Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher Summit address

Speech
  • Minister for Education and Training

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, thank you very much Marjorie for that kind welcome and for the wonderful work that you and the AITSL team have done in developing this network in pursuing the ambitions that we as a Government have for the nation around the enhanced quality of the teaching profession and the enhanced recognition of the quality of the nation’s teaching profession. It really is an exceptional effort from the AITSL team and wonderful to see such a gathering of people here today for this very important event and the couple of days of discussion that you’re all participating in.

Can I commence by acknowledging the Kaurna people who’s traditional lands here on the Adelaide Plains we meet on and as the nation’s Education Minister, I particularly acknowledge the knowledge and learnings of all Australia’s traditional owners about which we continue to learn much more and from which we continue to build our knowledge upon. I start by thanking all of you – not just for being here today as participants in this important event – but also, importantly, as teachers. As teachers not just for the work that you do in your schools, in your classrooms, with your students, but greatly for the relief that you as a collective help to give me from time to time.

[Laughter]

As the nation’s Education Minister it’s easy to find yourself often bogged down by policy debates, political arguments, funding disputes from time to time…

[Laughter]

…and the way that you lift yourself out of those as the nation’s Education Minister is to go and visit an Early Learning Centre and see some exceptional activities happening there, or one of our nation’s fine research institutes and have my mind boggled by researchers speaking about concepts that I can barely comprehend, or indeed visit any number of schools where there are teachers doing incredible things and to try and help transform the lives of those students. So thank you, from me, for helping to make my job that much more bearable when the politics of it all sometimes leaving me questioning the wisdom of it all. Because it is importantly what you do that makes the difference on the ground.

Thank you also for the opportunity to be here to launch this network event. As some of the dedicated teachers who have volunteered and successfully completed the highly accomplished and lead stage of Australian and Professional Standards for Teaching Process, this is an opportunity to not only learn from each other, to celebrate such excellence in your personal achievements, but also as you heard from Marjorie, to further promote HALT to the rest of the profession and to cement its place in our future education landscape. The AITSL will improve the establishment of the highly accomplished and elite teachers’ network for these purposes and AITSL has given us the introductions and a marvellous job bringing us this far but it will now be working with all of you that takes this to the next step and beyond.

I want to particularly acknowledge the principals who are here today, who have championed their teachers on this journey and supported them in this learning pathway, and of course we want to congratulate the expert teacher practitioners whose own commitment to self-improvement will strengthen the teaching profession. I understand that it is a rigorous and challenging journey you have all been through after initially meeting the high eligibility requirements, including collecting evidence and being subject to classroom observations and further assessment. I admire the perseverance, and obviously with some 3000 plus hours of teaching experience in the room – of which, when we got to my table, I contributed a big fat zero to the total…

[Laughter]

…it’s a demonstration of, of course, the collected knowledge and practical experience that we have here. That you’re all doing this voluntarily with limited rewards – depending on the jurisdiction you’re from – deserves even greater admiration. By volunteering to certify as an expert in the practise of classroom teaching, you not only demonstrate your passion for your vocation but you also raise community respect for teaching. Your role is to support your peers now to become better at their job. Your support is specific in some ways: to engage in reflective practice, to assist others to study their own methods of instruction and assessment and share their experience with their colleagues. Your role in helping your peers to make these behaviours a more regular, routine part of their professional lives.

But to you who are now formally recognised as expert practitioners will make a significant difference to the job satisfaction of your colleagues and ultimately, we hope, to the learning experience of their students. The question we must all ask ourselves at the outset of a process like this is: why the certification process, why was this established, why do we need it? I’m happy to acknowledge that the certification process was developed in 2012 by the previous government and endorsed by all Education Ministers of all political persuasions. We continue to support HALT, as we do AITSL, but we do want to make it work better and hence our support for the initiative to develop this network gathering. The reasons for wanting to enhance it are clear, as I will outline shortly and as everyone in this room well appreciates. Teacher quality is the most important in-school factor in driving student performance. We also know from our own experiences and - given that there are some 260,000 plus teachers across all levels and sectors - that not all teachers are the same in terms of capacity and impact on the student outcomes, that is as it is in any profession. But there are two challenges to both those who supply teachers - our universities and other teacher training providers - and those who employ them: our education departments, authorities and schools. First, there is the challenge of identifying what academic skills and personal attributes make a great teacher and how this should affect the selection of those who want to become teachers and what should be the courses they study to become teachers. Second, there is the challenge of identifying from the thousands of teachers already in the field, those who are outstanding: what is it that makes them so effective as teachers, how their experiences can be replicated and how such behaviour can be recognised, rewarded and encouraged.

The Turnbull Government is seeking to address the first - the issue of what makes a great teacher and how they are trained - through our Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group review, which Marjorie mentioned the TEMAG Report which I will highlight shortly, because as a Federal Government, we have a major role in funding - the primary role in fact - of funding initial teachers’ education through the funds we provide to universities and other teaching providers in the order of some $600 million per annum. But of course, the corollary of that is that the Commonwealth does not run schools or employ teachers so how we address the second challenge of identification in schools and checking in schools is more problematic; it leaves us somewhat more limited and does require particular cooperation with state governments and non-government school authorities. Trying to assess individual teaching performance by assessing student outcomes based on a national testing regime designed to help teachers is not desirable. Previous Commonwealth attempts to introduce performance pay for teachers have encountered obvious problems. Other countries have experimented with such measures with often indeterminate results. Too often, it seems the cart if being put before the horse, of looking at remuneration being introduced first as an incentive to increase performance rather than identifying who the great teachers are and then assessing how they should possibly be rewarded. Over the years the states and territories and the non-government sector have developed a range of different methods to try to recognise teachers with advanced skills and limited success. Because of these difficulties, I see tremendous opportunities for the certification of highly accomplished and lead teachers program as a national process, but with the state and territories certified - through which AITSL is developed – as being a great way forward. And the development of the network which we are launching today is certainly another step in the right direction.

The network will leverage your collective expertise, your work will garner respect and hopefully entice your colleagues to pursue certification. In recognition of the teaching expertise acquired through the certification process, it is now linked to pay increments for teachers in New South Wales and the ACT, the government sector in the Northern Territory and the Catholic sector in South Australia. I was pleased to note with the local media today that the South Australian Government is also creating Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher positions under their new industrial rule. I would not be surprised, in fact would vote, for that this recognition is embraced more broadly in the future. And I understand that more teacher employers are considering providing increments or allowances to certify teachers to reward their commitment, expertise and additional contributions. I think the network is best placed to support and mentor new teachers as they journey into the classrooms for their teaching careers, because we all know that the research is very clear – effective induction is critical if new teachers are to successfully transition form their formal training into full-time classroom teaching. New teachers need structured mentoring, observation and feedback. Again, the evidence is clear, a good effective induction is what will keep them dedicated to their profession and a contented motivated teacher of course provides optimal outcomes for student learning.

I encourage you to commit to the network in the same way you have committed to becoming Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers and I’m confident of your commitment because of your attendance here today. Of course, remember as you do so, that you are a collective of expert practitioners with the capacity to raise the quality of teaching. Developing preservice in any teachers makes you their supervisors and mentors and leaders; they will look to you for guidance and support and improvement. Your new status gives you great responsibility, but of course the fact that you are so accomplished yourselves demonstrates you are up to the task.

The Summit’s themes are to celebrate, collaborate, and champion, as you’ve heard. They nicely encapsulate the pathway forward. You are celebrating not just a personal milestone for your selection as a Highly Accomplished Teacher, but it’s also a milestone for the teaching profession, because it is highlighting the value and need for teachers with outstanding skills. Coming together over two days is your chance to meet and support each other, to commit to the network, and to work towards the goal of improving teacher quality across Australia. 

I look at the programs of the network and in particular the provocations that are being set for each of you, which- I think about my day to day job, and it seems as if everybody is frequently seeking to provoke me or set a provocation.

[Laughter]

I am delighted to see such a structured approach to provocation occurring over these couple of days that hopefully will give far more effective outcomes than perhaps political provocations usually provide. The network, the certification process has the Turnbull Government’s strongest possible support.

I want to briefly highlight some of our other initiatives that are impacting upon your profession: the TEMAG report, which we have spoken of a couple of times already today. Because improving teacher quality is so important and is a key pillar of our Students First policy, we undertook the TEMAG report to give a short but effective recommendations and advice on how best to improve teacher quality. The Government has accepted all but one of those 38 recommendations. We are determined the TEMAG report will not go the way of the other 101 reviews that have occurred into teacher education. All those recommendations that we have accepted will be implemented, or on the way to implementation, by next year, by 2017. We are providing the funding of $16m to enable AITSL to oversee that implementation. Professor [indistinct] and Majorie, working closely with my department, with my office, and with the states and territories and non-Government school providers to ensure this is one teacher education report that will not languish. And because of this commitment, we are seeing real success.

