THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
ADDRESS TO THE AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL OF DEANS OF EDUCATION
LABOR’S PRIORITIES IN TEACHER EDUCATION
FRIDAY, 20 OCTOBER 2017
I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal and Bediegal People of the Eora Nation who are the traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting and I pay respects to their elders both past and present.
I extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in attendance today.
I would also like to acknowledge the Australian Council of Deans of Education Executive:
- Professor Tania Aspland, President
- John Williamson, Deputy President
- Professor Stephen Dobson, Treasurer
- And all Deans of Education in attendance today
I welcome the opportunity to have an open and frank discussion about teacher education in Australia, and I would particularly like to focus on three key topics:
- The need to increase the status of teachers in our community;
- Improving teacher education; and
- The need to ensure evidence, evaluation and research become fundamental hallmarks of our school education system.
Labor believes that every Australian child deserves a quality education that allows them to make the most of their talents.
As every parent knows a good education is a ticket to a lifetime of opportunity.
I want every Australian parent to be confident that their local school is an excellent school able to provide a world class education.
For this to happen we need a school education system that is constantly learning, adapting and improving.
A system which learns from our best schools, learns from the research evidence, and most importantly one that has teachers learning from their shared experience.
I want highly successful teachers, who love teaching, who have the opportunity to collaborate, and who motivate and inspire our young people.
To make this vision a reality I want to work closely with Deans of Education, universities, and all school education stakeholders.
This will be a collaborative process.
Only if we work together can we ensure our school education system is one we are truly proud of.
That is why Bill Shorten and I have announced that we will hold a National Schools forum next month.
We want to hear from the best and the brightest across our system - those who actually work in our schools and universities.
We want to hear from you about what you think our national goals for school education should be, and how we can work together to make them happen.
Improving the status of teaching in our community
A particular passion of mine is the need to improve the status of teaching in our community.
I worry that young people who are high achievers, passionate about making a difference, are counselled against becoming teachers by their families, their career counsellors and even their own educators.
I think that is wrong.
I want teachers to be held in similar regard to doctors.
I want our young people competing to get into teaching in the same way they compete to get into medicine.
I want parents and teachers to encourage young people to consider teaching as a rewarding, fulfilling and respected career.
Young Australians with a track record of achievement, motivation and capabilities should want to become teachers.
As a first choice, not a fallback.
To do this and to drive long-term and sustained change, we need to improve the prestige of teaching in our community.
Teachers are respected; ask any parent about the teachers at their school and the vast majority will sing their praises and everyone can name the teacher or teachers that changed their life.
But many teachers feel the profession is not respected as a whole.
Too often governments and the media are quick to engage in teacher bashing as our international ranking falls.
This is not a problem that is easily fixed.
It requires substantial cultural change.
It means promoting the fulfilling aspects of being a teacher, the opportunity to guide and shape the next generation, the intellectual and emotional rewards.
It means incentivising our best teachers, not necessarily with performance pay, but with career progression based on competency not just on time served.
And it means examining wages and other related labour market issues.
Pay for teachers starts relatively high but then flattens out, causing highly accomplished teachers to leave the classroom to pursue high wages elsewhere.
However, the issue which you in this room can most readily address – and one that I want to focus on today – is the need to examine the quality of our teacher graduates and teacher education.
We need our beginning teachers to be excellent and we need those teachers to stay in the system.
We have more students entering initial teacher education – or ITE - courses than ever before.
The most recent statistics from the Department of Education and Training show that 30,000 students commenced ITE in 2015 and around 18,000 graduate each year.
And of those graduates, around two thirds go onto work in schools.
So whilst we are training a reasonably large number of students, a significant proportion do not end up entering the teaching profession.
I will be frank – I remain very concerned about the academic aptitude of some students being accepted into teaching education.
While ATAR certainly is not a perfect measure of the likely aptitude of a teacher, the trends in ATAR scores for education courses are of concern.
A common feature across all high performing school systems is that they draw their teachers from those in top 30 per cent of academic aptitude.
In 2005, one in three teaching entrants had an ATAR or equivalent of 80 or above.
By 2015, that had fallen to one in five.
Further, the proportion of students who were admitted on the basis of their secondary education, but had no submitted ATAR, increased from 29 per cent in 2006 to 36 per cent in 2015.
In some institutions the proportion of secondary students admitted in the “no submitted ATAR category” was as high at 60 per cent.
This is both an entry level issue and an exit level issue; around one in 20 teaching graduates are failing their final literacy and numeracy test.
