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Creating a stronger teacher registration system

The responsibilities bestowed on a teacher outweigh that of most professions, writes Chris Wardlaw, Chair of the National Review of Teacher Registration.

First, teachers are responsible for the learning and growth of their students. Evidence supports what you could reliably guess here — that the greatest in-school influence on student achievement is the quality of teaching. Second, teachers are also tasked with keeping our young people physically and emotionally safe while they are at school and pre-school. They are often the first to identify and report signs of abuse and play a critical role in protecting children. Their varied role has a true depth of responsibility.

With both the safety and learning potential of Australia’s children front of mind, I recently led an Expert Panel through a review of teacher registration in Australia – the National Review of Teacher Registration. The panel was comprised of people with expertise and perspectives from early childhood and school sectors to ensure a balance of views. Like me, my colleagues acknowledged that the state and territory registration systems are already working well in many ways, and like any profession, there is always room for improvement.

I believe registration is the hallmark of a true profession. Teaching is far from unique in this regard. Professions such as doctors, lawyers and accountants must be registered with an authority that rigorously assesses their documentation and makes a determination about an individual’s suitability to practice in a field. Through registration, these professionals are able to provide their employers — as well as the public — with reassurance. This gives us confidence they possess the right qualifications and meet the requirements to consult, defend, prosecute, advise, or whatever their task may be.

For a teacher and their employer, registration is confirmation that an individual meets the criteria to teach. In Australia, that means they meet the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (Teacher Standards); a framework that publicly articulates the detailed knowledge, skills and practice that teachers at each stage of their careers are expected to demonstrate. For instance, a teacher must be able to demonstrate they understand the ways in which students learn and that they know the content in the curriculum and the best ways to teach it. It’s an important, complex and challenging role. Registration also compels teachers to maintain and improve their skills through continual professional growth. Additionally, the registration process helps to ensure only people of suitable character and background are able to teach in Australian schools. Any reasonable parent or guardian would expect their child is being taught by a person of fit and proper character.

Just as we expect teachers to continually learn and improve, so should the standards we hold them to. To support high-quality teaching we need to ensure that best practice teacher registration processes are implemented consistently across all Australian jurisdictions. While we know that the state and territory registration authorities are doing a good job, it was timely to have a review and take a systematic approach to investigate the effectiveness and consistency of registration between all jurisdictions.

Our Expert Panel consulted extensively. Members visited each jurisdiction, meeting face-to-face with over 140 stakeholders. We received 94 formal written submissions. Significantly, we heard from more than 6,500 teachers, school leaders and stakeholders through an online survey. This formed the basis for our in-depth analysis of teacher registration in Australia as it is currently operating. We heard that registration is a shared endeavour between teachers, their peers, school leaders and employers. We were heartened to hear that teachers are proud to teach in our schools and early childhood services, and that they want to be considered part of one profession — alongside colleagues who are also meeting standards of quality and suitability.

A major recommendation is to include all early childhood teachers in a nationally consistent registration approach. Embedding the Teacher Standards in the practice of early childhood teachers will support the continuing journey of professionalisation for this critically important sector. While most are already registered, ensuring consistency will mean all early childhood teachers are recognised as part of the teaching profession, no matter how young their child students are.

Child safety is obviously paramount, and a large focus of the review. Currently, teachers must only be registered with the state or territory authority in the jurisdiction in which they teach, and information sharing across borders is inconsistent and limited. We need to do better and we can. Our recommendations focus on, but are not limited to, strengthening children’s safety and improving teacher workforce mobility.

With secretariat services provided by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), the panel has now released our final report, One Teaching Profession: Teacher Registration in Australia. The report outlines our 17 recommendation. The combined effect of these recommendations is aimed at maintaining or improving the high standards of the profession, strengthening child safety, and streamlining teacher registration across Australia.

A stronger registration system in Australia means a stronger teaching profession across all sectors. This ensures Australia’s teachers can be even prouder of their work and gives the public further confidence in the quality and suitability of teachers within the entire profession. Most importantly, a stronger registration system will give Australia’s children and students their best chance at a quality education in a safe environment.

Mr Christopher Wardlaw PSM is Chair of the National Review of Teacher Registration, chair of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, and Deputy Chair of AITSL.

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