Professionalism to lift teaching status

Glenn Fahey

10 September 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

Lifting teaching’s status can be achieved through embracing — rather than obstructing — market-based reform.

Australia’s education unions falsely blame alleged underfunding for the declining status of teaching, rather than failure to adopt the professionalism commonplace in other highly valued professions.

Any pretence that the source of teaching’s decline is low average rates of pay is debunked by evidence — as definitively shown in OECD data.

Instead, the fundamental problems are the flat pay structure — which has virtually no nexus with performance — and that this has made teaching unattractive to a generation of high-ability graduates.

Ultimately, the greatest threat to the status of the profession is its failure to embrace performance management — which undermines the efforts of hard-working teachers across the country.

Scathing government reports have repeatedly identified a lack of performance evaluation, few financial incentives for performance, and limited opportunities for career advancement.

But consistent, independent, and objective assessment of staff performance in the classroom will help teachers improve their craft, and ultimately deliver improvements in student achievement.

It’s also clear there’s a need to better attract, recruit, and retain high-ability teachers. But policy efforts have mistakenly imposed supply restrictions as the sole policy lever of choice.

These have included the blunt instruments of: tightening the eligibility to become a teacher (such as ATAR cut-offs and aptitude tests); increasing the hurdles needed to jump for accreditation (through compliance with additional professional standards); and requiring additional years of study and professional development to qualify for positions.

Rather than cutting the supply of teachers, policymakers should be expanding it. A wider pool of teaching applicants means schools — and the universities who admit prospective teachers — can be more selective in who they accept.

Reducing the barriers to entry for teaching — which currently prevent mid-career transitions and alternative on-the-job training pathways — will better target existing workforce challenges. More flexible pay structures can follow from more flexible teaching recruitment approaches.

All Australians will benefit from the education dollar being spent more wisely than persistent calls for more funding without accountability to match.

To genuinely address the declining status of teaching demands divorcing the profession from the anti-professionalism that holds back our educators.

This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published in the Australian Financial Review as Paying best teachers to perform will help lift education outcomes.
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