to the profession or further destabilising university teacher education, governments need to look at the evidence and turn instead to finding better ways of directing support to all teachers and provide intelligently targeted, quality professional learning to those who need it.

Professor Linda Graham is Director of The Centre for Inclusive Education at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Linda is currently Chief Investigator on several externally funded research projects including “Which children develop severely disruptive school behaviour?”, a six-year longitudinal study funded by the Australian Research Council. She has published more than 80 books, chapters, and journal articles, as well as numerous pieces published in The Conversation.

Associate Professor Sonia White is an academic in the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education and researcher in The Centre for Inclusive Education (C4IE) at QUT. Sonia is a registered mathematics teacher and her research investigates children’s early learning and development.

Dr Kathy Cologon is a senior lecturer in the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie University. Kathy has a particular interest in research and practice relating to the development and support of inclusive education, with a view towards greater recognition of the rights of all children.

Professor Robert Pianta is Dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and founding Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL). He is a leading expert in the field of developmental psychology with much of his research devoted to supporting teachers use of quality teaching practices that best support children’s academic, social-emotional and behavioural development. With his colleagues at CASTL, he has led the development of well-known measures including the Teacher-Student Relationship Scale and the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS).

The ignorance of our shared history is shocking. Morrison’s denial shows us time for truth-telling is NOW

Never has the cultural gap been so evident.  What I am talking about is the outright denial and whitewashing of the shared Australian history.  The leader of colonial Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison proclaimed on commercial radio station 2GB that Australia was founded on the basis that there be no slavery.  His failure to recall such histories as blackbirding or the forced indentured labour of Aboriginal peoples as domestic help or station hands after removal from family up until the 1960s has been rightly called out by historians and Aboriginal politicians

As an Aboriginal academic and first and foremost, educationalist, it is shocking to hear the apologetic voices of others excusing the Prime Minister’s dismissal of our shared history.  Such debates only further perpetuate the denial and divide within colonial Australia.  In reaction to the outcry Scott Morrison backed away from his original assertion by saying “there have been all sorts of hideous practices that have taken place, and so I’m not denying any of that” and that his comments on 2GB “were not intended to give offence, and if they did I deeply regret that and apologise for that”.

But it has not only been this latest act of denial by the prime minister.  The violence on Blak bodies in recent months has been an assault of endless proportions.  Politicians enacting blow after blow through their mindless rhetoric and inept claims incite further violence against Blak people.  But we should not be surprised with the contempt and disdain currently being hurled within politics and more pointedly, by the Prime Minister.  The denial and ignorance has been evident since the now Prime Minister, Scott Morrison’s maiden speech to parliament on the 14th of February, 2008.  The day after the momentous Apology to the Stolen Generations proffered by then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, Morrison said:

“…we cannot allow a national obsession with our past failures to overwhelm our national appetite for celebrating our modern stories of nationhood”.

He was speaking at the time about his view of the Australian nation, “the product of more than 200 years of sacrifice”.  One must ask just who or what was the sacrifice Morrison was referring to in this statement. 

The erasure of Blak histories and peoples was littered throughout his speech where he suggested that Australia was “at peace with its past”.  He continued stating that “this situation is not the result of any one act but of more than 200 years of shared ignorance, failed policies and failed communities”.  A shared ignorance!?  The outright dismissal of the Blak experience; the assimilatory properties of education where the sole purpose was to indoctrinate the Indigenous child into the ways of the coloniser – surely, the ignorance is not shared. 

Indigenous peoples know the western world.  We have been subjugated to learning the ways of the coloniser since 1788.  It was the intent to ‘discipline the savage’, if I was to paraphrase the words of Professor Martin Nakata.  The ignorance is not ours to bear.

