The recommendations of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group in 2015 and the work of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership have brought initial teacher education to the fore in Australia. Despite high starting salaries and a range of financial and other incentives in different states and territories to attract people to the profession, especially highly qualified mature-age entrants, teaching is not considered a high-status profession in Australia
There are different pathways into ITE, some of which are attracting or facilitating the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and career changers, for example there has been a growth in postgraduate provision, increase in provision of online and blended programmes, and some successful programmes targeting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers.
There are examples of high quality programmes that attract high quality teacher candidates who appear motivated to teach for positive reasons.
In many cases, demand-driven HEI funding has contributed to an uncapped number of graduates from ITE programmes, meaning that there are more graduates than schools can hire. There is often inadequate workforce planning to attract candidates to high needs areas, such as STEM subjects or secondary education, and candidates are attracted to ITE programmes in low demand areas, such as primary education or physical education, creating a pool of employable teachers who either cannot find a job or who teach outside their subject area. While more data may help candidates make informed choices, demand and quality might not be the only factors that influence programme choice if there are programmes of lower cost or in a more favourable location that lead to jobs.
While there is clearly respect for teachers’ integrity, respect for teachers’ professional capability on the part of media and public is not high. There is little co-ordinated PR activity to promote teaching as a career for strong students, to increase understanding of all that is “teachers’ work”, and to counterbalance negative images of teaching focused on teacher workload and stress.
The new reforms could increase the status of teachers, e.g. imposing a higher quality threshold to restrict entrant numbers may allow a better match to teaching vacancies, potentially increasing the likelihood of new teachers being awarded permanent contracts; the development of integrated data set will in time support better workforce planning, increasing job security for newly qualified teachers.
A national strategy could build on existing best practices identified by solid research and evidence, and explore initiatives (and incentives) like sending new teacher cohorts into struggling schools instead of single teachers, providing early career peer support, supporting loan forgiveness programmes, offering substantial bursaries to attract strong mature graduates from other professions into teaching, developing a media strategy, and providing opportunities for career progression and salary structures.
Continued critique of ITE from media and the public could discourage interest from high quality teacher candidates.
Some projects with evidence of impact are curtailed due to short-term funding. Whatever the reason, this sends a negative message to all people in the field.
Selection into higher education in Australia, including ITE, is demand-driven, which has led to growing enrolments across all fields, including ITE. Though providers can determine the selection criteria to their programmes, most use the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank for those entering from secondary education. However, new national accreditation standards require providers to incorporate both academic and non-academic components into selection processes, use evidence-based selection process, apply minimum entry requirements and show evidence of impact.
New selection guidelines require the use of both academic and non-academic criteria to select candidates into ITE programmes. Some programmes are using additional entry requirements, some imposed by states and others by universities (e.g. University of Melbourne’s web-based Teacher Capability Assessment Tool and similar, interviews, motivation letters).
Growth in enrolment in post-graduate courses provides some reassurance about entry standards – and allows selection of those who have progressed well from ATAR to degree results. Students with first degrees demonstrate more clearly their academic standards than those with only ATARs.
Too many teacher education institutions are expanding ITE programmes for financial reasons and permitting low quality recruits (i.e. low ATAR scores for some providers). Low quality of entry to some ITE programmes is undermining the status of the profession and discouraging applications from higher quality applicants.
There is already a pool of career finders and changers looking for a more satisfying or alternative career, most recently in professions impacted by the economic downturn such as engineering. Targeted programmes for these candidates would increase the pool of high quality graduates from which to recruit, particularly in shortage subjects and locations.
There are strong gains to be made from continuing to develop and implement transparent and evidence-based selection processes, in line with the revised accreditation guidelines – strengthened by feedback loops from students’ TPA results and from employing schools; wider involvement of schools in selection; and lessons learned from programmes that are attracting and selecting the most suitable candidates, especially in high-needs area.
Variable application of entry standards across states and HEIs may still undermine overall reform efforts. If it becomes difficult to recruit the required number of candidates because they do not pass the selection criteria – or if teacher shortages in high-need subject areas increase -, there might be a push to lower selection criteria.
Failure by HEIs to implement literacy and numeracy tests as part of selection into ITE, rather than having test during ITE, may contribute to over-recruitment and lower on-course retention. Failure to put in place effective support mechanisms may lead to reduction in diversity of recruits.
