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Reforming career paths for Australian teachers

A nationally consistent and credible certification system for teachers can drive effective professional learning and successful teaching, as Lawrence Ingvarson explains.

The basic rationale for professional certification is to drive more effective professional learning and widespread use of successful teaching practices as defined in a set of nationally agreed standards.

A rigorous certification system creates a basis for significantly increasing salaries for accomplished teachers, making teaching a more attractive career option for more able graduates, and helping the profession to retain its best practitioners.

To be effective, certification should be a career step that most teachers aspire to. It should be open to all teachers and based on demonstrated attainment of the standards. Unlike bonus pay schemes, it is a non-competitive award as it is based on standards rather than comparisons with peers.

Certification is the way most professions drive continual improvement in their members’ practice, in their own and in the public interest. A professio

Current Australian situation

Career progression and salary in Australia almost entirely depend on length of service. Further progression is linked to additional duties, not ability to use successful and innovative teaching practices.

Ninety-two per cent of Australian teachers in the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey reported that if they improved the quality of their teaching they would not receive any recognition in their school.

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) has established the basic architecture of a nationally consistent system for the certification of Highly Accomplished, and Lead Teachers. A generic set of National Professional Standards for Teachers has been developed, along with guidelines for assessing applications for certification. A pilot of the certification system has been completed in some states and territories, but it is a long way from proving its validity and reliability.

The current standards do not spell out the differences in what accomplished teachers know and do in specialist fields such as primary teaching, or secondary school mathematics teaching. Until they do, it will be difficult to clearly discriminate between different levels of professional knowledge or performance.

Components of a certification system

A standards-based professional learning and certification system, of interdependent and mutually supportive parts, would include:

  • High teaching standards that articulate what teachers should get better at, and direction for professional development.
  • Advanced professional certification based on valid methods for assessing teacher performance against the standards.
  • Career paths that provide recognition for good teaching and provide substantial incentives for teachers to attain certification.
  • Professional learning infrastructure that enables teachers to gain the knowledge and skill in the teaching standards.

Implementing a system

By 2008, Australia had reached a consensus about the need to build a standards-based professional learning and certification system. However, maintaining that consensus and implementing such a system in a federal political system like Australia is proving to be more difficult than anticipated.

A central feature of the Australian venture in establishing a profession-wide certification system is the extent to which the process has been directed by politicians rather than the profession. Ministers of education at national, state and territory levels determine AITSL’s agenda. As a result, its agenda has changed in significant ways with changes to governments or ministers of education. So far as certification is concerned, each state and territory government has gone its own way, making it difficult for AITSL to meet its brief to develop a nationally consistent and respected certification system.

Independence and stability are critical to the development of respected certification systems. In most professions, responsibility for professional standards and certification rests with an independent national professional body. Engineers Australia, for example, is responsible for the professional standards and certification of engineers. Australian politicians and policy makers need to place greater trust in the capacity of the teaching profession to develop its own rigorous standards-based professional learning and certification system. It is hard to see Australia joining the top performing countries without serious efforts to strengthen teaching as an attractive and rewarding profession. ■

Further information

ACER Principal Research Fellow Dr Lawrence Ingvarson’s chapter ‘Reforming Career Paths for Australian Teachers’ appears in the book Teacher Reforms around the World: Implementation and Outcomes. A shorter version of the chapter was prepared for the Sustaining Teachers’ Professional Growth seminar at the University of Cambridge.

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About the author

Dr Lawrence Ingvarson is a Principal Research Fellow in ACER's Teaching and Learning research program.

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View selected works of Lawrence Ingvarson

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