Friday, August 3, 2012

NSW Government Makes a Positive Start on Reforming Teaching Quality

First steps on teaching standards AAP Image/Paul Miller
by Professor Jenny Gore, Professor and Head of School of Education at University of Newcastle, The Conversation:

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli’s discussion paper on teacher education, Great Teaching, Inspired Learning released earlier this week, could be seen as yet another review for a profession literally swamped with government reviews. But this paper has the potential to be different.

With it, I see a rare attempt to look at teaching quality in a coherent way. The media so far have jumped on the issues of minimum entry scores and subject prerequisites for those studying teaching at university - seeing it as a blueprint for how to lift teaching standards.

But the minister’s paper has been carefully structured as a series of questions designed to engage stakeholders. Read in its entirety, I don’t see a blueprint. I see commitments to quality and equity and proper support for teachers and school leaders. I see acknowledgement of the complexity of achieving these goals. And I see a genuine invitation to influence decisions about the future of education in NSW - an invitation I intend to accept.

First steps

One of the first positive signs about this paper, is where its authors have come from. They all play key roles in the three organisations that have the greatest potential to shape teachers’ work in schools - the Director-General of the NSW Department of Education and Communities, the Chief Executive of the NSW Institute of Teachers, and the President of the NSW Board of Studies.

This choice of authors alone can be seen as a unique demonstration of bringing together curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment, as well as attention to critical questions of teacher socialisation.

Moreover, the discussion paper looks at the whole career cycle for teachers and school leaders, not just pre-service education. It recognises that “great teaching and inspired learning” are unlikely to be achieved without examining and aligning initial teacher education, induction, ongoing professional learning and recognition for teachers and leaders.

The paper also strikes a good balance in several other areas: recognising excellent work in teaching and teacher education while acknowledging room for improvement; drawing on data while acknowledging time lags that weaken those data; citing evidence as a catalyst for lively debate while inviting input, including from educational researchers.

Time for more questions 

In its comprehensive range of questions posed, and a substantial time period for consultation (until November 5), there is an opportunity for serious input, including fruitful conversations about the selection and interpretation of data. Through this process there’s an opportunity for questioning many of the assumptions around teacher education and professional development.

For example, the paper presents an opportunity to take a look at the view that universities have increased numbers of teacher education students since the Bradley reforms - an assumption made in some media reports. But my understanding is that the percentage of education students in universities is less in 2011 (9.3%) than it was in 2008 (9.4%) (DEEWR).

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