Continuing over-recruitment of weaker students, combined with some concerns that the financial incentives on universities might lead to a continuing expansion in ITE numbers, could put a strain on schools to provide practicum support. There is also a financial cost to students, who believe that enrolling in an ITE programme will provide them with a job.
Initial teacher education programmes are delivered by universities and other providers through campus-based, on-line or multi-modal concurrent or consecutive courses. The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, which are linked to accreditation, define 7 standards and 37 focus areas in three professional domains at four career stages of a teacher. According to accreditation standards, undergraduate programmes must include at least 80 days of professional experience, and postgraduate programmes must include at least 60 days – and teacher education institutions are required to enter into formal written partnerships with schools to facilitate placements.
There are examples of productive school-university partnerships in each state/territory that enable novice teachers opportunities to gain strong teaching practice experience
Initial teacher education leaders are generally invested in the standards and interested in refining and strengthening how prospective teachers are prepared.
To learn excellent practice, novice teachers require excellent models of practice. As demands and understandings of best practice change, it can be challenging to ensure that novices all have field-based opportunities to learn to provide research-informed teaching.
This reality in the broader teacher education research base leaves reform leaders without certainty about important questions (e.g. What is possible to accomplish in initial teacher education? What is most important to prioritise in ITE?
Some universities, for financial reasons, have reduced the amount of school experience time down to the AITSL requirement, despite knowing it reduced the quality of their programme.
There are opportunities for leaders in initial teacher education to share data and approaches and to learn from one another in cycles of design and assessment; the accreditation system could support this type of scaling up over time.
In many places there seemed to be little time or support given to clinical practice or development of pedagogical content knowledge as a part of ITE, but there are possibilities and various models emerging for how programmes might incorporating these approaches, e.g. University of Canberra had recently restructured theirs around 5 PCK areas in primary education.
Learning to “do” ambitious teaching requires skilled mentors and field supervisors; there does not currently seem to be consistent focus on the importance of these roles in the system or how to build capacity of people in these roles.
The TPA will assess a point in time on a specified set of items. There is a risk that in implementation the TPA could inadvertently reduce the breadth and depth of higher quality teacher education as programmes bend to support novices on the specific requirements of the assessment.
The Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency, following the The Higher Education Standards Panel (HESP) standards framework – and state and territory regulatory authorities, following the ITE Accreditation Standards in Australia – are responsible for assuring the quality of higher education institutions and ITE programmes in Australia, respectively. The Government also publishes an annual data report on ITE applicants, students and graduates.
Overall, stakeholders want to strengthen the ITP system.
Stakeholders have generally accepted accreditation standards and other reforms – and they are seeking to implement them.
Many organisations and agencies (e.g., AITSL, TEQSA, regulatory authorities in states and territories) must work together to ensure quality; this challenges goals of coherent implementation and strong messaging to the public.
Despite some strong partnerships, teacher education institutions are slow to adapt their programmes to schools’ needs. There are few formalised structures requiring universities to respond to feedback from schools. There are therefore possibilities for developing an ITP system with strong feedback loops that inform and are informed by research and context-specific teaching practice. Feedback loops could also help respond to current and projected workforce needs.
As a part of the accreditation and panel processes there are possibilities for developing new networks, for example those involving ITE providers, schools and state education departments, and strong or unexpected partnerships, for example those involving the private sector.
New data provides the opportunity to improve the research and evidence base system-wide, towards a system of continual improvement. For example, data will give information on how graduates from different teacher education institutions progress in their careers, incentivising providers to understand more about how well equipped they are. Also stronger processes for providers staying in touch with graduates as they begin their career and seeking feedback from employing principals would be desirable.
In a country which faces challenges of distance and remoteness, well structured and resourced online programmes with strong school partnerships, may be a way of achieving more strongly focused practice based ITE in areas that currently struggle to attract teachers, effectively supported by centres of educational excellence
The accreditation compliance model may disincentivise innovative (and potentially more risky) approaches to preparation and partnership.
The expectations for evidence-based claims of programme effectiveness may not align with possible responsible claims from current data and tools. Potential consequences are many, and could include: pressure on programmes to misinterpret data in order to demonstrate value; undue pressure on TPA to be a proxy for programme quality, etc.
In Australia, those who have completed an initial teacher education programme and who have been deemed suitable to work with children can obtain provisional registration – or “Graduate” status according to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (Teacher Standards). To be fully registered, which may take 1 to 5 years, teachers are required to show evidence that they have attained the “Proficient” level of the Teacher Standards, usually a portfolio of evidence. For government schools, the state or territory is the employer but teachers are frequently recruited and hired by schools directly.
