ITE Data Report 2014 - Margery Evans, Chief Executive Officer of AITSL, 10 November 2014.
I think it was Mark Twain who talked about statistics and damned lies. Yet, regardless of your view about what the numbers tell or don’t tell us, there is no doubt we now live in a world where the collection and reporting of data plays an increasing role in our personal and professional lives. Data often helps to answer questions, as well as and possibly more often, raising new questions.
Regardless of your perspective, data remains key to building understanding and making informed decisions.
AITSL takes data seriously. Commencing in 2013, we have been collating and reporting annually on data related to initial teacher education in Australia. Our Reports bring together a range of publicly available data about initial teacher education programs, applicants, students and graduates.
Our 2014 report, has just been released. It covers information on commencing students, program characteristics, course completions, ATAR breakdowns, retention rates, graduate and employer satisfaction and employment rates as well as providing detailed information about ITE programs by institution.
In my opinion the 2014 report reveals an interesting range of data facts that shed light on, and raise questions about, initial teacher education in Australia.
For instance, did you know that:
- There has been an 8% increase between 2011 and 2012 in the numbers of commencing students in ITE programs. That’s about 2,000 students. Think about the implications numbers like this have on the provision of school-based professional experience as well as how a new wave of graduates has the potential to refresh our profession.
- Only around 20% of commencing students were domestic undergraduate entrants who were admitted on the basis of their school education and had an ATAR. This makes me wonder about what other sorts of evidence universities have used to make sure the remaining entrants were prepared for the rigours of a teaching course.
- 50% of primary graduates, 48% of secondary graduates and 35% of early childhood graduates were employed full-time in schools within four months of graduation. Even more interesting is that overall employment rates for education graduates are similar to other degrees. What we haven’t yet collected data on is how many of these new teachers were employed on a permanent or ongoing basis
One data fact that I find particularly interesting is the time series of commencing students by ATAR band. The time series shows that the percentage of students entering initial teacher education from higher ATAR bands has decreased since 2005, while the percentage entering from lower ATAR bands has increased.
Obviously ATAR does not reveal the whole story, and nor should it:
- Important point one: anyone in the education game, including students and parents, knows it is the combination of academic ability along with the capability to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to support student learning and engage with the teaching profession that make a great teacher.
- Important point two: ATAR is only one measure of academic ability and is not used by all institutions as the basis for admitting students. An ATAR score certainly doesn’t apply to those students entering with other qualifications or as mature aged students. However, bearing these considerations in mind, the story told by the ATAR data is important because it suggests a possible shift in the types of people choosing to enter the teacher profession. For this reason alone patterns in ATAR scores are something worth paying attention to and investigating further.
So to return to my central contention – it’s important and a huge step forward that we do have data about initial teacher education available in the one place and it’s important to remember that even the most comprehensive data sets won’t explain every situation or answer every question, and that’s why I’m left pondering what the increase in student commencements really shows. Is this related to the uncapping of higher education places or does it reflect increased interest in teaching careers? What about the shift away from education for students with a higher ATAR? Is this related to possible negative perceptions of teaching as a profession?
At AITSL we see these questions as a good thing. Asking questions and investigating answers can only promote discussion and contribute to the knowledge we have about teacher education in Australia.