OPINION: We welcome the discussion paper Great Teaching, Inspired Learning, an initiative of the NSW Minister of Education. The paper acknowledges the high quality of teaching in NSW. It does not focus on pre-service teacher education but looks broadly at teaching quality across the lifespan and the critical role stakeholders play in improving it.
Nevertheless, media reports have homed in on contentious matters including the reported low ATAR entry scores for a small minority of students. The paper also raises the possibility that practicum places might be limited to equate teacher education intake with predicted workforce needs, which is not without risk.
Workforce planning is particularly complex in education because official figures of graduates employed in the NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC) cover only graduates offered permanent positions. In contrast, the NSW Institute of Teachers (NSWIT) data indicate a much larger proportion of early career teachers are active in the profession.
We have been working on improving teacher education though consultation with the NSW government and professional bodies but achieving further improvements is a challenge.
In initial teacher education, some of the questions raised for discussion are already well addressed in the recently agreed national standards, which stipulate that entry to the profession be limited to the top 30 per cent of the population in literacy and numeracy, that a range of students be recruited into teacher education and that teacher education institutions have a significant proportion of their teaching staff with recent school experience.
Since 2008, the teacher education curriculum has been tightly controlled in NSW by the ministry through the NSWIT. It has set down more than 40 so-called program ''standards'' and more than 50 requirements that every teacher education program has to meet. Every institution has since met the standards and been accredited.
Ministers of education have never had so much influence over teacher education, recruitment and course standards. We encourage the minister to continue to support the full and consistent implementation of the agreed national standards. We recommend he allow the necessary space and time for these to be embedded in the system.
The discussion paper is critical of the abundance of graduates who want to enter the teaching profession. However, it is difficult to see how this might contribute to a decrease in the quality of teaching. On the contrary, the employers can select the best to ensure a high quality workforce. If there is something wrong with the quality of graduates, it is not borne out by the evidence, which is that:
In their first few years of teaching, graduates must demonstrate that they meet a rigorous set of standards to be licensed to continue teaching. They are assessed in schools by experienced teachers and principals. The vast majority of graduates quickly and readily meet these standards.
Attrition rates of early-career teachers in NSW are very low compared to other countries, at about 11.5 per cent for permanent employees in the first five years of teaching. Some countries report over 25 per cent.
Student and graduate feedback about university teacher education courses is generally very positive. Regrettably, the only data reported in the discussion paper on graduate feedback is negative and limited to a single item from a national survey.
None of this is consistent with an ill-prepared workforce.
The later sections of the paper look at how well employers manage the induction of student teachers and how well teachers are supported. This emphasis on greater support in the early years of the profession is critical.
Teacher education in NSW has made a significant contribution to the quality of teaching. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate to improve teaching quality, professional learning and initial teacher education programs. The discussion paper provides a valuable service in raising important issues. Like the minister, we look forward to finding bold, inventive ways to improve education within the framework of the national standards.
Associate Professor Peter Aubusson is president of the NSW Council of Deans of Education and the head of teacher education at the University of Technology Sydney. Professor Chris Davison is Vice-President of the Council and Head of the School of Education at UNSW
This opinion piece first appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald.