Why Australian educators should welcome teacher training review

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge recently announced a new review into how to recruit more high-achieving teachers and better prepare them for the chalkface.

While a lighter-touch approach to managing the teaching workforce would be preferable, current conditions require government intervention to provide support and better align incentives.

It’s no silver bullet, but the focus on early career teachers is a promising start – particularly given the few schooling policy levers at Canberra’s disposal.

Reversing the diminishing status of the teaching profession is essential to turning around the collapse in education outcomes. Australian students’ achievement in the OECD-run program for International Student Assessment has declined more steeply and consistently than in any other country, bar Finland.

Failing education performance is at least partly related to declining teacher standards.

It’s no secret some universities have dropped the ball on admission levels, and few high achievers make teaching their top degree pick.

Schools have trouble retaining their most capable teachers, while they can’t shift the poorest ones.

While this is a complex situation, it does no good to simply wish away these inconvenient truths.

Despite apologists’ claims, there’s nothing anti-teacher about being pro-student – even if concern for student outcomes is now routinely derided as ‘fanning educational populism’.

It’s time to put to bed the unhelpful view that teachers’ work must remain beyond reproach. This mentality demands a closed-door monopoly over everything in education policy – labelling any external accountability as an ‘anti-teacher’ encroachment on their expertise.

Though educators aren’t typically equated with departmental boffins, the two roles are equally in public service – legitimating public expectations concerning their work and effectiveness.

And parents, as the chief arbiter of their children’s education, are entitled to be confident in the standards of those responsible for educating them.

It would be intolerable for public hospital patients to be told to put up and shut up in the same way some education insiders demand parents do.

Moreover, there’s nothing pro-teacher about defensively denying the shortcomings of some early career teachers.

Successive surveys of Australian teachers show that an increasing number don’t feel prepared for the classroom and lack confidence in applying evidence-based practices – especially those in more disadvantaged schools.

They would benefit from sharper professional development and more effective preparation during their formative years.

All teachers should join the chorus demanding more effective initial teacher education programs.

A spoiler warning that this review – in common with previous ones – will surely identify the abundance of courses stuffed with abstract theorising, while being scant on practical and tangible skills.

Too many university education departments are dominated by would-be activists, who keenly advance evidence-free pedagogies soaked in constructivist ideology.

Given the obvious and overdue need for reform, the usual suspects should pipe down their reflexive dismissal of the review, and any like it, as simply an exercise in “teacher bashing”.

True, some frustration over the ongoing microscope on the teaching workforce may be warranted.

Additional literacy and numeracy requirements placed on teaching graduates does smack of double standards – after all, poor graduate competencies aren’t unique to teaching, but can be found across virtually all fields of study. And commitments to attract “high-quality” teaching candidates can be misconstrued as a swipe at the wider workforce.

But the habitual, hyper-sensitive reflex against accountability doesn’t square with the aspiration to genuinely elevate the teaching profession.

The informal alliance of hardened unionists and progressive educationalists may get a rise out of playing contrarian, but that doesn’t make for a constructive partnership with policymakers.

Educators would be better served by welcoming policymakers’ interest in developing their profession.

Unlike other professions that proactively safeguard industry standards, the truth is education has instead been soft by protecting its own.

Too few educators call out the rogue minority that are unapologetically anti-student, anti-parent, and anti-taxpayer.

Fine-tuning and upgrading the teaching workforce is key to building up capacity and professionalism.

Educators should get on board, as they will also be the primary beneficiaries of its success.