AITSL The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership

How do we know someone can teach?

The report of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) is titled Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers and you can find out more information about it on the AITSL ITE Reform webpage.  ‘Classroom ready’ is one of those phrases that rolls off the tongue, but I think it’s time to think seriously about what it means, and how we know it when we see it.

The report itself challenges us to assess initial teacher education courses based on the quality of their graduates.  The problem is that we don’t really know how good the graduates of initial teacher education are.  There will always be principals convinced graduates were better in the past, even if they can find some gems in the current crop.  Universities will always argue back that no one passes their courses without being ready, and will make the point that you can only expect so much from new graduates.

The report from Professor Bill Louden on assessment in initial teacher education has now been released by AITSL.  Bill looks at practical options that he thinks will work in Australia.  He concludes that there are two that suit our current situation:

  • A literacy and numeracy test, that is taken during a course, not as an entry requirement
  • A comprehensive, moderated teaching performance assessment

Bill argues that a literacy and numeracy test makes sense in a system with so many pathways into initial teacher education.  It is a way of dealing with criticisms about entry standards and the quality of graduates.  Wherever this sort of test has been implemented, a high percentage of candidates pass it.  It is not a mechanism for excluding large numbers of people, more for identifying those who do need help and ensuring public confidence.

Bill’s second proposal has much more far reaching implications.  He recommends that Australia adopt a comprehensive, moderated assessment of teaching performance.  In Australia’s autonomous higher education system, this mightn’t be mandated, but it would be a powerful tool for universities to demonstrate that their graduates are high quality, or to act if they are not.

The main international example of this is the American edTPA assessment.  This requires candidates to put together a structured portfolio centred around a sequence of lessons and includes lesson plans, samples of student work, and analysis of teaching impact as well as video of the candidate teaching.  The portfolios are scored by trained assessors – a mix of teacher educators and teachers – external to the university. 

edTPA has been developed by Stanford University and tested to have a high degree of reliability and validity, so we shouldn’t be distracted by the prospect of importing an American model.  Bill’s report also profiles comprehensive assessments at Deakin and Melbourne universities.  The real question is whether there is a place for this sort of comprehensive, common approach to graduate assessment in Australia. 

For me, there is something very attractive about an assessment that is moderated across universities.  It would allow us to see what approaches are working in different contexts.  It would give confidence that every graduate is meeting an agreed national standard.  And it would give universities the information they need to target areas for improvement in their programs. 

Bill’s report raises a lot of questions.  Would a moderated assessment work in Australia?  Do we have the scale to develop and sustain it?  Is it fair to place so much weight on a single assessment, even if it’s well designed?  These are questions we’ll need to debate if we want to raise the public debate on the quality of graduates above the level of anecdote.

I’d be interested in your views.


Submitted by stephen macdonald (not verified) on

Whilst I agree with the above I feel that the missing link in the assessment proposed is the Emotional Intelligence piece. We know that a large level of "success" can be attributed to one's emotional intelligence and this is able to be assessed via a number of valid tools.

Submitted by Adrian Bertolini (not verified) on

My opinion is while it may be an admirable goal to structure the teacher training programs to be classroom ready they will eventually not succeed. Regardless of the years spent in a University system nothing prepares one to teach (or be an engineer, or lawyer or any career) without experience. I would suggest that nothing will make much difference until there is a strong apprenticeship scaffolding to teacher development that extends beyond teacher training and into their first few years of teaching. It is one thing I do like about the Teach Australia model - the quality mentoring that occurs once a new "teacher" is practicing. If there was more focus on this aspect then we will have quality teachers.

Submitted by Rod Sutherland (not verified) on

As a school leader in a variety of roles and sites for over 20 years I have have experienced trainee teaching career students, exit students, first time contract appointment teachers after a period of time as relief teachers, the full range. Add to that is the knowledge that they have come from a lot of different Universities, some in F2F course, some from Distance Ed course, some experienced in other work areas some on a linear path from school. I cannot say how many practicuum reports I have discussed with teachers and the students. I have inducted, mentored, consoled, congratulated, supported, moved on, and counselled. My experience tells me this - the standard of graduating students' ability to teach varies from different uni's, has varied over the years, has varied depending on how much 'pract time' they experience and then there are all the individual nuances - career aspirations, life experiences, resilience, emotional intelligence, and school contexts. By all means lets develop some sort of common 'beginning / ready to teach' assessment, but please have strong links to evidence from a recent in situ practical where the candidate was teaching almost independantly of the mentor. Please include an aspect that addresses the ability to establish a class, relationship, routine, with knowledge of current curriculum and pedagogy. I also think they should have the opportunity to present their portfolio, I like to hear enthusiasm and excitement.

