Two leading academics have hailed the Federal Government’s response to teacher education reform as a step in the right direction.
A Federal Government report into teacher education in Australia has called for an overhaul of the system amid concerns some teaching graduates are not ‘classroom ready’ and have poor literacy and numeracy skills.
Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne released the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers earlier this month as a blueprint for “critical and lasting reform” of teacher education. Led by Professor Greg Craven, the Advisory Group was asked to make practical recommendations on improving teacher education programs to better prepare teachers with the skills they need for the classroom.
Glenn Finger, Professor of Education and Dean (Learning and Teaching) of the Arts, Education and Law Group at Queensland’s Griffith University said the report highlights the need for an evidence-informed approach which focuses on teacher education students learning and demonstrating approaches which improve student learning.
“To enable improvements in both public confidence of teaching graduates and the quality of initial teacher education programs, the report has adopted a commendable approach by focusing on more rigour which ensures that all programs meet high expectations,” Finger said.
The report recommends improvement in both the content and delivery of programmes by universities through stronger partnerships with education systems and schools, and the government has accepted most of the recommendations in the report, instructing the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) to act immediately.
Key recommendations of the report include:
• A test to assess the literacy and numeracy skills of all teaching graduates;
• A requirement for universities to demonstrate that their graduates are classroom ready before gaining full course accreditation;
• An overhaul of the in class practical element of teaching degrees;
• A specialisation for primary school teachers with a focus on STEM and languages; and,
• Universities publish all information about how they select students into teacher education programs.
Stephen Dinham, National President of the Australian College of Educators and Chair of Teacher Education and Director of Learning and Teaching at the University of Melbourne, said to improve student outcomes you’ve got to start with teacher education.
“It’s most important for a whole range of reasons, including the individual students and society as a whole, that we get teacher education right, so that every young person has got the opportunity to have a quality education,” he said.
Dinham also highlighted the need to improve the accreditation of teacher education courses.
“In my view, the standard is too low, it’s a very low bar, and we need to do more,” he said. “The report emphasises this, we need to do more to ensure that these courses are of the right quality, that they are informed by evidence, that the right people are teaching them, that the in school experience is appropriate, and that at the end of the day, these courses can demonstrate that they are having a positive impact on teaching and learning.”
While Finger agreed that the expectations of national standards needed to be lifted, he expressed some concern over how this could be achieved through Australia’s system of federalism.
“Minister Pyne’s approach is to leave this to the existing State and Territory bodies charged with [delivering better quality assurance], but they need to improve the national accreditation standard,” he said. “There’s a mixed message here, particularly for those providers – such as Professor Craven’s ACU, which has programs in various jurisdictions – that is, agreement that we need national standards and higher expectations, but there might be more than marginal differences between expectations of those different accrediting authorities.
“There are currently some significant differences already and it will be interesting to see if this diverge or converge. My preference is that of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group – a reconstituted role of AITSL to enable a national, integrated approach with cooperative federalism guiding collaboration between Commonwealth and State governments.”