Fast forward to 2018 when the debate about Australia Day was again being raised and Morrison was now the Prime Minister of Australia.  He had maintained that the need for Australia Day to remain as it is as “you don’t pretend your birthday was on a different day”.  He acknowledged that Australia’s national story had “a few scars” and that it was “not perfect”.  He further tweeted that “being honest about the past does [make Australia stronger] – our achievements and our failings.  We should not rewrite our history”.

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How ironic that in 2020 Morrison is doing exactly that!?  Rewriting history to placate the fragility of the Australian public.  Indentured labour is a euphemism for slavery in Australia.  There was no choice.  Aboriginal peoples and Pasifika peoples were not in a position to leave or change their conditions.

And yet, truth-telling is what the Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for.  Truth-telling is exactly that.  The truth must be told.  Not a white-washed history of a nation built on the stolen lands of Indigenous peoples but the truth.  And where better for that truth-telling to occur but in politics and in education.  For if the plight of the Indigenous child in the shared Australian historical context proves anything, education has the power to effect change and to privilege or deny the truth.

The responsibilities of schools and universities

And so while the current leader continues to use his power, privilege and position to deny Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the respect and dignity that they deserve, I turn my lens to schools and Initial Teacher Education programs in all Australian universities and their power, privilege and position to ensure that such blatant ignorance does not continue. 

Universities and schools have a responsibility to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures are embedded as well as privileged within their teaching and learning.  Shifts in teacher education policy has made it explicit to teachers and systems the importance of addressing the cultural gap. 

Classroom teachers and principals are required to demonstrate how they know students and how they learn as well as how they know the content and how to teach it.  Embedded within these focus areas are explicit reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and content.  The onus in ensuring that graduating teachers are meeting the standards is placed on Initial Teacher Education programs and universities.

Some universities have met this challenge by ensuring that there is a mandatory Indigenous knowledges course within their programs university wide.  There is recognition that doing so is beneficial not just for students but for society.  Universities are further required to have an Indigenous Graduate attribute for all courses and programs. 

In Initial Teacher Education, while it is not mandatory for a standalone course, the lack of cultural awareness on display of late surely illustrates the need for such a course.  That is, if the leader of the country does not know the shared histories, how can we expect peoples who have received the same western education to know any different?

We can change it

Education is where we can effect change.  Initial Teacher Education is where we can effect change within the education provided for all.  We can work towards addressing the cultural gap. Surely, it is time. 

It is time now to look to effect change, to work towards creating a world we want to live in.  It is time to privilege and centre Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges, histories, cultures and peoples. 

For far too long, the western education system has worked to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to ‘fit in’ to their systems.  It is time that the system looked at itself and hanged its head in shame with the power, privilege and position it has maintained and look towards creating a culturally inclusive and responsive society.  The time is now.

Melitta Hogarth is a Kamilaroi woman who is Assistant Dean (Indigenous) in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne.  Prior to entering academia Melitta taught for almost 20 years in all three sectors of the Queensland education system specifically in Secondary education.  Melitta’s interests are in education, equity and social justice.  Her PhD titled “Addressing the rights of Indigenous peoples in education: A critical analysis of Indigenous education policy” was awarded the Ray Debus Award for Doctoral Research in Education. Melitta is on Twitter @melitta_hogarth

Do we need to raise scores for entry into teacher education courses in Australia?

A fierce debate is raging at the moment in political and education circles about the quality of recruits into teaching courses. Universities claim that university courses can mould pre-service (student) teachers into classroom ready, quality teachers therefore students with lower entry scores should not be excluded.

On the other hand there is a popular political argument that universities need to raise entry levels to teacher education courses in order to lift the quality of teaching in Australia. The idea is if Australia had better teachers we would get better results, especially in international rankings of literacy and numeracy.

Labour’s education spokesperson, Tanya Plibersek, joined the debate recently when she said entry standards for prospective teachers in Australia must be higher than they are currently because we need the cleverest candidates to instruct our children. She proposed incentives to get smarter students into teaching.

Several states, including NSW, are already imposing increased standards for entry to teaching courses, although there remains a lot of resistance from some universities.

