Sample Undergraduate 2:1 Education Dissertation
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Comparison of teacher education programmes in Australia and the UK
There are several similarities between the initial teacher education (ITE) systems in Australia and the UK: an increasing diversity in the training options presented to potential candidates; an ever-increasing link with policy that is set within a neoliberal context; dependence upon evidence-based approaches to the assessment of trainees, such as the use of professional teaching standards; and increasing tensions between theory and practice as both countries move towards privileging clinical practice during the training period. In addition to these common elements, Australia and the UK are also both experiencing concerning teacher attrition rates. Drawing on existing research related to the aforementioned facets of ITE, this dissertation synthesises the findings to establish compelling reasons which suggest that some characteristics of the ITE programmes may be contributing to teacher attrition.
Teacher attrition is a problem which is currently ‘receiving heightened attention due to its intensity, complexity, and spread’ (Craig, 2017, p.859). Attracting more individuals into teaching is a ‘major concern’ in England, where there is an ageing workforce and shortages in core subjects (Page, 2015, p.187). A recent workplace census conducted by the UK government found that 21% of newly qualified teachers in 2014 were not recorded as working in the sector two years later (Foster, 2018). Recent media reports in Australia estimate that between 30% and 50% of newly qualified teachers in Australia leave within five years, although it is acknowledged that there is a need to collate more reliable evidence in this area (Weldon, 2018). Nevertheless, teacher attrition is a concern in Australia (Mason and Poyatos Matas, 2015). Although the reasons for the declining numbers of teachers may be attributable to many factors (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership Limited (AITSL), 2016), one aspect which is starting to attract research is the relationship between ITE and teacher attrition. Since Australia and the UK are currently experiencing teacher shortages, it is the goal of this dissertation to compare their ITE systems with the aim of establishing similarities between the two countries. These similarities are then examined within the context of teacher attrition and some causal links are hypothesised.
The research commences with qualitative analysis of secondary sources concerning the current ITE routes in Australia and the UK. The key issues which arise from these sources and which are analysed and compared further in this dissertation include: reform of ITE and its relationship with public policy; the theory/practice divide in ITE; the increasing move to clinical practice; assessment of trainee teachers; and, professional teaching standards. Similarities within these themes between Australia and the UK are presented, enabling the development of hypotheses concerning the link between these similarities and the phenomenon of teacher attrition which is currently being experienced in both countries. No research is value-free (Greenbank, 2003), so the researcher must acknowledge the need to accommodate values which may influence the research process. The author acknowledges the risk of personal confirmation bias in favour of the traditional university-led ITE route. Aligning with the principles of reflexivity which underpin effective teaching practice (Bahr and Mellor, 2016; Carter, 2015), a value-neutral approach to this research is developed through continual awareness of the need for reflective practice when selecting and analysing secondary sources, with the aim of bracketing any personal cognitive bias. When using search terms in electronic database searches, care was taken to ensure that critiques of both university-led and schools-based programmes were consulted. Initial search terms included: ‘Australia initial teacher education’; ‘UK initial teacher training’; ‘initial teacher training reform’; ‘teacher attrition Australia’; and, ‘teacher attrition UK’. Research involving international comparisons needs to allow new insights or evaluations (Adamson, 2012). Thus, the method of applying qualitative analysis to secondary sources is justified because there is a broad body of contemporary literature from which to draw out themes which can then be synthesised within the context of teacher attrition. No primary data was collected, although this dissertation concludes with recommendations which refer to the need for further primary research in the areas where causal links between ITE and teacher attrition are suggested. As there was no collection of primary data for the purposes of this dissertation, no ethical concerns were encountered during the research period. To protect academic integrity, sources were consulted carefully to ensure accurate attribution and were referenced to protect against unintended plagiarism. The research question which underpins this dissertation is: are there any features of the teacher training programs which are common to both Australia and the UK which could be contributing to increasing teacher attrition rates in these countries? It is acknowledged that this question can be viewed as either too broad or too limited, depending on the perspective. The question may be too broad because a full analysis of the issues relating to teacher education programs would extend far beyond the limitations of this dissertation. Yet the question regarding teacher attrition has been limited here to causal factors related to ITE only. This is not meant to suggest that this is the only causal factor, since there may be many other reasons why Australia and the UK are currently experiencing teacher shortages. Rather, by limiting the investigation to ITE programmes, hypotheses can be developed which can progress further research and which can then enable policy-makers to address these concerns before teacher shortages become a national crisis.
