ATAR argument in teacher education to heat-up

The Grattan Institute proposes attracting essential academic talent (80 plus ATARs) to teaching with better pay and career paths.

Teaching is no longer a sought-after career among bright young students. Whichever way you look at it, few higher achievers are putting up their hands to teach,” Peter Goss, Julie Sonnemann, write, with Jonathan Nolan, in a comprehensive, debate-shaping  GI report.

What they propose: * $10 000 cash incentives per annum to “high-potential” students who take up teaching degrees, * “instructional specialist” roles for teachers, paying $40 000 more than base and * master-teachers working across their schools and earning $80 000 more than standard salary

Why: “High achievers makes better teachers”, they argue but warn achievement as measured by ATAR scores is ever-more absent among students in teacher education. The per centage of people under 20 with an 80 or above ATAR starting undergraduate degrees dropped around 35 per cent between 2006 and 2017. The score for science students over the same period was an increase around 40 per cent.

Which will cost: They propose $1.6bn over ten years to double the number of high-achievers becoming teachers, increasing the average ATAR of teaching graduates to 85.  They propose preventing pay-grade inflation by capping the number of instructional specialist and master teacher roles per school,

Yes, there’s a but: “Of course not every great teacher is academically strong. Some fantastic teachers were not studious themselves, and some very smart teachers struggle to inspire their students,” they acknowledge.

But a but they rebut: The best chance to improving the quality of the future teaching workforce is to encourage many more high achievers to apply.

What it means for teacher training: The authors do not focus on what their proposals would mean for teacher education – for which there is already reform via the results of Christopher Pyne’s Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group and the new authority over teacher education governments granted last year to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.

But the Grattan report is a slap in the chops for the teacher ed establishment, which is adamant in opposing an emphasis on the ATAR for entry to their courses.

Tania Aspland (Australian Catholic U), chair of the Australian Council of Deans of Education responds to the report by welcoming scholarships for students and “better pathways with two new categories of teachers with adequate pay.”  However, the deans describe the Grattan report as, “only one part of a larger puzzle.” Thus, they warn, “there is also vital need to also improve the attractiveness of the teaching profession to all cohorts to prevent a widening shortage of teachers.”

And they argue, “there are many non-ATAR pathways to becoming a teacher.” This is entirely true but it does not address a core Grattan point, that just about everybody who enters a teacher education faculty has an ATAR, and that “while data is scant, students who use a non-standard admissions pathway tend to have a lower prior academic achievement than those admitted via ATAR.”

The optics are on the ATAR:  Overall, this is a bad result for teacher education establishment arguments that a university entry-rank does not define an individual’s potential and that what matters is what people can do when they graduate not the academic indicator they started with.

And it means the deans are playing defence. As Professor Aspland has put it; “we, as the stakeholders, need to give the politicians something to run with if we don’t want them to run with the ATAR figure,” (CMM April 17).


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