Submitted by Deb K (not verified) on

No amount of course work really prepares teachers for the realities of day-to-day teaching. But, in my experience of having mentored many pre-service teachers over the years, the best prepared are those who have undergone an internship. I've recently had one such student teacher who completed a 3 week supervised parallactic up, followed immediately by a 6 week (50% teaching load) unsupervised internship. Those 9 weeks gave her the opportunity to develop relationships with students, parents and other staff members. Similarly, she got to see a complete Term, from beginning to end, including report card preparation. Her professional growth and development over the 9 weeks was a great thing to witness. She came in as a confident, willing 'student' and left as a well-prepared, realistic and highly motivated, beginning teacher. Anyone can look good on paper, but the proof is in the actual teaching and internships allow pre-service teachers to gain much needed experience at the coal face.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

What about future teachers who have dyslexia, yet have worked very hard to get their degree and can successfully use other tools for correct spelling!

Submitted by Louise (not verified) on

I would like to see all pre-service teachers sit the IELTS test. It is not perfect but it is widely recognised as a test of English competency and it covers all areas. The international students will have passed this test at least once. Consequently nobody in the community would legitimately be able to criticise our teachers for a lack of English proficiency.

Submitted by Daffydd Wiesner... (not verified) on

Having taught in the UK, the USA and Australia, over 25 years (and still occasionally dip my toes in the "water"). I am convinced that the processes that Tertiary Educators think we need to initiate in our schools, are passé, to say the least.
The concept of he "teacher-centric" classroom - the pedagogical approach (in the strictest sense of the word) - is rather like the lecturer at University. The 'font of all knowledge', etching their deliberations onto the blank-slate minds of their charges.
However, in the current Secondary (and Primary!) Teaching-scapes things have changed. Students can access data (and DO access data) with the aid of technology: They are "Techknowledgical",bring a body of "Pre-Acquired" knowledge and information. Furthermore, assessment of this trend indicates that students take what they read via technology, as "gospel".
The teacher needs to have the Mind-Set of "Advocate" to handle this process.
The rapid rate of change, nowadays, also demands that (rather than a standardised skill-set) teachers have a specific body of Mind-sets. The Mind-set of "Unlearning" is equally as critical as the capacity to "Learn". This is not new! Alvin Tofler wrote about this necessity, over 25 years ago. My question, then, is this: If we accept this to be the case, what the hell should we be building into a Teacher-Training Curriculum? And - even more importantly - if you accept the above contention, WHY AREN'T WE TEACHING THAT NOW?

Submitted by Anon (not verified) on

The problem does needs to be fixed at the Grad level and not the Pre service level. Teaching is pretty much the only profession in the world where a graduate is expected to do the exact same job as a 25 year deep experienced and hardened practitioner. This is absurd. There is very little wrong with pre service training from my experience. It is the lack of support in the first 2 years of teaching that cause major problems.
We need to support teachers, not scrutinise them.

Submitted by Cathy (not verified) on

Having supervised many teachers during the past 20 + years I can say that on the whole I have been impressed with the emotional intelligence and general literacy and numeracy skills demonstrated by all of my pre-service teachers. The only problems I have encountered are lack of subject specific skills - especially in relation to Year 11 and 12 Media and Studio Arts subjects. Pe- Service teachers have the theoretical understanding of such subjects but often no practical skills. This means that they cannot take responsibility for teaching these subjects. My last 3 pre service teachers did not teach my classes - Their practical skills were inferior to those of my students.

Submitted by Scott Pyper (not verified) on

Unfortunately many candidates for educational roles present on paper with impressive credentials yet they lack the basic fundamentals which are necessary to survive a classroom full of individuals. Literacy and numeracy skills are a factor indeed but we have borne witness to a decline in standards and now we reap what we have sown. The best indicator is still the practicum placement and mentoring for graduates. Our school has suffered the loss of a graduate recently as the prac placement was a true test of the student teachers ability to adapt or realise that the vocation is not for them. Education also has an issue at the opposite end of the spectrum in that the system houses experienced teachers who cannot teach but are not placed in the equation for judgement. Students are the ones who ultimately miss out on potential sharing of knowledge.

Submitted by Melissa (not verified) on

I'm loving the debate at the moment surrounding initial teacher training, as it's an area I would like to explore further in my future academic and work life. I think that there does need to be an entry test prior to admiring students into initial teacher training courses-we want to attract the best, so they have a full range of knowledge to teach our kids. I also think there needs to be an interview-type process that establishes the characteristics and personality traits of a person; we all know there are many different teachers who all bring a wealth of knowledge to their kids lives, but if teachers are to be interviewed to gain a job at a school, to see if they are the right fit, should we not also be doing the same for potential entrants into the Uni course? Whilst there needs to be a wide range of teachers and personalities in education courses and in schools, I think it's important they have a discussion about why they want to be in education. I love the comment around teaching portfolios; I completed my undergrad at Deakin and the portfolio part of the final semester was a real eye-opener and clarifying practise to undertake, showing that I knew a lot more than I realised! I think that having something similar and consistent across all initial teacher education providers is the key; as other commenters have said, their is a vast amount of variance in the content being taught at Universities and having worked with and mentored student teachers, this shows during their practical placements.There should definitely be more placement time allocated during initial teacher education courses, including some sort of apprenticeship-like final block placement. I think that there is lots to be done to improve he quality of initial teacher education courses, but it has to start with the people being accepted into these courses.

