Carrots rather than sticks in Australian teacher education plan

Panel advises against punitive performance funding measures, opting for financial incentives and transparency

March 22, 2023

Australia could introduce an “excellence pool” of top-up funding for the best-performing teacher education programmes, under proposals from a government-appointed panel.

Canberra could also offer transition funding to improve teaching courses around the country. Or it could adopt a “transparency and accountability” approach, publishing data on course outcomes and allowing students to vote with their feet.

The three options appear in a discussion paper from the Teacher Education Expert Panel headed by University of Sydney vice-chancellor Mark Scott. It was established last year to advise the government on how to implement recommendations from a 2021 review of initial teacher education (ITE).

The review had been commissioned amid escalating concern over teacher shortages and sliding standards in schools. Its 17 recommendations include a proposal to link the funding of teaching courses to their performance.

The panel warns against treating teacher education as a “designated” course, akin to medicine, in which universities are funded for specified numbers of places. This “could limit teacher supply, worsening the national shortage of teachers”, it cautions.

Instead, the government could demand commitments from universities and colleges to improve their teaching programmes through institutional-level “mission-based compacts”.

Performance would be assessed against retention rates, the “classroom readiness” of students and the employment outcomes of recent graduates. Teaching programmes would also be judged on the diversity of their students, with healthy enrolments expected from rural, Indigenous and disadvantaged communities as well as STEM specialists and top school-leavers.

The notion of linking funding to performance in a specified discipline has caused some anxiety in higher education circles since it was backed by former acting education minister Stuart Robert, who commissioned the development of “threshold standards” for teaching courses – implying that universities that failed to meet the thresholds could lose funding for teaching degrees.

But the panel cautions against a punitive approach. “ITE students tend to work in the same locations where they studied,” the discussion paper explains. “Reducing enrolments at particular universities could worsen teacher supply in these areas.”

Instead, the panel favours transparency and financial incentive initiatives. The paper says an “excellence pool” of extra funding would enable the beneficiaries to “accommodate additional students, potentially shifting the share of student enrolments from lower to higher performing providers”.

And while critics fear a new layer of performance reporting at the disciplinary rather than institutional level, the paper says the performance measures could be published using the existing Australian Teacher Workforce Data collection, sparing universities “additional reporting burden”.

The discussion paper is open for consultation until 21 April, with the panel to report to the government by 30 June. Education minister Jason Clare said the work would help to improve completion rates and deliver better prepared graduates.

“There aren’t many jobs more important than being a teacher, and we don’t have enough of them,” he said. “I want more people bursting out of high school wanting to be a teacher rather than a lawyer or a banker.”

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