International reform of ITE
When different countries share similar ideas regarding ITE, the use of international comparison in research can reveal how these ideas may work differently at each system level (Darling-Hammond, 2017). Countries which perform highly in terms of student academic outcomes have robust policies which raise the status of teaching and enable teachers to develop professionally (Ingvarson et al., 2014). However, there is not necessarily a linear relationship between teacher education and student outcomes (Ingvarson et al., 2014). In the UK, there have been decades of continual reform in ITE which has resulted in a diverse teacher training landscape (Youens et al., 2018). Particularly in England, prospective teachers are now presented with a choice of pathways to qualified teacher status (QTS). Through discourse analysis of teacher education policies in Australia, Mayer et al. (2017) analysed the differing conceptualisations of effectiveness in teacher education. They argue that because public policy will be subject to underlying political and cultural ideologies, such discursive practices frame expectations which can change over time and sometimes in oppositional ways, making the assessment of teacher education more problematic. The need for larger-scale and longitudinal studies in the effectiveness of ITE in Australia is identified by Mayer et al. (2017), but they also point out that there is the need for researchers to determine how effectiveness should be interpreted and understood, and for what purpose. Rowe and Skourdoumbis (2017) argue further that these sets of expectations surrounding the policies which govern teacher effectiveness should not be accepted without question but should be disrupted by scholars through continuing research in teacher education. Any assessment of the efficacy of ITE programmes will vary depending on what is being assessed and what is of value (Jasman, 2009). It is noted that there needs to be more coherent and robust evidence regarding why such regulation of ITE is deemed necessary (Fitzgerald and Knipe, 2016). Wider neoliberal demands drive policies which affect ITE (Adamson, 2012; Furlong, 2013). Fitzgerald and Knipe (2016) argue that Australia is experiencing a political agenda which is seeking to professionalise teaching. Professionalisation of the teaching profession in England is also evident in the use of assessment standards (Page, 2015). Little (2015) argues that this is the dominant model in education and that there is a lack of counter-discourse which could challenge the status quo. A partnership model between stakeholders in ITE that is based on evidence is recommended by some scholars particularly because of the emphasis that is now placed on the practical skills of teaching (Yeigh and Lynch, 2017). However, the use of research as evidence is a concern for others because it may be used to improve narrowly-defined educational outcomes rather than be used for critical analysis (Brown et al., 2016). Indeed, partnership models may achieve unintended consequences, as Gilroy (2014) found that training providers are more influenced by policy than by research in terms of the pedagogical models they utilise. Even when there are commissioned reviews of ITE which are robust and offer promising reforms, there are still underlying challenges when ITE is viewed as a policy problem. The Carter Review of ITE in the UK was finalised in 2015 and included eighteen recommendations to ITE. The review took a strong stance on emphasising the initial aspect of ITE, with the suggestion that teacher education should be viewed as a continuum and that professional development is an important aspect of teacher education (Carter, 2015). Although these recommendations suggest that there may be positive outcomes associated with suggested reforms, through a systematic analysis of the Carter Review Mutton et al. (2017) found that there are tensions in the document because of the challenges encountered when ITE is viewed as a policy problem. The critique of the review includes reference to the mandating of national standards in teaching which, it is argued, may frustrate any attempts to address the challenges of ITE through the process of professional learning (Mutton et al., 2017). Despite the relevant concerns, Adamson (2012) acknowledges that academics are sometimes suspicious of the way policy-makers make use of comparative research and this can result in uneasy tension. Thus, to create balance, an awareness of the need to encourage dialogue between policy-makers and academics is offered by the study conducted by White (2016) which presents policy-makers in a more magnanimous light.
