Release type: Speech


Address to the Teaching Australia and BCA Symposium

Teaching Australia and BCA Symposium Canberra

Thank you very much Fran.

And thanks also to Teaching Australia and the Business Council for providing this opportunity to participate in this important symposium.

The Rudd Government is committed to improving the quality of schooling right across Australia. Teachers and school leaders are right at the centre of achieving that improvement in quality.

The Rudd Government is decisively moving away from the division and neglect created by the previous Liberal government’s policies. We are building a framework for collaborative reform which will enable truly long term progress.

This means implementing our election commitments effectively and consistently. And it means building a new era of quality and reform.

One example is the National Curriculum, where an interim Board is developing a new curriculum framework in an open and consultative way, with subject experts and teachers directly engaged in the process.

Another is our agreement at COAG on October 2nd to create a new national education authority combining curriculum, assessment and reporting functions at a national level, with the full participation of State Governments and non-government school systems.

Through COAG we have also agreed that all governments will share responsibility for educational outcomes across Australia and we have set challenging national targets and reform directions.

Many of these directions will be made more explicit through the National Education Agreement, which will be completed by the end of this year.

In that agreement will be two specific National Partnerships that I want to emphasise today – governments working together with other stakeholders in two areas of priority reform. The first is a National Partnership on Teacher Quality.

The second is a National Partnership to raise achievement in disadvantaged school communities.

Quality of Teaching

Raising teacher quality will only be achieved through collaboration: a combined effort by governments, professional associations, principals and teachers and school communities working together. But just as it requires collaboration to go forward, it also involves setting challenging new expectations and finding new ways to deliver.

Bringing together key stakeholders in the way that you have today is an important part of the process.

Let me particularly welcome Dr Joseph Aguerrebere from the US National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Improving our schools means learning from what works elsewhere and I am keen to hear the lessons from the Board’s twenty years of experience.

I would like to see, in Australia, a new framework emerging for the accreditation and assessment of accomplished or leading teachers which supports the aspiration to higher impact and performance among many of our best teachers and encourages rigorous shared evaluation of that performance.

One lesson from the development of such standards might be that, to have a positive impact, they must be grounded in the sense of vocation and the inherent motivation and vocational identity that so many teachers bring to their work.

I gather that in the US, the National Board’s process of developing standards in different specialist areas began with five core propositions, that:

  • Teachers are committed to students and their learning;
  • Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students;
  • Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning;
  • Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience; and
  • Teachers are members of learning communities

These strike me as highly appropriate. In fact, I cannot imagine any committed educator who would not agree with them in principle.

The challenge, as we all know, is to translate those principles into practice in so that they are systematically applied for every child, in every school, in every community. We know that from school to school, teacher to teacher, the quality of practice and the level of consistency given to supporting and improving it varies far too much.

All of us here understand the proposition: the better the teachers, the better the education system.

In these situations I’m always reminded of the saying that if you ask a room full of people who won the footy grand final three years ago half the people in the room will not remember - more than half if one of them happens to be Malcolm Turnbull - but if you ask them to name a great teacher from their own schooling, of course everyone will remember.

Our intuitive knowledge of this has been confirmed by by the landmark McKinsey study of high performing education systems.

Most notably, it found that students placed with high performing teachers will progress three times as fast as those placed with low performing teachers.

Of course we know that there are other factors that make a difference.Too many people in the past may have underestimated the importance of the social factors a child brings to school in influencing their educational performance.

But few would argue with the proposition that of all the in-school variables affecting student performance, teacher quality is the most important.

Recent research from our Treasury Department by Andrew Leigh and Hector Thompson confirms this using recent data from West Australian schools. They conclude that socioeconomic factors combined do have a powerful influence on student outcomes in literacy and numeracy. And they show that there are other, systematic differences between schools which are not explained by socioeconomic factors.

