teacher education

How to fix education: cut tests, defund private schools

In the final part in our series of what the next government should do to save Australian education, Jill Blackmore, Amanda Keddie and Katrina MacDonald ask: What is the problem of schooling in Australia and how can we fix it?

Education has been politicised over the last three decades, yet it has not been a key feature of the current election campaign. To be sure, we have heard public statements from Federal Education Minister (acting) Stuart Robert about ‘dud’ teachers in our public education system as well as his approval of increasing student demand for private sector schooling. Amid both parties’ support for parental choice in education and concerns about Australia’s under-performance on standardised international and national tests such as PISA and NAPLAN, the focus in this election campaign has largely been on how teacher quality might be improved through attracting and retaining better teachers. While quality teaching is important, this focus misrecognises the ‘problems’ of Australian education in a number of ways.

First, the yardstick of a successful education cannot be measured by student performance on standardised tests. These are highly narrow indicators of school success but continue to be put forth as evidence that our teachers and schools are effective/ineffective. For decades, education policy and practice has mandated the multiple purposes of education (academic and social). It is more important than ever before as we witness the social and economic costs of rising global and local conflict and the continued degradation of our environment that schools develop students’ critical, social and relational capacities as future active citizens to change a world on the brink of destruction. Although, it is promising to see the inclusion of sexual consent education in the Australian Curriculum as well as efforts to better recognise and integrate Indigenous perspectives and learning, it seems that politicians remain focused on narrow academic outcomes as the indicator of school success. Decades of research has told us that the testing culture in schools continues to degrade quality teaching and learning. Standardised testing of literacy, numeracy and science is not the problem. The problem is the way it has been weaponised to blame schools, teachers and students within a marketized and competitive education systems where under-performance on these tests is equated with bad teachers and schools (Smyth, 2011). How might this be different? Some have suggested that testing a randomised sample of schools to represent the diversity of schools in Australia might be a good way of gauging school performance on these markers.  Many countries reject standardised assessment, and have adopted this practice, such as New Zealand did in 2018.

Second, the emphasis on teacher quality in current political arguments tends to focus on teachers as individuals rather than as part of a feminised and (now) marketised profession that continues to be maligned publicly including by our elected representatives in government (Barnes, 2021). Raising the status of the teaching profession is a laudable goal amongst Labor’s education policy promises. Teachers are underpaid relative to other professions. They are overworked, confronted with increasing violence from students and parents, and they are operating in marketized systems where they must prioritise improvements on the measures that count (i.e., narrow academic outputs) lest their school becomes labelled as failing. In this pressurised environment, teachers are exhausted by increasingly untenable amounts of administration, accountability checklists and external demands (Heffernan, Bright, Kim, Longmuir, & Magyar, 2022). Teaching is therefore no longer attractive to many and even those who become teachers are disenchanted and exit because of the conditions of work and lack of professional autonomy. Both major parties have a commitment to attract high academic performing students into the profession through various programs and incentives. These initiatives may raise the status of teaching to some extent for some schools but they will do little to change the devaluing of the profession as feminised or the marketized system that has de-professionalised teachers.

Third, improving Initial Teacher Education is another policy focus for both major parties. Again, as it is situated within a competitive marketized system, Initial Teacher Education has been damaged as a consequence of JobReady policies. Federal funding to Education faculties has declined at the same time as they are expected to teach more students. This has led to a degrading of teacher education courses. Competitive market and education policy pressures have led to a burgeoning of shorter courses provided by multiple providers and intensified measures of accountability. Teaching is a complex profession that will not be mastered through short university courses. Teacher quality that leads to creating active, informed and critical citizens who can change the world for the better requires degree courses that foster deep, critical and broad learning about this complex job.

Fourth, both parties are silent on the gross funding inequality within and between our education system. In 2020, the total gross income available (including state and federal recurrent funding, equity loadings, fees and charges) per student was $16,020 for public schools, $17,057 for Catholic schools and $22,081 for independent schools (Australian Curriculum and Assessment and Reporting Authority). The reality is that public schools are chronically underfunded according to the minimum Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) (less than 1% of public schools will receive the minimum funding by 2023). In addition, the Catholic Education Office and ‘Independent’ schools have fewer accountability requirements. These schools are, of course, selective in who they accept (on the basis of ability to pay but also other factors such as religion and gender) which segregates children and fortifies inequality. Public schools, on the other hand, are left to support the most disadvantaged students with less resources. 

Fifth, both major parties support the right for parents to shop around and select the ‘best’ school for their children. What politicians don’t divulge is how this practice has been highly damaging for school equality. School choice policies over decades have encouraged competition, stratification and residualisation within and between education sectors assisted by the public availability of standardised testing data (MySchool) where schools are ranked on their performance. This has increased inequality between schools, students, communities, families and teachers – the ‘good’ schools get more students and more funds while ’bad’ schools get less students and less funds. What politicians don’t say is how school choice privileges already privileged parents and students who have the capacity and resources to select schools (including moving house to be close to ‘better’ schools). 