It seems unfair to students paying to undertake a university course that at the conclusion of a four year degree they do not possess passable literacy and numeracy skills.
It makes me question how that student was able to commence that degree and certainly how they were able to graduate.
I think it would be better to expect all potential entrants into teaching to take a literacy and numeracy test before starting their course.
If students do not pass, that would provide universities an opportunity to offer them a bridging course.
But really, if the basics of literacy and numeracy elude you, should you be teaching the next generation?
Taken as a whole these statistics raise the question of whether enrolment targets and low ATAR standards are eroding the status and standing of teaching in our community and affecting results in the classroom.
When last in government Labor uncapped the undergraduate system, and gave universities freedom to enrol as many students according to demand.
We are proud of that reform but also conscious of the risks to the system it entails.
In particular the risk that, with freedom in the system, and the lowering of entry marks, universities are enrolling in teaching courses to meet their business plans rather than addressing genuine demand.
It’s up to you – the university community – to show leadership here and ensure we have high-quality courses for students who should be there.
We do appreciate that the university sector is under pressure at the current time, particularly with the Government’s push to cut $3.8 billion in funding.
But we cannot have universities falling for the pressure of ‘letting a few more in’ just to satisfy short-term financial interests.
The Federal government has a responsibility to ensure that the public interest is served in the preparation of teachers for our nation’s schools.
Universities exist to meet the needs our nation, our society and our economy; not the other way around.
I acknowledge that some work has been done to improve the quality of initial graduates.
And I would also like to acknowledge the important work you have done in developing and supporting Indigenous Australians, through the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teacher initiative.
I won’t touch directly on the terribly named Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group or TEMAG reforms, as you are all very familiar with them.
However, one initiative I am particularly interested in is the moves to develop Graduate Teacher Performance Assessments that are currently being undertaken by two university consortiums.
And while I understand both are voluntary consortiums at this stage, I do think in the future we need a very high standard tool that is used across the country.
I know some will say that ‘context and culture’ vary and that makes one tool or one assessment redundant.
But I respectfully disagree – there are some standards and some competencies that I think it is reasonable to expect all students to possess.
I would welcome your thoughts on whether we could move in the future to one standardised assessment tool that students should pass before moving into the classroom.
Research, evaluation and evidence in our school system
One of the particular areas where I welcome your input is how we can better embed evidence in our system, and build greater links between universities and schools.
I believe that if we improve the intellectual pursuit of teaching, in time, we will keep our best teachers, and we will continue to attract the best and brightest into our system.
In my view we can learn from the health system model, where many practicing doctors actively engage in research and clinical trials.
Where doctors want their patients to participate in clinical trials, because they are closely monitored and evaluated, beyond their immediate medical needs.
Where medical students undertake internships, recognising that they need a focussed and intensive period of learning ‘on-the-job’.
Where senior doctors are expected to develop, train and mentor young doctors, not for a small extra payment, but because it is an integral part of their identity and profession.
To help this happen we need to encourage universities to partner with schools, to work with them to embed the best evidence-based practices for learning, to conduct trials and to undertake research.
There are some great examples of this but I want this to be the norm, not the exception.
Looking at the latest State of Australian University Research report from the Australian Research Council, I note that education accounts for around five per cent of research outputs submitted to Excellence in Research Australia.
Between 2011 and 2013, there was over $215 million in funding for education discipline research.
This is an unambiguously good thing.
But it has to translate into improvements in the classroom.
Research in school education should drive the development of new knowledge – be it understanding new and more effective methods of learning, finding innovative ways to address inequality or educational disadvantage.
Last month, I had the opportunity to meet Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the UK’s Education Endowment Fund.
One of the initiatives we discussed was the how the Fund supports teachers and senior leaders with knowledge and resources.
Importantly, these resources are matched to the needs of schools based on their depth of evidence about what works and what does not.
They also make grants to independently test new educational tools or pedagogical approaches.
They publish all of their findings, including those that don’t meet their expectations and identify where resources or teaching approaches are replicable and scalable.
It’s an attractive approach to building a more evidence approach to teaching.
Now I’m not saying our kids should be treated like guinea pigs but the fact is a lot of approaches have too little evidence and too much habit and ideology.
I want to work with you, as heads of our education faculties to see how we might develop something similar in Australia.
In closing, I have briefly touched on a number of different topics today.
This is a beginning of a conversation on how we can all work together to improve teaching standards and the profession to which you are all so dedicated.
I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this with you further today and in coming months.