Theory and practice
Effective ITE positively correlates with teacher effectiveness, suggesting that there should be a balance between the teaching of theory and the exposure to clinical practice during the training period (Barh and Mellor, 2016). Nevertheless, the theory-practice divide is still a contentious issue in teacher education (Kitchen and Petrarca, 2016) and has been placed under the spotlight in recent years (Varadharajan and Schuck, 2017). Particularly in England, there has been a shift towards practice-based routes such as Teach First (Fitzgerald and Knipe, 2016). Recently, scholars have highlighted the need for dialogue between theory and practice and between policy-makers and educators (White, 2016).
The move to clinical practice in ITE is a trend which commenced in the UK in the early 1990s. (Dinham, 2015). In Australia, the same trend is beginning to be witnessed (Dinham, 2015). Dinham (2015) critiques this move on the basis that it is motivated by widely accepted yet contestable beliefs, such as the belief that universities are out of touch with contemporary teaching methods. However, a justification for the trend is that school placements are crucial to the development of pre-service teachers because their experience in schools facilitates the collection of evidence and enables reflective practice to occur (Morrison et al., 2018)
Assessment and the use of professional standards
There are increasing demands in both Australia and the UK for evidence relating to the efficacy of ITE programs and therefore there are correspondingly tightened systems of national accreditation of teachers developing in both countries (Gore, 2016). According to Bahr and Ferreira (2018) the evidence-based approach focuses on the trainee as teacher, which is necessary, but is not extensive because it lacks any focus on the interpersonal dimension of teaching. One critique of national accreditation is advanced by Rowe and Skourdoumbis (2017), who argue that the discourse should be changed to decontextualize the role of the teacher because the standards climate can lead to an unhelpful standardisation of teachers. Tension exists between the view of teaching as a craft and as a profession based on research (Page, 2015) with ITE in England being positioned as a technical craft (Brown et al., 2016). In both Australia and the UK trainee teachers maintain their own personal evidence-based portfolios through which satisfaction of standards can be demonstrated (Morrison et al., 2018). Despite the consensus that these portfolios are effective in terms of teacher development, there are some concerns that this approach also facilitates a performance culture within schools (Mockler, 2013). When situated within an outcomes-based profession, the value of using professional standards to assess trainees and teachers alike becomes persuasive. For example, Call (2018) conducted a comparative analysis of the history of professional teaching standards and found that when they are embedded in ITE programs they can lead to better educational outcomes, especially since recently-qualified teachers begin their careers with the same level of responsibility as their more experienced colleagues, so should be subject to the same framework of standards from the outset. Darling-Hammond (2017) also supports the use of teachers’ standards in Australia because they provide an architecture which frames articulations of expectations for trainees and teachers. The value of professional standards is less persuasive when they are viewed as being part of the process for the development of trainees as effective pedagogues. Bahr and Mellor (2016) are critical of the use of standards, arguing that, although necessary, standards do not ensure quality teachers. It is their argument that professional standards do not cover personal attributes which effective pedagogues possess, such as the ability to inspire learning. The neglect of these personal facets is also implied in separate studies by Mockler (2013) and Larsen (2017). Both point out that the standards appear to focus on the functionalist view of teaching. Focusing on the trainee as an individual, McGraw (2018) argues that when there is an emphasis on what the trainee does in terms of producing specific outcomes, the rich complexity of the experience may be missed. In this respect, the standards could be viewed as functioning as assessment tools which measure how well the trainee performs as a learner (Buchanan, 2017), rather than how well the trainee is developing as a teacher. There may also be a tendency for trainee teachers to mostly comply and conform to standards even when they may disagree with the expectations of the source of the authority (Stone, 2016). There is also very little evidence that trainees challenge sources of authority (Stone, 2016). This system can lead to feelings of disempowerment, as the trainee lacks autonomy (Stone, 2016). A further critique of the use of professional standards in assessing trainees is offered by Dinham (2015) who argues that it is symptomatic of the compliance-based model found in global educational reform movements which remain largely unchallenged.
