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  Review of Teacher Education in NSW - Terms of reference  
 

1. Introduction

Teaching has a long and proud tradition of service to children, young people and to society.  Many can recall a teacher who changed their life for the better by broadening their horizons and giving them new understandings about their potential as a human being.  Over the decades, people have chosen teaching as their life’s work because they genuinely believed that they could make a difference to the lives of children and adolescents.  So it is now for the majority of those who are teachers or are preparing themselves to be part of the teaching profession. 

The society we have is very largely created in our schools.  It is primarily from teachers that a love of learning is acquired.  The intellectual energy underpinning our society begins in classrooms where teachers develop the talents and capacities of their students.  In partnership with parents, teachers have an important role in shaping the values and attitudes of young people.  These include core values about respecting the rights of others, compassion for those who are less fortunate and a commitment to democracy and individual equality.  Teachers have been at the forefront of creating modern Australia by teaching and modelling these important values.  The results of their work are everywhere to be seen. 

We live in a society where to be well educated is a necessity.  Modern life demands that our citizens have the greatest possible range and depth of knowledge and skills.  A basic education is no longer adequate as preparation for life.  The days are long past when it was possible for a young person to leave school with only minimal learning and have expectations of success in adulthood.  We are a ’learning society’, increasingly reliant on the creation of knowledge, the acquisition of new skills and the communication of information.  The boundaries between learning, work and social participation are becoming more blurred.  The work of teachers in such a society becomes more, not less, important. 

The community acknowledges that the work of teachers is not easy.  This is especially so in times characterised by uncertainty about what the future holds in terms of how society functions, the kinds of employment available to people and the ways in which they will work.  Given that teaching is becoming more important, society needs to be sure that the work of teachers is of the highest possible quality.  We need to be confident that our systems of teacher education equip teachers with knowledge and skills relevant to the needs of young people preparing for the transition to work and participation in an ever-changing world.  These are critical issues, and teachers must have a vital role in addressing them. 

Teachers regard the work they do as important for the intellectual, moral and physical growth of individual students and for the well-being and cohesion of the broader society.  They believe that their role should be recognised and valued for the many contributions which teachers make to individual students, families, communities and the nation. 

Teachers know that they are involved in an often complex and demanding calling; they want to be well prepared and supported to be effective in their teaching.  They want account to be taken of their views and opinions on professional matters.  Many express the view, however, that the schools in which they work, particularly if part of a larger system, are so disconnected from their employers and the universities that as teachers they are precluded from exercising fully their professional responsibilities.  The challenges confronting teacher education and teaching will be best addressed by creating the circumstances in which teachers can focus strongly on the quality of their professional lives and can exercise the responsibilities of truly professional people.

Structure of the Executive Summary

This Executive Summary provides a synopsis of more detailed evidence and discussion in the full Report.  The reader should refer to the full Report in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the evidence gathered and the many issues which were raised during the Review.  The Executive Summary consists of three parts.  First, this Introduction outlines the contexts of teacher education and teaching in which the Review was conducted. 

The key evidence gathered during the Review is presented in the second section.  The evidence, organised for the purposes of the Executive Summary within themes, leads to a number of policy directions which provide advice, mainly to employers of teachers, universities and other educational stakeholders on changes that should be made to current practice.  The policy directions are intended to be implemented over time in ways seen as appropriate to those with the relevant responsibility.  The numbering of policy directions in this Executive Summary refers to their order in the full Report. 

The third section of this Executive Summary focuses on recommendations for actions which, in the main, the Government will need to take, on occasion in conjunction with the Commonwealth, to enable better systems of teacher education and quality teaching. 

The Review

In commissioning the Review, the Minister for Education and Training, the Honourable John Aquilina MP, raised four critical issues.  These were:

  • the quality of teachers and teaching (or pedagogy, a traditional term which many still use to describe teaching practices)
  • the implications of technology for teaching
  • behaviour management in schools and classrooms
  • the on-the-job training which student teachers have in schools, usually called the practicum. 

Those who provided advice to the Review were interested in the following areas:

  • parents want to be reassured that all teachers are well trained to give their children up-to-date knowledge and skills as preparation for life and the transition to work.  They want to know that older teachers are maintaining their knowledge and skills to be good teachers
  • employers want to know that the curriculum is well taught. They especially want to know that the new information and communication technologies are actually being used in classrooms
  • parents, and most young people, want to know that classroom behaviour is well managed and that students can get on with their schoolwork
  • teachers want appropriate recognition for the excellent work they do and want to be well supported so that their students can achieve the highest possible standards, and finally
  • t those in universities responsible for initial teacher education want to be sure that the knowledge student teachers gain is sound and that the time spent in schools gives them the essential skills to be good teachers.

The terms of reference for the Review were wide-ranging.  They covered both the initial training of future teachers and the professional development of existing teachers.  The Review had every opportunity to investigate what was needed to improve teacher education in all of its aspects.  This included how young people are motivated to consider teaching as a career and how to encourage good teachers to stay in teaching.  The Review looked at the changing nature of schools, and the skills teachers need to teach well in the classrooms of today and tomorrow. 

During the Review some 130 meetings were held with individuals and groups, over 200 written submissions were received, research was commissioned, studies were conducted of how teachers are trained in other states and overseas, and major forums on teacher education were organised by the universities.  All views were listened to and carefully considered. 

The challenges

The Review identified some immediate challenges confronting teachers and teacher educators:

  • as the diversity of society has increased, teachers are expected to cope with the many different values which families and communities now hold
  • parents want teachers to maintain good discipline, even though they know how difficult this can be
  • eachers are expected to keep up-to-date, for example by using all the information technologies now available in education.  This is especially difficult for many older teachers who were trained long before the days of personal computers and the ever-changing curriculum
  • parents now want to know much more about how their children are progressing at school.  The twice-yearly report card providing only marks and rankings is no longer enough
  • parents know that good teaching matters.  They want their children taught by teachers who teach well.  Quality of teaching is now a focus in ways that it has never been.

These expectations can be very daunting, especially for beginning teachers, on their own and required to perform as a full professional from the first day.  Programs of initial teacher education must be focused strongly on equipping future teachers with knowledge and skills relevant to the rapidly changing world of education.  Universities and schools must work together closely if beginning teachers are to meet the challenges of their chosen profession and go on to enjoy rewarding and stimulating careers. 

The expectations facing experienced teachers are no less than those for beginning teachers.  Many entered teaching at a time when the work of teachers appeared largely predictable, so that their training did not prepare them for the many social and educational changes of the past two decades.  Advice provided to the Review indicated that many experienced teachers believe that the authority and respect they once enjoyed have declined.  For some, this has resulted in a loss of confidence in their role and a sense of ’burn-out’.  Systems of continuing teacher education must be oriented strongly to ensuring the currency of teachers’ knowledge and skills and their sense of professional engagement.  Teachers believe that universities and employers need to re-focus on what matters most to teachers: effective teaching to improve the quality of student learning. 

Good teaching

The view most often put to the Review was: the quality of teaching matters.  Teachers really do make a difference.  The research is now making clear what students, parents, employers and teachers themselves have always known: having a good teacher is the most important factor accounting for the quality of student learning.  Unless good teaching is taking place, few students are likely to make worthwhile progress.  The better the quality of teaching, the better will be the results students achieve.  The evidence is clear that we have not focused enough on how to improve and maintain teacher quality.  It is more fundamental to student success than is the quality of the curriculum or class size. 

On a visit to a rural high school, the Reviewer met the school captains along with senior staff.  The captains were asked, after 11 years in school, what they thought were the marks of a good teacher.  Their response was immediate.  They wanted their teachers to:

  • know and understand their subject
  • treat each student as an individual
  • put learning at the centre of what happens in the classroom
  • manage the distractions that prevent learning.

