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ACE Teacher Standards

AARE response to the

National Statement from the Teaching Profession on Teacher Standards, Quality and Professionalism: A Working Document


March 2003

1. Background

The Australian Association for Research in Education, the peak national body promoting educational research, has an Australian and international membership of over 1,500 education researchers in universities, schools, school authorities, teacher organisations, government departments, and non-government research agencies, as well as individual researchers and consultants. Many members have responsibilities for teacher education, and many are involved in the processes of education policy formation for schools and other education sectors.

Members of the AARE executive are listed at the end of this document.

Our response to the National Statement from the Teaching Profession on Teacher Standards, Quality and Professionalism: A Working Document (dated 11 December 2002) (the Statement) has a particular focus on clarity about the nature of professional standards, and the scope of teachers’ professional work to be reflected in such standards.

In this response we are concerned only with the Statement and its conceptualisations and arguments, and not with associated documents, such as those prepared by several national professional associations or in earlier stages of this consultative process. It is important that the Statement can be a stand-alone document, with enduring value and relevance, and not be reliant on reference to other documents.

We make some general editorial comments before considering each of the sections of the National Statement in turn. In places reference will be made to the later sections of this response that discuss teachers’ professional work (section 9) and the matters concerned with the structure of sets of standards (section 10).

2. General editorial comments

Tighter editing will ensure that the document clearly and concisely communicates. There are several stylistic and structural problems, some of which are noted under the relevant headings in the following sections. A lack of coherence at this stage is understandable in a document that has had input from many different parties.

Overall the headings make structural sense except that the last two would be better as subheadings under ‘how will the standards be used?’ A conclusion might be helpful.

Some editorial problems that are immediately obvious (though generally minor) are:

  • it is unclear whether ‘this knowledge’ (fourth line, par 3, page 1) refers to understanding (‘most teachers have always understood’) or knowledge as ‘essential elements of high quality professional practice’. We assume it is the former, and suggest that ‘knowledge’ is replaced with ‘understanding’, especially in view of the reference to knowledge as one of the elements in the following sentence. The par as a whole might then need checking for clarity.
  • it is unclear to what ‘also’ (middle of par 4, page 1), and ‘another’ (beginning of par 5, page 1) refer.
  • references such as that to ‘one author’ (last sentence, page 1) are better not made unless there is a citation. While a standard academic style may not be appropriate for the paper, we believe there should not be inappropriate or unsubstantiated claims to authority – even if for rhetorical purposes.

3. Response to the Introduction

Clarity about ‘professional standards’

There is not a clear conceptualisation of ‘professional standards’ in this and subsequent sections. It is important in the Introduction that readers are not misled regarding the nature of a set of professional standards and the limits to possible uses.

Our understanding is that a set of professional standards is concerned with the attributes or capabilities of individuals (knowledge, understanding, values, personal dispositions and skills, technical skills, and so on - that are or can be combined in various ways), or, as defined in the early 1990s work on professional competencies, professional standards arise out of an integration of ‘the roles and tasks of professional practice with attributes of the practitioner’ (Gonczi, Hager & Oliver 1990, p. 5).

Such ‘professional standards’ are appropriate for all the many purposes referred to in the Statement concerned with individual teacher or student teacher/graduate assessment, professional education and career development.

However, being concerned with the attributes of individuals, such a set of standards do not encompass the work of the profession as a collective whole – its scope, rights and responsibilities.

Similarly, such a set of standards cannot set out what individual teachers or the profession as a collective should do, only what individuals are capable of doing (in conducive circumstances).

The lack of clarity about ‘professional standards’ is apparent in the last sentence of the Introduction. While we would expect all teachers to aspire to ‘high professional standards’, what is referred to here is not the same as a ‘mechanism’ (or ‘tool’ to use a later metaphor) to be used for various purposes. That is why we have often used the term ‘a set of standards’, to distinguish what this Statement is centrally concerned with from the more colloquial understanding of ‘professional standards’.

Scope of teachers’ professional work

We are concerned that the sentence at the end of the fourth paragraph may imply a limiting of the scope of teachers’ work to ‘the effective learning, care and achievement of his or her students’ (our emphasis). While this might be the major part of most teachers’ work, it should not ‘underpin’ all work on standards, as the sentence implies. We strongly believe that teachers’ professional responsibilities (and thus, we hope, their work) extends beyond the particular students with whom they have a direct teaching relationship. Teachers’ school-wide roles extend beyond their own students, as do their system-wide roles and their society-wide roles as members of a profession with rights and responsibilities concerning education and related matters generally. We expand on this in section 9 below.

4. Response to ‘Standards in the context of quality and professionalism’

This section needs a more careful elucidation of ‘quality’ and ‘professionalism’ (to use the sub-heading terms) and the central concepts/entities referred to. The logical structure of the section also needs attention. We would like to see here a more extensive discussion of teacher professionalism (and teacher’s professional work), and a shifting of some of the content (eliminating duplication) to the section on uses of standards.