State governments are ostensibly responsible for public schooling in Australia, however federal governments can do a lot to improve education. If political parties are serious in this endeavour, the following (at least) needs to occur:

  • Remove standardised testing of narrow academic performance of all schools to testing of a random representative sample of schools
  • Improve the work conditions of teachers and school principals through greater pay, less intensive workloads, greater access to specialist support, greater time for professional development and planning, and greater security of employment (e.g. reducing casualisation)
  • Stop blaming teachers especially those in the public sector for problems that the system and society have created (schools cannot cure the ills of neoliberal, capitalist societies)
  • Implement the Gonski funding recommendations fully and immediately as they intended. This means equitable and fair redistribution of resources on the basis of need. This will mean recalibrating federal and state funding models to reduce or remove funding to ‘independent’ schools that do not need this funding.

From left to right: Jill Blackmore AM Ph D FASSA is Alfred Deakin Professor in Education, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Australia and Vice-President  of the Australian Association of University Professors.  She researches from a feminist perspective education policy and governance; international and intercultural education; leadership, and organisational change; spatial redesign and innovative pedagogies; and teachers’ and academics’ work. Recent projects have focused on school autonomy reform and international students’ mobility, identity, belonging and connectedness. Her latest publication is Disrupting Leadership in the Entrepreneurial University: Disengagement and Diversity (2022, Bloomsbury). Amanda Keddie is a Professor of Education at Deakin University. Her research examines the processes, practices and conditions that can impact on the pursuit of social justice in education settings. Amanda’s qualitative research has been based within the Australian, English and American schooling contexts. Follow her on @amandamkeddie. Katrina MacDonald is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Deakin University’s Strategic Research Centre in Education, Research for Educational Impact (REDI). Her research and teaching interests are in educational leadership, social justice, spatiality, and the sociology of education through a practice lens (feminist, Bourdieu, practice architectures). Katrina’s qualitative research has focused on principal’s social justice understandings and practices, and the impact of school reform policies on the provision of just public schooling. She tweets at @drfeersumenjin

My urgent wish list for Australian education

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: Caroline Mansfield, Dean, School of Education, Fremantle Campus, University of Notre Dame in Western Australia

Tuesday, linked here: Jim Watterston, Dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education

Monday, linked here: Susan Ledger, Dean of Education, University of Newcastle.

Wish 1: Strategic investment to build a better regional, rural and remote (RRR) workforce

The issue of attraction and retention of teachers working in RRR contexts is not new, yet preparing teachers to work in these contexts is challenging. Investment is needed to support a range of strategies to build a better RRR workforce in Education and to encourage pre-service teachers have at least one placement in a RRR context. Successful models of how this might be achieved can be found in other disciplines. For example, the Majarlin Kimberley Centre for Remote Health which is a collaboration between 5 universities, aims to contribute to increased recruitment and retention of the health workforce in the Kimberley through placements, skills and knowledge for working in remote locations, cultural safety and innovative models of care. A model like this multi-university training hub would make a significant difference to the education workforce in RRR contexts, and could potentially improve outcomes for students living in non-metropolitan areas. 

Wish 2: Supported collaboration between ITE providers and employers 

Collaboration and meaningful partnerships between employers and ITE providers are critical for supporting teacher quality, transition to the profession, ongoing professional learning and research. The recent QITE report advocates such collaboration specifically to support the early years of teaching, a welcome move. Funding schemes to support collaboration on areas of strategic priority, and research to provide the evidence base for successful interventions will be essential as we move forward.

Wish 3: An evidence informed, career-span approach to teacher quality

The issue of teacher quality in Australia is also not new, and reforms to improve teacher quality have largely focused on Initial Teacher Education (ITE), with little evidence provided to support the view that ITE providers are not graduating high quality teachers. Although a further swathe of reforms is due, there is significant lag time for these reforms to impact the profession – 2025 at the earliest. What happens between now and then? 

Focusing the quality teacher debate on ITE and prospective teachers neglects some broader professional issues of current teachers such as heavy workloads, stress, mental ill-health, increased external regulation and accountability, along with the declining status of teachers in Australian society. While these challenges are also well known, investment in school-based support to ease teacher workload (such as educational assistants, psychologists, allied health, administrative support) has not kept pace with demand. Investment is needed to improve working conditions for teachers, which in turn will increase attractiveness of the profession to potential teachers. 

Caroline Mansfield is Professor and Executive Dean, Faculty of Education, Philosophy and Theology. In 2016, she became an Australian Teaching and Learning Fellow, having won a National Teaching Fellowship to continue her work regarding resilience in higher education (www.stayingbrite.edu.au).