I believe to meet the challenges of the future and to attract and retain high quality teachers, it is important for universities to understand pre-service teacher motivation and their development of those important teacher characteristics. So I decided to have a closer look at what is happening with our student teachers: whether higher entry levels make a difference and what effect teacher education courses have on the qualities that would make them ‘classroom ready’, such as self efficacy (that is belief in one’s own ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task), resilience and persistence.

My research shows that entry levels do indeed make a difference. It also shows, perhaps surprisingly, that current teacher education programs do not seem to be influencing the major characteristics important to teachers that recruits bring into the course at entry point.

How attributes and dispositions are currently included in selection criteria

As Plibersek pointed out, entry-level grades into teacher training courses have been on a downward trend since 2006. Data show that high school marks for prospective teaching students have declined over the past 10 years. However during this time there has been an increased interest in the characteristics and attributes, other than entry score to university courses, of successful teachers.

These characteristics are recognised in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers that drive initial teaching education course curriculum planning and policy, and determine whether pre-service (student) teachers and graduates are classroom ready. As well as literacy and numeracy benchmarks pre-service teachers must show they meet seven standards and sub-standards. These standards are underpinned by an emphasis on empathy and ethical dispositions and a set of skills that result from resourcefulness and adroit capacity to motivate students.

Selection criteria into initial teacher education courses now aim to draw upon the most suitable candidates by ascertaining these dispositional attributes. Universities contend that these attributes and dispositions go beyond academic grades and are more important because teaching, like medicine, is considered to be a vocation not merely a profession.

My study

I wanted to look more closely at what was happening with student teachers: whether university study made a difference to their personal attributes and whether their entry scores made a difference to whether they would complete their course or not. We know that a large proportion of pre-service teachers drop out of their courses before completing their qualification for a range of reasons.

My study tracked a cohort of 190 pre-service teachers enrolled in a B.Ed. degree or a Graduate Diploma of Education from their first semester at university through to their final year or when they left or completed the course. I surveyed the undergraduates several times, beginning with a survey at the end of their first semester at university and then every semester till the end of their 3rd year, a year prior to graduating. The post-graduate pre-service teachers were surveyed at the end of the first semester at university.

The surveys assessed a number of goals and character traits, such as the students’ resilience and persistence, as well as their self-efficacy for various aspects of teaching. This was based on the hypothesis that these attributes would change and develop as a result of their university training. Survey results were Rasch analysed and then imputed into structural equation models to examine the links between the survey factors and timely course completion.

As I had records of all students, including those who dropped out or did not complete the course, the characteristics of those who changed courses or dropped out were also analysed and compared to those who completed their degree.

My results show what makes a difference

My results showed no significant differences between undergraduate and post-graduate students’ self-efficacy, resilience and persistence and no significant differences in these characteristics between those who completed their degrees and those who did not.

So teacher education and a student’s experience at university did not influence those important aspects of character that are considered to be highly desirable of quality teachers. Therefore it is important that we do indeed select those who are already focused on achieving their goals and are already persistent.

However those character traits had no effect upon timely degree completion. What mattered as far as timely completion were the student’s grades. Higher grades and goal directedness were the strongest predictors of a timely completion. Post-graduate pre-service teachers were more likely than undergraduates to complete their course and within the undergraduate cohort those specialising in Early Childhood Education were least likely to complete their degree.

So indeed entry scores make a difference in whether a student is likely to successfully complete their teaching degree. Those students with higher scores and those who already have a degree are more likely to complete. Those with lower scores are more likely to drop out.

These findings pose a number of questions in relation to pre-service teacher recruitment and training. For instance: How do we best support and motivate aspiring preservice teachers throughout their degree courses to keep them engaged? What critical personal attributes of preservice teachers ensure that they have the capacity and resilience to complete their degree? Are there contextual factors that impact upon preservice teacher completion rates and how do they vary by specialisation?