The profession of teaching

It is not clear to what the ‘profession of teaching’ refers in the first sentence. It could be the profession as a collective whole, a professional representative organisation, a professional standards body, or some less clearly defined entity. It is not clear how ‘the profession of teaching’ ‘incorporates’ the ‘dimensions or objectives’ listed. If they were objectives for the profession as a whole we would expect to see student learning, education more broadly and achievement of social good (not just being an advocate of it) as priorities, but they are not mentioned.

We find it strange that the first of the ‘dimensions’ or ‘objectives’ of ‘the profession of teaching’ is:

to act as a public advocate for the profession and the social good

If the medical profession made a similar statement of self-promotion it would not be sympathetically received. A professional representative organisation (such as a teacher union or subject association) may have such advocacy of the profession among its objectives (though, perhaps, couched in terms of upholding or fostering members’ rights and interests).

We note the distinction in the third dot point between ‘professional’ and ‘ethical’ standards. In general we agree with the usefulness of such distinctions, the former referring to the ‘sets of standards’ against which the capability/characteristics of individuals can be measured, the other guiding the practice and choices of professional teachers (the most capable teacher may still not act ethically). A set of professional standards would have a range of values integrated within them, and they could be judged according to ethical standards, but they would remain categorically distinct from practice-guiding ethical standards as commonly understood.

Scope of teachers’ professional work

The limited notion of the scope of teachers’ work is again apparent in the second last sentence of the second par. We consider ‘supportive leadership in schools’ and ‘good collegial relations’ part of quality teaching (that is, part of teachers’ professional work), not an external ‘factor’ influencing it. Similarly, many aspects of the ‘conditions of student leaning’ should come within the scope of the responsibilities of the profession, though they may be contested with school authorities (see section 9) and constrained by resource limitations the profession may have limited influence over.

What professional standards can do

The stem of the third paragraph needs recasting. We do not believe that professional standards (as a set of standards, or in the more colloquial sense) themselves can be a ‘means of achieving quality and teaching excellence and enhancing the status of teachers and the profession’. Rather, it is the outcome of the various purposes to which a set of standards may be put (such as informing curriculum or assessment in teacher education/professional development and the choices of teachers regarding professional learning and career development), or adherence to standards (in the colloquial sense) by teachers, that may lead to these achievements.

5. Response to ‘Principles for guiding standards’

We generally agree with the principles for guiding the development and application of standards set out in this section, but have some comments on specific items:

The first dot point may need some qualification. Sets of standards used appropriately by statutory bodies are not strictly the responsibility of, or owned by, the teaching profession, even if the standards are formally and strongly endorsed by teacher representative organisations, and apparently supported by individual teachers. Statutory bodies are not ‘the teaching profession in collaboration with key stakeholders’, even if the majority on decision-making bodies are members of the profession. A similar point could be made about sets of standards agreed industrially that become jointly the responsibility of the profession (represented here by teacher unions) and school authorities.

The fifth dot point: the ‘generic’- ‘specific’ dichotomy is not simple as implied here. We discuss the matter in some detail in section 10 below.

The fourth and ninth dot points are not consistent: required standards appropriate for formal qualifications and registration are appropriately minimum standards (though it is to be hoped most applicants are at higher standards, at least in some areas). Our discussion of ‘levels’ in section 10 develops this point.

The eleventh and twelfth dot points are not clear about whether it is the application of (a set of) standards, or teachers’ practice consistent with those standards, that is the matter of concern (see other comments about definition of standards).

6. Response to ‘How will standards be used’

We generally agree with the uses set out in this section (but note our concern with the generic/specific discussion referred to above). It might be useful if the uses were further developed, with some consideration of inappropriate uses, or potential costs of uses of less than optimal sets of standards.

We agree with the metaphor of (sets of) standards as ‘tools for action’. With such a metaphor in mind some of the confusion about ‘professional standards’ in other sections of the paper may be clarified.

We also endorse the advocacy of national collaboration and involvement of professional organisations, and the need for flexibility in application and recognition of the complexity of teachers’ work.

The first sentence in this section should be recast because of the limited and conservative implications regarding the derivation of standards. Standards ‘derived from good practice’ may in large part be of high quality and appropriateness. However, there is an inherent conservativeness in the derivation of a set of standards from what is currently understood as good practice in an dynamic profession working in changing contexts, where the profession itself is involved in developing new pedagogies, curricula, and other central elements of teachers’ work.