These four things describe a good teacher.  They stand as principles to guide how we should prepare young people to be teachers.  Existing teachers need to concentrate on these four things to make sure that they continue to be effective in their work. 

Equally, when responding to the question about how they learnt to teach, a teacher said, ’by trial and error’, with the implication that the preparation received was inadequate.  Good teaching does not come about through trial and error.  In any case, the core learning of young people should not be by trial and error.  Good teaching comes about through quality training and support, based on expectations of high standards.  Quality training systems are needed in which teachers can be well prepared and well supported throughout their careers.  Society has a responsibility to teachers, just as much as teachers have a responsibility to society.

Teaching and the curriculum

In New South Wales, the Board of Studies has responsibility to develop syllabuses and conduct the Higher School Certificate and School Certificate examinations for schools in the State.  Neither teachers nor the profession are mentioned in the section of the New South Wales Education Act 1990 which refers to the Board of Studies.  The priority given in legislation to the quality of the curriculum has not been accorded to the quality of teaching. 

The modern curriculum taught at all levels of education requires teachers to have advanced teaching skills if it is to be delivered effectively.  It is impossible to separate the curriculum from how it is taught: the dancer cannot be separated from the dance.  High quality teaching to deliver our quality curriculum is a professional responsibility, but currently too often is left to employers or even individual teachers acting in isolation.  Their impact is limited without concerted professional action.  Focusing on the quality of the curriculum alone is insufficient.  A structure concerned with the quality of teaching is needed to complement the excellent work being done in curriculum design and development in New South Wales. 

The link between the curriculum and teaching is not just an issue for teachers in schools.  It is also an issue in universities.  Great interest exists in universities in the Higher School Certificate syllabus and those at other levels as well.  When the question is asked about the pedagogy needed to teach a syllabus, most subject areas in the universities have little to offer.  Conducting research in an area of study without being expert in how to teach the concepts and understandings related to that research is a major shortcoming that universities must address.  University academics in all relevant subject areas need to be more involved in teacher education both in terms of what is taught in schools and how it is taught. 

Teaching as a profession

Over the past two decades in Australia there have been more than 20 reviews of teacher education.  They have had almost no impact.  Why is it that reviews of other professions have resulted in change to the way their members are prepared and maintain their professional standing but not those in teaching? One of the answers is that of all the professions, teaching is the one without a professional structure to make sure that the necessary changes actually happened.  There is no shortage of good ideas in teacher education, but an essential structure to turn them into reality is missing. 

Good teaching does not come about through imposed requirements but through the individual teacher’s commitment to high professional standards.  The important changes needed in teaching are those that teachers must make for themselves.  They are not changes which governments can mandate or unions can achieve through their industrial activities.  The Review seeks to create the conditions to revitalise teaching by making it possible for teachers to draw on the deep well of their own professionalism. 

When the word ’profession’ is used to describe teaching the emphasis is on the idea of a mass of people who have undertaken tertiary studies in order to teach.  The word is not used in the sense of focusing on the quality of the work performed, as it is for many other professions.  Teaching needs to be created as a quality, rather than a mass, profession.  Teachers need a strong identity as truly professional people if teaching is to remain the ’critical profession’, as described by many in advice to the Review. 

The Review as a process of change

The Review should be seen as the beginning of a process of change which does not stop with the publication of its Report, as so often happened with past reviews.  Already, teacher educators in some universities have said that the Review has led them to consider different approaches to initial teacher education.  Responsibility for the changes proposed by the Review must be shared by all who believe that the quality of teacher education matters.  As in so many areas important to society, Government is asked to provide a lead.  In this case, one of the leads proposed is to put in place the basic elements and structure whereby the profession of teaching can flourish.  Once the structure is established for teaching to become a true profession, the issues which have sat on the table for too long can be addressed effectively. 

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