If only we really wanted to solve the problems

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: Jim Watterston, Dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Yesterday: Susan LedgerDean of Education, University of Newcastle.

As we head towards a federal election, commitments in the school education arena from the mainstream political parties seem to be both inadequate and misguided.

In my view, both the Government and the Opposition have taken a very limited policy focus from a school education perspective that does not effectively address the ‘so called’ problem. Put bluntly, the underlying rationale from both parties for proposed change is that the quality of students currently entering Universities to become teachers are not of sufficient standard. It seems that universities don’t really know how to adequately prepare the next generation of super-teachers who can turn around our academic fortunes! Simplistically, the rhetoric from both political camps goes along the lines of “if only we could attract the best students who have achieved an ATAR in Year twelve in the top thirty percent of the population, then we would be able to regain our once esteemed international PISA test results ranking and also improve the performance of all students in NAPLAN reading and mathematics testing”.

The recently released Quality Initial Teacher Education (QITE) Review commissioned by Minister (at the time) Alan Tudge, proposes seventeen curious and seemingly disconnected recommendations to improve the quality of new teachers graduating out of universities and transitioning into the profession. The Government report is the basis for reforms to lift school performance standards. More recently Shadow Minister, Tanya Plibersek has released a Labor policy commitment, should they be returned to government, that aims to ‘out-Tudge’ the government in the ITE problem solving domain.

The major problem is, however, that Initial Teacher Education (ITE) is not the easy answer to why national and international testing of student performance in Australia is in comparative decline. In addition to currently being a Dean of Education, I have previously headed up school systems in three Australian States and Territories and have been a principal of a number of small and large, rural, remote and metro schools. I know that while ITE could always be improved, there have been significant and highly positive national ITE reforms put in place over the past eight years which are making a difference but there is still no change to PISA and NAPLAN results. Why? Because ITE is not the fundamental problem or the direct solution to improving test scores!

Unfortunately, a quick survey of schools and particularly school leaders in Government and Catholic schools would reveal school performance standards are directly reflective of each school’s postcode.

In other words, the overall Socio-Economic Status (SES) of aggregated school families is, for the most-part, the determinant of overall school performance. Schools in poor communities generally get lower results than schools in high income locations. The real question should be that if we know this, then why aren’t we doing anything meaningful about it?

To address the stagnation and decline of student performance in Australia will require a brave and well-informed national government to first of all speak to and listen to those in all schools to find out that the problems of current practice stem from the inability to adequately fund challenged communities in order to provide equitable opportunity of achievement and life chances. As we reflect on the ten-year anniversary of Gonski funding which brought significantly increased funding to all schools, we should be asking the major parties to explain why the additional billions of dollars have not changed the achievement dial across all schools. We should ask them to invest more of the Gonski rivers of gold into paying high performing current and prospective teachers more attractive salaries to work in hard-to-staff communities and to use additional funding to provide better amenities such as quality housing, safety and increased capacity for travel in these locations so teachers can get the same access to services that metropolitan schools receive. What are these services you ask? Regular teacher professional development from experts at their school, access to professional support services within the school (psychologists, speech pathologists, nurses, access to quality relief teachers, student counsellors….and the list goes on), student engagement and disability support, and programs that build community connection and involvement.

The fact is, the further you move away from the metropolitan area the harder it is to attract the best teachers to move to under-resourced, understaffed, and unsupported schools. The most challenged schools in our country get the worst deal. Throwing a few dollars at students during their time in university will not ensure that ITE graduates go to the most difficult schools. My observation is that in our university, the highest performing students are quickly snapped up by the best and most inordinately resourced schools. I haven’t just read about this problem or have simply spoken to teachers and school leaders on Zoom calls or on the phone; I have visited thousands of Australian schools and have observed and listened to those in the field often describe the third world problems that exist in various locations. 

So, it is well beyond time to stop producing micro-election commitments that don’t make a difference. It is well beyond time to actually commit to really focussing on equity for all and doing whatever it takes. Pay teachers what they are worth and hold them to account once they have the optimal resourcing that is required, and change will occur.

Instead of political auctions every three years for things we don’t want, we need a bipartisan ten-year education plan that is not the source of political squabbling but becomes long-term agreement on what really needs to be done so that we can all stay the course and make it work.

I’ve always been a dreamer!

Jim Watterson is the Enterprise Professor and Dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. He served for six years as the National President for the Australian Council for Education LeadersHe was the Deputy Secretary of the Victorian Education Department, and Director General of both the ACT and, most recently, Queensland Departments of Education and Training.

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

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.

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).

Teachers ‘must show’ emotional intelligence but how will it be measured? (And other questions)

All initial teacher education graduates must now “show superior cognitive and emotional intelligence measured via a psychometric assessment” before they will be considered for teaching jobs in New South Wales public schools.  This requirement is part of the Teacher Success Profile launched last year by the New South Wales Education Minister Rob Stokes.

