Opinion article* published in The Conversation  authored by Sunanda Creagh, Editor, The Conversation. Interviewees: Dr Nicole Mockler, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Newcastle; Dr Tony Loughland, Director of Professional Experience, Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney; Dr Matthew Clarke, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales; and Belinda Robinson, Chief executive, Universities Australia.

Trainee teachers would be tested for literacy, numeracy and emotional intelligence under a suite of teacher training reforms released by the Federal Government today.

Under the plan, the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) needed to enter a university teaching course may also rise.

A media release issued by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, Chris Bowen, and the Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, said there were four main parts to the plan:

  • More rigorous and targeted admissions into university courses, potentially including interviews, demonstrated values and aptitude, and a written statement;
  • A new literacy and numeracy test, building on the National Plan for School Improvement, that each teaching student will have to pass before they can graduate;
  • A national approach to teacher practicum to ensure new teachers have the skills, personal capacity and practical experience they need to do well; and
  • A review of all teaching courses by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).

Here are some expert responses to the plan:

Dr Nicole Mockler, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Newcastle

This idea that we need to focus on teacher quality and drive the ATAR up – ATARs in this country are set as a consequence of supply and demand. The courses that have the highest demand have the highest ATAR.

If teaching was well remunerated and had high status in our society, like law and medicine, we would see ATARs go up.

They are trying to make ATARs go up, but without focusing on the status of the teaching profession. These ongoing arguments around teacher quality, in fact, have the potential to do the exact opposite.

I am not against the idea that we need to have a quality teaching profession. It’s hard to argue against quality. But what exactly does that mean?

We absolutely need teachers who are literate and numerate, but we need teachers who have so much more than that, for example, who are good at creative and innovative thinking, who care about kids.

A focus on just literacy and numeracy is looking at the baseline rather than the top.

When we frame the argument in this way, we look at what they bring into the teaching program, not about what they bring out at the other end.

It’s a four year program. It’s not that you come into a program and then you go out into schools four years later with the same understanding of education.

It’s about understanding how to teach, the art and science of learning and teaching, developing an understanding of the content they are teaching and how to put it all together to cater to students. It’s also about developing a disposition toward professional learning and understanding that professional learning is a career-long process.

The teaching profession is quite strongly regulated already and teacher education programs are as well.

I would be interested to see what kind of emotional intelligence test is being proposed.

We seem to take as our starting point the idea that we have a big teacher quality problem. I am not sure of the evidence of that. I am sure there are great teachers and not-so-great teachers.

My experience from being in schools is not that we are beset by people with low literacy, low numeracy skills and low emotional intelligence.

The pay issue goes back to ATARs. If prospective teacher education students saw that teachers were held in high esteem and remunerated well, the ATAR would go up.

It’s a very tough job.

Read the full article in The Conversation.