Last December, all education ministers agreed to revise and strengthen accreditation standards for initial teacher education programs, as well as a revised accreditation process in timetabling. The new standards and accreditations will bring rigor and consistency to initial teacher programs. Closely aligned with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, the new accreditation standards involve requirements on selecting entrants to teacher education, and the use of the National Literacy and Numeracy Test. New requirements for all primary teaching students to complete a subject specialisation. More focus on building partnerships between initial teacher education providers and schools to provide enhanced professional experience. A final year Classroom Teaching Performance assessment to prove graduates meet the graduate career stage of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. And requirements that providers to demonstrate the impact of their programs on pre-service teacher performance, and ultimately on the new teachers’ impact on their students.

These changes mean that graduate teachers will now study a quality teacher education program that meets the revised accreditation standards. This means we should be certain that before teachers enter a classroom, having left university, they are sufficiently prepared to make an immediate impact on student learning. AITSL is progressing four other recommendations of the TEMAG report: developing national guidelines for the beginning teacher induction to ensure some consistent implementation of effective induction programs; implementation of a national Initial Teacher Education and Teacher Workforce Starter Strategy, to evaluate the programs and inform workforce planning in the future; instigating the national Research Agenda to identify effective teacher practices and encourage their dissemination and take up right through the early stages of training, and reviewing the Graduate Career Stage with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers to see if we need to invest more to guarantee the new evidence requirements are properly implemented in that graduate stage.

Over time these reforms will see new teachers moving into our classrooms who should be better prepared for the day to day realities of working in our schools. You should also see changes in the pre-service teachers coming through to work alongside of you. As you know, professional experience placements are critical in developing each and every new teacher. Dedicated, committed, and accomplished teachers will help governments to raise the status of what is one of our most important professions.

Key to lifting the quality of teacher education is making sure that graduating teachers have strong personal skills, including literacy and numeracy. This year we will be introducing the Literacy and Numeracy Test for initial teacher education students. This nationally consistent Literacy and Numeracy Test will give employers and community confidence that our teachers’ personal skills qualify them for the authority they hold in classrooms. Students completing initial teacher education courses from 1 July 2016 will be expected to pass this national test. Last year up to 5000 students sat the test voluntarily, as part of a trial, and we saw in the national average 92 per cent passing the literacy component and 90.5 per cent passing the numeracy component. The Australian Council for Educational Research will administer the tests right around Australia, to provide that uniformity. Students will sit the test through a mix of physical testing centres and online delivery. Last week I announced the test is being offered this semester. This is a very tangible response to public concerns about the quality of some of our latest graduate teachers. It also should raise confidence in the effectiveness in existing programs to prepare teachers for their role of teaching literacy and numeracy to students.

I do want to take this opportunity, as I have done already, to particularly acknowledge how well AITSL has progressed excellence in teaching and school leadership on behalf of the Government. AITSL has built a solid reputation in the profession and worked hard to garner ongoing support of states, territories, and other stakeholders, especially to take up the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. The standards have been officially in place since 2011 and jurisdictions have been embedded them in a variety of ways. I’m pleased that a growing number of teachers and school leaders plan to use the standards even more to improve their professional practice. As you know, the standards are a public statement of what constitutes teacher quality. They define what teachers should know and be able to do at different stages in their careers. The benchmarks are Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished, and Lead. They underpin national approaches to the accreditation of initial teacher education programs, the registration of teachers, and the formal delivery of Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers. The Standards have made it possible to formally recognise expertise. There is now a public and professional recognition for those teachers, like those of you gathered here, who can demonstrate the expertise and skill to certify against standards.

Leadership and school autonomy are other pillars of the Government’s Students First policy. And again research is clear. Leadership - effective leadership and informed leadership, knowledgeable leadership - combined with a degree of school autonomy is second only to that quality of teaching when it comes to students’ learning and [indistinct] that can influence it. We know that school leaders improve student outcomes. They attract good teachers and [indistinct] teachers and influence the school environment. They engage with their local communities. The Government has funded AITSL to develop the Australian Professional Standard for Principals. It sets out what principals are expected to know, understand and do, and to achieve in their work. The standard is a tool to build quality and capacity of our principals. It is also there to help parents understand the scope and complexity of a principal’s work. AITSL has developed the Leadership Profiles which build on the Standard by describing leadership practices. The profiles are a comprehensive developing framework and shared understanding of highly effective school leadership in all its forms.

