Review of university teaching courses: IEUA submission

The IEUA says the current review of university teaching courses focuses unproductively upon the deficiencies of initial teacher education (ITE) rather than understanding it as just one part of a “complex, dynamic education system”, Will Brodie writes.

The IEUA’s April submission to the Teacher Education Expert Panel (TEEP) states that education in the teaching profession is a “continuum” and there is a need for “ongoing support for teachers at every level of their career”.

The submission was in response to TEEP’s Discussion Paper on how teaching is taught at universities, released in March, which intended to focus on:

  • strengthening initial teacher education programs
  • drawing a stronger link between performance and funding of initial teacher education
  • improving practical teaching experience, and
  • enhancing postgraduate teacher education for mid-career entrants.

TEEP will deliver a final report to the Federal Government in June. Federal Education Minister Jason Clare set it up after discussions at the Teacher Workforce Shortage Roundtable in August 2022. That gathering was digesting the Quality Review of Initial Teacher Education, published in February 2022.

The IEUA submission says TEEP placed insufficient focus on how ITE interacts with schools and the wider education system and fails to recognise the “ongoing and significant professional and industrial issues” being experienced by schools and teachers.

IEUA Federal Secretary Brad Hayes said the discussion paper references important issues, but “these don’t exist in isolation from other factors contributing to current teacher shortages across the country”.

“Sending new teachers into classrooms to then immediately be overwhelmed by unsustainable workloads is decimating our next generation of teachers. Throughout the Panel’s period of consultation, the IEU has been highlighting the additional support measures needed by student teachers during their studies, practicum placements and initial teaching appointment.

“Quality teaching mentors are central to quality teacher education outcomes. School employers must do more to ensure such support is available in all school settings, and that meaningful workload reductions are provided to experienced teachers to support their mentor role.

“The Panel’s review must avoid quick fixes and knee jerk reactions that would send unprepared teachers into classrooms. Teacher education programs must be rigorous, comprehensive, practical and world’s best practice. Rushing teachers into classrooms before they are ready will only exacerbate teacher burnout.”

The IEUA called for the following appropriately funded reforms, with the provision of:

  • formal, structured, and well-resourced practical experienceplacements to all preservice teachers.
  • well-structured and well-resourced mentoring andinduction programs delivered by qualified and experienced teachers.
  • appropriately trained remunerated school based experienced teacher supervisors and mentors who have been provided with appropriate time-release
  • appropriate and ongoing support and release time forgraduate teachers as they commence their career to enable them to transition to higher levels of practice
  • resources and strategies which address the excessiveworkload for teachers in schools.

Professor Viv Ellis, Dean, Faculty of Education, Monash University supports the desire to improve the quality of teacher education but says retention of teachers is the most critical issue facing Australian education.

“To address that challenge, a longer-term strategy is needed that addresses working conditions for teachers, career structures and professional development, appropriate rather than punitive degrees of accountability, and salaries.

“School systems and school leaders must be confident that they are recruiting new teachers who will succeed within their systems and schools and provide effective teaching for children and young people. The notion of ‘classroom readiness’, however, is problematic if the systems and schools expect the quality of teaching from newly qualified teachers that they observe from their experienced classroom teaching staff.

“In Australia, for the most part, ITE educators’ research is in their specialist field, is high quality, and directly relevant to the student teachers they are preparing. Australian educational research – much of which comes from those involved in ITE – is internationally renowned. These research-active teacher educators bring their research findings to their classrooms as part of evidence-based research-led teaching.”

Professor Beryl Exley from Griffith University says the TEEP discussion paper’s four key areas are considered “in isolation from one another and without due regard for how they interrelate”. She agrees with the IEUA that the review misses “an appreciation of how initial teacher education degrees are one part of a teacher’s professional learning journey”.

“All the elements of reform are placed at risk when the sum of the parts doesn’t equal a whole.

“We need to have realistic expectations about what initial study can provide to graduate teachers. It can teach fundamental theories and provide professional experience, but teachers will need to keep adapting their skills and expanding their knowledge once they are in the classroom.

“What works in one context with one set of participants may be less effective in another context because of another set of underlying factors.

“This is why tailored induction programs and ongoing mentorship every time an early career teacher starts at a new school is crucial.

“Unfortunately, workplace induction programs are usually only offered to teachers in full-time permanent jobs, and rarely to the army of graduate teachers who change schools on a regular basis because they are working as temporary or contract staff.”

One of the key recommendations of the IEUA is to properly resource practicums, where students get practical experience in teaching.

A quality practicum component of ITE is crucial in the development of preservice teachers’ professional skills and therefore their confidence in response to different educational contexts.

Release time for mentors

Unfortunately, the workload involved in mentoring a preservice teacher far exceeds the time and resources currently allocated. The IEUA submission calls for mentors to be granted greater time release for supervising and assisting ITE students to ensure they can provide “reflective discussions” and the most useful feedback.

The issues with practicums are an example of how policymakers are missing the point on ITE.

“Schools are already burdened by excessive teacher workloads and teachers are not remunerated nor supported sufficiently to mentor and supervise ITE students,” the IEU says.

“Significant improvement in the coordination and quality of practicum experiences will not be resolved without the provision of time, funding and resources.

“At present, while universities receive a nominal amount of federal funding to resource the practicum component of ITE program, schools receive very little meaningful support and the workload impacts – and other needs of the school and its staff – are not taken into account when teaching practicums are arranged.

“Central to all school system and higher education agreements must be the guarantee that appropriately trained and remunerated teaching staff are provided with the necessary time release and funding to deliver the support ITE students require.”

The IEUA is also concerned about the fixation on publicly reporting teaching course data.

“There is rarely a situation in education where publicly available data has not been misrepresented or misinterpreted.

“The IEUA supports an increase to funding for mentoring structures in schools rather than a system of ‘reward funding’ to ‘high performing ITE programs’.

“Such a system would create ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ within a system and would fail to consider the needs of remote and regional placements.

“Funding would be better allocated to schools for the continued development of graduate teachers and meaningful high impact professional development of existing teachers.”

Sending new teachers into classrooms to then immediately be overwhelmed by unsustainable workloads is decimating our next generation of teachers.