How ITE may influence teacher attrition
The literature on links between ITE and teacher attrition is scarce although research is starting to be conducted in this area. An important study by Ingersoll et al., (2014) found a link between early career teacher attrition and the type of training they had received. The more the trainee had received pedagogical preparation, the more likely they were to stay in the profession. One limitation of the research is that the focus was mainly on science and mathematics teachers. There is also a need for content-based pedagogy (McNamara et al., 2017) for trainee primary class teachers. When addressing the issue of the broader development of teachers as individuals, as opposed to subject-specialists conveying knowledge, Mason and Poyatos Matas (2015) made the connection between effective teaching, teacher retention and the development of non-economic capital and found that the quality of teacher education impacts upon the skills and knowledge required to develop an individual’s human capital and hence their psychological well-being, which plays an important part in teacher retention.
Teacher education programmes in Australia
There are multiple study pathways to becoming a qualified teacher in Australia (Mayer, 2014). University-based options include: a four-year degree (e.g. Bachelor of Education); a double degree (e.g. Bachelor of Arts combined with Bachelor of Education); and a master’s degree (e.g. Master of Teaching). These programmes will typically include elements of curriculum studies, professional studies, and practical experience in schools (Mayer, 2014). There is evidence of effective partnerships between schools and teacher educators. For example, the University of Melbourne offers a two-year clinical Master of Teaching degree which integrates academic research with practical work in partnership schools (Darling-Hammond, 2017). Bridging the gap between academic learning about teaching and the practical implementation of theoretical knowledge is a growing priority for ITE providers, as evidenced by the University of Melbourne’s Clinical Practice exam (Yeigh and Lynch, 2017). Teach for Australia is an alternative pathway which includes a six-week intensive course followed by two years spent teaching within a school-based education programme (Bahr and Mellor, 2016). Trainees are supported by mentors during this time. Teach for Australia is not without its critics. For instance, Mayer et al. (2017) found that this type of alternative pathway destabilises the university model of initial teacher education as it can force the closure of university courses, as has been evidenced in Britain following the introduction of the School Direct programme. Each state and territory government in Australia is responsible for its own education system (Clinton et al., 2015). Although historically there have been different approaches to assuring teacher quality, there have been moves in recent years to foster consistency (Clinton et al., 2015). For example, there is an increasing move by the Australian government to focus on evidence-based research which links teacher education effectiveness with student outcomes (White, 2016) and which then informs national policy. Despite the criticisms of alternative pathways, the Australian government has recently committed to supporting these alternative routes which ‘broaden the entry points into teaching and can help spread quality teachers across the system by placing them in schools that need them most’ (Australian Government, 2018, n.p.).
Teacher training programmes in the UK
In the UK, different approaches are taken to ITE depending on if the trainee is studying in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. England offers a greater diversity of options to trainees, with both university-led and school-led options. In Wales, most postgraduate training programmes are university-based and there are also options to attain QTS via the Graduate Teacher Programme and the Teach First Leadership Development Programme both of which are employment-based routes (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), 2018a). In Scotland and Northern Ireland, all training programmes are led by universities or colleges. There are two routes: a four-year undergraduate programme or a one-year Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) (UCAS, 2018c; UCAS, 2018d). The UCAS website currently (2018) offers 16 options to prospective trainee teachers in England seeking a route into teaching. Although these options are too numerous to mention in detail here, routes can broadly be classified as follows: assessment only; future teaching scholars; undergraduate initial teacher training; Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) which is university-led; postgraduate teaching apprenticeship; School Direct (salaried or tuition fee); school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT); and Troops to Teachers (UCAS, 2018b). School Direct is an employment-based route to QTS which allows schools to ‘select and recruit their own trainees’ (Department for Education (DfE), 2017, n.p.). Accredited initial teacher training (ITT) providers can either be universities or school-centred initial teacher trainers (SCITTs) (Carter, 2015). SCITT resembles the (non-salaried) School Direct route in that it provides hands-on teacher-training delivered by experienced teachers. The SCITT programmes are run by schools, or groups of schools (UCAS, 2018b).