I asked the New South Wales Department of Education, Teach NSW and NSW Education Standards Authority for a copy of the Teacher Success Profile because I was interested to find out what “superior emotional intelligence” means. However, at the time of writing this article it has not been made available.

After doing further research into this, I am still unclear what “superior emotional intelligence” actually means.

My research on teachers and emotional intelligence

I lead a scoping review to find out what is known from the existing research literature about pre-service teachers and emotional intelligence. We found 24 articles published which fit the criteria for this scoping review, 23 of these used quantitative research methods, that is they used statistical, mathematical, or computational research techniques.

Our scoping review revealed little is known about pre-service teachers’ emotional intelligence. There is a lack of literature available for initial teacher education providers to use in supporting their pre-service teachers to develop “superior emotional intelligence”.

Lack of Australian context

The 24 articles we found were produced during the years 2000 to 2019. Over one third originated from Turkey, with the other studies representing globally diverse origins. Only one of the studies involved Australian pre service teachers.

Most of the current knowledge has been developed through quantitative research methods. Twenty-three of the studies used quantitative methods such as correlation and descriptive statistics. Only one study used a solely qualitative phenomenological method, which focuses on an individual’s lived experiences within the world.

While the scoping review did not explain what “superior emotional intelligence” might mean to the NSW Department of Education, the current quantitative literature does offer some insight into the trends, relationships and statistically significant results in the area of pre-service teacher emotional intelligence.

What we know emotional intelligence and teaching

Psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer who developed the model describe emotional intelligence as

a type of social intelligence which includes skills such as: recognising, monitoring and managing one’s own and others’ feelings; being aware of the difference between them; and applying this information to direct ideas and actions. Emotional intelligence includes both verbal and non-verbal evaluation, expression of feelings, regulation of one’s own and others’ feelings and the application of emotional content in problem-solving

Research has demonstrated that emotional intelligence plays a significant role in teacher effectiveness. In his book examining teacher emotional intelligence, former Professor of Educational Development at Birmingham City University, Alan Mortiboys, argues that in addition to high levels of subject and pedagogical knowledge, highly effective teachers also have high levels of emotional intelligence. Teacher emotional intelligence has been shown to influence students’ behaviour, engagement, attachment to school, and academic performance.

High levels of emotional intelligence also support teacher wellbeing. Teachers who are more skilled at regulating their emotions experience greater job satisfaction, positive affect whilst teaching and support from their principals, and are less likely to experience burnout.

The literature shows that pre-service (student) teacher emotional intelligence correlates positively with pre-service teacher  self-efficacy, which is a pre-service teacher’s belief in their ability to succeed in specific situations and accomplish a task.

We know that emotions greatly impact on the teaching and learning process. Emotions matter in learning, in teaching and in learning to teach.

We also know that emotional intelligence is not a genetically determined or fixed trait, therefore it is possible to both teach and learn emotional intelligence skills and strategies. Thus, the inclusion of emotional intelligence education in initial teacher education courses would suggest that graduates of these programs should demonstrate greater emotional intelligence as they begin their teaching careers.

We found many gaps

Although, having pre-service teachers with “superior emotional intelligence” sounds very appealing, my scoping review shows there are gaps in our knowledge that have resulted from the paucity of qualitative research in this area. Qualitative research is important as it allows for rich, detailed description of peoples’ lived experiences with complex phenomena, such as emotional intelligence.

Current literature does not adequately address questions such as:

  • Should emotional intelligence be included in initial teacher education program selection criteria?
  • How can initial teacher education providers best meet pre-service teacher emotional intelligence needs?
  • What is the most appropriate measure of emotional intelligence for pre-service teachers?
  • How can emotional intelligence skills be integrated across the initial teacher education curriculum?
  • How do pre-service teachers use emotional intelligence skills to inform their development as teachers?
  • How does pre-service teachers’ teaching practice change as their emotional intelligence develops?
  • Which elements of emotional intelligence are the most pertinent and the most challenging for pre-service teachers to develop?
  • How do pre-service teachers use emotional intelligence to help them manage challenging situations in their initial teacher education course?
  • How do pre-service teachers translate their emotional intelligence understandings into classroom practice?
  • How do pre-service teachers use emotional intelligence to benefit their students and inform their teaching practice as graduate teachers?

Further research is needed to address these questions. The findings of such research could prove significant in informing the implementation of the New South Wales Teacher Success Profile.

