Is higher pay key to boosting teacher quality? - Education Matters Magazine
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Is higher pay key to boosting teacher quality?

Australia’s top teachers should earn higher wages and top school-leavers receive yearly scholarships to study teaching, according to a new Grattan Institute report that examines ways to boost teacher quality and student performance.

The Attracting High Achievers to Teaching report proposes a $1.6 billion reform package to double the number of high achievers who choose to become teachers, and increase the average ATAR of teaching graduates to 85, within the next decade.

Proposed in the report is the possibility for Australia’s top teachers to earn $80,000 a year more, and top school-leavers to receive $10,000-a-year scholarships if they take up teaching,

According to the Grattan Institute, with this higher-achieving teacher workforce, the typical Australian student would gain an extra six to 12 months of learning by Year 9.

The report details an Australia-first survey of nearly 1000 young high achievers (aged 18-25 and with an ATAR of 80 or higher) which found that more bright young Australians would take up teaching if it offered higher top-end pay and greater career challenge.

The report recommends a three-part reform package:

  1. Offer $10,000 cash-in-hand scholarships to high achievers to study teaching. People who get the government-funded scholarships should be required to work in government schools for at least several years.
  2. Create two new roles in schools – Instructional Specialist and Master Teacher – so the best teachers can get extra pay, time, and responsibility to improve teaching at their schools and in their regions. About 5-8 per cent of teachers would become Instructional Specialists, paid around $140,000 a year ($40,000 more than the highest standard pay rate for teachers). About 0.5 per cent of teachers would become Master Teachers, paid around $180,000 a year ($80,000 more than the highest standard pay rate for teachers).
  3. Launch a $20 million-a-year advertising campaign, similar to the Australian Defence Force recruitment campaigns, to promote the new package and re-position teaching as an attractive, challenging and well-paid career option for high achievers.

The report indicates that bright young Australians are turning their backs on teaching.

Over the past decade, demand from high achievers for teaching fell by a third – more than for any other undergraduate field of study. Only 3 per cent of high achievers now choose teaching for their undergraduate studies, compared to 19 per cent for science, 14 per cent for health, and 9 per cent for engineering.

“Australia needs more high achievers in teaching, because great teachers are the key to better student performance,” said Peter Goss, Grattan Institute School of Education Program Director lead author of the report.

“The low status of teaching in Australia has become self-reinforcing, putting off high achievers who might otherwise want to teach. By contrast, high-performing countries such as Singapore and Finland get many high-achieving students to apply, and then select the most promising candidates.”

The report recommends all three school sectors in Australia – government, private and Catholic – implement the reform package.

The Grattan Institute believes state and territory governments should pay for the reforms in government schools, and private and Catholic schools should fund the reforms themselves, without extra taxpayer money.

“Our reform package would transform Australia’s teaching workforce,” said Dr Goss. “In the long-term it would pay for itself many times over, because a better-educated population would mean a more productive and prosperous Australia.”

However the reform package has resulted in some mixed reviews. Professor Mary Ryan, Head of the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie University, said that while she welcomed reforms designed to improve the status of the teaching profession, she questioned whether the report was focused on the most important issues at play.

“Pay incentives are important,” said Professor Ryan. “But even more important are the conditions that enable ongoing, teacher-directed professional learning and inquiry.

“Effective strategies in one classroom or for one child will not necessarily be effective in or for another. Teachers need time and support to trial and gather evidence about what works and why in their context.”

Digital Education and Innovation at Flinders University, Lindsey Conner, applauded the recommendations made by the Grattan Institute but said they required a greater level of detail. She said greater incentives were needed to encourage people to study to be teachers in Australia, but added, “There must not be limits imposed on the number of high achieving students taking up such incentives.”

Professor Conner added that the cash-in-hand scholarships proposed would require some conditions around progression and achievement to ensure those recruited continue working towards graduation as teachers. She also welcomed the report’s suggestion of creating specialist teachers roles, but said it is important to consider whether these new roles and any scholarships could be targeted at subjects where there is a greater shortage of teachers with specialist knowledge, such as mathematics.