Entrance to teacher education is a highly political issue with high entrance scores and some form of aptitude test being the norm. Based on a Featured Presentation at The Asian Conference on Education 2016 in Kobe, Japan, this article by Dr Yvonne Masters of the University of New England, Australia, is a discussion starter to examine the questions: who is missing out and is equity being ignored under the guise of quality?
This is an invitation to all of you interested in the future of teacher education to join a conversation about what matters in teacher education. This can be done by using the comment box below this conversation opener.
“Currently, in Australia, entrance to teacher education is a highly political issue and teacher education candidates must meet both high entrance scores and some form of aptitude test.”
Most, if not all of you, will have experienced some formal education and several teachers along the way. These teachers may be memorable as teachers who inspired you to learn more and to do well or, unfortunately, for the opposite reasons. Many of these teachers will have undertaken some form of teacher education whilst some may have entered the teaching profession through other pathways or because, if you are old enough for this to have happened or live where it is still the norm, have become teachers with no specific qualifications and because they wanted to teach. It is even possible that you did not know which teachers were which: trained or untrained. Currently, in Australia, entrance to teacher education is a highly political issue and teacher education candidates must meet both high entrance scores and some form of aptitude test. The questions are: who is missing out and is equity being ignored under the guise of quality?
The current milieu
Education is, unarguably, important and student learning is central as an integral part of any education. It is also beyond doubt that teachers play a critical role in such learning (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Hattie, 2003; Killion & Hirsh, 2011; Panayiotou et al., 2014; Rowe, 2003). Teacher education, globally, is under discussion and the introduction of teacher standards has been one way in which quality has been spotlighted (Bourgonje & Tromp, 2011; Erebus International, 2008; Page, 2015). The introduction of standards has been accompanied by a discussion around the selection of teacher candidates prior to entry into initial teacher education courses (Bowles, Hattie, Dinham, Scull, & Clinton, 2014; Heinz, 2013; Iucu, Mironov, Borzea, & Marin, 2014).
In 2014, a ministerial advisory group was established in Australia to explore ways in which teacher education could be improved in order to provide better quality teachers. In the preamble to their report, “Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers” (Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group, 2015), the statement is made that:
There is a unanimous view that we want the best people to go into initial teacher education. It is clear that teaching demands both academic skills and personal qualities to engage students and foster learning. … By selecting the right people, the investment of providers, school systems and schools in developing these new teachers will be put to best use. To achieve this, all providers must use a blend of sophisticated approaches to select entrants that have both the academic skills – including literacy and numeracy skills – and the desirable personal attributes for teaching (p. x).
It is irrefutable that the best teachers are wanted across all sectors of education: haven’t we all, at some stage in our, and possibly even our own children’s, education, formed our views of who were “good” teachers and who were not? Given that “good” is equated with “best” there seems there can be no argument with measures to provide the “best”. However, Connell (2009) gives voice to those who would argue that the definition of the ‘best’ is open to discussion:
Ideas about what makes a good teacher are important in thinking about educational reform, and have come into focus recently. These ideas are contested and open to change (p. 213).
Currently, the “best” teacher education candidates are deemed to be those who can demonstrate (through the use of secondary exit scores) that they are in the top 30% of school leavers (amended to the top 15% in New South Wales). They must also be able to exhibit a range of non-academic competences, determined by the teacher education accrediting body, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). AITSL states that these competences or
key capabilities associated with successful teaching identified in the research are:
• motivation to teach;
• strong interpersonal and communication skills;
• willingness to learn;
• conscientiousness; and
• organisational and planning skills (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership [AITSL], 2015, p. 1).
Higher education institutions need to demonstrate how both these competences/capabilities and the academic level are measured before accepting a person into a teacher education course:
… all providers must use a blend of sophisticated approaches to select entrants that have both the academic skills – including literacy and numeracy skills – and the desirable personal attributes for teaching. Providers will be required to publish their selection processes for all initial teacher education programs to justify that they are selecting those best suited to the teaching profession on an appropriate basis (Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group, 2015, p. x).
Discussions about improving the quality of teachers become heated as any attempt to argue against measures imported to improve this are seen as an argument against the need for quality teachers. However, the term “quality” itself can be open to interpretation. In earlier centuries in Britain, the ‘Quality’ were the upper classes, rich people who were generally members of the peerage. In this instance, “quality” can be seen as elitist and exclusionary.
The new measures being proposed, in Australia at least, have the same elitist and exclusionary taint if looked at in terms of the diverse pathways that teachers take, even now, into their profession. Some of the excluded groups under the new selection guidelines are identified on the metaphorical withered plant of teacher education in Figure 1 below.
