Release type: Transcript


Press Conference – Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group final report


The Hon Christopher Pyne MP
Minister for Education and Training
Leader of the House

SUBJECTS: Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group final report.  

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Well good morning ladies and gentleman and thank you for coming up to this press conference to talk about the report that I am releasing today.

I’m here with Professor Greg Craven, who is the vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University. He and his group of reviewers have done a terrific job and have come up with a report called Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers.

The Government has also today released a response to the report. We’ve obviously been working on this report since late last year when we received it and we believe that the response and the report sets up the possibility of high quality teacher training at universities and other institutions that do teaching courses right into the future.

You will notice in the response that the Government is doing things it can do immediately. So the response is a beefed up AITSL and TEQSA accreditation process. AITSL the Australian Institute of Teacher Standards and Leadership and TEQSA is the national university regulator.

They already have the power to accredit courses and what we are going to ask AITSL to do and the head of AITSL is Professor John Hattie who is a very world-renowned educator, and generally shares the philosophy of the Commonwealth Government about teacher training and independent public schooling and so forth, and engagement of parents.

We’re going to ask them to re-accredit effectively, all the teaching training institutions across the 48 different institutions that exist now. All institutions will receive a provisional accreditation, but they will need to prove that their courses are evidence-based, that they have a practical experience early in the teacher training, potentially from first year, right through; that that practical experience involves mentoring by experienced teachers and teachers who have had recent experience in the classroom – not very ancient experience in the classroom; that a literacy and numeracy test will be introduced, which AITSL will advise the universities on,  that all graduates will have to do before they are allowed to graduate from teacher training courses and that will begin for the first time in 2016.

There will be a rigorous selection process that won’t just rely on ATAR scores, but will be more sophisticated than that, because there are a number of different kinds of personalities that can be great teachers, regardless of ATAR scores. And ATAR scores, which many people don’t understand, are only used for about 50 per cent of entrants to university right now, so we are not just going to rely on the ATAR scores.

And, finally, we are going to require that primary school teachers have a specialisation in a subject; a science subject, a mathematics subject, or a language before they are allowed to graduate. If the universities do not fulfil those requirements that AITSL and TEQSA will set out, then they will not be accredited to graduate students. So it is a firm and decisive response. We are not going to be woolly around the edges and say these are where we’d like universities to end up, that we are going to give them several years to get up to standard. We are going to go through the accreditation process. If they don’t agree to these changes, they will not be accredited and those courses will have to close.

I’d like thank the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group for the good work that they have done. This is one of the four pillars of the Government’s school education agenda, built around independent public schooling or more autonomy in schools, the review of the national curriculum, which we’ve now delivered and are working with the states and territories on, more parental engagement, and finally, of course, teacher training.

The OECD found that Australia, of all countries in the OECD, was the one where teacher quality had the most important impact on the outcomes for students. It found that in eight out of every 10 reasons why a student did well or badly, it was because of teacher quality.

One out of 10 was their socio-economic status and the other one was all other factors. So getting teacher training right in Australia is the most important thing we can do to ensure good student outcomes for our children and schools.

I’m going to ask Professor Craven to talk a little bit about what the review found, rather than the Government’s response. But I’m sure he and I will both be happy to answer questions. Greg.

PROFESSOR CRAVEN:   Thank you. In summary, I think it’s fair to say this is probably the toughest report on teacher education that’s ever come down in this country. You can see that from what the minister said, because the truth is if universities or providers do not measure up then they will be measured out. That’s the first time that that’s ever happened.

There are two fundamental issues which really run through the report. One is you have to have strong national standards, strongly applied. And the second is that you have to make sure that there is an integration between theory and practice; being taught how to teach, and then actually standing up in front of kids and teaching them.

The challenge we’ve got in Australia goes to both of those things. We do have strong national standards but they are not strongly enough applied by the accrediting authorities.

The group could not find a single example where a university or other body that wanted to get an education degree registered didn’t ultimately get that registered. And a test that everybody passes is not going to be a test. So the minister is absolutely right. The universities are going to fess up. They are going to have to show that on the basis of evidence that their programmes are world-class.

The second thing, of course, is that you have to work on what we found to be the principle everybody agreed on as the way to go with teacher education: that it’s not just a matter of theory, it’s not just a matter of practice – you have to put the two together. And the whole of that report breathes requiring universities to work with schools and to work with systems to make sure that their students are, in the phrase of the report, classroom-ready. Not just that they know how to teach, but that they can stand up and teach.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Any questions?

JOURNALIST:         Can I first pick up on that point that you just made about universities working with schools. They argue they’re doing that already, how do you monitor change?

PROFESSOR CRAVEN:   Well can I give you an example of poor practice we've found that I think is seriously frightening and has to be addressed? At the moment the fundamental capacity of the student to get practical experience is to do their practicum – to go out on duty with a school and work with students. Some universities, many universities invest vast amounts of money and they have back room operations that organise it. They guarantee their teachers quality practicums. Some universities guarantee their students no practicums. They give them the mobile phone numbers for the teacher coordinators and they say go out and do a dial-a-prac. Ring up and try and see if you can get one. That is completely unacceptable. And one of the things that the report makes clear is that every university is going to have to guarantee a quality practicum experience. That's a highly cogent example. This is not a furphy. This is not a theoretical question. This is a practical issue about teaching that we should be worrying about – the quality of that practical experience.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     And I can just add to that perhaps, and you would know, that we already fund the universities $1200 per student to do practicum. So, if that is the quality of the practicum that's been suggested in some universities that $1200 of taxpayers money is not being properly spent. There are also other examples of where a large amount of that $1200 is being used in administrative expenses by the universities. Now it's supposed to be paid to the schools by the universities, working with the universities and the schools, so that the schools don't feel that they're losing money by having the graduate teachers. Now we don't want the schools not wanting the graduate – the trainee teachers coming into their schools. We want them to come in. So therefore, they need to use that money for what it was intended, not as a propping up of their budgets. Sorry.

JOURNALIST:         How many of the universities didn’t have an acceptable practicum?

PROFESSOR CRAVEN:   Look it's not something that you quantify on the basis of a university or indeed universities have large numbers of courses. What the review found was that there were significant numbers of universities that have absolutely excellent programmes, excellent integration of practicum and theory. There were some that were good. There were some that were fair and there were some that are distinctly sub-standard. Now when I say that this is the toughest report on teacher education, what I mean is that at the meetings of the Ministerial Advisory Group, the view was some education entities would have trouble living up to what would be required. And that was just fine with us. It's either going to be quality, or it shouldn't happen.

JOURNALIST:         How long will universities have to shape up? Is there a time frame for AITSL to carry out its accreditation process?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Well AITSL already has a lot of the standards in place – a lot of the graduate standards that have been expected. It's just that they haven't been applied. I have put money aside for AITSL for this year to respond to the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group. I've given them an extra two and a half million dollars to be able to respond to this. The cost, there won't be a high cost factor of course because we're not asking the universities to create new buildings or institutions, we're just asking them to meet the standards that AITSL will require of them. In terms of the time and timing of it we want the first tests for literacy and numeracy for budding graduates to be in 2016, so that will be developed this year. I think most of the changes will occur this year or in 2016. I can't see any that would not be done by the end of 2016.

JOURNALIST:         It's been suggested by some educators or college of educators that there should be entry numeracy and literacy tests, not exit numeracy or literacy tests. Was that something that was considered in the report? I think that's something at the start given that there's been no, I guess, change or addressing of the ATAR for a variety of reasons as you mentioned.

PROFESSOR CRAVEN:   Look the Minister gave the Advisory Group an absolutely full brief, so we were able to consider anything and we did consider everything. If you look at what the report does about literacy and numeracy, as the minister says, people are going to be tested on literacy and numeracy. There's not a lot of point in testing them on literacy and numeracy as they go in except as a diagnostic to see what they need. The crucial question is how they come out. But there's a whole lot of other things in there. This will be the first report, or proposal that will not only require teachers to be literate and numerate, it will require them to be trained in the teaching of literacy and numeracy, which is a whole new bar. It's a report and a set of proposals that is going to require teachers in schools where students do practicums to be engaged in the marking of those students on their capacity in teaching and in things like literacy and numeracy. It's a proposal where you're going to have every teacher come out not only with an education degree but with a portfolio of evidence showing that they can teach. Now when you compare a reasoned policy sequence like that with a tangential debate over here about the mathematics of ATARs, this is actually programmed to work.

JOURNALIST:         Do you expect that any unis or courses will close as a result of this report?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     It's quite possible. It's possible. There are 48 teaching institutions in Australia. There's $600 million of Commonwealth spending each year going into the training of teachers. If the courses don't measure up to AITSL and TEQSA's standards they will not be accredited. If they're not accredited they will close. So there is a major incentive for universities, vice-chancellors and deans of education to get this right. One of the things that Professor Craven talked about was learning how to teach literacy and numeracy. So therefore phonics is going to be a major part of training for teachers at university. One of the reasons I thought there was a need for this report and a Government response, was having been the shadow minister for several years, about five years, each survey, whether it was young people choosing teaching, graduates coming out of university, or principals who were employing teachers, they all found the same thing. And that was that young graduates did not feel that they were ready for the classroom. They felt they were thrust into the classroom without adequate training about how to teach.

I spoke to one young woman who had been doing her teaching degree at a particularly good university in fact in Australia, and she was shocked that when she left university she’d never been taught how to teach primary school kids to read – how to teach them to read. So there has been a gaping need for practical approaches and this report gives us the evidence that we need to ensure that there is accreditation of courses based on evidence, that they will produce classroom-ready teachers. If they can’t do so it would be wrong of us to allow them to graduate students into the teaching profession who were not ready to teach.

JOURNALIST:         Minister, it seems pretty scandalous that teachers can come out who don’t know how to teach basic literacy and numeracy, right?


JOURNALIST:         And now how – given that the panel recommended a new kind of regulator to oversee this whole thing, how confident are you in the current institutions of TEQSA and AITSL that they’ll be able to kind of get their act together and boot out the laggards?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     I’m very confident because we’ve given TEQSA a whole new approach since I became the education minister 16 months ago. I think they have a, I have removed from TEQSA some of the, I would regard as distractions, some of the more thematic work that they were doing and I got them focussing on accrediting courses and institutions. So we’ve set up TEQSA in a way that I think it’s a much leaner operation that has a real focus on accreditation. On the AITSL side they’ve done great work for a long time AITSL. The states and territories and the Commonwealth all work with AITSL, they’ve all agreed to the teacher standards going back several years, we have a new chairman in John Hattie who followed a very good chairman, and AITSL has already put in place many of the standards that are necessary. It’s just that those standards have not been implemented at the university level. So we’re not going to allow graduates to come out of university who would not meet the standards of a graduate teacher according to AITSL. So a lot of the work is in place. Now we just need to make sure that it is being implemented at the university level.

JOURNALIST:         Is any of this going to require any legislative change [inaudible]?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     No. No legislative change so I don’t need to ask the Senate for their support.

JOURNALIST:         The education union is upset that there’s not going to be a minimum requirement for ATAR – do you think that there’s any flexibility on changing your stand?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     No. The idea that a minimum ATAR will solve all problems is a myth. There are a number of excellent teachers in waiting or in the system right now, who might not have achieved a high ATAR but are excellent teachers. And with the Government’s commitment to expanding the Pathways Programmes, by making that a demand-driven system through our higher education reforms, we’ve created – we would create – more opportunity for first-time university goers, first-in-family university goers, for mature age students who want to be re-skilled, for students with not necessarily high ATAR scores but with the right attitude to teaching, to get an opportunity to be teachers and change the lives of young people.

The reason why a literacy and numeracy test on entry isn’t as important as a literacy and numeracy test on exit is because over those three or four years of training, deficiencies identified in first year can be addressed by good university courses. So I’m not going to get caught up with the shiny bauble of ATAR scores when that is not actually the most important thing in enrolling students in teaching courses. Now it would be easier to just say “let’s have a minimum ATAR” and then there would be thousands of young people, mature age students and others into the years ahead who would not get the chance to do the thing, the vocation that they should be doing, because they’d be really great at it.

JOURNALIST:         And with this accreditation process with the universities do you foresee that there’ll be less people being qualified as teachers [inaudible]?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     It’s quite possible. It’s possible that’ll be the case. I mean, I don’t think there’s been any modelling done on that but it’s possible that would be the case and if that’s what happens then I don’t think that would be a particular problem. There are, it’s not exactly like there’s a lack of teachers wanting jobs. One of the review recommendations is that we do need to have workforce data as part of the Government’s response to show where we do need teachers. That’s one of the reasons why they’ve said we need to have a specialisation in subjects in science, mathematics and languages, because one of the issues is that there are many generalists in primary school teachers being graduated, but not nearly enough specialists. So the Government is also trying to address its desire to have more STEM being part of our education system by requiring specialisations in science and mathematics and languages.

The last question, perhaps.

JOURNALIST:         Are you confident – if there’s a lot of opposition to these reforms from let’s say the unions the educational institutions – are you confident in your ability as minister to execute them and are you confident that you will get the backing of the Government – the rest of the Government if it becomes unpopular – to stay the course?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     I don’t think this will be unpopular at all. I think these reforms will be popular with parents, they’ll be popular with students who will know, if they are going to an accredited course, that it meets certain standards and therefore when they exit, they’ll be exiting with the skills and the training, the theory and the practical knowledge that they need to be good teachers. I think it will be popular with them. I think it will be popular with people who put down teaching as a preference when they’re leaving Year 12 because they’ll know that they are, that whatever course they do will have been properly accredited as a high standard course. I think parents will be pleased that their students, their children are being taught be accredited graduates who’ve come out of these much better courses. I can’t see any state and territory government that will be opposed to it. The review spent a lot of time – I think it was 175 submissions – 48 one-to-one, face-to-face meetings with organisations, individuals and groups. The Deans of Education are supportive of the review recommendations. There has been for a long time a view that there needed to be an overhaul of teacher training, and I don’t know any organisation or group that will oppose the Government’s response. Even the union I believe – well I know, having spoken to Angelo Gavrielatos many times about this matter – don’t believe that the training  of teachers, as it’s being done right now in Australia, should be not changed. They simply have a view about ATAR scores. And some states and territories, if they want to implement minimum ATAR scores for who they employ in their government schools, that’s a matter for them. I’m not going to try and control that. So I don’t think there will be a negative reaction to this review or this response at all. I don’t think anybody will be against better trained teachers.
JOURNALIST:         Can I just quickly ask Professor Craven, how does your university measure up with I guess what you put in the report…would you pass the accreditation process?

PROFESSOR CRAVEN:   I certainly hope so. Suicide is never an attractive option. Look, I think one of the points that comes out of what the minister says is universities themselves are going to support this, particularly good universities, and my university’s been teaching teachers since Mary McKillop founded the teaching colleges on which it’s based. It’s absolutely in the interests of universities to have absolutely high quality assurance. So I’m pretty confident of my own university, but I think the minister’s right, you’ll either shape up or you’ll ship out.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Any teaching college founded by a saint must be doing well.

PROFESSOR CRAVEN:   …and continued by one.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Indeed. Thank you very much.