The issue of teacher quality has taken on more and more importance in recent years, not because I believe there is a crisis in teacher quality in the ACT; rather, it is because the evidence continues to show very strongly the positive impact a highly capable, quality professional teacher has on student outcomes.
This, no doubt, is not a surprise to many of us. I am sure none of us believed that the teacher in front of the classroom was a benign force. However, what has struck me, particularly since my own children started primary school, is the level of impact a high quality teacher has on their students.
The research has shown that a teacher is the largest in-school factor that contributes to a student’s outcomes. It has been shown that having a good teacher, as opposed to an average one, for five consecutive years is enough to close the performance gap between students of low SES and their more advantaged peers.
Similarly, it is perhaps more important to note that while high quality teachers improve student results, the reverse is also true. Poor quality teaching has a net negative impact in student achievement.
We as leaders in our community must ensure that in front of every class across the ACT is a capable, well qualified and supported teacher. To achieve this we cannot simply rely on chance. A good teacher is not something that simply emerges from the ether.
For too long I think that as a society we have just assumed good teaching simply happens. However, we must aim to ensure that we have good teachers by design. We must ensure that we have in place the systems and policies that support prospective teachers through their initial education and then, again, mentor and guide them through the first phases of their career.
Dr Ben Jensen, previously of the Grattan Institute, now CEO of Learning First, noted that there are four key strategies needed to lift the quality of the teaching profession. These are improving the quality of those seeking to enter the teaching profession; lifting the quality of the education and training received through initial education courses; continuing to develop the professional skills of teachers once employed in schools; and promoting, recognising and retaining effective teachers while seeking to remove ineffective teachers.
I am pleased, therefore, to hear from the minister about the leadership shown by the ACT towards the systemic improvement of teachers.
In particular, I would like to congratulate the government for the establishment of the Teacher Quality Institute in 2011. As Minister Burch noted, since its establishment the TQI has worked very hard across all sectors—public, Catholic and independent—to promote the role and expectations of teachers as a profession.
The TQI has not only worked as regulator of the teaching profession but also worked hard to promote the understanding and acceptance of the Australian professional standards for teachers. I was very pleased to hear from the minister that these standards had been formally incorporated into TQI regulations. Again, as the minister illustrated, these standards provide quite clear guidance on the types of knowledge that a teacher should have at every stage of their career.
They provide four clear teaching stages: graduate, for those who have just graduated from their teaching qualification; proficient, for those who meet the requirements of full registration, demonstrating achievement of the seven standards at this level.
Highly accomplished are those teachers who are recognised as highly effective, skilled classroom practitioners and who routinely work independently and collaboratively to improve their own practice and the practice of colleagues. They are knowledgeable and active members of the school.
And, finally, there are leaders, who are recognised and respected by colleagues, parents, carers and community members as exemplary teachers. They have demonstrated consistent and innovative teaching practice over time. They are skilled in mentoring teachers and pre-service teachers, using activities that develop knowledge, practice and professional engagement in others. They promote creative, innovative thinking among colleagues.
These standards are very useful in providing guidance to teachers about their practice and what they should be demonstrating. I am pleased to hear from the minister that the ACT government, through the TQI, takes them seriously. I was also pleased to hear the many examples from the minister about how the ACT was leading the way nationally to improve teacher quality. The fact that specific practices from the ACT were highlighted by the Australian government Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group as being great examples of systemic approaches speaks highly of the ACT’s leadership in this area.
I would also like once again to highlight some of the practices of the Education and Training Directorate which, as the largest employer of teachers in the ACT, is showing great leadership. The directorate has undertaken clear work, as the minister has also noted, in aligning the professional standards with career progression. It is very important that we reward those who seek higher levels of certification, and I understand that the directorate is negotiating to ensure that teachers who do receive certification against the highly accomplished and lead teacher standards will get an increment.
I would also like to congratulate Minister Burch for her leadership in ensuring that those seeking to enter the public system as teachers meet the highest personal standards for literacy and numeracy. From this year all new teachers recruited to the public education system will have to undergo a test to demonstrate that they sit within the top 30 per cent of Australians in literacy and numeracy. It is important to understand that as part of the national standards for teacher education it is expected that universities only take those who have demonstrated that they meet this level of literacy and numeracy or that universities guarantee that their students will, on graduation, have reached this level.
What is less clear is how universities and employers are actually ensuring that this is the case. The decision by Minister Burch to institute a test is a clear demonstration that the ACT government is serious about only recruiting the best teachers and, to go back to an earlier point, it is clear the ACT government is committed to making sure that in front of every class and every student, at least in the public system, is a capable, well-qualified and supported teacher.
To close, I do not believe that the teaching profession is in a crisis of confidence or quality. I believe that the bulk of ACT teachers across all sectors do a fantastic job.
However, we cannot simply rest on our laurels and hope that this continues. We must ensure that practices and systems align to deliver the best students to where they will do the most good in front of our children in classrooms.
It is clear from the minister’s statement that the ACT government is committed to teacher quality. Indeed, the government has shown leadership nationally in this area. It is also clear that the ACT government is in this for the long haul, dedicated to a permanent change in practice, culture and systems for the betterment of all ACT students. I congratulate the government for their efforts.