Joining the list of Teacher Education Reforms

Reforms in Australia’s initial teacher education programs add weight to the call for greater examination of emotional intelligence in initial teacher education programs. In response to Australian students’ declining results on standardised tests, a number of measures have been introduced to ensure the high standard of teachers graduating from initial teacher education programs. The reforms include an increase in the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) entrance score for all initial teacher education courses for school leavers. In addition, all pre service teachers need to pass online literacy and numeracy tests to ensure they are of an above average standard prior to graduating from initial teacher education courses. Further, initial teacher education providers are required to implement evidence-based selection criteria to determine teaching candidates’ personal attributes and motivations to ensure they are suitable candidates for admission to an initial teacher education course, and complete a formal Teaching Performance Assessment during pre service teachers’ final year of initial teacher education, demonstrating evidence of pre service teachers’ readiness to teach.

The Teacher Success Profile introduces a further externally-set requirement into initial teacher education which necessitates that pre-service teachers demonstrate “superior emotional intelligence”. Such regulations imposed on initial teacher education courses, aimed at ensuring high quality teaching graduates, require initial teacher education providers to invest significant funds and human resources into implementing and monitoring pre-service teacher outcomes to ensure these standards are met.

A need for funding for research and implementation

It is hoped that the implementation of such government-set regulations are accompanied by the allocation of sufficient funding to support the research that will need to be done in this area for proper implementation, as well as costs to initial teacher education providers in implementing and running such initiatives.

Dr Kristina Turner is a Lecturer in Primary Education at Swinburne University. Kristina is the Course Director for the Bachelor of Education (Primary) and Master of Teaching (Primary) courses. Kristina has worked in a variety of school and university settings. Kristina’s research interests are in teacher wellbeing, positive education and pre-service teacher emotional intelligence.

This information in this blog has been adapted from: Turner, K. & Stough, C. (2019). Pre-service teachers and emotional intelligence: A scoping review. Australian Educational Researcher , 1-23. doi:10.1007/s13384-019-00352-0

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

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

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

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

Teacher qualifications

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

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

Entrance to teacher education courses

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher education courses and teacher educators

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

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

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

Coping with an exhausting workload

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Understanding educational theory: vital or a waste of time for student teachers?

My student teachers often question the value of educational theory in their initial teacher education. Also often early career teachers tell me that the theory they were taught at university holds no value in their day-to-day practical lives.

I understand this point of view. The first years of teaching are largely about finding our feet and working out the system. The first years are also caught up in personal priorities such as finding permanent positions and railing against the casualisation of the workforce.

But this does not mean that theory does not underpin every decision a teacher makes. Theory even underpins the curriculum we are asked to teach. As I see it, understanding educational theory is a part of knowing why we teach what we teach and how. The theories that are taught in initial teacher education are aimed at helping beginning teachers understand who they are and why they want to teach. One of my motivations for wanting to teach History is so that I could work at helping students to be empathetic in their everyday lives. History is an excellent example of how this relationship works.

The Australian Curriculum Humanities and Social Sciences ( HASS) History strand is underpinned by what the curriculum writers have termed concepts (another word for theory). In the following, I am going to tease out some of these concepts to show how they are examples of theory in practice.

Sources

The location and interpretation of sources is the primary skill of an historian. There are many different types of sources, some more useful than others. Despite what you may think, there never is really a “bad” source. The decision to use a certain source or not is contextual. It may not be FACT but it can reveal a lot about a historical context depending on how the historian interprets the source within their study. So most sources are included or discarded according to the idea of usefulness, rather than whether they are good or bad. This is a subjective practice. The selection of a source is determined through the historian’s point of view of the world – theory. Furthermore, only a minuscule amount of human history has ever made it to the page or the gallery or the archive. Much has been destroyed. Much was never even recorded. So the job of an historian is to make connections between the sources available. This is a process of logical and rigorous imagination. The conclusions drawn are based on corroboration through continuity, change, cause and effect, but it is imagination none the less and subject to the historian’s theoretical point of view.

Cause and effect, and Continuity and Change

When historians use their imagination, they are using ideas of cause and effect, and continuity and change. For example, the reason we have the society we have at the moment is the result of cause and effect. It is very easy to trace the cause and effect through a lens of war and economy, but it is also through the concept of cause and effect that we can begin to show students that the deliberate forgetting of marginalized groups is in decision making and it is a reason that governments continue along the same homogenous pathways they have for centuries.

While society seems to be moving through a time of rapid change, the continuity of certain ways of knowing and understanding history have remained the same. The world seems to be speeding up but the way it has been governed has changed very little. White wealthy males, for example, are still the most powerful leaders, industrialisation and technological advancement are still seen by governments as the most important industries, and fear of other unknown people has been used as a method of mass control for centuries. Historians realise these theories of continuity and make their imaginative decisions about what happened in the past by through them.

Significance

There are too many events in the past to include them all and many history wars have been fought over which ones to include in the History strands of the HASS Curriculum. These history wars are most often about the inclusion and placement of histories of Aboriginal peoples, Torres Strait Islander peoples, and non-European peoples, and the theoretical lens through which those histories are taught. The choosing of significant histories can influence the civic attitudes of generations of people so is often hard fought.

