Too many fingers in the same pie? Federal and state misalignments in Initial Teacher Education policy

Year: 2019

Author: Freeborn, Amanda, Savage, Glenn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Policies governing Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in Australia derive from two levels of government: 1. the federal Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL); 2. state and territory education departments and agencies. As a result, complex overlaps exist between federal and state policies, organisations and agendas. For example, while the federal government has significant power to drive and shape ITE policy (mainly through AITSL), state departments and agencies are responsible for ensuring federally-driven national policies are implemented in ways that align with state policies and approaches.

In this paper, we argue that these complex federal/state policy interactions have resulted in new forms of ‘policy misalignment’ (OECD 2017), as while the federal government plays a major role in developing policies, it has no formal responsibility for implementing policies. State and territory governments, therefore, have only partial influence over shaping policies for which they are responsible and held accountable. Drawing on recent arguments about the dangers of misalignment articulated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD 2017), we argue that while policy misalignments can have positive and generative impacts in federations (Savage and O’Connor 2018), this is not the case in ITE.

In making this argument, we use recent changes to admissions requirements for entrance into undergraduate ITE programs in New South Wales as a case-study example. We focus on the introduction of state-mandated minimum academic entrance requirements and how these interact with federally-legislated non-academic entrance requirements that were introduced at a similar time. Drawing upon insights generated from semi-structured interviews with senior academics and student recruitment personnel in three NSW universities, we highlight the challenges produced in a context of federal/state policy misalignment, where different levels of government and different organisations seek to work simultaneously in the same space, creating problematic policy overlap. We highlight three main challenges: 1) issues stemming from the devolution of responsibility from governments to providers; 2) confusion among policy actors regarding processes of policy enactment; and 3) temporal misalignment in the expectations surrounding policy implementation.

In conclusion, we raise critical questions about the value of AITSL in ITE policy. We consider what a more productive form of federal involvement might look like in ITE policy, which would allow the federal government to play more of a ‘support’ role (as distinct from a ‘policy development’ role), while leaving the bulk of responsibilities for the policy development and enactment to the states.