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Teacher education – from best practice to common practice

A background paper from ACER identifies the key principles and features of teacher education programs that most effectively prepare pre-service teachers and support their successful transition to effective practice.

High-achieving countries have rigorous procedures for assessing and accrediting the quality of teacher education programs, based primarily on evidence about the knowledge and skills of teacher graduates and their destinations. In essence, high-achieving countries ensure best practice becomes common practice by putting in place policies and systems rather than leaving things to chance. 

That view underpins the recommendations of the report of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) chaired by Professor Greg Craven. The TEMAG report, Action Now: Classroom ready teachers, released publicly in February, has called for:

  • an overhauled national accreditation process for initial teacher education programs administered by a national regulator
  • strengthened accreditation requiring university education faculties and other relevant higher education providers to demonstrate that program design and delivery is underpinned by solid research and includes measures of program effectiveness
  • improved selection methods for entry to initial teacher education programs
  • an integrated system so that higher education providers, school systems and schools work together to achieve strong graduate and student outcomes
  • the use of portfolios of evidence throughout initial teacher education programs to enable pre-service teachers to demonstrate classroom readiness and eligibility for provisional registration and subsequently achieve full registration, and
  • pre-registration  enabling entrants to initial teacher education to be recognised as members of the teaching profession from the beginning of their program.

The report draws substantially on a background paper from the Australian Council for Educational Research commissioned by TEMAG to identify best practice principles for the design, delivery and assessment of teacher education programs; and articulate the features of teacher education programs that most effectively support successful transition to effective practice.

The background paper, Best Practice Teacher Education Programs and Australia’s Own Programs, identifies eight best practice principles for teacher education programs, namely:

  • coherence in coursework and practicum experiences, based on a common, clear vision of good teaching
  • a strong core curriculum that addresses child and adolescent development, subject-matter pedagogy and learning, curriculum and assessment
  • extensive, connected practicum experiences
  • well-defined standards of professional knowledge and practice
  • explicit strategies that help pre-service teachers to investigate their beliefs and assumptions about learning and students, particularly students different from themselves
  • an inquiry approach that connects theory and practice
  • strong school-university partnerships that develop common knowledge and shared beliefs among school-and university-based faculty, allowing pre-service teachers to learn to teach in professional communities modelling state-of-the-art practice for diverse learners and collegial learning for adults, and
  • assessment based on professional standards that evaluates teaching through demonstration of critical skills and abilities using performance assessments and portfolios that support the development of ‘adaptive expertise’.

It further identifies five features of teacher education programs that best support the successful transition to effective practice, namely:

  • guidance by professional standards
  • mentoring, where mentors are carefully selected for their expertise and receive ongoing training
  • the provision of classroom-based learning opportunities for new teachers
  • the provision of continuing professional development, and
  • support through the provision of resources.

According to the authors of the background paper, Lawrence Ingvarson, Kate Reid, Sarah Buckley, Elizabeth Kleinhenz, Geoff Masters and Glenn Rowley, ‘Like Singapore, Australia might profit from a major project that would bring teacher educators, professional associations and accomplished teachers together to build a national curriculum for teacher education, based on a clear vision of quality learning and teaching of the curriculum and rigorous benchmarking of programs against international best practice.’

The background paper concludes that best practice in Australian teacher education is consistent with best practice internationally. The problem, the authors note, is not a lack of knowledge about the characteristics of effective teacher education programs but the absence or weakness of policies and systems to ensure best practice becomes common practice in Australian teacher education programs. 

‘Our benchmarking exercise indicates that deregulation of teacher education providers is not the answer – no high-achieving country is doing this,’ the authors observe. 

The background paper identifies the importance of rigorous quality assurance arrangements at three key stages in the preparation of teachers addressing:

  • recruitment and entry standards;
  • the accreditation of teacher education programs, and
  • transition and full entry to the profession.

It also identifies the importance of policies specifically directed at building the status of teaching and providing professional conditions of work to ensure that teaching can compete with other professions for university applicants from the top 30 per cent of candidates. ■

Read the full report:
Download the ACER background paper, Best Practice Teacher Education Programs and Australia’s Own Programs, or the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report, Action Now: Classroom ready teachers

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