Why the push for tremendous teachers ground to a HALT

By John Cole

For more than five years there has been a vision to put a Highly Accredited or Lead Teacher in every Australian school. That means every school would have a teacher certified at one of the top two tiers under the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, working in class and working with staff every day. 

 AITSL chair Professor John Hattie is the greatest champion of this dream. His vision is to identify and value teacher expertise and impact and spread it to every corner of the country. In 2016 he fashioned the idea for Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers (HALTs) as one of five goals to re-boot education in Australia.  

So, to fulfil the dream of HALT in every school, (based on the latest count from the Australian Bureau of Statistics) the nation would require 9542 certified teachers. Yet the reality is that only 891 educators have achieved certification since 2012 (2020 numbers). Every year about 100 teachers are certified by various state and territory authorities. 

But the gap, the gulf between the dream and the reality, is not closing.  

Promotion of HALT certification has been persistent and high profile. At various times $10,000 bonuses and study grants have been offered as incentives. AITSL has devoted significant slabs of the internet to promote the scheme and there’s an exclusive summit laid on for HALTs every year. The enduring promotion efforts are premised on the belief that the presence of a HALT improves a school’s learning outcomes, contributes to an increased culture of learning amongst staff and enables quality teaching to impact across the school (AITSL HALT Spotlight, 2018). 

A 2020 research program as part of a Master of Education (Research) study overseen by Edith Cowan University aimed to determine teacher attitudes about certification. The study worked with focus groups of secondary teachers from the independent system in the ACT to determine what teachers are considering when think about applying for HALT certification. Teachers said they were more likely to consider preparing their own application, if they believed:  

  • The entire teaching sector recognised the value of HALTs; 
  • Their own system and their own school supported teachers who were working towards HALT status; 
  • There were regular platforms to highlight the work of HALTs, and   
  • The application process was simpler. 

Based on the study, more Australian teachers are likely to consider certification if they feel it is truly national scheme. Currently not every state and system recognises HALTs – not across Victoria, not in Tasmania, and not in all of WA. In Queensland, there are specific requirements from each system. The idea that a teacher is certified as an expert practitioner in one state or one system – but not all – undermines the credibility of the entire scheme.  

Part of the credibility gap lies in inconsistent approaches regarding payment for certified HALTs. A patchwork of bonuses across systems and jurisdictions unpicks the credibility of certification. A consistent approach to rewards would provide a banner to show how Australia’s educational sector values and rewards expert teachers.  

Focus group participants were apprehensive about the application process to become a HALT. Uncertainty, misunderstanding and lack of trust surrounded this aspect of the HALT landscape during their discussions. These teachers believed preparing an application was complex, expensive and relied on opaque processes and procedures. Teachers said they would feel better about applying if the process was simpler, more open and less expensive. 

The focus group participants raised further questions – what do HALTs do, and why is it important? They felt specific and regular demonstrations of the impact of HALTs – how they bring ‘more’ to classes and schools – may help address the uncertainty about the value of HALTs. The respondents pointed to cross-school leadership and prescribed roles within schools as possible areas for public demonstrations of HALT impact, increasing the credibility of certification. 

HALT certification in 2022 seems to be a badge searching for a role.  While the label is promoted and presented as an elixir for each school, many teachers remain unconvinced about the value of the outcome. For the applicants each year who plan portfolios and curate evidence, who prepare to have their career judged and assessed – these efforts must be about more than a shiny badge. Systems to apply rigorous inspections and then identify expert teachers must provide outcomes greater than a smile and handshake, a framed certificate and an email signature block. Defining the purpose of certification, defining roles and career progressions for HALTs, and making HALT matter on the national stage are essential to make meaningful progress in the growth of HALT numbers. 

The ACT is one of the most consistent suppliers of certified teachers. On a pro-rata basis, it is a powerhouse, with 88 HALTs working in the territory’s 136 schools – 65 per cent of the way to securing a HALT in every school.  The ACT Teacher Quality Institute is the regulating authority for HALT certification and has developed a vibrant package to help expert teachers achieve HALT status. They have adopted a modular approach to application, spreading the workload over two years. They have provided exemplars and mentors for applicants. They have arranged for payment to be made over two years, rather than 10 months. Their efforts to make the application process much clearer and more direct are at an early stage, but they could provide important indicators to remove wider concerns. But the skepticism of ACT teachers participating in the study, who operate in an encouraging environment, suggest teachers in other areas may hold more serious apprehensions. 

