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MCEETYA Standards for Teaching


AARE response to

A National Framework for Standards for Teaching

A Consultation Paper prepared by the MCEETYA Taskforce on Teacher Quality & Educational Leadership

March 2003

1. Introduction

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.

This response covers a wide range of matters concerning the consultation paper, with a particular focus of matters relating to research, conceptual clarity (and thus practical effectiveness), the nature of the teaching profession and its work, and teacher education.

2. Literature

AARE is concerned that the consultation paper, like some other recent work, appears to have been written without awareness of significant and relevant literature.

First, and directly relevant to many of the issues under consideration, is the 1998 report of the National Standards and Guidelines for Initial Teacher Education Project, Preparing a Profession (Adey 1998). This Commonwealth funded project involved very extensive consultation (more than 125 written submissions were received and 80 consultations held in all capital cities except Darwin). There was broad consensus in support of the national standards and guidelines for initial teacher education, especially the ‘graduate standards and guidelines’ (there have been some differences in interpretation of the ‘program standards and guidelines’). The report also includes detailed consideration of principles for the implementation of national standards and guidelines for the accreditation (or approval) of initial teacher education programs, and options for mechanisms of accreditation.

Second, there appears little reference to the large body of research and development work carried out around the early and mid 1990s on professional standards, standards frameworks, and assessment against standards. While the term ‘competency’ has gone out of favour, the thorough research and analysis of much of that literature could very usefully inform the taskforce’s work, especially assisting with conceptual clarity. Particularly valuable would be the research papers commissioned by the National Office of Overseas Skills recognition (NOOSR) from 1990, such as Gonczi, Hager & Oliver (1990), Masters & McCurry (1990), and Gonczi, Hager & Athanasou (1993).

3. What are professional standards?

The consultation paper is not clear about what is meant by ‘professional standards’. Such clarity about what is meant by ‘standards’, and their purposes, is necessary before the structure of a framework or the substantive content of standards can be considered.

In most of the paper it appears as if ‘professional standards’ are concerned with characteristics of individual teachers – with ‘attributes’ or, perhaps, ‘competencies’ in the sense of arising out of an integration of ‘the roles and tasks of professional practice with attributes of the practitioner’ (Gonczi, Hager & Oliver 1990, p. 5). This is consistent with the reference to ‘teacher quality’ (rather than ‘quality of teaching’, say) at the beginning of the paper (p. 3), as well as the definition:

Professional standards of teaching practice describe the skills, knowledge and values that effective teachers demonstrate (p. 3).

Skills, knowledge and values are held by individuals.

Such standards are appropriate for purposes such as informing the development of initial teacher education and continuing professional education curriculum and assessment, assessment of teachers for purposes of appointment, deployment and promotion, self assessment in relation to professional development, and so on. These are all significant purposes.

However, standards concerned with the required or desirable characteristics of individual teachers indicate only what they are able to do (capability), not what they should do, and not what teachers as a collective profession should do, or collectively can do or are entitled to do. Such standards, being concerned with the attributes of individuals, can be limited and misleading as an indication the nature and scope of the work of the teaching profession, which includes the rights and responsibilities of teachers individually and collectively. Such standards can only ‘reflect the collective aspirations of the profession’ (p. 3) to a very limited extent – encompassing aspirations about attributes of individual teachers (even if they are attributes of a large proportion of teachers, or all teachers). Such standards cannot reflect how teachers aspire to perform their professional roles, the impact they want to have on learners and society as a whole, how they want to be seen as vital members of society. Of course to achieve aspirations in such areas requires teachers with relevant characteristics - who have reached appropriate standards -, including being able to work collectively across a system or nation, to be effectively involved in policy processes, and so on.

AARE suggests that the nature of the professional standards under consideration be clearly stated, and that care is taken not to imply that they can be used for purposes for which they are inappropriate. It must be made clear that a set of standards concerned with the characteristics of individual teachers does not represent the nature or scope of the work of the teaching profession as such.

(The matter of ‘standards’ implying levels of achievement/performance (see Masters & McCurry 1990, especially Part III) is discussed below.)

4. The scope of professional standards

The paper 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.

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 determined by the work of many teachers – by the profession as a collective. There are parallels for other professions and many other occupations – to a greater or lesser degree.

Some specific areas that must be included, 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.

Some of these are covered 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 in 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 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.

Teachers’ wide professional responsibilities and rights need to be reflected in any set of standards.

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 will need to be given to overlapping and associated processional work and workplaces, especially early childhood educators.

5. Development of professional standards

As noted above, the key definition in the paper is as follows:

Professional standards of teaching practice describe the skills, knowledge and values that effective teachers demonstrate (p. 3).

