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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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Top of the Class: Report on the Inquiry into Teacher Education

Special report

The following article is an abridged edited version of the Executive Summary of Top of the Class: Report on the Inquiry into Teacher Education produced by the House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Education and Vocational Training.

Ensuring high quality teacher education is a first and critical step in delivering high quality teaching in schools.

In the last twenty years, there have been many inquiries into teacher education or related issues, leading in some cases to substantial changes. However, there are still ongoing concerns about the quality of teacher preparation. Some of these concerns are expressed by principals and by beginning teachers themselves. The attrition rate of beginning teachers also suggests inadequacies in either the quality of initial teacher preparation or in the level of support provided to beginning teachers in the induction period.

How effective is teacher education?

Most data available on the effectiveness of teacher education courses is based on surveys of recent graduates, teachers and principals. While the data is useful, it is not sufficient to fully inform policy and practice in teacher education.

A good measure of the effectiveness of teacher education courses is the quality of the graduates' teaching in real school settings. Instruments to assess the quality of graduates need further development, and should play a role in the accreditation of teacher education courses.

Research should be undertaken to assess the impact on the quality of teacher education of a range of factors including:

  • the background and characteristics of students and of teacher educators
  • selection processes
  • course length, course location and course structures
  • course content and delivery modes
  • course assessment and evaluation of procedures
  • the nature and length of professional experience
  • the nature and strength of partnerships between different stakeholders
  • the nature of induction processes.

A longitudinal study should be established to assess the effectiveness of different models of teacher education across Australia. The study should follow cohorts of students from selection into courses, through pre-service preparation and into the first five years of teaching.

There is a need to increase the funding available to support high quality research in education to provide evidence for teacher education, teaching and policy development. The cost of this investment is likely to be offset by later savings on remedial measures. The Australian Government should establish a specific Educational Research Fund modelled on the National Health and Medical Research Council.

A national system of teacher education

A common set of national professional standards for teaching should be developed, to be used by all jurisdictions for the registration of teachers and also for the accreditation of courses, as part of a national system of teacher education. All key stakeholders should be involved in developing these standards, building on the existing work by the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), individual jurisdictions, and the Australasian Forum of Teacher Registration and Accreditation Authorities.

This national system of teacher education would facilitate the portability of teaching qualifications and significantly reduce the duplication of effort. It would allow for diversity and innovation in teacher education courses whilst ensuring  consistently high quality throughout Australia.

The committee has recommended that the Australian Government continue to support Teaching Australia to develop a national system of accreditation, and it should provide sufficient resources to allow time for all parties to reach agreement. Once the national system of accreditation has been established, the Australian Government should require universities in receipt of Commonwealth funding to have their teacher education courses accredited through it.

Entry to teacher education courses

A number of reports in recent years have focused on the need to develop strategies to attract more people to take up teaching in areas of shortage and to increase the diversity of entrants coming into the field. In examining issues concerning the entrants to teacher education, the committee has focused on the on-going debate on selection processes.

There are significant costs for universities in using processes such as interviews, structured references, written applications, portfolios, etc, in selecting students. Many universities claim that there is no evidence that more comprehensive selection processes are better predictors of the success of applicants as students or as teachers. The longitudinal study recommended would eventually provide evidence to inform future policy and practice in this area.

A second issue is whether there should be a minimum academic score for entry into teacher education courses. There is considerable variation in Equivalent National Tertiary Entrance Rank (ENTER) scores for teacher education courses across the country and, in a system in which the ENTER score is determined by the demand for places, there is concern about how low the ENTER score falls when demand for places is low. However, attention should be focused on the capabilities graduates have at the end of their courses rather than at the beginning. Such an approach is also more consistent with initiatives to diversify pathways into teaching and to encourage the entry of a broader range of people into teacher education courses.

Students entering teacher education courses should undergo diagnostic testing of their literacy and numeracy skills. On the basis of the results, teacher education programs should provide assistance to students to ensure they develop literacy and numeracy skills to the required level. Accreditation authorities should establish that all graduates of teacher education courses have demonstrated high level literacy and numeracy skills.

The committee has recommended a fund to enable universities to do more to attract, encourage and, if necessary, support more people from under-represented groups to apply for places in teacher education. These groups include Indigenous people, males and entrants from rural/remote/isolated, non-English speaking and low socioeconomic status backgrounds.

Given current and projected teacher shortages in some subject and geographic areas, there should be a closer match between teacher workforce needs and the allocation of teacher education places. The committee has recommended that the Australian Government should align the allocation of teacher education places to meet shortages in identified areas.