Reform of teacher education and public policy
As Furlong (2013) points out, up until the 1980s, teacher education was ‘a relative backwater in terms of educational policy’ in Australia and the UK (p.29). Yet teachers are now viewed as being ‘the key resource in ensuring global competitiveness of each nation state’s education service’ (Furlong, 2013, p.29). Furthermore, teacher education is now positioned as a policy problem (Mayer et al, 2017) with ITE being ‘a persistent theme across the global policy landscape’ (Rowe and Skourdoumbis, 2017, p.1). There is perceived to be a need for innovative approaches to ITE, with ideas being contributed by academics, researchers, politicians, and school leaders (Yeigh and Lynch, 2017). Considering the wide range of contributors, it is not surprising that innovations may not always dovetail, and when a country’s education is state-controlled, those with political power are more likely to succeed in reforming ITE through public policy. Within such a landscape, associated shifts in power will occur. For example, recent policy changes relating to School Direct have altered the balance of power between schools and universities (Brown et al., 2016). A study by White (2016) found that policy-makers want to understand about the ‘world’ of teacher education and want to be better understood themselves by researchers (p.261). This suggests that there is a benefit in encouraging dialogue since policy-makers are often situated diametrically opposite to teacher educators in research papers, as Mayer et al. (2017) demonstrate when they point out that, as policy-makers seek to further control and reform teacher education, so the trust which was previously placed in the professional judgements of teachers diminishes. While it may be true that the trust is diminishing, it may not necessary be true that policy-makers are actively seeking to control teacher education; the apparent taking of control may be a side effect of policy-makers’ lack of knowledge about the teaching profession. There is a compelling argument for increased dialogue to occur when policy-making is situated within politics. Power can be exerted on people through policies which become ‘instruments of reification’ (Rowe and Skourdoumbis, 2017, p.12) and the reform of ITE becomes normalised and associated with political paradigms rather than with theoretical understanding of effective teaching and learning. It can be no coincidence that the dominant political paradigm in the UK since the late 1970s has been neoliberalism and that the provision of teacher education has been subject to many reforms over these last four decades in line with the global education reform movement (GERM) (Little, 2015). Neoliberalism demands a competitive market (Furlong, 2013) to satisfy the notion that education will flourish when exposed to market forces (Dinham, 2015). Within an increasingly de-regulated market, with the neoliberalist contention that educational improvement evolves by application of market forces and competition (Mulheron, 2015), training providers must compete with one another to attract students. Although there is a perceived withdrawal of the state in neoliberal policies, paradoxically, there has been increased state control in England through standardisation procedures which seek to assure the quality of ITE programmes (Adamson, 2012). Neoliberalism also creates the illusion of choice; potential trainees are faced with a ‘bewildering’ (Youens et al., 2018, p.13) amount of choice in the UK. The School Direct programme is an example of a government embracing neoliberal commitments (Furlong, 2013). Under this model, the school is in the driving seat because it can advertise the placement, select its candidate, choose an ITT provider, and choose how much training they wish to purchase from the provider and how much they will provide themselves (Furlong, 2013). As Furlong (2013) points out, this model reaches beyond the tension between universities and schools – it also creates a competitive market between schools, as the potential financial benefits of becoming accredited providers become apparent. The relationship between policy and educational outcomes is not linear (Mayer, 2014) so it should not be assumed that a reform of ITE will directly correlate with teacher effectiveness, let alone translate into improved academic outcomes for their students (Ingvarson et al., 2014). Both Australia and the UK have an education system which is driven by, and continually altered by, policy reforms. This underlying political aspect to the teaching profession may be one reason why prospective candidates are turning away from the profession because those who would be teachers would prefer a de-politicised system rather than one which is ‘based oft times on political whim’ (Aspland cited in Bahr and Mellor, 2016, p.iii).
