A response to the Gillard government’s plan for education reform

As I was browsing my Twitter feed this morning I came across a news.com.au article that gave me cause to reflect and be a little concerned. The article (which can be found here) outlines plans by the Gillard government to increase teacher quality through the introduction of NAPLAN-style exams and emotional intelligence and aptitude tests. There are a lot of teachers who are very unhappy about this proposal, not because they don’t support school improvement, but because this is not the answer to issues in education. What follows in this post are a series of quotes from the article and my own responses to what the government is suggesting.

1. “From 2016, anyone wishing to enter a teaching degree would be asked to provide a written statement outlining their suitability for a place, as well as undergoing a series of interviews to test whether they have the resilience and emotional intelligence or EQ for the role.”

This statement led me to ask myself, ‘If I were ten years younger and hoping to become a teacher, would I pass these tests?’ The Literacy and Numeracy tests wouldn’t have been an issue, but the resilience and emotional intelligence tests I’m not so sure of. To be completely candid with my reader, I am not even sure that I would have passed it upon the completion of my tertiary studies, let alone when I started university fresh out of high school. I strengthened my emotional intelligence and learnt my resilience partly through my practicums, but mostly in the classroom as a fully qualified, full-time teacher. Positive psychology suggests that resilience is innate in some people, but can be learnt by others. I fit into the second group. Until my first year as a graduate teacher, my life experiences to that point had not required great resilience. Sure, I had learnt to cope with minor obstacles like a lower than hoped for grade – but I had never been exposed to situations that required the level of emotional resilience for what I faced in my first year as an educator. And while this did bring me to breaking point early on in my career, I learnt that resilience quickly and I’ve become stronger personally and professionally every year because of it. But does this mean that the government should have been able to preclude me from my desired career as soon as I applied for tertiary studies?

2. “They would also have to demonstrate suitable values and aptitude by providing a portfolio of activities such as coaching a sports team, volunteer work or community involvement.”

While this seems like a reasonable idea at first glance, basically what it is assessing is whether somebody wants to commit themselves to helping others. In reality, very few people in their right minds would go into teaching unless they had a genuine interest in and commitment to helping young people develop into well-rounded and successful individuals. As incredibly rewarding as teaching is, it is not all sunshine and roses. Someone who goes into teaching and sticks with it WANTS to be there and the government ought to give them some credit for that.

3. “In order to graduate as teachers they would need to perform in the top 30 per cent of the population in numeracy and literacy tests, which would be part of their course. “

Teachers need to be literate and numerate. Agreed. But I would question why ANYBODY is graduating from tertiary studies with a less than adequate level of literacy and numeracy.

4. “Teaching students who failed to meet the benchmark would be offered classes to meet the requirements.”

That’s great. But I would be interested to know the statistics surrounding how many Education students are actually illiterate or innumerate. As far as I am aware this has not been released -so is it actually an issue or is the government clutching at straws?

 

Having read the article and reflected on my own immediate reactions, I decided to refer to AITSL’s National Professional Standards for Teachers. Ability in literacy and numeracy can be connected in various ways to the domains of Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice and Professional Engagement. Of course it is implied that a level of emotional intelligence is needed in order to know learners and to work successfully with groups of people (part of Professional Knowledge), but this comes down partly to theory and partly to practice. However, factors surrounding resilience do not appear anywhere in the standards for graduate teachers. This is something that is not learnt through theory and that many people need the opportunity to develop through real-life experience.  So why would we test high school graduates on it and make a decision there and then about whether they are cut out for teaching?

I am supportive of a plan that positively promotes quality teaching. But I am deeply concerned that this plan would deter or preclude potentially incredible teachers from the profession. We hear on one hand that ‘there are not enough teachers’ yet on the other hand, with the implementation of such a plan, early decisions will be made about people’s careers that will prevent them from teaching. The government cannot have its cake and eat it too. Quality teaching is crucial, but I think they are missing the mark on the indicators of what will make a trainee teacher successful in the workforce.

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2 responses

  1. What an insightful reflection and comment on Julia Gillards reform agenda. Whilst it is an agenda, at the school level we will continue to forge ahead with our own reform which is based on teacher empowerment and not top down compliance.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Paul. I strongly believe that education reform at government level must be informed and driven by what is actually happening “at the chalkface” (that term seriously needs updating ). It needs to be practical and in the best interests of the whole school community. I don’t think these reforms meet either of these criteria and I fear the government’s agenda has more to do with an election campaign than what is best for learners of all ages!

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