7. Response to ‘Assessment and certification’

We agree with much of this section. Some specific points:

The notion of professional certification (as defined) is either rather narrow or potentially misleading. The main problem is the notion of a ‘professional body’. Does this include statutory bodies? Does it include teacher assessment processes agreed between the industrial parties (teacher unions and school authorities) that make use of professionally appropriate sets of standards (however developed)? Or is the sentence advocating a policy position that statutory bodies, industrially agreed processes, and so on, should not have their own teacher assessment processes, but utilise those of some as yet undefined 'professional body'? or that their processes are dependent on endorsement by such a body?

In the second sentence it is unclear what is meant by ‘education’ (schooling or wider education sectors?) and ‘fields of teaching and learning’.

We generally agree with the seven listed features of formal assessment processes. However, there are many circumstances where ‘deficiencies’ need to be assessed for (see fifth dot point). This is the case wherever minimum standards are specified, such as for initial teacher registration. High levels of accomplishment are to be applauded, but there needs to be assurance that all required areas are sufficiently met – that there are no deficiencies. For example, it is not acceptable that an intending teacher demonstrates exceptionally high levels of achievement in all areas except that he or she cannot manage a class of twenty average students.

It might be useful to consider the different requirements for high stakes assessment (such as professional certification as described, or assessment for promotion or appointment to a particular position), and assessment for professional learning purposes, self-assessment for career planning, and so on, where high stakes are not involved.

While it is not necessary that this matter be incorporated in this section, we believe that the initial registration of teachers can only be done effectively by statutory bodies (that is, not profession-controlled) based in state/territory legislation (a constitutional necessity). Certainly national coordination and consistency are desirable, and processes such as accreditation of initial teacher education (linked to statutory registration) can be national (see Adey 1998).

8. Response to ‘Recognition and reward’

This section covers some complex matters in which we are not expert.

It is a controversial matter whether or not members of a profession should receive higher pay or other forms of recognition/reward because of their previously assessed personal characteristics (having demonstrated advanced standards), not because of current responsibilities and how those responsibilities are currently being performed. The matter was unresolved for Australian school teachers a decade ago. The imperative of the teaching workforce’s age profile during the 1990s will not be an issue in the coming decade, though the need to reward and support excellent classroom teachers in that role will continue.

9. General issue: The scope of professional work covered by professional standards

The Statement does not consider in detail substantive content of professional standards for teachers. However, AARE would like to suggest that the full scope of teachers’ professional work is encompassed in any set of standards.

AARE understands the work of the school teaching profession as inherently ‘collective’ and ‘strategic’ - extending in scope and time beyond direct instruction of individual students and related activities. The outcomes for particular students depend on the work of many teachers over many years – those teachers who have had an impact including many who have never directly taught the student, but who have been involved in curriculum and policy development, in research, in influencing the culture of schools and systems, and so on. The pattern of outcomes for all students, likewise, are affected by the work of many teachers – by the profession as a collective. The collective and strategic nature of teachers’ work is crucial to understanding it as professional, rather than the work of highly skilled technocrats working under direction.

Some specific areas that must be included in any set of standards, but are often neglected are:

  • teacher as researcher - as a professional, systematically reflecting on practice to inform future practice of self and colleagues, as well as potentially being engaged in more public research that formally contributes to the foundations of the profession’s work
  • teacher as curriculum developer (including assessment) - for own students, as well as potentially being involved at school, system, state, national and even international levels
  • teacher as policy developer – in relation to own work, the school, local area and community, system, state, nation and internationally
  • teacher in the community – working with parents, local communities and the wider society.

We note that the ‘teacher as researcher’ is incorporated in the definition of professional learning in par 2, page 2.

Some of the specific areas listed above are covered more concretely in the National Standards and Guidelines for Initial Teacher Education’s ‘graduate standards and guidelines’ (Adey 1998, pp. 9-18).

As professionals, teachers have responsibilities and rights well beyond their direct relationships with the students they teach and beyond the context of the schools (or other sites) in which they are employed. There will always be tension between professional rights/responsibilities and the management prerogatives of school authorities as employers of teachers and with formal responsibilities for the management of schools and outcomes of schooling. These tensions have parallels, for example, between hospital administrators and the medical, nursing and other professionals employed by (or consultants to) those hospitals.

The capabilities necessary to fulfil teachers’ wide professional responsibilities need to be reflected in any set of standards. Not all teachers need to have the full range of capabilities at a high level, but the profession as a whole needs to have them sufficiently for effectiveness.

There are also issues concerning who might be covered by any standards. While it appears that the document is concerned with those who will be formally employed as teachers in schools, consideration may need to be given to teachers engaged in overlapping and associated processional work and workplaces, especially early childhood educators.

10. General issue: The structure of sets of standards


The term ‘standards’ implies levels of achievement or performance (see Masters & McCurry 1990, especially Part III). In the Statement there is an inconsistency (noted above) in the level of application of standards referred to: with reference to their use in relation to initial teacher education and initial registration of teachers, while it is stated that the standards should ‘focus on high level capabilities’.

