Opinion: Federal Government’s teacher test a band-aid solution

by Correna Haythorpe08 Dec 2015

There’s only one way to ensure that future teachers are as high quality as possible – select them from the most academically able students, give them the rigorous training they need, and support them in the early years of their careers

The Federal Government’s new test for teaching students is a band-aid solution to a much bigger problem: that there are no practical restrictions on the number of students universities can enrol in teaching degrees.

This has led to a drop in ATAR scores for those entering teaching courses and a surplus of graduates.

We need minimum entry standards for teaching degrees because as long as universities can enrol unlimited numbers of students in teaching degrees, this issue will remain.

Teaching courses should be about turning high achieving students into high performing teachers.

It is a concern that 10% of students who took the trial version of the test failed to pass, but it is a bigger concern that our current system has allowed these students into teaching courses.

High-performing school systems such as Singapore recruit all teachers from the top 30% of academic achievers and we need to be doing the same.

This is the approach the NSW Government has taken by requiring all new teachers to have scored Band 5s (ATARs over 80) in three subjects, one of which must be English.

Students who have a strong secondary school academic record already have strong literacy and numeracy skills, and these are the students we need to target for teaching degrees.

In Australia ATAR scores for teaching courses have been dropping steadily for a decade.

Less than 50% 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 alone.

Teaching courses have double the proportion of students with ATARs between 30 and 50 - 6% compared to 3% average for other courses.

Students admitted with low ATARs are less likely to continue with their course and there is a clear correlation between ATAR scores and success at university.

It is in no one’s interest – except universities – to have teaching courses which turn out graduates who cannot find work as teachers.

The most recent Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership report found that only 45% of teaching graduates were in full-time (including contract) work four months after graduation.

The surplus of graduates also makes it easier for education departments to offer beginning teachers short-term or casual contracts, another factor which makes teaching less attractive as a career in the long-term.

Academic ability is not the only thing that makes a good teacher, but we need to recognise that stronger academic performers are more likely to make effective teachers.

This is particularly important as the profession grows more complex and demands on teachers increase.

We need new Education Minister Simon Birmingham to begin moving towards a system of proper workforce planning where teachers are taken from the top 30% of school graduates.
 
 
Correna Haythorpe is the federal president of the Australian Education Union (AEU)
 

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