Perspective

The choice of those histories is influenced by theories often called perspectives. One of the more famous media and political wars fought over which perspectives are allowed within the Australian Curriculum was a stoush between prime minister at the time, Paul Keating, and John Howard in the early 1990s when Keating was pushing for the inclusion of Australian History which showed how the nation had been built on the blood of the Indigenous and non-white immigrant/indentured labour population. This view was pitched against Howard’s view that wanted children to know and celebrate the achievements of the Australian nation. What both these perspectives denied was the voice of the people who lived the histories they were talking about including or excluding.

Empathy

A key reason for teaching History is the theory that it teaches children to have empathy which means that they will be able to more than understand other peoples’ points of view, they will know what it might be like to be another person. The theory is that students will only begin to understand historical empathy (and in turn social empathy) if they have enough exposure to differing perspectives, can interpret their own partiality, understand that their ideas may be based in modern thought, understand that there are gaps and silences in the historical record.

There are many interpretations of what it means to teach empathy in the classroom and some believe that it cannot be taught at all. But the personal theories that a teacher takes into the classroom will also influence their ability to teach students to be empathetic. For example, if a teacher’s personal viewpoint is that students do not need differentiation, it will be harder to teach students empathy because inclusiveness is based on empathetic thinking.

I hope this post opens up some clarifying statements and discussion about the usefulness of theory in Initial Teacher Education, but also educational training, qualifications, and professional development. I believe theory is a vital component but probably needs more clarity as to why and how (as I have demonstrated in this blog post). What do you think?

 

 

Naomi Barnes is an adjunct postdoctoral fellow at the Griffith Institute of Educational Research. Her key areas of research are transitions and social media in educational research.

 

So who wants to teach these days? (Be surprised)

The quality of teachers is a growing focus of educational reform around the world, with new policies attempting to ensure that only the ‘best and brightest’ are selected for the teaching profession. In Australia the push is evident in government policy that is increasingly imposing regulations, at both national and state and territory levels, on who enters teacher education programs. If Finland requires that all teachers have a master’s degree and South Korea only accepts applicants from the top 5% of the high school academic cohort, then Australia needs to lift its requirements for entry to teaching, so the logic goes.

But underpinning these developments is the assumption that prospective teachers lack the desired ‘best and brightest’ academic and personal qualities. (If the ‘best and brightest’ already aspired to be teachers why would you need policies to attract them?) So we decided to look more closely at who, among school students, is interested in teaching and why teaching appeals to them.

We discovered that interest in teaching is widespread among school students in Australia, though exactly who wants to teach – and the reasons students expressed for wanting to teach – might be surprising to many. But most surprising of all is that Australia is not doing enough to capitalise on the interest of our would-be teachers.

The best and brightest

In policy and mainstream media in Australia the dominant narrative is that current and prospective teachers fail to make the ‘quality’ grade. This, in turn, is seen to contribute to an image problem that deters ‘the best and the brightest’ from seeking careers in teaching.

This narrative has been particularly virulent in the news media whereby universities have been accused, with some basis in fact, of setting poor academic standards for entry into teaching degrees and using teaching to make up shortfalls in enrolments, regardless of the academic achievement levels of applicants. Low academic standards are seen as making teaching a less attractive pathway for ‘high quality’ applicants .The extended logic is that declining ‘attractiveness’ combined with projected workforce shortages will only exacerbate this problem. Hence, addressing the problem of teacher quality is framed not only as a matter of keeping those deemed ‘inappropriate’ out but also finding ways to bring those with the desired credentials in.

In response to these concerns, in 2011, the Australian Government first introduced a national set of standards and procedures for the accreditation of initial teacher education programs, declaring that ‘it is expected that applicants’ levels of personal literacy and numeracy should be broadly equivalent to those of the top 30 per cent of the population’. Providers enrolling students not meeting this requirement had to ‘establish satisfactory additional arrangements’ to make sure they met the standard before graduation.

While entry standards is the primary focus, the former Federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, portrayed teacher education programs as ‘too theoretical’, making for graduates who cannot teach effectively in key areas, especially literacy and numeracy. According to the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group in 2014, teachers are graduating without the requisite knowledge and skills to be ‘classroom ready’, and this shortfall in quality must be addressed in order to lift student outcomes and arrest a decline in the performance of Australian students in international comparative testing.

Some states and territories have developed their own mechanisms for achieving the necessary academic standards for ‘the best and brightest’. For example, NSW authorities have restricted school leaver entry into teaching degrees to those who graduate with three Band 5s in their Higher School Certificate including English, and, according to accounts in news media, will soon introduce mandatory ‘personality assessments’ to ‘weed out candidates unsuited to teaching before they begin their degrees’. By 2020, the South Australian state government seeks to establish a requirement for all new teachers to hold a master’s qualification.

So is it true? Do we not attract the best and brightest?

Much of the discourse on the poor quality of teachers rests on a thin evidence base. This has been particularly so in relation to current concerns about the admission of high school leavers into teaching with poor academic credentials.

Yes, ATAR ‘cut-offs’ for entry to teaching degrees have declined in recent years. But this fact is not useful when considered in isolation. Other factors that should be considered include: the small percentage of students coming into teaching with a low ATAR (less than 20%); the inadequacy of ATAR as a predictor of student performance at university; ATAR as a norm-referenced rather than criterion-referenced indicator of relative performance (meaning that no matter how high performances are, there will always be a top 10% or bottom 50%, etc.); and, ATAR cut-offs as an indication of supply and demand, rather than quality. For example, enrolments in teacher education in 2014 were 42% greater than 2001 enrolments. Moreover, average yearly increase in enrolments for the period 2002–2009 was 1.9% but for 2010–2014 it was 4.1%. During this latter period there was an intensified national push to widen participation in higher education, including for people from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, many of whom make their foray into higher education through teaching, nursing, and the arts.

In this context and with an increasing number of places available, simplistic accounts of declining ATAR ‘cut-offs’ tell a fraction of a much more complicated story. In terms of our argument, while ATAR ‘cut-off’ data indicate that academic requirements for entry are falling, there is no evidence that the quality of students in the top 30%, for example, is changing from year to year. Arguably, ATAR has been mis-used to strengthen critiques of the quality of entrants to teacher education and teachers in general.

What we did in our study

Our study investigated the career aspirations of 6,492 Australian school students who, at the start of the study, were in Years 3, 5, 7, or 9 at 64 government schools in New South Wales, Australia. In a survey administered annually from 2012 to 2015, participating students were asked to indicate their occupational interests and give reasons for their choices. We collected a total of 10,543 valid surveys.

We wanted to know if substantial numbers of ‘bright’ students (with high academic achievement) are interested in teaching. Of those who are interested, are they among the ‘best’ and do they have the ‘right’ kinds of motivations?

Recent research has demonstrated that children are forming career interests at an early stage of their schooling and that most young children have aspirations for, and can envisage, future careers. Of the participating students, 5,925 nominated at least one occupation in any survey. Our focus in this paper is on the 821 students who, in one or more of the surveys, expressed an interest in teaching.

We investigated which kinds of students named teaching, and why, using a range of student background and school-related variables. While careful not to provide an overly celebratory account, we acknowledge cause for cautious optimism about the future of teaching which, we argue, provides critical input into current debates that touch not only the work, but the very character, of teachers.

What we found

Widespread interest in teaching

Of all students who named a specific career interest, 13.9% named teaching, that is, 821 of the 5,925 students who named at least one occupation in any survey. Considering all survey responses in which a specific occupation was named, teaching accounted for 9.8% of all named jobs. Teaching was second in popularity only to careers in sports, and was ahead of other frequently named occupations such as: veterinarian; actor, dancer, and other entertainer; animal attendant and trainer; police; defence force; music professional; life scientist; and, engineering professional.

There were no significant variations in children’s level of interest in teaching when we examined socio-economic status, cultural capital, language backgrounds, school location, school ICSEA, prior achievement, self-perception of relative academic performance, participation in tutoring, and whether or not they had a parent who is a teacher.

Significant effects were found when we considered gender, Indigenous status, and cohort, indicating areas of concentrated interest in teaching. Specifically, the odds of girls naming teaching were nearly five times the odds of boys naming teaching, while Indigenous students were more likely to express interest in teaching than non-Indigenous students. Students in the ‘middle years’ cohort (moving from Year 5 to Year 8 during the study) were less likely to express interest in teaching than students in the younger and older groups. Despite this significant cohort effect, interest in teaching across the age groups was consistently high – between 8 and 13 % of all survey responses for the four age cohorts.

Bright students are interested in teaching

Prior achievement was not a significant predictor of interest in teaching, with students in the top quartile – the ‘brightest’? – being no less or more likely to name teaching as a career interest than students in the lower three quartiles. Indeed, there was slightly more interest among students in the top two NAPLAN quartiles compared with students in the lower quartiles. Moreover, when considering the NAPLAN quartiles from which students expressed interest in teaching, 255 of the 821 students who named teaching, or 31% of this sample, came from the top quartile.

It was similar in the self-rating of the students interested in teaching as a career: 52.4% rated themselves as ‘above’ (39.5%) or ‘well above’ (12.9%) in academic performance.

Not a back-up plan

Given the widespread interest in teaching among students in our sample, we compared three groups of survey responses: surveys in which a student expressed interest in teaching only (that is, teaching but no other occupations); those in which a student expressed interest in teaching among other occupations; and, those in which a student expressed interest in other jobs (not teaching). This analysis was designed to test the possibility that large numbers of students were naming teaching as a secondary or ‘back-up’ choice and that such students might have different characteristics from those who expressed singular interest in teaching.

