AITSL The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership

Initial Teacher Education

Initial Teacher Education

- Margery Evans, Chief Executive Officer of AITSL, 23 May 2013.

It’s impossible to consider teacher quality without exploring and valuing the direct connection to initial teacher education (ITE). A 2007 report for McKinsey and Company (PDF, 9.5MB) notes that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”. Foundational to quality teachers is initial teacher education.

On Friday 10 May, Education Ministers from across Australia endorsed the Initial Teacher Education: Data Report, complied by AITSL.

At AITSL, we see this report as an important piece of infrastructure to support what we can do, and give direction to what we should do, in the future. To my knowledge, a report of this type has not been produced in Australia before and while it validates some of what we know, it also presents a mixed picture of the current landscape.

Among the key findings of the report:

ŸŸŸ• Only 27% of all students commence teacher education relying on an ATAR: of those, about 79% have an ATAR above 60 and 28% have an ATAR of 81 and above. This debunks some of the myths that vast numbers of those entering teacher education programs are poor academic performers but more importantly it alerts us to the wide range of trajectories people take into teaching, and the need for us to set high standards across all of these pathways. I’ll come back to this thought later

ŸŸŸ• 74% of primary teacher education graduates and 72% of secondary teacher education bachelor graduates were working in schools within four months of completing their degrees. This is a promising statistic until we dig a little further and find that only 51% of the graduates that have found employment are working full time as teachers.

ŸŸŸ• Over 60% of recent graduates indicated they were satisfied with their ITE program. The good news is that this percentage is comparable to the aggregate level expressed across all higher education programs but I lament the fact that 40% of teacher graduates are less than satisfied with their program and wonder what this means about their attitudes and preparedness for the all important job of teaching.

ŸŸŸ• A survey of school principals that asked how well graduate teachers were prepared for teaching revealed mixed results:

ŸŸŸŸŸŸ• 63% of primary and 66% of secondary school principals perceived graduates to be well prepared to collaborate with colleagues – a goodish start.

ŸŸŸŸŸŸ• 58% of primary and 60% of secondary school principals perceived graduates to be well prepared to engage students in their learning – I worry about of the many graduates whose principals didn’t think were well prepared to engage students in their learning and the consequences for the young people they teach

ŸŸŸŸŸŸ• 26% of primary and 31% of secondary principals perceived graduates to be well prepared in understanding differences among students – this is a cause for serious concern, since recognising and attending to the individual talents, interests and needs of students is a fundamental tenet of good teaching.

ŸŸŸŸŸŸ• 30% of primary and 27% of secondary principals perceived graduates as well prepared for managing classroom activities – this too is worrying and points to the need for greater opportunity to practise teaching and management skills in real classroom situations.

Personally, I was most surprised by the fact that only 27% of students enter teacher education programs based on an ATAR score. I noted earlier that this is an important reminder that while a focus on the academic levels required to enter initial teacher education programs is important, entrance scores do not paint a complete picture of background or capacity. It also serves as an important reminder of the need for a broader suite of approaches to determine suitability of candidates for teaching.

Many professions have long embraced the need to implement a range of academic, social and personal assessments to enter the profession, and I think it is timely that education is also moving more in this direction.

Public debate about entrance requirements for initial teacher education is important, but what is most important is debate about high performance on exit. International research consistently points to the significance of a rigorous, extended practicum as a component of an effective initial teacher education program. In a future blog, I will write about why the practicum component of initial teacher education is so critically important.

Further to this, it remains as vital as ever for us to look closely at the reality of current and future workforce supply and demand. Are we training the right number of educators, in the right disciplines at the right time?

Of course one of the most interesting questions to ask when looking at any piece of research is ‘what’s not included?’ In this instance, we haven’t looked at attrition rates within the programs themselves or at attrition in the early years of a teacher’s career and what, if any, connection these patterns have to specific ITE programs. Nor have we looked at those graduates who become successful teachers and drawn any conclusions about which institutions offer the most rigorous and effective models of teacher education. With 48 higher education institutions in Australia offering some form of initial teacher education, we would most certainly anticipate a broad distribution of performance data.

In the field of initial teacher education, I have been both inspired and challenged by the work of Linda Darling-Hammond who reflects on the central issue for teacher education as being “how to foster learning about and from practice in practice. The kind of strategies for connecting theory and practice cannot succeed without a major overhaul of the relationships between universities and schools – one that ultimately produces changes in the content of schooling as well as of teacher training".

What most surprised you in the Initial Teacher Education: Data Report?

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