The Standards offer a consistent basis for articulating readiness to teach decisions. They are now embedded in registration processes and are being used in hiring decisions.
Increasingly decisions to employ teachers are being made at the school level, thereby supporting a better match between hiring decisions and individual school need.
Tools have been developed to help schools hire teachers, especially in rural areas (e.g. My Recruit).
Weak workforce planning and feedback mechanisms from schools and system employers to ITE providers regarding match between graduates capabilities and school requirements means providers are slow to adapt their programmes to school needs. Some employers of teachers feel that they have little influence over the content and design of provider programmes.
Because of shortages of more experienced teacher candidates, due in part to a lack of mobility of experienced teachers, graduate teachers can be appointed to teaching contexts for which they are poorly prepared and in which they receive limited professional support.
Many teachers do not find employment on graduation and the prevalence of short term or temporary employment for those who do weakens the transition of graduates into the profession and their progression to full certification.
Some ITE programmes and state initiatives are promoting more effective pathways for graduates into employment by creating much stronger relationships between individual graduates and potential employers (e.g. the Tasmanian Teacher Intern Placement Programme).
Specific initiatives that build the suitability of graduates for appointment to teach in specific contexts provide examples of approaches that could be adopted more generally (e.g. the National Exceptional Teachers for Disadvantaged Schools (NETDS) programme.
The increasing involvement of principals in hiring decisions can over time give them greater leverage with ITE providers to reinforce the key capabilities they require of new graduate teachers.
The progressive improvement in the data available on ITE programmes and outcomes for graduates offers the opportunity, in time, for more effective alignment between the output of ITE and the needs of employers.
Some examples of strong professional learning cultures in schools demonstrate how newly graduated teachers can be supported to progress to full registration.
There remain different requirements for moving to full registration across states and territories in terms of teaching experience and the process for demonstration of competence against the proficient teacher standards. While these differences are currently managed within a national framework, increased divergence between requirements applying in individual states could weaken the overall coherence and effectiveness of certification processes.
Data from Staff in Australia’s Schools, 2013 suggests around a quarter of teachers in lower secondary school were teaching a subject that they did not study as part of their teaching degree. A further increase in teachers teaching outside their subject area because of specific or generalised teacher shortages could undermine the teaching quality agenda.
There is large variation in availability and quality of induction across states and territories, sectors and schools. Some jurisdictions allow time-release or reduced workload for beginning teachers and their mentors, who are usually selected by the school. Mentoring is implied as part of the roles and responsibilities of certified Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers (HALT) but there are no mandated minimum requirements for mentors.
“Graduate to proficient: Australian guidelines for teacher induction into the profession” outlines the critical factors for high quality and effective induction of early career teachers.
In some jurisdictions and teacher education institutions, there are some clear guidelines for induction, supporting and mentoring beginning teachers (e.g. extended induction in NSW, induction for remote schools in NT).
There is an expectation of support for teachers working towards “Proficient” status and full registration. Mentoring is also implied as part of the roles and responsibilities of certified Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers (HALT).
In most places, there is the lack of a systemic approach to support new teachers, which is especially needed by teachers working towards registration at the Proficient APST level and for new teachers in rural and remote schools. While some professional learning support exists, support for new teachers is often undeveloped, and more frequently informal or conducted as part of general induction for all teachers new to the school.
There is a lack of formal mentoring programmes and general guidance for mentor teachers. The role of HALT teachers in mentoring new teachers must be made more explicit in the APST.
There is a strong focus on initial teacher education, with little recognition of the teacher professional learning continuum
Initiatives of systemic structured mentoring/coaching practice – and passionate mentors – could be scaled up, e.g. professional hub schools).
The HALT accreditation process has the potential to drive leadership in schools, improve support for all teachers, and increase the attractiveness of teaching in general.
Students on clinical placement or long practicums can be trained up and hired by the school upon graduation (e.g. University of Tasmania internship model).
There is a need for local/school-based communities of practice and additional time and resources to support systemic reforms for new teachers, for example showcasing examples of excellence – as defined by a strong evidence base – in provision and support for new teachers and school leaders who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
ITE providers are rarely involved in providing support for new teachers.
With some exceptions (e.g. NT), there are few incentives to pursue HALT status – i.e. high cost for the teacher, administrative burden for the school, lack of career prospects and remuneration, etc. – or take on a mentoring role, especially for 1st or 2nd year practicum who lack many basic skills.