After a month examining four big themes in education, this weekend we resume our regular EduWeek updates. If you missed our Summer Series you can still find our analysis of the state of play in teacher quality, school autonomy, parent engagement and school curriculum online.
This week’s education news was dominated by the release of four reports:
- The Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers report;
- The Productivity Commission’s 2015 Report on Government Services;
- The 2015 Closing the Gap report; &
- The Victorian Auditor-General’s Additional School Costs for Families report
Teacher training reboot
The long awaited Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) report was made public yesterday, after having been received by Education Minister Christopher Pyne in December 2014. The report was commissioned early last year to examine the quality of instruction and preparation in teacher training courses, a key focus of the Australian Government’s Students First policy.
The report found a high degree of variability in the quality of teacher training programs, as well as a lack of documentation in the evidence base of content taught, and poor alignment with the practical demands of classroom teaching. Other concerns raised included the adequacy of classroom exposure throughout teacher training programs, and inadequate application of national standards in the assessment of pre-service teachers.
TEMAG made 38 recommendations to the Australian Government, the standout items being:
- A more robust accreditation process for universities offering teaching degrees that requires evidence to be submitted of both the evidence basis for taught content and an integrated practical training (placement at a school) component.
- Content specialisations mandated for primary school teacher training, with maths, science and languages prioritised
- National testing of new teachers to ensure they fall within the top 30% of scores in both numeracy and literacy
- Adopting a national approach to teacher training research and workforce planning, including the collection of a fuller range of data relating to teacher training
Notably absent from the report’s recommendations were calls for a floor Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) score to be imposed. When Australian Catholic University (ACU) Vice-Chancellor Greg Craven was appointed to head the review, several were critical of the decision on the basis of ACU’s practice of admitting low-ATAR students into teaching programs. On Friday AEU federal President Correna Haythorpe reiterated this concern, saying that TEMAG had failed to act in this area: “An ATAR score is not the only thing that makes a good teacher, but we need to recognise that a teacher’s academic ability is important, and that we need some minimum requirements.” In a rare moment of unity with the AEU, the Centre for Independent Studies’ Jennifer Buckingham also raised this issue as a missed opportunity for reform.
The Australian Government accepted most of the report’s recommendations and has tasked the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) with implementing many of them.
Public-Private divide under the spotlight
Released last Friday, the 2015 Productivity Commission Report on Government Services examined data on student outcomes in attendance, NAPLAN and other measures, as well as detailing school funding changes from 2004. The resulting media coverage focused chiefly on the drift of students to non-government schools and the high variation in school funding across states and territories. Nationally, government and non-government schools saw a 3.6% and 6.8% increase in respective enrolments over 2009-13. Much of this difference appears to be fuelled by an increasing preference for privately provided secondary education, which four in ten Australian students opted for in 2013 (in primary years only three in ten did so). Education commentators were mostly of the opinion that much of this growth took place in the low-to-moderate fee school segment, with low fee Catholic, Anglican and Islamic schools experiencing the biggest enrolment gains.
Also discussed was the disproportionate growth in non-government school funding. In the four years to June 2013 real spending (after removing the effect of inflation) per student from both federal and state sources grew by 1% in government schools, and 3.7% in non-government schools. Variation in funding was also noticeable across jurisdictions, with per student funding found to vary by over $10,000 between some states and territories.
Not a shrinking gap
The 2015 Closing the Gap report brought little good news. Education wise, the goal of achieving 95% early childhood education access in remote Indigenous communities was not met (85% had access) and no progress was made in narrowing the divide in reading, writing and numeracy levels between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. In an effort to improve academic results, particularly in reading, the Australian Government has expanded the use of Direct Instruction teaching methods in remote Indigenous schools, with over 300 educators trained in the approach across WA and the NT. Some progress was made on narrowing the divide in year 12 completion.
Victoria: highest parent contributions in the Federation
On Wednesday the Victorian Auditor-General’s office released a report into additional school contributions asked of government school parents, finding they have risen by $70 million since 2009. Averaging $588 per student, Victoria now has the highest parent contribution rate in the Federation. The growth of parent contribution payments was condemned by Victorian Council of Social Services CEO Emma King, who said the payments were regressive and discouraged school participation in low-income households.