Using the methodology indicated here, ‘effective teachers’ are the starting point from which standards are developed. However, standards may be developed in other ways, at least in part. In particular, limiting the substantive content of standards to what teachers who are currently judged as effective demonstrate can restrict a dynamic profession whose work is changing as the context changes. Part of that changing context is our understanding, arising out of research as well as experience, that even the most effective teachers could often be more effective if they worked differently in some ways. Even the most effective teachers are not perfect. And what is effective practice today may not be the most effective practice tomorrow (or in some other context).

As well as investigating the work of currently judged effective teachers, AARE suggests that standards development should also incorporate relevant research literature and a critical analysis of context and possible futures for teaching. Many techniques are possible. Almost half the first NOOSR research report, Establishing Competency-Based Standards in the Professions (Gonczi, Hager & Oliver 1990) is concerned with describing and evaluating twelve different techniques for establishing professional standards. There would have been further progress in the dozen years since.

6. The nature and ‘architecture’ of a ‘framework’

It is not clear from the paper what is meant by a ‘framework’. In places it appears to mean a structure without substantive content - for example: ‘establishing a national framework for standards’ (p. 6, emphasis added). A structure without substantive content is the meaning of ‘framework’ in the Australian Qualifications Framework (see ) and the earlier Australian Standards Framework and the standard format for developing sets of competency standards that was developed by the National Training Board in the early 1990s (NTB 1992).

However, in most places ‘framework’ appears to mean a set of standards (presented at a level of generality). Such a meaning is similar to that of the National Competency Framework for Beginning Teaching, (Commonwealth of Australia, 1996) developed by the collaborative National Project on the Quality of Teaching and Learning.

As the term ‘framework’ is usually taken in the paper to incorporate substantive content, the term ‘architecture’ is introduced when structural or general matters are being considered. These are now considered.

6.1 Levels

The term ‘standards’ implies levels of achievement or performance (see Masters & McCurry 1990, especially Part III).

The consultation paper sets out as two different ‘architectures’, sets of standards that indicate a uniform set of standards across all areas in contrast to a set with variable standards across different areas. There appears some conceptual confusion here between the ‘architecture’ or structure of a set of standards, and the purposes to which a set might be put. It is quite usual for a set of standards to be developed as a matrix, with different dimensions of, first, content areas and, second, levels of attainment/standards (there may be other dimensions, or the content or levels may be multi-dimensional within themselves). Some content areas may only come in above 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). The paper provides clear examples of this (p. 8). While a strictly required minimum standard across all specified areas may be necessary for entry to the profession, 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 not 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 which minimum levels in all areas are necessary, and for other purposes where variable levels are appropriate.

6.2 Generic or specific

The distinction between ‘generic’ and ‘specific’ is presented as if it is unproblematic. In practice there is probably no clear distinction (depending on how the terms are defined). There will be areas that are very specific to some teachers, and not relevant to others. And 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 starting point, a standards framework should be able to incorporate both as generic and specific, as they are understood (by different people). If a separation is made, then the current understandings (of those involved in developing the standards) about specialisations and the scope of teachers’ responsibilities are likely to become set in concrete, when the best educational outcomes now and in the future require flexibility and subtle sensitivity to changing contexts.

This general point does not preclude a much great level of detail in areas related to the content of specialisations (however defined) for purposes related to those specialisations. However, the generality regarding subject specialisations set out in the National Standards and Guidelines for Initial Teacher Education (Adey 1998, pp. 11-13) may be sufficient for many purposes. This includes statements such as:

Graduates should have understanding, at a level appropriate to higher education, of the areas they are prepared to teach . . . (section 1.5.2, p. 11)

6.3 Principalship

Following the general line of argument above, AARE suggests that principalship and educational leadership generally should be incorporated within the same framework as the rest of the teaching profession. As the paper points out, even a beginning teacher may have advanced levels of leadership, and may seek recognition of such capability.

This general point does not preclude a much great level of detail in areas related to leadership for purposes related to preparation or selection for formal leadership positions such as principalships.

7. Responses to Consultation Questions

The consultation questions are set out in full in this section. Not all are responded to, and some major responses are covered in the sections above.


  • What underlying principles and values might form the basis of a national framework and, by extension, standards of professional practice for teachers?


The report of the National Standards and Guidelines for Initial Teacher Education (Adey 1998) considered in some detail the issue of why those standards and guidelines should be national (rather than state/territory-based) – see pp. 42-43. Some of the matters raised are specific to initial teacher education, but others apply to the work of the profession as a whole in Australia.

There is certainly no reason why a framework (in the sense of ‘architecture’) should not be common throughout the nation. But there might be aspects of the content that might vary – though such variation between states/territories may be no greater than variations between jurisdictions within states, between regions, between specialisations, and so on. Such variation would depend on purposes.

Other matters are covered in earlier sections.


