A university for teachers

A university for teachers

Minister Jason Clare has just announced plans for wide reviewing of education sectors in Australia and there will be an inevitable (almost customary) time-lag between the fervour of a new government announcing its potential reforms, reviewing the sectors in question, and determining how reforms might be enabled. Nothing to see here – not as yet.

And for those teachers already serving in the poorest schools Clare seeks to improve, don’t expect to hear the bugle calls of the cavalry arriving to rescue you anytime soon. To date, little has been proposed to make immediate, significant differences to the classroom realities of today’s schools. The National Teacher Workforce Plan, HECS reductions for teachers going to remote areas and scholarships to attract new ‘high quality’ students to teaching are all far off potentials. Too little too late for those many teachers currently leaving the profession after only a few years in the classroom – and the recently announced revised NAPLAN reporting approaches isn’t likely to dent that trend either.

Minister Clare’s proposed reviews swiftly follow former minister Tudge’s QITER (Quality of Initial teacher Education Review). QITER makes a number of linkages with approaches used in Finland’s education system which have been a cause célèbre since the OECD’s PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) ranking report over two decades ago. But what if anything (other than the expense of the review) has materialised since QITER?

Bandwagon rankings

And since Finland was ranked as ‘outstanding’, Australia, America and the UK (possessing significantly lower PISA scores) have been seen as lagging behind – and their schools and teachers have correspondingly been negatively critiqued.

Academics and education administrators around the world have jumped on the bandwagon and have trooped to Finland’s high performing schools to borrow whatever magic they seemed to possess. Some Finnish educators and administrators have even made careers out of internationally extolling the virtues of the ‘Finnish Way’, but whatever has been derived from decades of such interactions little (if anything) has actually changed in the education systems of other countries.

Effectively, the continued dialogue surrounding Finnish schooling and how Finland has achieved high results has (we argue) helped industrialise and reinforce the negative critiquing of vastly different schooling systems and their teachers through ranking metrics.

Some of the major differences between Finland’s well deserved high PISA ranking and Australia’s outputs are obviously demographic, situational and cultural in nature. Some are even referred to in QITER – such as recommending lower levels of administrative burden for teachers. But other differences in Finland such as most teachers possessing postgraduate qualifications and receiving the same social status as lawyers or doctors or making it illegal for education to be a for profit enterprise – might not be that easy to achieve here.

And with the constant public narratives around PISA rankings, ‘teacher quality’ and attracting only ‘top performing students to teaching’ the negative inference unjustly remains one of vilification for the quality of our existing teachers. And thus far, as Australia faces an unprecedented youth crime wave often involving school aged children – little has been said on behalf of the schools and teachers who have been trying to educate these very disaffected youngsters? So, it is hardly surprising that people are losing interest in teaching as a career.

Teacher education misplaced

QITER did, nonetheless, make an important recommendation concerning transparency around the competencies (school experience and school currency) of teacher educators employed in universities.

But will this new review go even further and question whether teacher education is best situated in university settings?

Arguably, universities and their emphasis on entry scores (ATARS) and ranking metrics have done very little to improve teacher identity and teaching’s professional status in recent decades.

Time for change?

Is it time to end pushing the responsibility of providing teacher education onto our corporate focussed universities and establish a government funded, profession dedicated – National University of Teacher Education – with campuses across all states/territories?





Emeritus Professor Jim Mienczakowski is a former schoolteacher, Dean of a Faculty of Education, DVC and VC of a Teacher Education University. He is currently a Higher Education Consultant.

Emeritus Professor Greg Whateley is a former schoolteacher, Teacher Educator and Director of CQ Conservatorium of Music. He is currently DVC of UBSS and Vice President (Academic) at GCA.