According to reports, the proportion of students with an ATAR of 70 or lower being admitted to teaching degrees has increased significantly over the past decade, from 30% in 2007 to 40% in 2016.
In a push to combat this and improve teacher quality, Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek, proposed that teaching degrees be capped to the top 30% of high-school graduates, explaining that “Labor wants our high achievers to compete into teaching degrees in the same way they compete to get into medicine, dentistry or vet science.”
Plibersek said Labor wants teaching to be “a first choice, not a fall-back”.
“At the moment, the marks to get into teaching degrees continue to fall, and fewer high achievers are choosing teaching courses. That is a tragedy and the beginning of a dangerous spiral,” Plibersek told The Educator.
“We know that teaching is complex, important work. That is why a future Labor government will work with universities to target entry to teaching degrees to the top 30% of academic achievers.”
Labor said it will also give the nation’s top achievers cash bonuses of up to $40,000 to encourage them into teaching.
“We obviously need to ensure there are pathways into teaching for those who might have struggled with their schooling … but are academically capable of teaching our children,” she said.
However, Andrew Pierpoint, president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association (ASPA), said there is no point in having an academically gifted person in front of a class if there is no connection and engagement with the students.
“Simply being brilliant does not make you a good teacher,” Pierpoint told The Educator.
“As principals who work with students every day in our schools know, teachers need far more than academic intelligence.”
Pierpoint said teachers need to able to communicate, be empathetic, have high resilience and have “a burning desire” to help students succeed.
“OP/ATAR scores are not good indicators of teaching ability – students who have reasonably low performance at school themselves have gone on to be brilliant teachers, as they connect with students who have learned and progressed,” he said.
Anne-Marie Morgan, professor and associate dean of teaching and learning at the University of New England says setting an appropriate ATAR benchmark is prudent, while also ensuring there are other entry pathways that uphold a commitment to equity of access.
“We all want quality teachers – not least universities. We don’t willy-nilly allow anyone in,” Morgan told The Educator.
Morgan added that the “long road” to teaching has many quality checks, including tests of professional suitability, entry hurdles, graduate tests marked by accredited school supervisors and the course of study itself.”
“Better conditions and higher pay would be more useful incentives than additional entry requirements,” she said.