by Melodie Potts Rosevear OAM
‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’, Churchill said. As Education Ministers gather on 6-7 July, the acute teacher shortage remains high on the agenda. Meanwhile, schools on holiday have a brief reprieve from the daily puzzle of plugging staffing gaps to educate our children.
As we work to lift the status of the teaching profession and attract more into it, we must address the fact we’re losing good people before they’ve even started. Right now, too many high potential prospective teachers - mostly career changers - are blocked from Master of Teaching programs due to a complex web of regulations.
It goes something like this: to enter a postgraduate teaching course, you need an undergraduate ‘major’ in the field you want to teach and your knowledge must be ‘current’, defined by work experience in the field if your degree is more than 10 years old.
At first glance, this appears reasonable because we want teachers to have current knowledge and expertise in their field. However, teacher education reviews and Productivity Commission reports over the last decade point to unintended consequences of these regulations that are limiting teacher supply.
At Teach For Australia, we see first-hand how well-intentioned eligibility restrictions are preventing highly motivated and skilled career changers from entering the profession. We actively recruit individuals into teaching through an employment-based teacher education model. We are the most selective pathway into teaching, and rightly so, given the rigour of our program and that we serve communities where needs are highest. Yet, we must turn away hundreds of candidates because of these barriers.
For example, we turned away Anna*. Anna graduated with an English Literature (Arts) major in 2012, then worked in other sectors. Anna wants to give back by changing careers and teaching English Lit, but her degree is more than 10 years old and she has not worked in that field in the intervening years. She is not eligible to enter a Master of Teaching.
We repeatedly turn away engineers, like Rohan*, who do not have a ‘major’ in Mathematics or Physics. Why? Because the courses that engineers take are often too specialised to be counted towards a major in Mathematics or Physics. For example, aerospace engineers take units like Flight Performance and Propulsion, or Dynamics of Aerospace Vehicles, Systems and Avionics). Similar issues can apply to commerce and finance majors and those with clinical degrees such as doctors or allied health degrees like physiotherapists.
The same is often true for those with research units as part of their degree. Recent applicant Sam* had an undergraduate degree in Applied Science and a PhD in Molecular Biology. He was unable to enrol in the Master of Teaching because his research units in biology and the sequencing of subjects could not count towards a ‘major’ in Biology.
There are two clear actions that could immediately unlock access for Anna, Rohan and Sam and hundreds more career changers like them.
One, amend the Australian Qualifications Framework, which sets the rules governing Masters-level degrees, to extend ‘currency’ of degrees from 10 to 15 years. Apply the change to Master of Teaching degrees only, to avoid impact on other fields.
Two, amend the national guidelines governing discipline-specific knowledge so more experts, including researchers, can teach. One way could be to score the total credit points earned within a discipline, rather than requiring a ‘major’. Alternatively, allow candidates to demonstrate expertise through a knowledge audit or by testing their content knowledge, as other countries do.
Let us not waste this moment. We can keep our entry bar high while letting more great people into teaching.
Note: *names changed for privacy
The above op-ed was written by Melodie Potts Rosevear OAM, Founder and CEO, Teach For Australia, and has been republished with permission.