  • What purposes might a national framework for the teaching profession serve for:


  1. teachers and the teaching profession
  2. principals and educational leaders
  3. students and parents
  4. schools and school systems
  5. Australian education generally?

Teacher education and teacher educators should be added to this list. The National Competency Framework for Beginning Teaching (Commonwealth of Australia 1996) includes three pages on how the Framework can be used in relation to preservice, induction and inservice teacher education under four headings: ‘to guide content’ (this includes assessment before, during and at the end of a program, though this is not fully developed), ‘to guide pedagogy’, ‘to assist collaboration’, and ‘to assist decision-making about research to inform teacher education curricula and the work of teachers’. The report of the National Standards and Guidelines for Initial Teacher Education project (Adey 1998) focuses on the use of standards/guidelines for purposes of accreditation or approval of initial teacher education programs, discusses the differences between accreditation and approval (pp. 38-39), and considers other purposes briefly.

Given the nature of the framework under consideration, its limitations for purposes beyond those concerned with the characteristics of individual teachers must be recognised (see section 3 above). Thus the uses for parents, students and the wider community will be limited. For school authorities and teachers other sources will be necessary to fully inform an understanding of the nature and scope of the profession’s work – to guide teachers’ own practice, and relationships between school authorities (and others) and the profession (individually and collectively).


  • The Consultation Paper presents two ways in which to think about the architecture for a national framework for standards, these are examples only to broach the issues of how to present key elements of a teacher’s work and how to represent their professional growth.


  1. What is an appropriate structure for a national framework?
  2. What might be the key characteristics of a quality teacher?
  3. How can a teacher’s growing expertise best be described?


Matters of structure and the nature of the framework are discussed above in section 6, and substance (‘characteristics of a quality teacher’) in section 4.


  • Should a national framework be able to encompass generic standards, specialist standards (for example, in literacy teaching), subject specific standards or all three?


See section 6 above.


  • How might a national standards framework assist in informing:


  1. course development for pre-service trainers
  2. teachers’ self reflection
  3. professional learning
  4. establishing registration standards
  5. performance assessment?

These and other purposes are discussed in detail in the ‘Guidelines for using the Framework’ section of the National Competency Framework for Beginning Teaching (Commonwealth of Australia 1996, pp. 12-24), as well as Adey (1998).


  • How might a national framework be linked with teachers professional development?
  • How might professional development and tertiary courses be recognised?


This (item 7) is discussed in detail in Adey (1998). Also, the experiences of other professions (such as medicine) may be instructive.


  • Can a national framework represent the role of the principal and others in school leadership positions and if so how?


The sort of framework being considered cannot directly ‘represent the role’ of principals or any other type of teacher. However, as noted above, AARE believes that a standards framework that incorporates the standards appropriate for principals’ work probably should be incorporated (or be able to be incorporated) within a framework common to the teaching profession as a whole.


  • Should and if so how can teacher quality be described by reference to the learning outcomes of students?


Appropriate research concerned with teacher characteristics and their relationships with student outcomes certainly should inform the substantive development of standards. In fact this should be central – even if implicitly so – what else of major importance that does not relate to student outcomes, however indirectly, is meant by ‘effective teacher’? However, the ‘quality’ of individual teachers would need to be assessed against the standards, not against the outcomes of students. If there are apparent discrepancies (such as a teacher assessed as having achieved high standards but whose students have unexpected poor learning outcomes) then several possibilities could be investigated:

  • factors outside the teacher’s control may be having the decisive impact on student learning
  • the teacher may be capable of effective performance (and have been validly assessed as such against the standards), but may not be performing to capability (for whatever reason)
  • the standards may be deficient in relevant areas (not adequately covering crucial aspects of relationships between teacher and students, for example).


  • Which elements of the Consultation Paper present issues for your organisation and how might these be resolved?


This is covered (implicitly) elsewhere in this response.


  • What is the best way to achieve collaboration in the design and content of a national standards framework?


AARE has no firm views no this, but suggests that collaborative development can occur via an independent exercise with a limited life (such as the procedures of the National Standards and Guidelines for Initial Teacher Education, though it occurred under the management of a stakeholder, the Australian Council of Deans of Education). An effective long term structure may be a national research and development centre that refers to existing bodies/agencies such as registration boards, school authorities, teacher organisations, ACDE, and other relevant organisations.




Response 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), Commnowealth of Australia,Canberra

Gonczi, Andrew; Hager, Paul & Athanasou, James 1993, Establishing Competency-Based Standards in the Professions, National Office of Overseas Skills Recognition (NOOSR) Research Paper No. 8, June, AGPS, 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.

National Training Board 1992, National Competency Standards: Policy and Guidelines, Second Edition, National Training Board, 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



Brian DOIG


Associate Professor Trevor GALE



Professor Jane KENWAY

Professor Bob MEYENN


Professor Terri SEDDON

Dr Jennifer SUMSION

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