New teachers perform just as well in the classroom as their more experienced colleagues, according to a study involving more than 500 teachers in 260 schools.
The research, led by Jenny Gore, Laureate Professor of Education and Director Teachers and Teaching Research Centre at the University of Newcastle, used direct observation of 990 entire lessons to investigate the relationship between years of teaching experience and the quality of teaching.
Professor Gore and her team analysed the teaching of 512 Year 3 and 4 teachers from 260 NSW public schools in separate studies conducted over 2014-15 and 2019-21.
The schools involved in the study were representative of schools across Australia, and the lessons observed included a range of subjects, with the majority in English and mathematics. Most of the teachers observed had between one and 15 years of experience, although almost a quarter of the observations were of lessons taught by teachers with 16 years’ experience or more.
“Our latest research, published in the Australian Education Researcher, provides a powerful counternarrative to concerns about teacher education and early-career teachers,” Professor Gore said in an article published in The Conversation.
The researchers analysed data from two major studies over the past decade and found it did not matter if teachers had less than one year of teaching experience or had spent 25 years in the classroom – they delivered the same quality of teaching.
“These results indicate teaching degrees are preparing new teachers to deliver quality teaching and have a positive impact in their classrooms right away,” she said.
The most recent review into teacher education, which was finalised in February 2022, found an “ambitious reform agenda” was needed to attract “high quality” students and make sure teacher education was “evidence-based and practical”.
Sydney University vice-chancellor Mark Scott is now leading another expert panel looking at how to strengthen teacher education and developing a “quality measure” for teaching degrees and whether funding for universities should be tied to quality.
“In among this, we have already seen an emphasis on attracting the ‘best and brightest’ into teaching degrees and increasing requirements to graduate. To enter a classroom, teachers now need to have passed extra literacy and numeracy tests on top of their degrees,” Professor Gore said.
“The underlying assumption in all this government messaging and accompanying media commentary is that failings in education are those of teachers and teacher educators [the academics who teach teachers].”
Professor Gore said part of the problem in debates about schools and education is the relentless use of “teacher quality” as a proxy for understanding “teaching quality”.
“This focuses on the person rather than the practice,” she said, adding that this discourse sees teachers blamed for student performance on NAPLAN and PISA tests, rather than taking into account the systems and conditions in which they work.
“While teaching quality might be the greatest in school factor affecting student outcomes, it’s hardly the greatest factor overall.”
Existing studies support the findings of Professor Gore and her team.
A report published by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership found that 87% of employers are satisfied with the performance of their teaching graduates.
Teaching graduates likewise showed confidence in themselves – with 86% of undergraduates and 81% of post-graduates in initial teacher education (ITE) reporting that their qualifications have prepared them for employment.
“We found no evidence that beginning teachers in Australia are unprepared for the classroom or that they are bad at behaviour management,” the researchers wrote.
“We believe extensive reforms have been made to Initial Teacher Education in Australia to ‘improve’ teacher quality without any evidence to support the claim that beginning teachers are less competent than experienced teachers”.
Mary Ryan, Professor and Executive Dean of Education and Arts at Australian Catholic University, said Initial Teacher Education programs already provide the high-quality training needed to prepare teachers for the classroom.
“Every graduate from an ITE program in Australia has not only met the literacy and numeracy standard, but is also deemed classroom ready through a valid and reliable Teaching Performance Assessment [TPA] which is externally endorsed,” she said.
“Whilst major changes have occurred in ITE, changes in the structural inequities of our schooling system have not kept pace. Our focus should be on funding levers to encourage diverse candidates into teacher education so the profession reflects the student demographic in our schools.”