One easy way to lead teachers to the pinnacle – HALT

Read our full paper on lead teachers here.

Australia needs to recruit, develop and retain high quality teachers – lead teachers. To make that happen, this country needs a more credible, economically affordable, administratively feasible and legally defensible professional certification system for leading teachers. That’s not all. It also needs better rewarded career pathways for the teachers that meet the standard in Australia.

The National Teacher Workforce Action Plan released by education ministers last December identified the pivotal role our national system for the certification of Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers (HALT) could play in ‘elevating the profession’. The plan sets a target for the certification of 10,000 teachers as HALT by 2025. 

But in the 10 years since HALT certification was introduced, only 1,200 teachers have so far gained certification – representing less than half of one per cent of all 307,000 full-time-equivalent teachers in Australia.  

What’s putting teachers off? 

Deficiencies in the certification process are a key reason for the low uptake. The process of providing evidence for each of the 37 indicators was cumbersome and inefficient, leading significant proportions of applicants to drop out. Assessing applications was also time consuming and therefore expensive. 

The current approach is burdensome and costly. The plan calls for the streaminling of HALT certification processes. States and Territories are being asked to develop their own processes that are ‘less onerous, while being rigorous’, and guided by AITSL’s revised Framework for the Certification of Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers.   

Streamlining needed but not enough

Developing rigorous methods for standards-based assessment of teacher performance is a highly complex measurement exercise. Tough questions will inevitably arise about a certification process’s ability to reliably distinguish between teachers who have attained the HALT standards and those who have not.  

International experience shows that certification systems live or die to the extent that stakeholders are confident about their validity and reliability. The revised AITSL Framework covers matters such as eligibility, portability and appeals processes but does not describe the methods Authorities are to use for assessing applications. 

Streamlining the HALT certification process would be greatly helped by the development of an assessment framework that gives applicants a clear indication of the evidence they will need to prepare for certification and how it will be assessed. 

What’s the solution?

In a pilot conducted from 2015 to 2018, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) developed assessment frameworks for highly accomplished primary teaching and secondary science teaching.  

These assessment frameworks are freely available. Each includes four portfolio tasks with detailed guidelines. Together, they enable applicants to provide evidence covering all 7 of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and a representative sample of teaching skills across the curriculum they teach.

To illustrate, most primary teachers are expected to teach English, Mathematics, Science, Humanities and Social Sciences. For English a primary teacher might choose to document a unit of work in which they planned to:

‘engage students in writing for a range of purposes and audiences, catering for the diverse learning needs of students in planning classroom activities and enabled all students to make progress in their knowledge and understanding of writing.’ (Australian Curriculum ACELY1694)

This statement from the Australian Curriculum provides a clear indication of what an applicant needs to demonstrate in a portfolio entry. It matches what accomplished teachers do in the normal course of their job. How a teacher does this is for the teacher to decide.

Evidence of impact

As with all the portfolio entries we developed, this task calls for evidence of impact on what students are doing and learning. As teachers prepare portfolio entries evidence prospectively once they decide to apply for certification, not retrospectively, these tasks also provide a valuable vehicle for professional learning. Similar assessment frameworks can be developed for other subjects and levels of teaching.

At the end of the pilot, between 81% and 100% of participating teachers positively rated the clarity, validity and fairness of the portfolio tasks. All agreed that preparing their application was a valuable professional learning experience that improved their teaching. 

Importantly, we found that assessors took about one hour to judge each portfolio entry. Four entries would take no more than 4 hours. That’s significantly less than the time it now takes for assessments of each application. 

Making certification mainstream

Under the current Plan, the goal is to increase the number of teachers certified as HALT from 1,200 to 10,000 by 2025. This is a modest but realistic goal in the short term. Long term, however, far more ambitious goals will be needed if the Plan is to have a significant impact on recruitment, retention and the quality of teaching.  

Over the next 15 to 20 years, we should aim for a situation where most teachers and school leaders now progress through certification as a normal part of their career pathway to higher salaries and school leadership positions. Only then can certification hope to increase the recruitment of high-quality graduates and the retention of experienced and accomplished teachers in the profession. 

Dr Lawrence Ingvarson, AM, FACE, is internationally recognised for his research on teacher education, professional development, teacher quality, teaching and leadership standards and assessment of teacher performance and has published widely in these areas. He is a Fellow of the Australian College of Educators. He joined ACER in 2001 and served as research director until 2006.

