This is mistaken and disrespectful – a wasted opportunity

By Ange Fitzgerald, Terri Bourke and Julie McLeod

Teacher educators have been driving improvement in initial teacher education for decades. That’s been clear from as early as 1998 when the Australian Council of Deans of Education released “Preparing a Profession: Report of the National Standards  and Guidelines for Initial  Teacher Education Project”.  The report outlined the first program standards for ITE and, as a professional group, teacher educators have initiated, co-designed and willingly responded to reforms ever since. But one of the things which is striking about the Teacher Education Expert Panel (TEEP) report – and several other reports of this nature – is that a very narrow selection of evidence is relied upon  while much of the rigorous evidence, thoughtful scholarship and good practice within teacher education have been ignored. The very people who have conducted research in the area and who know the field and the broader context have been excluded. More importantly, much of the rigorous evidence, thoughtful scholarship and good practice within teacher education have been ignored. The assumption that teacher educators are not motivated to continuously improve their programs without punitive measures or financial incentives is mistaken, disrespectful and represents a wasted opportunity to work more constructively with the sector.   

These are some of the key reasons the Australian Teacher Education Association (ATEA) and the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), held a joint forum focused on responding to the TEEP report, Strong Beginnings, which has recommendations across four domains: strengthening ITE programs to deliver confident effective beginning teachers; strengthening the link between performance and funding of ITE programs; improving the quality of practical experiences in teaching; and improving access to postgraduate ITE for mid-career entrants. 

And on Tuesday evening, nearly 200 teacher educators across Australian states and territories,  and internationally in England and Lebanon, came together to listen to a panel of five invited distinguished academics: Jenny Gore, Deb Hayes, Viv Ellis, Donna Pendergast who had publicly commented on the TEEP report. The fifth panellist, Michelle Simons, was a member of the Teacher Education Expert Panel and provided insight into the development of the report. 

TEEP was described variously by panellists as ‘a turning point’, ‘a missed opportunity’, ‘a rupture in the discourse of initial teacher education’ and’ disappointing’. And we, as teacher educators, had been tipped off before the release of the report – media coverage involving some panel members anticipated, even at the release of the discussion paper, that education academics would not like the results of the review. This belief was based upon a notion that teacher educators have a vested interest in maintaining  the status quo and are somehow resistant to change.  Yet most education academics’ ‘vested interest’ is in providing the very best initial teacher education, much like surgeons have a ‘vested interest’ in survival rates of patients and engineers have a ‘vested interest’ in building bridges that don’t fall down.

Donna Pendergast advised we must not consider TEEP in isolation. It comes alongside a range of other reviews affecting the higher education sector, such as the Universities Accord Interim Report and the forthcoming  review for the Better and Fairer Education System. They all talk about the importance of teachers and teachers’ work and the role of initial teacher education. These reports  will inevitably interact. And, Pendergast continued, it’s important not to forget we are still in the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) cycle of reform. There has been zero evidence to date  about the effectiveness of that particular review and now we find ourselves in the middle of a new one. This is a missed opportunity. 

“Most of the initiatives, recommendations and ideas that we saw in the TEEP report were not directed at transforming our system, but in fact, at the crisis around teacher shortages, and so ITE has become the vehicle for trying to diffuse and redirect the political space.” Donna Pendergast

A further theme raised across the panellists was that specifying core content, government over-prescription of any kind, has not been justified and will result in cookie cutter education programs which are the antithesis of what we need to attract and prepare a diverse teacher workforce.

New research from Viv Ellis’s team at Monash shows, resoundingly, that teachers felt their ITE had prepared them well for the classroom. That trope, that teachers don’t think teacher education is any good, is one of five prevailing myths he spoke about. The others are that universities don’t do as they are told; phonics is only taught at one university; university degrees are highly influenced by liberal arts and sociology; and that England should be a role model for Australia. But a country which has falling life expectancy, inconsistent and even poor health care, endless economic damage caused by Brexit; in his view, that is hardly a model Australia should follow.

The TEEP represents an odd juncture for initial teacher education. Despite the election of a new, now Labor, government, in some ways TEEP represents a link to the previous Coalition government, particularly the review of quality teacher education led by former Education Minister Alan Tudge. It appears that new education minister Jason Clare, wants to implement and carry forward the recommendations of the former government: strengthening initial teacher education and the linking of performance indicators of ITE to funding, strangely, as a solution to the problems of teacher shortages and teacher attrition. The minister also wants to review professional experience (and the AARE blog will have more on that tomorrow) and to explore the chronic teacher shortage.

What TEEP represents really is a significant turning point in the conversation around teacher education. Those myths noted by Ellis dominate the discourse – and now there’s the equally pernicious  claim that current ITE is not informed by evidence, a claim that is not borne out by the robust bodies of evidence that currently inform the ITE curriculum. 

Despite the challenges posed by TEEP,  the closing commentary from the audience referred to the development of a sense of shared purpose and a desire to be united in terms of what happens next. While acknowledging significant concerns about the TEEP report and its outward-facing representations of teacher education, there were nevertheless some  ‘cracks of light’ continue to shine through. There is now an opportunity to work collaboratively and collectively to respond to this latest review. 

Yet as teacher educators and educational researchers, we also need to remain vigilant and stand up and be heard, and call out the ‘turning point’ moment that this report represents.  One challenge is to ensure alternative visions for education and ITE are heard; what we need more of is research-informed discussions about the kinds of teachers we need, and how best to prepare them for the changing world.  

From left to right: Ange Fitzgerald is professor and associate dean (education) in the School of Education at RMIT University. Terri Bourke is  president of the Australian Teacher Education Association (ATEA) and Academic Lead Research in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership at QUT. Julie McLeod is President of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) and Professor of Curriculum, Equity and Social Change at the University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

Republish this article for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.

One thought on “This is mistaken and disrespectful – a wasted opportunity

  1. Why aren’t teacher educators setting the standards for initial teacher education, and then telling governments what those standards are?

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