Will lifting ATAR scores lift teaching standards?

The Age reports: Only the top 30 per cent of year 12 students will be able to study teaching in Victoria following a dramatic shake-up of the profession.

Under tough new entry standards, students wishing to enrol in an undergraduate teaching course will have to achieve a minimum ATAR of 65 in 2018. This will be hiked up to 70 the following year.

Probably not!

What will do is restrict the number of students coming into teacher education programs.

In New South Wales, where similar ATAR thresholds have been introduced, the number of students enrolled in undergraduate teacher education courses has fallen by about 10 per cent.

And that will affect the Australian Catholic University which has very large teacher education programs and consequent significant government funding.

Naturally enough, Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven doesn’t like the idea.  But then I’ve never regarded him as a deep thinker in matters of education despite his being appointed by Tony Abbott to the federal government’s teacher education ministerial advisory group.

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ACU vice-chancellor Greg Craven and his university’s declining increase standards

A number of people pointed out that ATAR scores are very poor predictors of university success. One study, many years ago, showed the random selection would have been better than the old VCE results as a predictor of academic success.

A number of Universities admit students with an ATAR score of under 60. The ACU It is one of the worst offenders in this respect. The problem with this worrying statistic is that it means that in any given classroom teacher was an ATAR score in the 50s will have an academic track record which is probably lower than nearly half of the kids in the class are going to achieve during  their schooling.

If you combine this with teaching graduates who come through university degree programs dominated by theology and dogmatism, it’s a pretty grim picture.

So the most important element of maintaining the education standards of teaching graduates is not the entry levels to program. It is a standard of education and knowledge at the end of the program. This is why revamping teacher education would probably be more important than tinkering with the entry requirements.

Less than 25 per cent of students start teaching courses via their ATAR, with the bulk of students already having completed a university degree.

Lifting the ATAR scores is really addressing the symptom rather than the cause if you’re concerned about the standard of graduate teachers. The real question is why do more bright students not want to go into teaching?

The answers to this particular question are many.

But one of them is that there is currently an oversupply of almost 2000 primary and secondary teachers in Victoria, but there are shortages in fields like high school maths, science and languages.

Many young graduate teachers are unable to get permanent employment spending a significant amount of their early career on short-term contracts which only employ them during the school term.  The attrition rate in this cohort of teachers is particularly high and has a significant impact on the number of people who choose teaching as a long-term career.

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