The analysis showed that the characteristics of students interested in teaching only and those interested in teaching among other jobs varied little in terms of proportions, with the one exception being that Indigenous students named teaching only (8.5%) in higher numbers than those who named teaching in conjunction with other jobs (5.8%).

We also compared the proportion of survey responses in which students named a singular interest in teaching (49%) with the proportion of survey responses from our larger sample in which students expressed singular interest in other popular occupations (Arts professional 56%, Nurse 54%, Veterinarian 54%, Architect 52%, Engineer 52%, Teaching 49%, Law 49%, Science 49%, Medicine 47%, Social/Welfare professional 47%).

We found that students who considered teaching were no more or less likely to name multiple occupational interests than students considering other occupations requiring a university degree, thus providing further evidence against a ‘back-up plan’ as an explanation for the high level of interest in teaching.

In summary, these data challenge the contemporary policy view that teaching is no longer attracting ‘bright’ or academically capable students. Indeed, 31% of those interested in teaching were in the highest achievement quartile. More broadly, we found a high level of interest in teaching that is widespread among students across the range of demographic and educational variables that were investigated.

Teaching appeals for the ‘best’ reasons

When asked why they wanted to teach, students’ explanations were primarily related to: ‘liking’ or ‘loving’ children (18%), the idea of teaching/being a teacher (14%), and/or a particular subject area (6%); a desire to help children to learn (16%); a perception that it would be fun or enjoyable to work as a teacher (12%); and/or, because they consider themselves skilled or otherwise suitable for teaching (8%). In general, altruistic concerns to help children learn and intrinsic motivations based on the attractiveness of teaching as a rewarding job dominated students’ explanations for their interest. These findings indicate that despite negative representations of teachers, school students who were interested in teaching expressed overwhelmingly positive views of the job and confidence in their own suitability.

The main differences among students were: girls more frequently referred to ‘liking’ and ‘loving’ children (20% females; 5% males); boys more often declared their interest in a particular school subject (14% males; 5% females); and, Indigenous students more often named their desire to help children learn (19% Indigenous; 15% non-Indigenous) and their affection for a particular teachers (19% Indigenous; 14% non-Indigenous) but less often declared themselves to have the personal skills that made them well suited to the role (5% Indigenous; 8% non-Indigenous) or to love a particular subject (4% Indigenous; 7% non-Indigenous).

How can we use this widespread aspiration to be a teacher?

Our point is not to take a particular position ‘for’ or ‘against’ current policy, nor to suggest we can identify the ‘real’ ‘problem’. Rather, our data provide a counter-narrative about who seeks to teach and selection policies that constitute teachers as the problem.

We question whether current resource-intensive efforts to lift the quality of aspiring teachers are warranted. If a considerable proportion of students interested in teaching come from the top academic quartile (31%), and the majority of students interested in teaching see themselves as ‘above’ or ‘well-above’ average in comparison with their classmates (52%), and many have a high opinion of their academic capacities and broader suitability as conveyed in the reasons given for interest in teaching, there should be plenty of high-achieving applicants to teaching.

Maintaining interest in teaching among school students may present a greater challenge than locking in academic achievement as the key problem, particularly if aspirants are bombarded with rhetoric that lowers esteem for teachers and teaching.

Rather than investing so heavily in the regulation of who can teach, Australian education policy makers might consider ways to capitalise on the widespread interest in and enthusiasm for teaching that appears to exist among school students, including high-achieving students and those in the later years of high school.

Our findings present a counter-narrative to the portrayal of teachers and teacher candidates as unsuitable for the job. As one of the only studies, internationally, of school students’ interest in teaching, this alternative representation of who wants to teach suggests a more hopeful future of teaching being in good hands.

 

Here is the full text of our paper Who says we are not attracting the best and brightest? Teacher selection and the aspirations of Australian school students

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Jenny Gore is a Professor in the School of Education and Director of the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre at the University of Newcastle. In addition to research on student aspirations, she is currently leading a research agenda focused on teacher professional development through Quality Teaching Rounds.

 

 

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Rosie Joy Barron is a former Research Assistant at the University of Newcastle. She is currently undertaking research higher degree studies at the University of Melbourne. Her research interests include therapeutic education, political theory, and shifting understandings of equity and social justice. 

 

KATHHolmes copyKathryn Holmes, a former member of the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre at the University of Newcastle, is a Professor of Education at Western Sydney University. With a PhD in Financial Mathematics and a background in mathematics education, her research focuses on the application of technology in education, increasing participation in STEM disciplines, and improving quality, equity, and access in schools and higher education.

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Maxwell Smith is a Professor in the School of Education at the University of Newcastle and a founding member of the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre. With expertise in complex quantitative analysis, Max’s research interests extend from child development and pedagogy to measurement and evaluation in education.