Teach for (some of) Australia

Jennifer Buckingham

22 April 2016 | Ideas@TheCentre

teacher teaching schoolOver the past few months, attention has been drawn to low entry standards for teacher education courses in Australian universities. NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has been one of the strongest voices advocating for higher entry standards for teaching degrees. In NSW, new teachers can be registered only if they have achieved results of at least a Band 5 (there are 6 achievement bands) in at least three subjects — including English — in the Higher School Certificate, or an equivalent qualification.

Given Minister Piccoli’s evident understanding of the importance of encouraging highly capable people to become school teachers, it is curious that some of the brightest and talented new teachers in Australia are not allowed to teach in NSW schools.

The Teach for Australia (TFA) program has been recruiting high achieving people to teach in disadvantaged and hard to staff secondary schools since 2010. The average ATAR of TFA ‘associates’ is a very high 95. Only 6% of applicants enter the classroom. In contrast to the trend throughout the rest of the teacher education sector, 47% of TFA associates were qualified as science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) teachers.

One of the criticisms of TFA’s approach is that TFA associates start teaching before they have completed post-graduate teacher education. Instead, they complete an intensive six-week course and then continue their studies while teaching part-time. Bear in mind that the associates already have at least an undergraduate degree in their subject area (almost half had advanced degrees in 2016) as well as professional work experience.

Unfortunately, like the rest of the teacher education sector, there is little objective data showing the educational impact of TFA associates on student performance. A report from TFA states that 90% of principals said that TFA associates had a greater impact on student achievement than other graduate teachers after two years of classroom teaching. Survey data is not ideal, but there is evidence from TFA’s sister programs — Teach for America and Teach First (UK) — that teachers recruited and trained by this method are at least as good if not better than traditionally-trained teachers.

TFA associates currently teach in Victoria, the ACT, Northern Territory and Western Australia. It is time for the other states to get on board. They have little to lose and everything to gain.

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