THE nation’s elite universities warn that Australia is at risk of training a generation of ”toxic teachers” who will pass their own deficiencies at school on to their students.
The executive director of the Group of Eight research-focused universities, Michael Gallagher, said Australia was ”at risk of producing a cohort of ”toxic teachers”.
”The next generation of teachers is being drawn from this pool” of people ”who have themselves not been very successful at school,” he said.
Much of the growth in teaching enrolments since 2007 has come from school leavers with scores in the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) range of 50 to 70, prompting the NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, to start a debate about minimum education standards for teachers. At present, some 20 per cent of teaching enrolments have an ATAR of less than 60.
The Australian Catholic University vice chancellor, Greg Craven, however, has warned any attempt to set minimum standards for entry into teaching courses, such as an ATAR of 70, would be an attack on universities’ independence and encounter stiff resistance. He accused the NSW government of dishonesty, hypocrisy, cowardice and blame shifting in its effort to start a debate about teaching standards.
In a speech to be delivered at the National Press Club today, Professor Craven will criticise Mr Piccoli’s July discussion paper, Great Teaching, Inspired Learning, for fudging the figures around the demand for permanent teachers, lamenting teacher quality while paying them so little, failing to confront teacher unions over work practices that protect low performance, and attempting to shift blame to universities.
Professor Craven takes particular issue with the assertion that NSW has ”a gross oversupply” of teachers.
The NSW discussion paper says although about 5500 teachers graduate each year, only 300 to 500 of them are employed in permanent positions by the NSW Education Department.
This not only omits teachers employed in the large Catholic and independent school systems but hides the reality that ”the department itself deliberately has casualised its workforce, so new teachers overwhelmingly go into ‘casual positions’ that actually may be full time”, Professor Craven said.
About 30,000 casual teachers deliver about 2 million days of teaching in NSW a year.
He said ATAR scores were skewed against people from low socio-economic backgrounds and failed to predict success at university.
”What really matters is the quality of a student once they have completed their university degree, not when they enter it … Trying to determine who should be a teacher on the basis of adolescent school marks rather than practical and theoretical training received during their course is like selecting the Australian cricket team on school batting averages while ignoring Sheffield Shield innings”, Professor Craven said.
The president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Maurie Mulheron, said: ”You can’t talk about high teaching standards and professional respect at the same time you are pulling $1.7 billion out of public education”.