Our support for AITSL’s work on school leadership and working with the states and territories, the Professional Principal Associations, and all school sectors, to achieve our shared goal: world class school leadership techniques. We want the professional development across the profession, highly regarded, and widely used. It underpins an effective learning environment. There needs to be just as much emphasis on principal and leadership quality as there is on general teacher quality. And we need to address what impediments schools leaders face that prevent them from getting along with their prime job of providing quality education for their students by providing effective leadership within their school communities.

As I said last year, I am increasingly concerned that schools and teachers have become the first stop to respond to every new social concern, to solve every new perceived problem and to take on whatever the latest fad or concern may be. We must allow principals and teachers the time, space, and professional independence to focus on the primary service of education. To equip young people with the skills and knowledge they need to successfully transition to further education, or training, or to enter the workforce as worthwhile, active, and responsible citizens.

I’m going to close by saying that our Government believes having quality teacher workforce is not only essential to a quality education system, but is essential to Australia’s successful economic transformation as a nation. Identifying and supporting Highly Accomplished Teachers like yourselves must be a priority if the status and value of the teaching profession is to be enhanced. I know that the Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher Network will look to drive improved outcomes for students, and you are leading the way in your profession through your participation. You are part of a network that will inspire, will mentor, and influence beginning teachers and the existing teacher workforce to improve practice and expertise.

As the Federal Minister, there are a number of important directions that we must take this network in. Ideally, Australia needs a consistent way for teachers to be recognised, rewarded, and remunerated for their skill, expertise, and professionalism. We need strong and effective links between the standards, teacher registration requirements, quality professional learning, performance appraisal, and career progression. Great teachers should be identified, supported to mentor other teachers, and remunerated accordingly. I would like to see all states join up to the HALT process, especially certification arrangements. At present, certification is only offered in the ACT, New South Wales, Northern Territory, South Australia, and some independent schools in WA. In a nation like Australia, we should be working and we certainly will as a Government be working to ensure everyone has access to this great program so that it can be further expanded so that more students can have access to the best that the teaching profession has to offer.

My own grandmother was a teacher, with whom I lived for a number of years when I was young. I cite her as one of my greatest influences in having that passion and interest in current affairs and public policy. And of course that is what led me ultimately to an interest in politics and to where I find myself today. I am passionate about the status of your profession. I know way back when Nan started out as a teacher it was one of the great, highly regarded professions. I believe it still is today. It certainly should be. And through this network I have great confidence that we can make sure that is a view widely shared across Australia.

Thanks so much for your participation and all the best for your deliberations.

[Audio skips]

Simon Birmingham: …simply saying when there’s a question at a holistic level of what makes a great teacher, but then there are other questions of what makes a great maths teacher versus what makes a great art teacher, and indeed, while some of the attributes will be the same, it won’t just be the skill knowledge that perhaps need to differ in those cases. some of those attributes will differ. Now we’ll start at least with the big picture of the common ground, but [indistinct] we can certainly see in time that there’s also a greater appreciation of the expertise required across different parts of the profession, as well.

Question: Many of us that support early career teachers recognise that quite often they’re not well prepared when they come into schools, and many of us recognise that it would be more ideal for them to have more experience in schools. And in our case, in my school, as with many schools across the country, that concern is expressed locally, and we’ve built relationships- we’ve actually taken ourselves into the executive of Newcastle University, and we have an arrangement where we have been- next year, next week in fact we’ve got a whole lot of first year students coming into the schools. So that’s at a grass roots level, that initiative, and I was wondering nationally what sort of pressure you could apply at a university sector- pressure and or funding to support universities to actually manage that, because they want to give their students more experience, but it’s just not happening.

Simon Birmingham: And look, I think that is a critical area. You look at- my wife’s an accountant. She graduated with an accounting degree, and then went on to become a certified accountant. But the process to become a certified accountant took place outside of the university. It was about learning from other professionals with experience in the profession; it occurred while she was in the workplace and did provide, in essence, a course that ultimate professional gear and professional experience before she then had a qualification that was more broadly recognised across her profession.

So I think in terms of graduates in an area like teaching that professional exposure to other teachers, to the practical classroom environment, is essential. Now TEMAG provides some recommendations that strengthen that to some extent, and certainly I’ve met already with the Deans of Education across our universities to talk about what I see as important there. They tell me that sometimes they have challenges in successfully placing students in schools, and so there’s obviously a marrying up process that we need to focus on there, but I really value the views of this organisation about what you think the ideal and optimal arrangements for [indistinct] teacher graduates are as to how they step into the profession.

