A rising tide lifts all ships

Kerri Carr

Setting high entry standards for university teaching courses is essential, says Federation President Maurie Mulheron.

He said the Federal Government has “squibbed” on setting a minimum university entrance score in its response to a Ministerial Advisory Group report on teacher education.

“It’s a lost opportunity to lift entry standards into teacher education nationally,” Mr Mulheron said. “A rising tide lifts all ships.” (In NSW, school leavers entering teaching degrees from 2016 will need to achieve three band 5 HSC results including in English.)

“Teaching is highly complex, sophisticated and intellectually demanding work,” Mr Mulheron emphasised. “Not everyone can be a teacher; that’s why we need rigorous entry standards into teacher training.

“Teaching is rocket science, as [California’s Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education Faculty Director] Professor Linda Darling-Hammond said.”

Australian Education Union Federal President Correna Haythorpe said the teacher training review ignored research commissioned from the Australian Council for Educational Research that showed high-achieving school systems focused on minimum entry standards to teaching courses.

The ACER research states: “Australia’s teacher education policies are currently falling well short of high-achieving countries in terms of ensuring that future teachers are recruited from the top 30 per cent of the age cohort.”

“The research found that the most reliable way to select future teachers is based on their capacity to meet the intellectual demands of tertiary training and teaching,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Less than 50 per cent of Australian year 12 students receiving offers for places in undergraduate teacher education courses had ATAR scores above 70, and the number with ATARs below 50 has doubled in the past three years.”

Literacy and numeracy testing

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has announced teaching graduates will be tested to assess their literacy and numeracy skills.

Mr Mulheron said one-off tests are inadequate.

“There should be ongoing and rigorous assessment throughout university teacher training courses to ensure that only highly proficient users of English and a strong grounding in integrating numeracy into teaching graduate,” he said.

Primary specialties

The government wants every new primary teacher to graduate with a maths, science or a language specialisation.

Federation supported a similar recommendation in the NSW Government’s Great Teaching, Inspired Learning: A blueprint for action (2013) document.

“It can be a positive for the individual teacher to have the flexibility to teach K–6 or 7–12 setting and enriching for a school who comes with a speciality to support professional development and curriculum development,” Mr Mulheron said.

“Federation doesn’t, however, want to see primary schools turning into high schools with a range of specialist teachers. The union likes the model of generalist teachers with knowledge across all the key learning areas.”

The Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group’s report Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers can be found here.

Time for a five-year course

Federation supports a five-year teacher education course, President Maurie Mulheron said.

“Teaching is getting more demanding and teaching strategies are becoming more sophisticated. It’s time to turn it into a five-year degree.”

He said the course should consist of a three-year undergraduate content degree and two-year postgraduate education degree.