Opening remarks to the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG)
- Minister for Education and Training
Simon Birmingham: Thank you so much for your welcome, for those introductory remarks that were a very powerful call for continued action and continued implementation. Aunty Violet, if you’re still here, thank you for your welcome to country and acknowledgement of country. I too acknowledge the Ngambri and Ngunnawal people of the Canberra region and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and indeed all of Australia’s Indigenous people who we continue to learn so much of and from as a nation to build upon together. And Aunty Violet in your absence, good luck to the Swannies tomorrow night, and of course may it be their last win of the season in their facing of the mighty Adelaide Crows [Indistinct].
Apologies for starting a little late today, but John and Lisa and Greg and I had 20 minutes scheduled with the Prime Minister this morning to talk about TEMAG and the implementation of TEMAG; the importance of the reforms; how it’s going, what’s happening and the bigger pictures of teacher quality, school reforms, school improvement, and of course, student outcomes. And happily 20 minutes turned into 40 minutes and the Prime Minister demonstrating his interest and his curiosity about what’s happening, what’s working, and what else of course we need to do.
And I’m thrilled that so many of you have taken the time to be here today, to be able to participate in an important discussion of value adding, recommitting, and getting that sense of direction correct for the future around TEMAG. I’m going to reflect a little today on the progress that has been made, as you will in relation to TEMAG, and how we can make sure that we maintain that momentum for the future. There’s never been a more important time to ensure we implement real and lasting reforms to the way we educate our teachers. The challenges Australia faces in an increasingly competitive world are very real and the quality of our education and training system is essential to equip us to meet those challenges.
As you know, as a government we’ve sought to lock in new funding arrangements and to move the funding debate on, to accept that there’s record growing funding and to make sure that it works effectively for future but of course importantly, improving student performance in our schools if it simply came down to a question of how much money we were spending we probably wouldn’t be sitting here today. That would be an easy solution. The latest NAPLAN results delivered what over time is described as a mixed bag of results. Against other international measures we can again see that results are at best plateauing in some cases, in other instances declining and that competitiveness that I spoke of in terms of Australia’s place in the global economy which is essential to maintaining quality of life for all Australians in the future is also showing itself in terms of Australia’s place in an increasingly competitive educational landscape as other countries happily improve their performance but then challenge us to keep doing likewise.
These aren’t necessarily new trends and they’ve been like this for some time now. They’ve also been occurring at a time of record and growing investment. So yes, while funding is important - what we do with that funding, how we use it in our schools, how we ensure it helps to improve student performance across the board - is clearly just as important, if not more so. And teacher quality is a critical consideration, a primary consideration. The most important in-school factor in driving student performance, as you all appreciate. And that of course is why in 2014 we established TEMAG to seek practical advice about how beginning teachers can be prepared with the right mix of academic and practical skills needed for classroom success.
TEMAG delivered on this objective and I pay real credit [Indistinct] process. It identified a number of flaws in current initial teacher education which included disparity in the quality of programs across Australia; inconsistent edition standards, and a lack of confidence in the quality of graduates being produced. Because of the importance of teacher quality to student performance we not only accepted virtually all of TEMAG’s recommendations but have been thrilled to work with AITSL, with John, and more recently with Lisa, to ensure there’s a strict timeline for implementation. And we’ve been pleased that the states and territories have demonstrated their willingness to be partners on this journey because that partnership is crucial.
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity in the same day to speak with the Australian Council of Deans of Education and the Australasian Teacher Regulatory Authority. We discussed a great deal of positive movement towards realising the high levels of ambition set by the TEMAG advisory group and by education ministers across Australia on their implementation of TEMAG. Thanks in part to the commitment that many people here wearing many different hats from different education authorities, teacher training bodies, universities, parent and school bodies right across the country, we have given effective reforms, we are seeing their implementation and more underlying commitment to the teaching profession, to its credibility, to its expertise, to its standard in the Australian community, is evidence by that commitment to the work of TEMAG. And I thank all of you for doing so.
You know that graduate teachers need to have the skills and confidence to succeed in the classroom. They deserve that as much as the students who they are going to teach, because that would give them the confidence to succeed. That will empower them to believe they can make a difference. That will ensure that they feel they are getting satisfaction and success from the job, from the vocation that they’re undertaking. Students, parents, principals, of course all rightly want to know that teachers have the best possible skills and the strongest possible basis from which they can continue to grow and develop as professional teachers. Once again, that growth and development essential just not to the benefit of students but also the wellbeing and welfare of those teachers. The revised national accreditation processes reflect the high standards and expectations held for initial teacher education and are essential to ensuring that beginning teachers are classroom ready and equipped to make a real impact on the learning outcomes of our school students. I’m pleased that all states and territories are endeavouring to have all Initial Teacher Educations (ITE) programs submitted for accreditation against the strengthened accreditation standards by the end of 2017. This should mean – it must mean – that from next year ideally every student commencing initial teacher education training will benefit from a program that has been accredited under the new standards. That must be real. It must be fair dinkum. It must ensure those standards are truly being met and delivering high quality. The new elements that have been added on selection, graduate assessment and importantly demonstrating the evidence of impact to name a few, will together strengthen the preparation of NEW teachers and ensure they are ready to enter the classroom upon graduation.
Another key aspect of the reform agenda which has received a lot of interest recently is the role out of performance assessments for graduating teachers from 2018. These students will be tested on their classroom practices, and how they meet the graduate teachers’ standards that we have all worked together with AISTL to develop. TEMAG recommendations delivered outside the accreditation standards have also made great progress, but I’m pleased that all the education ministers have committed to the national initial teacher education and teacher workforce data strategy – a mouthful and we’ll just call it ‘the data strategy’.
