Part two of a two-part series in response to Stuart Robert’s comments last week. Yesterday: Rachel Wilson on Dud teachers or a dud minister? Here are the facts
Australia is facing a teacher shortage crisis. Schools are struggling to find enough teachers to teach their students. The situation is extremely dire. For example, modelling indicates that Australia is going to be short of more than 8,000 primary school teachers by 2025. Too few people are entering the profession and, worryingly, far too many teachers are leaving early especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Low wages, overwork, difficult student behaviour, lack of support and stress are some of the reasons teachers leave the profession or have periods of sick leave.
The Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Hon Stuart Robert MP gave a very irresponsible speech last week, which will do more harm to the teacher supply crisis. Robert claimed that he wants to ‘attract the very best candidates to the teaching profession and to ensure they are well prepared when they first enter the classroom.’ However, he argued that Australia needs to ‘knock down the bottom 10 per cent of dud teachers’.
He went on to explain:
… you can hire and fire your own teachers, I’m talking to the heads of your schools here. And there’s no way they will accept a dud teacher in their school like, not for a second. So for your school, you just don’t have them, you don’t have bottom 10 per cent of teachers dragging the chain.
This is a clear and calculated political statement about the quality of teachers and how they should be treated.
Robert argued, ‘The point being, if we can take the bottom 10 per cent quality of teachers and turn them into the average quality within the teaching profession, we will arrest the decline.’
Such political statements frame teachers as a “problem” and are aimed at creating derision and uncertainty in the broader public. Robert is doing this well.
Robert clearly calls into question:
· ‘what students are taught’
· ‘how students are taught’
· ‘the environment in which students are taught’
· ‘the content of ITE courses’
· the levels of ‘disruptive behaviour in classrooms’
He also calls into question other aspects of education in Australia, including:
· the quality of public schooling,
· the quality of teaching,
· a preference for certain types of education research,
· public school lack values,
· parents’ preferences for schools
· students’ levels of achievement
· the safety of schools
Roberts’ comments suggest that he considers himself as an appropriate expert who can make informed decisions about education. For example he states, ‘my assessment is that the revisions are travelling very very well.’
Unfortunately, public statements by powerful people, such as Robert, politicise teachers and their work. This politicisation influences who is attracted into the teaching profession and how they do their work, particularly those teachers at the beginning of their careers.
Robert’s political views expressed in this speech focus on individual and deficit perspectives of teachers. He raises unfounded concerns about many aspects of education in Australia.
Regular attacks on student performance, teacher quality, teacher education, academic standards, teaching methods, and school discipline occur in many countries around the world.
These views are intentional and aimed at undermining perceptions of the success of education systems to bring about more traditional approaches to schooling. That is, politicians like Robert are pursuing an ideological agenda which undermines the professionalism of educators and ignores the bodies of research that should be informing policy and practice.
Such negative views of education continually undermine the profession and create tensions and doubt in society. In this environment it is very easy to slide into disparaging and demeaning public discourses about the declining quality of teachers and the profession more generally.
In a context of uncertainty related to the quality of education in Australia, there is likely to be a range of political remedies to “fix” the problem of incompetent and ill-prepared teachers by reasserting control over teachers’ work and focusing on traditional teaching methods such as scripted curriculum, testing, rewards and sanctions, behaviour management, and explicit instruction.
Australians should be very concerned because Robert’s comments contribute to further de-professionalisation of teachers’ work and a lack of trust in the work teachers do. They are likely to deter people from considering teaching as a career option and could lead to further problems to the overall supply of teachers.
Finally, we should not have ministers of education making politically motivated statements like this:
‘So why don’t we face the brutal reality that we have got to arrest the quality of our teaching, if we are going to make a difference when it comes to it and stop pussyfooting around the fact that the problem is the protection of teachers that don’t want to be there; that aren’t up to the right standard; that are graduating from university or have been for the last 10 years and they can’t read and write. They can’t pass the LANTITE test.’
They are damaging Australian education.
Professor Anna Sullivan is the Director of Centre for Research in Educational and Social Inclusion at the University of South Australia. One of her areas of research focuses on early career teachers’ work. In particular, she has sought to understand the ways in which teachers’ work can be restructured to enable their success and how early career teachers can be supported to stay in the profession.