Submitted by editor on

Thank you for the terrific commentary to the debate about assessment of initial teacher education students, particularly about the importance of professional experience and mentoring.  AITSL is planning work in this area including national examples of great practice in professional experience and essential requirements of effective professional experience and clear expectations of supervising teachers.  AITSL is also working on guidelines to inform a national approach to induction to support beginning teachers.

We welcome your comments and contribution to the debate! 

If you would like to find out more about what AITSL has been asked to do by the Australian Government to improve initial teacher education, you can find our webpage here:



Submitted by Jacqueline Hills (not verified) on

Looking at the various literacies that could be used as tests for GTs - there could be a tendency for this pathway may become very ' flat ' and prescribed - not in its intent but it's implementation. Any reform to Graduate Teacher assessment requirements quickly devolve to what the sector and or school wants and perceives performance of a newly appointed teacher and that is usually derived from the schools immediate needs and contexts. I would hope to see 'fat' not 'flat' assessment for Graduate Teacher entry assessments - around self awareness and resilience skills - including highly developed personal development in the area of well being, mindfulness and adaptability skills. Second tier GT skills in school culture, professional engagement and system understandings need front loading - before they enter a school. Third tier is the 'rubber hits the road' aspect of the role. Managing and working with groups, behaviour management, engaging students and ensuring learning happens.

Submitted by Dave Hall (not verified) on

The only real way to know if a teacher can teach is to watch them do it and not just once. Watch them and watch them and watch them. Any fool can sit a test and pass it but it is not the ability to pass a test the makes a teacher. It is not the amount of books they read or even the time that they spend preparing (although these do help a whole lot). It is how they conduct themselves with the kids. Can they talk to them, can they relate to them, make them feel at ease, understand why they don't get it and are they flexible. I went through Uni with a great guy who was educated to the hilt, there was no doubt about that at all yet after his first year of teaching, he found it impossible to get another job. He simply didn't have the people skills for the job and he was so educated that he had forgotten what it was like to not understand. He couldn't break it down for his students because he simply couldn't understand why they didn't understand. A well rounded teacher is prepared, relates well (both to the kids AND the parents) is constantly evolving in their learning practice, constantly learning, constantly looking for new ways to do the same thing, embracing technology yet not forgetting all the fundamentals. It is a deeply satisfying job but the pressures put on by government to tick boxes and perform requires us to spend more time filling out paperwork and dotting the i's instead of doing what we actually trained for... teaching. somewhere in all this we are losing our way I think.

Submitted by Pamela (not verified) on

As a first year Master of Teaching student all this scrutiny of teachers is very daunting. The powers that be need to realise that student teachers come from very diverse backgrounds just like the children that they intend to teach! My mathematics education ended at the moment that I was first ridiculed by my teacher for not knowing the answer. That was in grade two! From then on, I was lucky to pick up bits and pieces along the way thanks to my fellow students. I have embarked upon a career in teaching because I feel that that is my journey. My mathematics knowledge is still not up to the level that is required (year 9), however, I am able to teach up to grade six level which is the level that I want to teach anyway. In every other way, I feel that I would make an excellent teacher. How about supporting us instead of judging and scrutinising us?

Submitted by Rosemary McKnight (not verified) on

Teaching is a practical discipline, there is no escaping that fact. To me the current industry climate sets Pre-service teachers up to fail then holds them accountable for that failure. Comprising of 20-30 unique individuals, classroom and pre-school environments are dynamic and fluid in nature, demanding real life preparation that simply is not possible in an academic classroom filled with adults. If the industry wants to produce the best performers, Pre-teachers need to be immersed in their prospective environments to learn, practise, reflect, and hone their knowledge base and skills, under the guidance of an experienced and independently vetted mentor. This is because in my experience, experience alone does not make a teacher suitable mentor material which requires a different skill set. Thus to succeed in their profession the majority of a Pre-service teacher's final year must be spent in real life classroom environments with inspirational and responsible mentors who themselves work at a high standard, and are sensitive and supportive dedicated advisers who take the time to train.

Submitted by Helen (not verified) on

How many more more hoops can be added to already full ITE courses? Quality not quantity is what counts.

Submitted by Sarah (not verified) on

As a student teacher having just finished a prac round I would like to say that my mentor was ill prepared for the role. Here lies the problem, there is no assessment of the mentor. Of my friends few had good experiences, many had similar ones to me where they saw little if any good teaching. If you want well prepared graduates, classroom ready, then you must ensure that practicums are supervised in some way, teaching should be observed not only by your mentor but other leadership teachers, Students are often treated as a glorified help who photocopies, laminates and cleans up, everyone know this yet nothing is done, good teachers need good mentors, that is not the role of every teacher. When is the profession going to realise this?

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