The TEMAG report noted the need to build the evidence base around initial teacher education and the teaching workforce. What is the current step in your career? What are the differences between the states and territories? How can we accurately project and forecast future needs, challenges, opportunities, if we don’t really know what the existing baseline is? The National Data Strategy will build a national picture of the Australian teaching profession, linking data from initial teacher education through to the information about a teacher’s career, their pathway, their own personal trajectory. It will enable us to see the impact of TEMAG reforms in the future, and to know what more we need to do.
Supporting new teachers is a critical investment in the future teacher workforce, and it should be a priority for each and every school system, and each and every school. We know that there is a significant variance in the quality of induction offered between schools, as well as a difference between school leaders, and beginning teachers on just what makes a good induction. AITSL has published new national guidelines to better support the induction of new teachers, and we’re drawing on the expertise of our Highly Accomplished and Lead teachers (HALT), through technology, to support the induction of beginning teachers. But a challenge is clearly, again, to make sure that those teachers who have embraced the opportunities that AITSL has created, through the HALT program, for recognition of your professionals, of your expertise. The challenge is to ensure those teachers then feel valued, that that expertise is put to use, that there are opportunities created for them to provide that hand up to the rest of the profession and their colleagues.
I know it’s taken an enormous amount of time and effort to work through the detail of the reforms, and to flesh out how the TEMAG recommendations have been implemented in practice. John jokes to me that he loses more sleep over his job as chair of AITSL than he does over his day job. Probably rather I didn’t put that on the record, and perhaps we’ll strike that so your vice-chancellor doesn’t see it, but it’s a credit to all that over the last couple of years who have worked together to develop a strong, rigorous accreditation system that gives effect to the recommendations of TEMAG.
I’m confident these reforms will go a long way towards improving not only the preparation of teachers, but from that, the education of students. They will also complement broader school reform efforts and agenda that we have put in place, including – as I’ve mentioned – putting in place new, consistent school funding arrangements. By March 2018, David Gonski will now work with a panel of education experts - is now working with a panel of education experts to deliver the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian school. In its issues paper, released on Monday, one of the key areas of focus it’s rightly identified is, of course, teachers and school leadership, and how school leaders can most effectively and efficiently drive a whole of school continuous improvement agenda. It will be another piece in the puzzle to ensuring record funding is effectively used to improve student achievement and school performance. I encourage everyone to engage with that review process to ensure that your expertise, your understanding, your appreciation of what has happened and is happening is put through into that review process, and I know from discussions both with John and David, there will be very direct engagement between AITSL and the review panel, and ensuring that it is not about revisiting the recommendations of TEMAG, but absolutely building upon these other areas of opportunities.
Some elements of TEMAG are more challenging than others, of course, requiring significant changes to the way courses operate and how they’re assessed for accreditation. Demonstrating evidence of impact, primary specialisation and graduate teacher performance assessment is all new territory for Australian initial teacher education programs. We know it will take time for the system to mature and the full impact of TEMAG to be apparent, but even with all ITE programs accredited under nationally consistent standards from 2018, the first undergraduate students won’t be graduating and available for employment in our classrooms until around 2022. Nonetheless, it’s that type of long-term thinking from these reforms that will deliver the kind of teaching graduates who become outstanding school leavers, and inspire our students to reach new heights. It’s also a reminder that we cannot rest on our laurels.
Today, in speaking with AITSL and in previous discussions, we’ve agreed to work on a leadership development framework, so we can identify talent earlier, nurture it with professional development, clearly lay out the expectations of what it takes to be a best practice principal, and then follow through with induction and ongoing support. This includes the introduction of a pre-appointment principal certification check, as a part of this leadership framework. This process is about trying to enable aspiring leaders to demonstrate their expertise, experience and proficiency against the Australian professional standards principles, and to show that they are effective leaders who are ready to meet the challenge. Leadership in schools sits alongside teaching in classrooms as one of the essential attributes that we must continually work to improve, enhance, and create new opportunities for.
So, the challenge today is to continue to strive towards implementing the full intent of the reforms. For providers of initial teacher education, that means collecting comprehensive evidence on the impact of your programs, ensuring your graduates are classroom ready. It means the right students are being selected into ITE courses, and that those students are rigorously assessed throughout their degrees.
For regulators, it means assessing applications for accreditation rigorously, ensuring all decisions are based on a nationally consistent approach that realises the full intent of the accreditation standards.
For teacher employers, it means engaging with the providers of initial teacher education to ensure you are getting, they are getting the graduates that are needed for high quality, effective classroom-ready performance.
It’s important to continue the momentum of the last two years, as we start to enter the critical phase of implementation. When TEMAG was established – and as Trevor referenced this morning – there have been many previous reviews of teacher education. At least 100 is the figure that we’ve heard quoted; 103 being the precise figure that Trevor gave. None of us want another review. What we want to see are the TEMAG reforms fully implemented so that we can avoid this. Some of the key elements of those reforms will be discussed today. You’ll also be asked to consider a number of challenging questions. How can we ensure the accreditation system is rigorous, as is required in the accreditation standards? How can we achieve greater national consistency in our decisions around accreditation, and in doing so, maintain quality? How can we be confident that teacher graduates, regardless of where and how they study, are ready to enter the classroom and make a real difference, be impactful on the learning outcomes of students? How will our teacher education programs demonstrate that they are based on solid, best practice evidence of what teachers need to know to be effective, and how does all of this contribute to raising the status of the profession?
I’m incredibly reliant upon the people in this room for your expertise, your skills, knowledge and commitment, as are my state and territory colleagues, but more importantly, as are next generations of teachers and students. It’s a big task, a daunting task in some ways, but I thank you all for your commitment, your effort, your work, and I really look forward to hearing the outcomes from today that will help us to build on what is already a really strong framework legacy of implementation. Thanks so very much.