The final report from the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review expert panel released last Thursday, is at once comprehensive and piecemeal. With a keen eye on what it takes to become a teacher, it covers the entire ITE lifecycle, including recruitment, program quality and structure, and induction. But it is clearly constrained by political agendas, the submissions received, and the limited evidence available in teacher education.
As a result, some recommendations seem oddly specific, direct, and perhaps premature, while others rely of a long view of work yet to be done in establishing new bodies, panels, and data bases – all based on substantial new funds. There are also significant tensions between some of the report’s key proposals and its purported aims.
Raising the status of teaching is the critical challenge of the sector, as identified by the panel. Teachers and teaching should be highly valued as foundational to the wellbeing of any society. Teaching is complex and intellectually challenging work, even if not always recognised as such.
Calls to raise the status of teaching (and teacher education) have reverberated for decades, including in many previous reviews. Clearly, we are still not getting it right.
Attempts at ITE reform over the years have shown that you can’t simply lift the status of teaching through regulation — ATAR cut-offs (always a question of supply and demand), capability assessments and entry and/or exit tests (are teachers born, not made?), capstone teacher performance assessments, and program standards and accreditation processes.
Lifting the status of teaching requires genuine respect from government, media, the public and from employers. Universities themselves have a long history of undervaluing teacher education. Funding for research on teacher education is hard to come by and the quality of evidence, as in all fields, is varied.
The report highlights the need to attract high-quality, diverse candidates into ITE. But how such recommendations are implemented is always a struggle. Realising the joint aims of quality and diversity means grappling with the unresolved tension arising from defining quality as high achieving high school students, while vast structural inequalities in our education system and society continue to impede the path to higher education of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The report also advocates reducing the two-year master’s degree requirement for mid-career professionals in priority areas so they can transfer into teaching via a single year graduate diploma. And it recommends funding for the boutique accelerated Teach for Australia programme, a favourite of presently stood-down minister Alan Tudge. While the former at least is a partial solution to dire teacher shortages around the country, these recommendations highlight the tension between political and economic imperatives and the need to raise the status and improve the quality of teaching.
Good teaching practice requires strong disciplinary knowledge. It is important that student teachers, undergrad or postgrad, are supported to gain classroom experience throughout their studies – but it’s the quality of time spent in schools, not just the quantity that matters. To be beneficial, practical experience must be underpinned by defensible theoretical perspectives and robust evidence. Otherwise, we’re unlikely to achieve the sought-after step-change in student outcomes.
One thing COVID-19 has taught us is the value of scientific evidence. The report repeatedly highlights the need for strong evidence to underpin teacher education. The panel was right to call for funding rigorous, high-quality studies, and recognising randomised controlled trials as the gold standard in empirical research. But this is currently at odds with the value placed on, and funding available for education research – less than 1 per cent of the latest ARC Discovery Project funding went to education, let alone teacher education.
It was reassuring to see our centre’s work on Quality Teaching Rounds endorsed by the panel as a way for ITE providers and employers “to ensure students in initial teacher education are equipped to implement evidence-based teaching practices” and as a means of enhancing their induction into the workforce.
In a 2019 randomised controlled trial, Quality Teaching Rounds was found to improve student achievement growth in mathematics by 25 per cent, or an additional two months in the eight-month study period, compared to the control group.
As part of our submission to the QITE review, we conducted a pilot study exposing final year education students to the Quality Teaching Model and key processes and underlying mechanisms of Quality Teaching Rounds just prior to their final internship.
With exciting preliminary results – such as reducing student stress and increasing confidence in their professional capacities, including in classroom management, student engagement and instructional strategies – we are now conducting additional studies on quality teaching in ITE at the University of Newcastle before seeking ITE partners for large scale studies across institutions.
Now more than ever, as this review has concluded, high quality research is needed to strengthen the evidence base for initial teacher education, improve the quality of teaching and support the professionalism of teachers. The QITE review panel gets a lot right. At the same time, their report highlights enduring tensions in a field that needs much more support.
Laureate Professor Jenny Gore is the director of the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre at the University of Newcastle
This opinion piece was first published in Campus Morning Mail on 3 March 2022