Dr Hilary Hollingsworth is a co-research director at the Australian Council for Educational Research and has worked both nationally and internationally, as a university lecturer, education consultant, teacher and as a researcher in the fields of teaching quality, teacher and leader professional learning and teacher standards. Her current work is strategically focused on enhancing and shaping teaching, learning, and school leadership policy and practice.

Politicians screaming HALT: Why teachers now need so much more than this

The Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher (HALT) program has been called a “badge searching for a role” but amid the political machinations in NSW, it’s taking on new angles –  as a timely pre-election promise and a reusable political football. 

Sarah Mitchell, NSW Education minister, has a goal: the appointment of a further 2,500 HALTs by 2025. There are already 310 HALTs in NSW. After a decade of HALT certification, NSW has added an average of just 31 teachers a year. Mitchell is “thrilled that we are on track to meet this target, with almost 600 new teachers signing up since we streamlined the process last year.” Some quick maths makes it clear that there is still something of a gap of 1,590 teachers, with only two years left to reach the goal. 

This rate of gain of HALT numbers within New South Wales would provide something that the accreditation has not seen before. Especially considering that nationally, there have been an average of 100 teachers per year, across all jurisdictions, being certified as HALTs. To add 800 teachers in each of the next two years in NSW alone would change the dynamic of certification – and change the landscape of teaching in New South Wales and possibly Australia. Cynics may ask “where has the commitment been for the past decade in NSW?” Moving from 30 teachers being certified each year to a goal of 2500 seems to be a surprising change in pace – without a lot of explanation of the thought process underpinning such a move. 

The new appetite in New South Wales is a contrast to a patchwork of progress towards certification around Australia over the past decade. 

Indeed, not all Australian teachers are able to become certified, as much as they might like to, as the program has not been adopted in every jurisdiction and system.

Notably it’s not currently available to Victorian Government teachers. Tasmanian teachers can wait for the outcome of a pilot scheme started in 2021. In Western Australia, seven teachers were certified as HALT in 2012, and the state’s public sector has not certified another teacher since. 

It’s not like alternatives to HALT don’t exist – Western Australia has the support of the Department and the union to operate the Level Three system which certifies 100 teachers every year. Some independent systems run their own accreditation system beyond HALT – using the Australian Professional Teacher Standards (APSTs) as a basis for an independent system of teacher certification. As noted within the National Teacher Workforce plan, Victoria’s ‘Teaching Excellence Program’ and New South Wales ‘Best in Class Program’ are also similar models which could reasonably be rebadged as HALT, or counted towards the count. However, the Victorian model only admits 100 teachers per year, so it seems unlikely to contribute significantly towards the lofty goal of one HALT in every school

So while the opportunity in New South Wales is an important one to establish a bold direction for HALT status, it stands precariously this week. It’s a Liberal Party promise delivered in the shadow of an election (NSW voters go to the polls on March 25). Shadow education spokesperson Prue Car was asked for input for this article about the Labor Party’s position regarding HALTs in NSW. While she was unable to reply before publication, her public pronouncements about the Liberals’ plans leave little room for doubt – calling it an election stunt that was “too little too late”. If there is a change of government in New South Wales it would appear the opportunity for this mode would be lost (in NSW, for the next four years, at least).

Leadership gaps, become a HALT, then what? 

As noted within a recent discussion, the HALT process sits rather oddly within the middle leadership space within Australia which, similar to HALT, is inconsistent across jurisdictions and lacks clarity. Genuine opportunities for experienced teachers to develop themselves tend to be tied to academic pathways, in-school leadership positions, or roles within education Departments. Systems such as Finland and Singapore have leadership and development pathways more like lattices than ladders, where experienced teachers can explore consultancy, policy development and instructional coaching roles. Whereas Australia, and NSW specifically, has a tendency to provide a ladder of opportunities with many rungs missing. 

In this respect, the HALT process itself may be viewed as an innovative process ahead of its time. The progression from teacher to HALT may be a learning experience, or it may not, with the potential for further pay, and then…. uncertainty.. 

It’s hard to conceive of a development process that leaves you where you started, in this case ‘in the classroom’. With that in mind, the program begins to look more like an ill-conceived teacher retention strategy that assumes that teachers’ primary levers of influence are fiscal. We know from research however that teachers are less influenced by monetary incentives to select between teaching jobs, and a small bump in salary compared to more lucrative non-teaching roles elsewhere seems unlikely to retain teachers. It can be tempting to assume that all policy directives that work on a neoliberal, market-based ideology are flawed, but this need not be the case. 

One approach among many? 

