Another ATAR disaster for teacher education faculties

Deans of education were uncharacteristically quick to respond to yesterday’s ABC story that NSW universities were admitting students to initial teacher education courses who have ludicrously low ATARs. But the damage was done.

What happened: Natasha Robinson reported a study by University of Sydney academics of 2015 university admissions, which found half of teacher ed students had ATARs in the bottom half. The university was said to have wanted the report destroyed.

Deploring deans: The teacher education establishment, which sometimes takes cover during ATAR appallathons responded to the story quickly.

According to Australian Catholic University’s Tania Aspland (president of the Australian Council of Deans of Education) “it’s vital to move beyond this, singular focus on the low ATAR scores. That negative focus is being used to denigrate all teaching students and the teaching profession when, in fact, the numbers refer to a minute cohort of teaching students and do not reflect the specifics of each case.”

John Fischetti (Newcastle University and president of the NSW deans) said he would not comment on a report he had not seen but rejected “the mistaken notion that universities are admitting ‘anyone’ to teacher education.”

Professor Fischetti pointed to four state and federal measures introduced since 2015 to ensure teacher education students have the ability to learn how to teach;

* a floor on entry scores

* literacy and numeracy exist tests which students must complete at the end of their degrees to qualify to teach

* “classroom ready” assessments before graduating

* assessing the “skills and personal attributes” of people applying for teacher education courses.

Impact: This is another blow to the credibility of teacher education courses. State education ministers and teacher union officials use the ATAR as a proxy of teacher education student capacity. Yesterday Labor shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek, said there was a declining trend in teaching entry scores and while “there are individual exceptions to the rule … universities do have to, I think, tighten entry criteria to make sure that we are attracting and retaining the best and brightest, that it’s a first choice for students who passionately want to be teachers not the course that they do because they couldn’t get into anything else.”

This piles on the pressure on universities to justify their teacher-education low ATAR enrolments and it adds to the perception pushed by critics that institutions see initial teacher education as a low-cost income source. Earlier this month NSW education minister Rob Stokes extended the attack when he announced that students who complete a teaching degree on-line, “will not be preferenced for employment,” (CMM September 5).


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