Susan Ledger

How to support our proud and essential profession

Each day this week, EduResearch Matters will publish the views of educational leaders on the state of education in Australia on the eve of the federal election. Today: Susan Ledger, Dean of Education, University of Newcastle

Education has been noticeably absent in this election agenda. What should policy makers in the next government do to support and respect students, teachers, leaders and educational researchers? Reform efforts must recognise the complexity, diversity and interrelatedness of all parts of the education system – students and families, early childhood, primary, secondary, vocational, higher education, and initial teacher education.

Teacher education would benefit from seven key actions. 

First, we must strengthen trust, understanding and support for the whole of profession – preservice, in-service and training. A combined approach within the profession will develop, induct and support great teachers who will inspire their students to learn (see Quality Teaching Model and  NSW Great Teaching Inspired Learning)

Second, we need to replace career bureaucrats with teachers and teacher educators in key policy-making positions in the same way other professions are represented.

Third, we must recognise and adapt for diversity. Much can be learnt from our Australian Teacher Workforce Data information. It highlights the need for more culturally and linguistically diverse teachers to align with the changing student population.

Fourth, teacher education would benefit from prioritising the three dimensions of the Australian Curriculum, the general capabilities and cross curriculum priorities rather than subject only. With the UN Sustainable Development Goals used as a backdrop.

Fifth, we need to prioritise ‘intelligent’ conceptualisations of what constitutes good evidence of teaching work (Mockler & Stacey, 2021). Collaborative research endeavours that draw from multiple perspectives, not singular silver bullet approaches would benefit all. Involving teachers as researchers in Research Invested Schools is helping to re-professionalise teaching and reinvigorate teachers as experts (Twining, 2022).

Sixth, we must focus on the learning journey of a student and strengthen links across the education lifecycle from early childhood to primary, secondary, vocational and higher education. We know, for example, that the return on investment in early childhood education exceeds all other phases, yet early childhood teachers and childhood workers earn significantly less than other educators.

Finally, the profession would benefit enormously by prioritising and actioning the recent Quality Initial Teacher Education Review recommendations, particularly:

·       Recommendation #1: Raise the status of Teaching

·       Recommendation #3: Reduce Teacher’s workloads

·       Recommendation #9: Support families and carers to engage with teachers

·       Recommendation #14: Establish a Centre for Excellence to teach, research and evaluate best teaching practice.

More than $550Million was spent on policy reform between 2009-2013 driven by the National Partnership Agreement on Improving Teacher Quality Program (NTPQ). Emphasising quality, standards, accountability and evidence-based practices,this reform transformed the education sector and led to the creation of:

·       The Teaching Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG);

·       Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), the National Teacher Professional Standards and National Principal Standard, national accreditation for initial teacher education, nationally consistent registration for all teachers, and certification of highly accomplished and lead teachers;

·       a national curriculum, introduced through the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA);

·       Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) and National Quality Standard.

·       And adjustments to the Australian Quality Framework for Higher Education (AQF).

Teachers, schools and ITE providers responded to the calls for change and accommodated and adjusted their practices. 

A decade later we are witnessing intended and unintended outcomes of this national policy reform. It has been successful in achieving its intended outcome – to develop a national standardised approach to our schooling system. Yet, we are also witnessing the unintended outcomes of the policy reform on our schooling sector.

Enactment of the NPTQ has resulted in uneven and potentially inequitable outcomes, resourcing, privileging and market-like rationalities. Media and politicians lament stagnating student results against benchmarks like NAPLAN and PISA. Teacher and teaching quality is under continual scrutiny. Teachers are leaving the profession in large numbers and it is increasingly more difficult to attract teachers into the workforce. Teacher shortages are already impacting students. Ideological debates between pedagogical choices in literacy, numeracy and teaching methods have arisen and promote competition over collaboration in teaching, learning and research forums. Burdened by unrealistic and often relentless administration many teachers, leaders and initial teacher education providers have been reduced to compliant technicians rather than inspiring practitioners. The workforce is undervalued and overburdened which has reduced the agency, confidence, and even the passion of the profession. 

A focus on quality and accountability is positive and encouraged, but not when it is narrowly focused and comes at the expense of the teachers, students and families within our education ecosystem. Our measures of quality and accountability that judge the health of our sector must include individual and collective wellbeing, evidence of passion for teaching and learning, and confidence in emerging pedagogically informed technologies.

From my 30 years of teaching in rural, remote and metropolitan hard to staff schools, both in Australia and overseas, coupled with my more recent experience preparing teachers for schools’ changing population, environmental impacts and pandemics, I believe we must focus on the development of the whole child, teacher, leader and system, not simply component parts.

Professor Susan Ledger is Head of School and Dean of Education at University of Newcastle and in that role is responsible for transforming teacher education, advocating for the profession and developing partnerships between schools, universities and educational sectors