With a recent study suggesting there is no appreciable difference between early career teachers and experienced teachers in teaching quality, it’s interesting to consider what this could mean for HALT. Indeed the paper itself suggests that expert teachers are typically selected based on non-classroom factors such as teaching awards and recommendations, with the HALT process being similar to a teaching award application process. 

Most would agree that teacher pay needs attention, as just one strategy among others. As the Federal Education Minister Jason Clare works at a broader National Teacher Workforce plan proposes a raft of actions to address the looming and worsening teacher shortage. The current document, open for review and submissions, notes “Streamline Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers (HALT) processes to make it less burdensome for teachers, set a target to increase the numbers of HALTs, and incorporate recognition of equivalent qualification and certification processes”. So while it remains under review, it seems likely that HALT, and similar processes, have a home within the Australian education policy patchwork, the outcome of the NSW election will be pivotal to just how well supported it is within New South Wales, the unofficial home of HALT within Australia. 

Steven Kolber is a career teacher and researcher, exploring ways to empower teachers within their careers. He runs workshops at Victoria University. His recent book with Dr Keith Heggart: Empowering Teachers and Democratising Schooling: Perspectives from Australia considers many possibilities for ways to develop and improve teacher status. 

John Cole is a middle school teacher in Canberra and was certified as Highly Accomplished in 2013 and 2019. He is studying for a Doctor of Education at The University of Melbourne, examining schemes to advance Australian teaching careers.

What you should know now about the NSW government and Dolores Umbridge’s evil ways

The NSW Government has announced the creation of an ‘expert teacher’ role, to be paid almost $150 000 pa.  While this could replace the ineffective Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher [HALT] system, the work expected of these expert teachers is already part of many teachers’ standard practice, as social media was quick to highlight

These reforms, while offering some positives, do not address teachers concerns about pay and conditions for all teachers, not just an elite few.  The recent announcement of a behaviour expert to be appointed as part of the NSW government’s plan to resolve the teacher workload crisis was also met with derision online, with many invoking JK Rowling’s brutal disciplinarian, Dolores Umbridge, in their responses.  Can Hogwarts solve the education crisis, or is that magical thinking?

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry offers a vision of an idealised (if at times fairly dangerous) school. As Katherine Firth explains, Hogwarts can be seen as an example of Michel Foucault’s construction of schools as sites of social control and discipline. In most readings, the teachers are part of the disciplining apparatus, however, I would argue that in the current circumstances, the teachers themselves are being subject to disciplining through the exertion of government power over their workplace. 

At Hogwarts’ NSW campus, the Ministers for Magic(al Thinking) (State Premier Dominic Perrottet and Education Minister Sarah Mitchell) have waved their wands to produce resource packs, disregarding teachers crying out for more planning time to allow them to collaboratively develop materials suited to their students’ needs. Just as Umbridge’s secondment at Hogwarts was as much about ensuring staff compliance as student behaviour, so too does the appointment of a behaviour expert suggest that NSW teachers aren’t doing their job well, further perpetuating the media narrative that it is teachers failing their students, not the system failing the teachers. 

French philosopher and theorist Michel Foucault explores how schools, hospitals, the military and other large-scale public institutions work as sites of “discipline”, training individuals to comply with social expectations. These sites of discipline “establish in the body the constructive link between increased aptitude and increased domination” (166): the more you comply, the better. Teachers (products of the schooling system themselves) reinforce structures and behaviours for students that they replicate in their own work. Yet what happens when teachers reject these attempts at discipline?

Schools work in lesson-units, where both students and teachers are expected to be present, and behave in particular ways, according to a set schedule. All of these organisational structures are designed to promote compliance and therefore increase productivity.  While analysis of this often focuses on the regimenting of the student’s day, it is also a disciplining act that teachers are subject to. The point of this scheduling is to allow for what Foucault labelsexhaustive use” –“extracting from time, ever more available moments and, from each moment, ever more useful forces” . As teachers shout into the online void about unsustainable workloads, the (disciplining) government seeks only “maximum speed and maximum efficiency”, refusing to concede that the workload is the problem. It is here we come to the (hor)crux of the teacher shortage crisis: The Ministry have lost their grip on teachers and they are in open revolt, just as McGonagall and the staff of Hogwarts united and fought back against the He Who Must Not Be Named.

