Australia mulls performance funding for teacher training courses

Bursaries and scholarships among other measures to solve teaching workforce ‘crisis’

August 15, 2022
Teacher With Male Pupils Building Robotic Vehicle In Science Lesson
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Teacher training programmes with good retention rates could attract more generous funding than courses with high attrition under moves being considered by Australia’s government.

Final-year teaching students would be parachuted into schools to work as interns, and the “best and brightest” students would be enticed into teaching with bursaries of up to A$40,000 (£23,480) apiece.

The proposals are being considered for inclusion in a “national teacher workforce action plan” to be finalised by December, following a meeting of the country’s education ministers in Canberra on 12 August.

Education officials and representative bodies have been enlisted to outline “priorities for immediate action” to tackle a predicted shortfall of 4,100 teaching graduates by 2025.

The performance funding proposal will be investigated by a “teacher education expert panel” led by University of Sydney vice-chancellor Mark Scott, a former secretary of the New South Wales education department.

In February, Professor Scott was recruited by the former coalition government to lead an “initial teacher education quality assessment expert panel” tasked with developing threshold standards for teaching courses, and advising how they could be applied for funding purposes. The new Labor government has now signalled support for this work.

The federal education minister, Jason Clare, said that while university completion rates generally hovered around 70 per cent, the average for teaching degrees was about 20 percentage points lower. “If we were able to turn that 50 per cent into 60 per cent, then suddenly you’d have a lot more teachers in our schools,” he told journalists.

“We want to look at how we use the Commonwealth Supported Places, the federal government funding, to allocate it to universities that are doing exceptionally well at training students to become teachers.”

Mr Clare said the “massive challenge” of teacher numbers had been precipitated by a 16 per cent drop in teaching student numbers coinciding with a 10 per cent increase in school enrolments. “It is not just because of the Covid or the flu – it’s bigger than that.”

He hosed down suggestions that lower university fees for teaching courses could solve the problem. Tuition fees for teaching degrees had already been cut by more than 40 per cent under the Job-Ready Graduates reforms but teaching enrolments had increased by only 0.8 per cent, he told the ABC.

Mr Clare said there was evidence that upfront scholarships could help, reiterating the government’s pre-election pledge to bankroll up to 5,000 tax-free bursaries to lure top-performing school students into teaching degrees. The bursaries, initially proposed by the Grattan Institute thinktank, would be worth up to A$10,000 a year for up to four years.

Mr Clare also backed Universities Australia’s proposal for internships that would allow postgraduate teaching students to “combine university study and paid employment”.

“New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland are already doing [this] to some extent,” Mr Clare said. “If you’re 35, you’ve got two kids and a mortgage, you can’t afford to take two years out of the workforce to do a master’s degree to qualify you to become a teacher.”

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