It is quite usual for a set of standards to be developed as a two dimensional matrix, with dimensions of, first, substantive content areas and, second, levels of attainment/standards (the content or levels may be multi-dimensional and presented with appropriate complexity within themselves). Some content areas may only come in above a general entry/novice level (for example, those related to leadership).

It is usually important to set an entry level standard – a standard that must be met before employment as a teacher or before graduation from an initial teacher education program. But this does not mean that a person commencing a teaching career may not have a number of areas at a very high level (including, perhaps, aspects of leadership). A strictly required minimum standard across all specified areas may be necessary for entry to the profession, while for deployment or appointment to particular positions some higher level of standards in particular areas will be required. For example, appointment to a school with a high proportion of Indigenous students should require higher than basic entry level standards in areas concerned with the education of Indigenous students. Similarly, appointment to a position as principal would require higher than normal for experienced teachers in areas such as leadership, strategic planning, and management. There is no reason why the same set of standards, structured with a number of levels in all the substantive areas, should not be used as a basis for assessment for initial recruitment where attainment of minimum levels in all areas are necessary, and for other purposes where variable levels are appropriate. However, practicalities are likely to require a much greater degree of elaboration in those particular substantive areas and at the particular levels considered most important for the particular purpose.

Generic or specific

The distinction between ‘generic’ and ‘specific’ is presented as if it is unproblematic. Yet this is far from the case.

In the section, ‘How will standards be used?’, the discussion of generic/specific indicates that ‘generic’ means both (or either?), first, broad capabilities and, second, capabilities that should be common to all teachers. These are two quite different categories: there could be broad and narrow capabilities that should be common to all teachers, and broad and narrow capabilities that are particular to teachers of certain specialisations. The matter of ‘broad’ or ‘narrow’ elements of standards is a complex and controversial one that we will not discuss further here.

There will be debate about whether some areas should be common areas of professional expertise, or may be confined to just a proportion of teachers. A senior maths teacher needs to know calculus (and how to teach it to different students), while English or primary teachers do not need to know calculus at all. A teacher in a school with many Indigenous students needs to know at a high standard many specific aspects of Indigenous education (and be effective in applying that understanding in their work with students and parents), and, in contrast with the calculus example, the individual and collective work of all teachers could benefit from higher levels of understanding in the area of Indigenous education. There will be debate, as there always has been, about specialisation and ‘mainstreaming’. The recent emphasis on all teachers having responsibility for literacy and numeracy (in different ways) indicates this.

AARE suggests that, as a general principle, a set of standards should be able to incorporate both generic and specific (however defined). If different sets are made according to what is understood at the time to be ‘specific’ areas/specialisations, then the current understandings (of those involved in developing the sets of standards) about specialisations and the scope of teachers’ responsibilities are likely to become set in concrete. Yet the best educational outcomes now and in the future surely require flexibility and subtle sensitivity to changing contexts.

This general point does not preclude a much greater level of detail in areas related to the content of specialisations (however defined) for purposes related to those specialisations, or the development of specialisation-specific sets of standards on an ad hoc basis that have a limited life-span and limited applicability.

The different perspectives, cultures and styles arising from different subgroups within the profession need to be utilised or incorporated in standards development. Such differences may be based on many features – not just subject specialisations.


Prepared by Barbara Preston in consultation with other members of the AARE Executive



Adey, Kym (Chair) 1998 Preparing a Profession: Report of the National Standards and Guidelines for Initial Teacher Education Project, Australian Council of Deans of Education, Canberra.

Commonwealth of Australia 1996, National Competency Framework for Beginning Teaching (developed by the National Project on the Quality of Teaching and Learning), Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra

Gonczi, Andrew; Hager, Paul & Oliver, Liz 1990, Establishing Competency-Based Standards in the Professions, National Office of Overseas Skills Recognition (NOOSR) Research Paper No. 1, December, AGPS, Canberra.

Masters, Geofferey N, McCurry, Doug 1990, Competency-Based Assessment in the Professions, National Office of Overseas Skills Recognition (NOOSR) Research Paper No. 2, December, AGPS, Canberra.

AARE Executive

Associate Professor Judith GILL, (President) School of Education, University of South Australia, Holbrooks Road, Underdale SA 5032 Phone: 08 8302 6325 Fax: 08 8302 6239 Email:

Professor Jill BLACKMORE (AARE representative on the Teacher Standards, Quality and Professionalism National reference Group) Faculty of Education, Deakin University, Geelong Vic 3217, Phone: 03 5227 1489, Fax: 03 5227 2014, Email:



Brian DOIG


Associate Professor Trevor GALE



Professor Jane KENWAY

Professor Bob MEYENN


Professor Terri SEDDON

Dr Jennifer SUMSION

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