More significantly my findings indicate that perhaps prospective teacher recruits need to have higher entry scores than are currently required by some universities, irrespective of other dispositional attributes, if they are to graduate and enter the profession.

Helen Boon is Associate Professor in the College of Arts, Society & Education at James Cook University. She is Head of Curriculum and Pedagogy in Education. She teaches in the areas of educational psychology, special needs and behaviour management.  Helen has a strong research interest in climate change and the intersection of ethics, climate change and adaptation to climate change. Helen initially trained in Chemistry and Physiology and then taught Chemistry and Mathematics for a number of years.  Her preferred research methods are quantitative, including statistical modelling and Rasch modelling. Helen has led a number of projects:  a WIL project with partners from the School of  Medicine, a Collaboration Across Boundaries Project with the School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences,  and an NCCARF funded project with the  School of  Earth and Environmental Sciences and Charles Sturt University.  Helen is currently working on an ARC funded project examining the most effective pedagogies for Indigenous students. Recent publications include a longitudinal study about climate change education and pre-service teacher attitudes and a paper about the dearth of ethics training in preservice teacher programs across Australia.

Helen is reporting on her research at the 2017 AARE conference today.

 2017 AARE  Conference

The theme of the 2017 AARE conference is ‘Education: What’s politics got to do with it?’ There will be over 600 presentations of current educational research and panel sessions at the conference which runs all this week in Canberra. Journalists who want to attend or arrange interviews please contact Anna Sullivan, Communications Manager of AARE, Anna.Sullivan@unisa.edu.au or our editor Maralyn Parker, maralyn@aare.edu.au

Follow the conference on Twitter #AARE2017

 *NOTE to readers and bloggers. Our Facebook and LinkedIn shares are not showing in Firefox. Our tech people are on the case.

The four challenges Australia faces to improve the digital literacy of new teachers

The digital literacy of pre-service teachers was put in the spotlight recently. A report on the review of teaching information and communication technologies in initial teacher education received considerable media attention when new NSW education minister, Rob Stokes, released it.

The 49-page report, if you’d like to read it, is largely positive. However when Minister Stokes announced the report he spoke about “the need to better prepare teachers for an increasingly digital and online world.” So discussion that followed in the media quickly degenerated into conversation about the deficits in teacher education in NSW.

I wish we wouldn’t do that. Why is there always a need to lay blame, and why is initial teacher education often the scapegoat?

The report makes seven recommendations for initial teacher education. They are full of jargon and the language quite dense to any non-teacher. But suffice to say the review recommends that teacher education institutions should give priority to the digital literacy of their pre-service teachers as well as teaching them how to integrate technology into the curriculum. It emphasizes mentoring, and the provision of examples of best practice.

I am not here to critique those recommendations in particular (although I do wonder who sat on the ‘expert panel’ that made them, as the review does not tell us). What I want to do – as a former teacher in schools, researcher in classrooms and frequent teacher educator in universities in the field of technology enhanced learning – is talk about some of the challenges faced in teaching digital literacy skills to pre-service teachers and more generally to students in NSW schools.

The four challenges

Connectivity

Connectivity is still not consistent in many NSW public schools. Being able to connect every time, and quickly, is difficult. When I taught in a rural university in the US in late 2015 and visited various schools this was not the case. It was, to use a favourite word from the review, “seamless”. It must be easy every time in our schools.

Until having a seamless connection in every school is given proper attention and becomes a funding priority, teachers (especially new graduate teachers) will continue to be reluctant to base their lesson on something that depends on being connected. The fear, of course, is of their lesson falling apart. Some new graduate teachers do risk it and succeed; others try it but have a back up plan if they can’t connect readily the first time. But really, this should not be an issue in 2017.