And of course, we’re putting a real direction that we expect mentoring activities to be a key part of what we hope that elite teachers will undertake, and actually then saying that Government will- is the amount of time in the classroom with established teachers adequate through the initial Teacher Education Programme? Not just adequate in its totality, but adequate in terms of the duration of an individual lump sum. Would we be better off having perhaps fewer incursions but those that are of longer duration out of the university into the school environment and classrooms? Is there more that we should be doing in the first year out of university that provides a more structured professional year type operation before somebody has that full recognition as a registered teacher and is able to fly solo as such? So we aren’t wanting to put it all back on you, but knowing equally this is a part of what you’ll be discussing tomorrow, I want to emphasise that I see, I guess - having picked up this process close to the completion of the TMAG Report and whilst a lot of is underway, and now as a minister thinking okay well what comes next - that I’m very conscious of thinking about that practical component. Perhaps that also comes from having been the Minister responsible for Vocational Education and Training immediately coming into this role where of course there is a real expectation of workplace learning complimenting other structured learning.

I’ve got time for one more.

Unidentified Speaker: One more, yeah? Beautiful. Thank you.

Question: This is slightly off-topic, but I was wondering if you could comment on the funding disparity for South Australian Year 7 students.

[Laughter]

Question: It is an issue here in South Australia, and it does get bounced back and forth between Federal and State Governments about this issue, and I was wondering if you have a take or position on that.

Simon Birmingham: Sure. Thank you, and for those from the rest of the country…

[Laughter]

Simon Birmingham: …South Australia is the remaining jurisdiction that has not transitioned Year 7 into secondary school settings. And the funding arrangements as they apply, in terms of the way funding is structured under the Australian Education Act, that flows through to states and territories, is that we have base funding for primary school students and base funding for secondary school students, and that is determined on the basis of what a state defines them as. So we do have a situation where Year 7 students in South Australia effectively are being funded less than others. In recognition of the view behind that I guess is that in a secondary school setting, those Year 7 students are getting a more diverse teaching offering in terms of more expert teachers and theoretically the costs of delivery are more than the costs of delivery in a primary school setting.

That’s getting more complicated here in my home state, because the Lutheran sector has already moved their Year 7 students into a secondary school setting. The Catholic sector is talking about doing the same. The State Government is continuing to resist. But you can rest assured that many independent schools have already done the same or already operate in a R to 12 context anyway. [indistinct]. So you can be confident I guess, as the local minister, that I’m well aware of the problem, and that those who have shifted or are talking about shifting their students are knocking on my door saying well we are now incurring the additional costs of having those students embedded in a secondary school environment with more specialist teachers and some of those extra costs, so are you going to help us, given it’s primarily the State Government definition that holds us up. I’m looking at it. I don’t yet have a clear answer as to what the pathway through for me is, whether it requires legislative change or whether there are other [indistinct] that can be done, but I do understand that. And look, you’ve all been terribly polite…

[Laughter]

Simon Birmingham: …in terms of both hearing me out today and also the fact that that niche funding question was the only funding question.

[Laughter]

Simon Birmingham: There’s- I said terribly polite. I want to say my thing as I wrap up. I understand that funding does matter. Now I keep saying what people do with funding of course matters even more, and I stand by that. I don’t want to have a lengthy debate, not least because I’ve got a teleconference to join in a few minutes. But having had funding raised, there’s one point that I do want to emphasise, because there’s a fair degree of misinformation that sometimes is spread in that frustrating political debate I alluded to at the outset.

That is that from a Federal Government level, school funding is at record levels. It’s forecast to keep growing. No matter who is elected, it’s forecast to keep growing. Now I’m not going to mislead you: my political opponents are promising far greater rates of growth than we are necessarily promising. But I often hear discussion of cuts and I sometimes get questions from genuinely concerned teachers and school leaders saying we’ve had extra money flowing into our school in recent years, and we’re really worried that we won’t be able to keep doing those things under the cuts that are forecast. Well, the message I just want to emphasise is a point of reassurance, and you’ll all have your views about funding debates generally, but a point of reassurance is funding is promised to keep growing. If your school has managed to do different things and additional things in recent years, that’s the baseline off of which we’re growing, no matter who’s elected. So the opportunity to keep doing things won’t actually be removed from schools. Of course, happily, I’ve no doubt we’ll have other opportunities to debate what additional arguments there are, but I do just want to provide that reassurance, because each time I hear the word cuts, I know that there are those who fear that what they’re currently doing today is at risk, and that’s certainly not the case. That is not the case. It’s about the trajectory of growth into the future around school funding, rather than actually any sense of reduction. But on that slightly controversial and political note…

[Laughter]

Simon Birmingham: ...I do need to wrap up. So thank you all very much again for your attention and participation.

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