Quality teaching is key, but Education Minister’s review misses mark

The federal Education Minister is right to point to the quality of teaching as the most important in-school factor contributing to student outcomes. There’s plenty of research to back him up.

But if Alan Tudge is serious about his aspiration for Australia to be among the top group of nations in school education by 2030, his focus on initial teacher education is the wrong strategy.

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge addresses The Age Schools Summit.Credit:Meredith O’Shea

Recruiting “better quality” teachers and improving initial teacher education have merit as long-term approaches to lifting the quality of teaching. But measuring “better” based on higher entry and exit standards for pre-service teachers will not guarantee improved student outcomes.

The call to recruit “better” teachers is also disrespectful to the 300,000-strong teacher workforce in Australian classrooms, and only adds to their well-documented feelings of being undervalued.

In fact, with approximately 15,000 pre-service teachers graduating from Australian universities each year, it would take decades for these changes to have impact on a national scale.

Instead, we should focus on building the capacity of the teaching workforce we currently have. Only 12 months ago, these teachers were lauded, along with doctors, nurses and other front-line workers, as they kept schools open and ensured student learning in the face of the pandemic.

If we are to meet the minister’s objective for Australia to again be among the world’s leading nations in student performance, then we must build teacher capacity through professional development that is shown to work.

My colleagues and I have conducted two randomised controlled trials which demonstrate that participation in a form of professional development, called Quality Teaching Rounds, leads to improvement not only in the quality of teaching, but also in teacher morale and, most excitingly, student achievement.

Over an eight-month period, we found 25 per cent greater growth in maths outcomes for students of teachers who participated in Quality Teaching Rounds, equivalent to an additional two months’ growth compared with the control group.

Importantly, the growth was slightly greater in disadvantaged schools, which suggests Quality Teaching Rounds has real potential to impact on both excellence and equity. In his address at The Age Schools Summit, Mr Tudge confirmed that these remained dual goals of education ministers in all states and territories.

Quality Teaching Rounds focuses on improving teaching rather than teachers. When teachers feel empowered, respected and trusted, remarkable improvement occurs, quickly.

Of course, teachers and teaching cannot achieve the sought-after improvements in national rankings without broader attention to longstanding socio-educational inequalities and the conditions of their work. Given the challenges faced by teachers in some schools, their efforts may already be heroic.

While the minister declared the funding wars over, too many schools and communities are struggling with inadequate resources. As a society, we must continue to advocate for more equitable conditions to improve learning for all.

Laureate Professor Jenny Gore is director of the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre at the University of Newcastle.

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