Just as McGonagall led an internal resistance to the unreasonable demands of the Ministry, so too NSW teachers have united to protest the expectations being forced upon them in recent strike action.  They see the institution to which they have subscribed for their own schooling, and their careers as fundamentally flawed, and they begin to resist the powers that have sought to direct their conduct. This abandonment of and loss of faith in schools as an institution by the very workers who are meant to maintain them presents an existential crisis to our governments. If they wish to maintain schools in something resembling their current forms, they will need to change how they exert their power. How will higher pay for a select few entice people to the profession? How will the provision of generic resources, when teachers already have robust collegial networks for resource sharing, reduce workload and burnout? How will the maintenance of national systems of testing (a form of observation and control) reduce teacher stress? How will the appointment of one behaviour advisor make every classroom safer? These rewards for compliance, for docility, have lost their power for many teachers, and so they seek an escape, just as one would when wrongfully held in another institution Foucault describes – the prison. 

If the governments which control Australia’s education sector hope to restore trust in schools, they must regain the good will of teachers, as their compliance is what makes the system work.  Increased reward and reduced workload are the common elements of teachers’ calls for reform, not yet another consultant, off-the-shelf package or reward for a select few. Having pushed teachers beyond the limits of their productive capacity, and thus united teachers in a way that supersedes the partitioning of schools, sectors and states in protest and solidarity, governments must reform the institution itself if they hope to restore the magic of learning in our schools in the future. 

Dr Alison Bedford is a lecturer (curriculum and pedagogy) in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland and a secondary school history teacher.

What we must do now to rescue Australian schools

We expect education to be a catalyst for more equitable and inclusive societies yet too often governments and systems deploy one-stop solutions without detailed plans for how exactly improvements will be achieved or at what costs.

The Building Education Systems for Equity and Inclusion report comes from an Academy of Social Sciences of Australia workshop I hosted at the Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW. Working with representatives from school systems, academia, professional associations, industry, and teachers, the report offers recommendations aimed at addressing inequities in the school system.

Recommendations centre on five key issues: intergenerational policy failure; the need to look beyond the school gate; raising the voice of the profession; data, evidence and research; and ensuring a focus on teaching and learning.

Intergenerational policy failure

While the Australian Government is spending more on education than at any point in history, disparity gaps endure for various equity groups on a range of outcomes. Needs- based funding tied to the implementation of evidence-based reforms hasve been distorted courtesy of the unique policy architecture of Australian federalism. School systems have limited resources with which to pursue their objectives and the design of school funding policies plays a key role in ensuring that resources are directed to where they can make the most difference. 

Australian federalism means there is neither a national system nor a state/territory system of school-based education. Common critiques focus on overlap in responsibilities and duplication. Achieving uniformity is difficult, time consuming, and frequently limited to the lowest common denominator. However, education is a complex policy domain whose actions impact well beyond state or territory borders. Currently, no jurisdiction wants to be the first to admit there are problems meaning systems can deteriorate substantially before action is taken. Asserting jurisdiction independence and sovereignty surrenders some of the strengths of federalism and removes important failsafe mechanisms targeting overall health of the system.

A significant policy problem for education is the current teacher shortage. Substantial attention has been directed at Initial Teacher Education programs, and the attraction and retention of educators. Less focus has been granted to affordability of housing for teachers. With housing (ownership and rental) costs rising, servicing commitments on a teachers’ salary can be difficult – particularly in major cities. The ability to live near the place where one works, or the drivability or commuting infrastructure means that workforce planning needs to take a multi-dimensional approach built on more than just raising the public profile of the profession.

Beyond the school gate

Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) data indicates that 22 per cent of children in the first year of formal schooling are vulnerable in at least one domain (e.g., physical, social, emotional, language, and communication), and 11 per cent in two. Early data indicates that the AEDC is a predictor of NAPLAN performance nine years later and with 8.1 per cent of early childhood providers operating with a staffing waiver due to a lack of qualified staff, early intervention is a difficult task.

School-based education exhibits many layers of segregation and stratification. The distribution of students from socio-educational disadvantage or requiring adjustment due to disability are not evenly distributed between sectors (government, catholic, and independent). Peer effects can influence outcomes as much as individual socio-economic status. Cultural context has a large effect (between 33 and 50 per cent) on student performance, and the further a school is located from major cities the lower level of student outcomes. Failure to control for segregation and stratification makes it impossible to identify the drivers of school improvement in different locations and better design interventions aimed at equity and inclusion.