The groups highlighted in the diagram have been chosen as examples because many of them are students who, based on the evidence of student achievement during my time as a teacher educator, grow in academic and personal competence during their university course, rather than having the capacity to demonstrate these competences before they begin tertiary study. Also, many of these groups are disadvantaged in some way through circumstance from achieving at the highest level in their secondary education and/or being able to develop the same non-academic capabilities as those in non-disadvantaged groups. While the AITSL document on selection acknowledges that there are groups which may need other measures of acceptance stating that
these guidelines also support selection practices and entry pathways that facilitate entry to initial teacher education for students from equity groups whose academic capability cannot accurately be determined from common or conventional measures of prior academic achievement such as a tertiary entrance score (AITSL, 2015, p. 4),
with the proviso that the course graduate outcomes (my italics) are achieved, there is also the statement that “it is expected that each provider will use the same measures of non-academic capability for all (my italics) applicants to their particular programs (AITSL, 2015, p.4). This latter statement seems to indicate that all teacher education candidates have had equal opportunity to show those competences listed earlier which is not the case. It makes one think about Orwell’s (1945/1968) Animal Farm where “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” (p. 114).
Many possible teacher education candidates from these groups, measured on inputs, will probably be excluded from pursuing teacher education courses, but it should be noted that most of these students exit with the necessary graduate outcomes.
The “late bloomers” are generally among the school leavers, but also some first and second year tertiary students fit into this category. These students are those who are often satisfied with a basic “Pass” and/or those who have not yet matured to demonstrate the required non-academic capabilities. Many of these later thrive in university courses, meet the graduate outcomes, and become excellent teachers.
Many non-English speaking background (NESB) students have come from other countries as refugees or are among those who were able to follow normal immigration channels, but are leaving their countries for security reasons. Those who seek to enter teacher education have just learned English. It takes time for these students to develop the “academic” language of higher education, but outcomes are often excellent as they demonstrate a willingness to learn and conscientiousness (two of the key capabilities) throughout their study.
“Many of my own students came from careers such as plumbing, carpentry and hairdressing, to name but a few.”
Based on current data from my own university, many mature age students have already had one career and have a range of experiences to bring the teaching profession. However, whilst those who have graduate degrees, gained for their first career, will have no selection issues, anyone without a first degree may have problems demonstrating their academic competence. Many of my own students came from careers such as plumbing, carpentry and hairdressing, to name but a few. These students often left school early for a range of reasons (e.g. lack of motivation, poor results, and financial pressures) and have decided to come into teaching later in life. Other mature age students have put off careers for family reasons either carers to older family members or carers for their own children. These students have often required extra assistance with the academic demands but have demonstrated a strong motivation to teach and self-efficacy (key capabilities). Again, these students demonstrate the required graduate outcomes for teacher education.
Rural disadvantage has been well-documented. The New South Wales Department of Education and Communities, in its document on rural education (2013), states that:
the “remoteness gap” is not unique to NSW or to Australia. Students from rural areas underperform in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reading test in almost every country in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). However the gap is larger in Australia than the average of other OECD nations (New South Wales Department of Education and Communities, 2013, p. 3).
While these students have often entered Australian universities in the past through what is known as early entry or principal recommendation, this pathway has been removed. These students often did not have the highest of entrance scores, but their principals had indicated that they had the necessary requisites for university study. A research project that I undertook in 2014 demonstrated that the exit Grade Point Average of students who had entered with lower entrance scores or on principal’s recommendation did equally as well by the end of their course. Also, these rural students returned to rural schools for teaching, a premium in a country where there are fewer teachers applying for rural positions.
The literature regarding the disadvantage for students from low socio-economic backgrounds and also for indigenous students is prolific, although it must be stated that much of this literature comes from a deficit model, looking at what these students do not have rather than what they do have. As with the other groups mentioned, generally these students, who may struggle at the start of tertiary study, develop throughout their courses and meet the necessary graduate outcomes. Unfortunately, in the case of indigenous students, the percentage who succeed is much lower with many dropping out during their first year. However, Australia is in dire need of indigenous teachers who can work with their students with greater understanding. If these students need to demonstrate the key non-academic capabilities before being accepted into teacher education there will be few indigenous teacher education students.
From what I have presented to you, it is clear that I believe that the current methods of teacher candidate selection are flawed. My view is that too great an emphasis placed on inputs rather than outcomes. We all grow as students and develop the capacities needed. While I do not argue with the need for quality teachers, I do question whether they only come from the academic “cream”. In reflecting for a long time on this topic, I realised that I would have not been accepted into teacher education on my Year 12 results and yet I have been a successful, and I would argue quality, teacher.
When I first presented this discussion at The Asian Conference on Education in 2016 I posed several questions as prompts for further reflection. These were:
• How can an argument be made when quality is the issue?
• Don’t we all agree that quality matters?
• What do we mean by “quality”?
• Can “quality” be decided before any student enters teacher education?
• Are there winners and losers in certain measures?
I also asked as a concluding question: what is the way forward?
I hope, dear readers, that some of you will join me further discussion and that we can find ways to give voice to the issues and raise some alternatives.
Image | Wokandapix, Pixabay
Dr Yvonne Masters gave this Featured Presentation at The Asian Conference on Education 2016 in Kobe, Japan.
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