Using like school comparisons, that is comparing schools with similar socioeconomic intakes and circumstances, the difference made by the quality of schooling is highly significant – something like the difference between 84 per cent of students in a school reaching the minimum standard for literacy and numeracy and 99 per cent of students doing so. That is a difference worth striving for.

Our approach to reform is to address the most important factors within school at the same time as working together to address those around the school.We know that Australia has many excellent schools, teachers and school leaders. The 2006 PISA results showed the average performance of Australian 15 year olds continues to be significantly better than the OECD average.


  • In the period between 2003 and 2006, Australia declined in both absolute and relative performance in reading literacy;
  • Reading performance of Australia students at the high end of the achievement scale declined between 2003 and 2006; and
  • Importantly we have too long a ‘tail’ of underperformance concentrated among students from low socio-economic families and Indigenous students.

I don’t think we can rest as educators until we have improved performance and reduced the length of that tail.

To improve school performance I believe we need to do four things:

  1. We need to get the right people to become teachers;
  2. We need to develop them into effective and inspiring educators;
  3. We need to lift the standards of teaching for all students and target excellent teaching at those students who need it the most, particularly those from the most disadvantaged communities; and
  4. We need to ensure that school leadership, facilities and curriculum enable us to do all of the above to an unsurpassed level of excellence.

What I want to do as Minister for Education is explore the best ways to set the necessary standards and promote the reforms that will help us achieve them.

To do this, our National Partnership for Teacher Quality will seek to facilitate reforms that put more teachers on a path to recognised excellence.

This means addressing the recruitment and initial training of teachers, at their deployment and development in schools, at the quality of their learning and professional development, at the standards of performance and leadership that are expected of them and at the pathways into the profession.

In relation to teacher education courses, there is already a national process under way to enhance pre-service teacher education, including rigorous standards for the accreditation of teacher education courses.We want to attract a broader range of talented people into teaching, be they mid-career professionals or our brightest university graduates across a range of disciplines. And we want to motivate our best serving teachers to continue in striving for excellence.

We want them in the schools where they can make the most difference.

Recognising the contribution and expertise of advanced or accomplished teachers is an essential part of this overall mix.

The role of the Commonwealth is to work with all our partners to ensure the standards are right and the processes for assessing and improving teacher quality are challenging, motivating and effective.

There have been many excellent interventions in the debate and some good progress in some jurisdictions.

In broad terms, both the Business Council’s and the AEU’s proposals for a rigorous national accreditation system are consistent with the approach currently being examined by COAG and MCEETYA.

If we are going to succeed in renewing the teaching profession and raising public confidence in our schools, we need the constructive engagement of all the major stakeholders. We all stand to gain from getting it right.

I recognise that many of our teachers and principals are doing wonderful work in our schools and it is time to give them greater support. I want to modernise our schools and our teaching profession to give them new life, strength and relevance to the 21st century. Nothing more, nothing less.

And that’s why we need new levels of transparency and openness. Not so we can target people but so we can see where improvements are needed and determine whether our reforms are succeeding or failing.

We are working on proposals for a new era of transparency so that parents, teachers and the community can understand school performance in proper context.

The same logic applies to identifying and recognising excellent teachers. The process of developing standards and then supporting teachers to be assessed against them is a crucial opportunity to create better understanding of what is involved in really effective teaching.

I am also struck by the apparent lesson from the US National Board’s experience in the US that an intense, rigorous assessment which includes a strong element of performance-based practice is a vital part of the overall process.

Having the tools to examine your own performance in this way, going through the preparation and assessment process with other professionals who you can work with and knowing that you are managing your own career development against challenging, publicly verified standards, seem to me to be essential features of any system that we might adopt.

The challenge is to show how these features can be integrated into a system of accreditation that is open and flexible and can be successfully implemented in our diverse systems and jurisdictions.

So I welcome your discussion and the work that Teaching Australia and other partners have been doing in this field for some time.

I welcome Joseph and thank him again for his contribution.

And I look forward to seeing feedback from today as part of our ongoing national effort to develop and deliver an Education Revolution in Australia.

Thank you