Voice of the profession

Education is seen as ‘a’ if not ‘the’ solution to most social issues and the result is that schools are constantly being asked to do more without having anything removed. Many of the decisions to add things to schooling take place without any engagement or consultation with educators – not education bureaucracies but the educators who work in schools. The result is frequent changes in curriculum documents, additional mandatory training programs, shifting accreditation requirements, updated and expansive administrative requirements, all with negligible impact on student outcomes. This not just intensified teachers’ work but de-democratising the profession. TALIS data indicates that only 28.7 per cent of Australian teachers feel that their views are valued by policy makers. With declining educator well-being and in the context of a teacher shortage, it is timely to establish a forum for representatives from the profession to have a voice in decisions regarding the form, objectives, targets, and outcomes of schooling as articulated in the national agenda.

Data, evidence, research

Improving the equity of education is not possible without data and evidence. You cannot improve that which you do not measure and monitor. An effective school education system needs sufficient data points and appropriate data linkage to understand how well it is performing and robust evidence to identify priority areas for planning, intervention, and policy. While the Measurement Framework for Schooling in Australia details nationally agreed performance indicators, inconsistencies across states and territories datasets means that crucial insights for informing policy at a national level are being lost. Data linkage is an urgent task for understanding the relationships between multiple factors and their impact on education and social outcomes to inform effective policy making, program design and research at a national scale.

Systems and schools that embed data-driven evaluation as a core professional responsibility have a greater impact on student outcomes. This has led to schools increasingly being asked to provide evidence of their impact. At the same time, despite an impressive track record, education research is under-funded. Despite the establishment of the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) seeking to position Australian educators at the forefront of education research, without increases in total funding available, it is unlikely that research of the scale and scope necessary to effectively inform policy can be conducted. A promising avenue for increasing the quality of evidence and data use in schools and systems is co-design. However, it requires strategic leadership and matching incentives (including funding mechanisms) to better enable a systemic approach to research use, knowledge translation and breaking down boundaries between stakeholders.

Focus on teaching and learning

Pedagogical reform is a low-cost high-return approach to addressing distortions in a school system. Australian research (for example, Quality Teaching Rounds) has demonstrated that targeted and tailored interventions can positively impact student outcomes and teacher well-being. Yet, 76 per cent of teachers describe their workload as unmanageable. Australian schools have more instructional hours (828) than the OECD average (713), with teachers engaged in far more administration and school management than higher performing systems (e.g., Finland, Estonia). Attempts to recognise quality teaching through accreditation have received little uptake with only 0.33 per cent of the workforce certified at Highly Accomplished or Lead. Addressing equity and inclusion requires attention to how systems are designed to focus on the instructional core of schooling and making sure that resources (human, physical, and financial) are targeted towards achieving the highest quality of teaching in every classroom.


As the world re-sets to life under pandemic, the internal tensions for differentiation and external pressures for standardisation on education policy have never been greater. With increasing costs for public services at the same time as government revenue and household incomes falling, issues of educational equity, inclusion and excellence are amplified. The pressure to consolidate resources and pursue cost efficiencies will be felt most significantly by the poorest and most marginalised children and communities throughout the country. The stakes are high. Education is critical to human welfare, especially in times of rapid economic and social change.

Ensuring that resourcing and oversight focuses on the health of the system, with wraparound services supporting the workforce to have a voice and what they need for high quality instruction give Australian school systems the best chance of delivering equitable outcomes for all. 

Participants in the workshop

Professor Scott Eacott, Gonski Institute for Education, UNSW Sydney

Professor Eileen Baldry, UNSW Sydney 

Laureate Professor Jenny Gore, Teachers and Teaching Research Centre, University of Newcastle 

Professor Chris Pettit, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney

Professor Suzanne Carrington, Centre for Inclusive Education, QUT 

Dr Goran Lazendic, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

Dr Virginia Moller, Steiner Education Australia 

Dr Rachel Perry, NSW AIS Evidence Institute

Dr Bala Soundararaj, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney 

Rebecca Birch, Teacher, Independent School 

Cecilia Bradley, Australasian Democratic Education Community 

Zeina Chalich, Principal, Catholic Education

Mark Breckenridge, Australian Secondary School Principals’ Association 

Elizabeth Goor, Montessori Australia 

Alice Leung, Head Teacher, Concord High School

Alex Ioannou, Montessori Australia 

Matthew Johnson, Australian Special Education Leaders and Principals’ Association  

Maura Manning, Catholic Education Parramatta 

Andrew Pierpoint, Australian Secondary School Principals’ Association 

Daniel Pinchas, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL)  

Diane Robertson, Principal, NSW Department of Education 

Michael Sciffer, PhD Candidate, Murdoch University

Scott Eacott PhD, is deputy director of the Gonski Institute for Education, and professor of education in the School of Education at UNSW Sydney and adjunct professor in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Saskatchewan.