Practicum and partnerships

Problems involving practicum include the shortage of placements; the weak link between practicum and the theoretical components of courses; the variable quality of supervision; inadequate funding; and the difficulty of organising placements in rural and remote areas.

Many of the problems result from the fragmented distribution of responsibilities in teacher education. Universities, as providers of teacher education courses, are obliged to offer practicum as part of their courses, but there is no corresponding obligation on schools or employing authorities, the main employers of graduates, to ensure that placements are available.

Problems in securing practicum placements are likely to continue until all stakeholders develop a stronger sense of shared responsibility for preparing the next generation of teachers. The Australian Government should encourage a more collaborative approach to teacher education.

The committee has recommended that the Australian Government establish a National Teacher Education Partnership Fund to encourage collaborative approaches to practicum, research, induction and professional development. The fund would distribute up to $20 million per annum for three years with subsequent funding levels to be determined on the basis of the first three years’ achievements.

Induction to the teaching profession

Since at least the early 1980s, successive reports on teacher education have called for more attention to the induction of new teachers into the profession. The reports have consistently called for beginning teachers to be given a reduced teaching load; to be assigned to appropriate schools and classes; and to be provided with mentors who would support them in their first year of teaching and who should themselves receive appropriate preparation and recognition.

Beginning teachers need opportunities to take on teaching duties that are appropriate for their level of experience, in environments that will enable them to consolidate what they have learned in pre-service teacher education courses. Adequately addressing the needs of beginning teachers will require systemic changes and a partnership approach by the major stakeholders.

The Teacher Induction Scheme administered by the General Teaching Council for Scotland should be adopted in Australia. There are a range of impediments to its immediate adoption, in particular the mismatch between the number of teacher education graduates and vacancies in the teaching workforce.

However, the committee has recommended that the Australian Government should lead by investing a sum equivalent to ten per cent of a beginning teacher’s salary towards the cost of a twelve- month induction program for that teacher. The funds should be provided to interested employing authorities or schools for each beginning teacher for whom they provide a suitable induction program. The program should be structured over a year, offer reduced teaching load for first-year teachers, provide a mentor and provide access to a structured and tailored program of professional development.

The Australian Government should also ensure a close match between the number of teacher education places that the Australian Government funds in teacher education courses and specific teaching workforce needs.

The Australian Government should expect a co-contribution by participating employing authorities and beginning teachers.

Ongoing professional learning

As professionals, teachers should be expected to commit to ongoing professional learning as a formal requirement for the renewal of registration. Some jurisdictions have already introduced this requirement while others are moving towards it. Participation in significant ongoing professional development should be recognised as one of the ways to achieve higher levels of registration.

The committee has recommended that the Australian Government:

  • work through MCEETYA to make ongoing professional learning a condition for the renewal of registration
  • encourage education authorities to work with registration authorities and teacher education providers to develop processes for recognising the value of ongoing professional learning linked to higher levels of registration and provide funding to assist these processes
  • work through MCEETYA to encourage employing authorities to recognise higher levels of registration in salary structures. 

Much educational research in Australia does not easily find its way into teaching practice. The committee strongly supports Teaching Australia’s intention to develop a mechanism for making research more accessible by establishing a National Clearing House for Educational Research. 

Funding of teacher education

The committee has proposed a series of measures in relation to teacher education funding. The committee has urged greater transparency in the procedures by which universities allocate Commonwealth Grants Scheme funds to teacher education courses.

The committee has recommended that the Australian Government commission an examination of the real cost of providing practicum and then increase the amount of the loading for practicum to fully reflect its costs.

The committee has also recommended that the Australian Government commission an evaluation of the impact on teacher education courses of fixing the student contribution rate at 2004 levels (indexed). The evaluation would be expected to determine whether this measure has met its stated objective of responding ‘to current and emerging national needs, such as shortages in particular areas of the labour market, and the education of students from low-income backgrounds and Indigenous students’.

The committee has recommended that from 2008, the Australian Government increase the Commonwealth Contribution Amount for an Equivalent Full Time Student Load in the Education cluster to the same level as that applying to the Foreign Languages, Visual and Performing Arts cluster. The committee has also recommended that the Australian Government review the mechanism for determining the level of funding that it contributes towards student places in different disciplines and develop an alternative mechanism which more accurately reflects the real costs of delivering those places.


Subject Headings

Teacher evaluation
Teacher training
Teaching profession