Teacher concerns about applying as HALT were direct – “it’s too hard, it’s not relevant, I’m too busy, what’s the point anyway?” Without a clear direction of the value of certification, these questions remain unanswered. Certification may be recognised in pay, in promotions, in leadership roles, in community advocacy. The exact nature of that value is yet to be determined on a national scale. Gonski 2.0 recommended better career paths for teachers. Grattan Institute has provided a blueprint for making use of expert teachers. To encourage teachers to pursue certification, the nature of HALT certification has to provide more impact – for HALTs to do more, to lead more, and for the scheme to be more than just a badge. 

John Cole is a Highly Accomplished teacher from the ACT, first certified in 2013 and again in 2019. His research with Edith Cowan University was part of a Master of Education program, looking at teachers’ attitudes towards HALT certification.

9 thoughts on “Why the push for tremendous teachers ground to a HALT

  1. Graham J Moloney says:

    I think the origins of Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher long pre-date John Hattie and AITSL.
    Indeed, part of the reason for the slow rate of take-up is the demands of a process that is over-engineered by AITSL and misconceived. The obsession with filling up what was 128 boxes in a matrix of proficiencies at four different levels was a disservice not only to HALTs but also graduates and tended to homogenise recognition instead of recognising diversity.
    When AITSL spoke to the AEU about its red-tape review, the process for recognition was one area suggested for review and re-invention. I haven’t checked, but I fear nothing has changed.

  2. John Cole says:

    Good day, Graham. You are indeed correct – pilots and trials of accreditation date from 2011 and 2012 in various forms and in various states. For my research I was interested to a large degree in the “HALT in every school” direction from 2016, and this was, (and is), work championed by John Hattie. In my view this was a significant shift as HALTs were presented as change-makers working with an organised network and exhorted to “know thy impact”.

  3. John Cole says:

    You are correct, Graham, There were pilots and trials of certification in various states and systems from 2011. In part of my work I was interested in the “HALT in every school” work championed by John Hattie from (at least) 2016. I believe this was a change for the schemes, with the creation of a network for action and HALTs exhorted to “know your impact”. I was interested to see if this direction of advocacy was a factor for those considering certification.

  4. Lawrence Ingvarson says:

    A timely article, even overdue, John. Attention needs to be drawn to the need to overhaul the certification system, whose design was cumbersome, and unreliable from the start. As you suggest, our governments have avoided the fact that they are primarily responsible to ensure career paths that attract, develop and retain highly accomplished teachers. A rigorous and respected certification system gives them a basis for doing this.. BTW, much as we should applaud John Hattie for his advocacy,, the dream was here well before John he came to Australia..

  5. Graham Moloney says:

    You are too modest, Lawrence. I would nominate you and Elizabeth Kleinhenz as its parents.
    I agree with you about certification.

  6. John Cole says:

    Good day, Lawrence. I was interested in much of your work in this field as I discovered so much of the work today provides a revisit of older ideas. I recall a piece, more than 100 years old, urging a system in Queensland for teachers to be identified as elite educator. The leading teacher idea seems eternal, but the views of teachers about the current settings are a new facet.

  7. John Cole says:

    Good day, Lawrence. I was interested in much of your work in this field as I discovered so much of the work today provides a revisit of older ideas. I recall a piece, more than 100 years old, urging a system in Queensland for teachers to be identified as elite educator. The leading teacher idea seems eternal, but the views of teachers about the current settings are a new facet.

  8. Jill Willis says:

    Thanks John for representing the voices of some terrific teachers, and making their valid concerns visible.

    As you rightly identify, the complexity of the process, and a lack of understanding about the positive ripple effects that expert teachers can have in schools are 2 of the big barriers. I remain optimistic that these can both be changed.

    Ideas for making the process a supportive, clear one for teachers are being trialled by some certifying authorities, but we could do with a more strategic and directed national conversation about it.

    Our highly accomplished and lead teachers have a lot to offer students, colleagues and their schools especially in times of disruption and uncertainty.

    The vision is worth greater government investment.

  9. John Cole says:

    Thank you, Jill. After 10 years, adding 100 teachers each year does not represent what the scheme could be. There are many, many talented teachers who are not (and may never be) represented as HALT. There is scope to do much more but it may not occur under the current settings.

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