Funding for professional development

Each large rollout of technology in NSW public schools (I am thinking of the Connected Classrooms Program in particular) was not accompanied by adequate funds for teacher professional development. There were newsletters with school-based case studies and some online materials. However, schools/teachers/principals were left to search for what they needed.

In the case of the federal government’s Digital Education Revolution (DER) there was hardware and a technical support officer but no dedicated funds for professional development or ongoing teacher professional learning.

This is critical in the tech space as obsolescence arrives fast and the ever-evolving state of tech means you must continually keep up to date.

Many tech companies have come into schools sold their products and left. There was scope in these two technology programs to work with teacher education; several did it quite well providing skills training for interactive whiteboards for pre-service teachers and some in content management systems. And of course, many of the larger tech companies did iPad deals with universities. But initial teacher education was peripheral to most of the exchanges.

The latest report seems to call for more ‘clinical training’. This could and does occur within preparation in subject disciplines. However in initial teacher education we not only teach with tech in our courses/units but we must also model it in terms of how pre-service teachers can construct deep learning alongside content for students in schools.

In the unit I am teaching at UTS this semester, in the Master of Teaching Program, I am reaching out to ‘teachers in the field’ to share what they do in secondary English. We connect via Skype or a Google Hangout each week. My students perfect and share a new tech app/tool/device that pedagogically fosters learning within their discipline. I prototype other technologies in unit content and last semester in the Digital Learning for a Digital Generation unit we focused on theory and effective technology enhanced learning practices in subject disciplines. We concluded the semester with a series of TeachMeets with excellent local in-service teachers as keynote speakers.

Develop digital fluency

A third challenge for initial teachers education is around suitable frameworks to develop pre-service and in-service teachers’ digital fluency. At the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) conference in Austin, Texas two weeks ago I learned that initial teacher education colleagues from a university in The Netherlands are using case studies to build confidence in digital skills and teaching practices in their pre-service teachers. They too found their teachers unable to connect digital literacy skills with theory and practice in classrooms in Dutch schools.

The case studies being used are those of some exemplary teachers from NSW public schools. Data collected in research over two years for these Dutch pre-service teacher cohorts shows this approach has impact. I can certainly enable access to the papers if people are interested.

In addition, a draft document detailing 12 teacher educator technology competencies was previewed. These are well worth consideration. Another peak technology in education association in the US with whom our local computer in education associations work, released a set of teacher standards in 2016. You could check these out.

In the digital literacy report, in addition to mentioning the technology framework of TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge) and SAMR (Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition ) there is scope to include the framework of High Possibility Classrooms an Australian example of a robust, validated pedagogical scaffold for technology enhanced learning for pre-service and in-service teachers. Several NSW public schools have High Possibility Classrooms in their strategic plans and in Victoria and the ACT; primary and secondary schools are finding it fills a much-needed gap in the how and why and why not of technology enhanced learning.

Educators involved with initial teacher education need continuous hands on experiences in schools

 The fourth challenge is to find a way for those involved in initial teacher education to spend time in contemporary classrooms. Many do and I acknowledge that.

Here is a radical idea: the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) could work with initial teacher education institutions to find placements in schools or classrooms for teacher educators for a minimum of five days in every year. It would be an internship of sorts. Or is that one step too far?

I believe initial teacher education is doing its work in NSW but, yes, there is more to do. It is an important conversation for us to have.

 

Dr Jane Hunter is an education researcher in technology enhanced learning the School of Education, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney. She is conducting a series of STEM studies focused on building teacher capacity; in this work she leads teachers, school principals, students and communities to better understand and support education change. Jane was a senior education officer/advisor in the NSW Department of Education for seven years, and in her work in initial teacher education at three NSW universities has received national and international teaching awards for outstanding contributions to student learning. She enjoys writing and her research-based presentations at national and international conferences challenge audiences to consider alternate education possibilities. This Wednesday evening at the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences she is a NSW finalist for STEM communication in FameLab.

You can follow her on Twitter @janehunter01

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.