The theory/practice divide
A key issue arising from the partnerships between universities and schools relates to the amount of emphasis each party places on theory and on practice. Programmes which privilege one over the other fail to recognise the importance of integration (Carter, 2015). Generally, universities tend to promote theoretical understanding as the basis for developing teaching practice, whereas schools tend to emphasis practical skills (Yeigh and Lynch, 2017). This divide has been described as a knowing/doing gap in ITE and is being addressed in Australia through research which suggests that partnerships need to be more connected (Ingvarson et al., 2014). Likewise, in the UK, the Carter Review (2015) found that debates about whether ITT should occur in universities or in schools ‘are not terribly helpful’ and that ‘the truth is that partnership is the key’ (p.3). One benefit to this approach is that subject-specific pedagogy (one of the recommendations of the Carter Review) can be developed in ITT courses, since subject-specialists and mentors in schools can liaise with the relevant academic departments in universities. Subject-specific pedagogy focuses on the phasing of learning within the subject, common misconceptions in the subject, and how the subject can be made accessible to learners at different developmental stages (Carter, 2015), so it does indeed present a more nuanced approach to ITT. Research suggests that early-career teachers are more confident and are less likely to leave the profession when they have received subject-specific pedagogical training (Ingersoll et al., 2014; McNamara et al., 2017). Hence this specific recommendation by Carter may play a crucial role in addressing the declining numbers of teachers in both Australia and the UK and is one which can only be developed through collaboration between ITE providers, subject-specialists, researchers, and policy-makers. Certainly, if Gilroy’s (2014) findings - that providers are more influenced by policy than by research – are vindicated in the UK, the development of partnerships may be the key to bridging the knowing/doing gap as well as tackling teacher attrition. However, since it has been noted that teacher educators’ research is being marginalised (White, 2016), more research needs to be done to establish how these collaborations can be facilitated.
The move to clinical practice
Student teachers now spend more time in schools during their initial training period than they did a decade ago (Darling-Hammond, 2017). Although Darling-Hammond (2017) asserts that ‘most would agree that the greater attention to clinical preparation has been a net benefit to teacher preparation’ (p.302), there are others who would view this as symptomatic of an anti-theoretical position (Stone, 2016) and would question the assumption that the theoretical aspect of teaching can be learned through observations and practice in the classroom. Furthermore, critics of the school-led system of ITE point to the consistency of this increasing trend with the neoliberal agenda (Mutton et al., 2017). This neoliberal move is facilitated by viewing teaching as a craft (Brown et al., 2016); a move which is influenced by ideological agendas (Page, 2015) resulting in a loop which further entrenches the dominant ideology. When the craft of teaching is privileged over teaching as an intellectual activity, school-based experience of ITE must be prioritised, since it is in the workplace that the craft must be observed, copied and demonstrated. In this respect, teaching is reduced to a practical skill which can be learned through observing and working with more experienced teachers. The problem is that when those experienced teachers are themselves situated within a heavily regulated environment, it is more likely that entrenched ideologies are inadvertently passed to trainees who are not then given the opportunity to examine those theories which fall outside current policy, nor do they experience the opportunity to develop autonomously. Other scholars assert that those teachers who have been trained within schools, such as through the Teach for Australia route, are no more effective than those teachers who have followed the more academic routes (Bahr and Mellor, 2016). Furthermore, the attrition rate of teachers who followed the Teach for Australia route appears to be high (Bahr and Mellor, 2016). Although experience in the field is crucial, when teaching is viewed as being akin to an apprenticeship, where the trainee learns on the job by observing and being mentored by a more experienced practitioner, emphasis is placed upon the craft of teaching over the professionalism of teaching (Page, 2015). This is a paradoxical move because ITE programmes in Australia and the UK feature sets of professional standards for teachers. Indeed, Fitzgerald and Knipe (2016) argue that the agenda in Australia is to professionalise teaching via a framework of professional standards. It may be that this move by policy-makers to professionalise teaching recontextualises the education of trainees and then subsequently has the effect of relocating the responsibility for training future teachers away from higher educational institutions and more towards the workplace. This may, in part, be due to how academics in universities are viewed by those outside of academia. Dinham (2015) argues that moving teacher education away from universities is symptomatic of some widely accepted beliefs concerning the ability of higher education establishments to deliver effective teacher education. These beliefs include the notion that higher education is out of touch with educator preparation and that tutors on these courses have little knowledge about the content they are teaching.
Assessment of trainees
A clear message is emerging in teacher training policy – the requirement for evidence-based verification of trainee teachers’ classroom-readiness (Mayer et al., 2017) and of teacher quality which translates to student outcomes (Varadharajan and Schuck, 2017). Assessment strategies have been tightened in both Australia and the UK through systems of national accreditation (Gore, 2016). This highly-regulated accreditation process divides knowledge and skills into discrete chunks (McGraw, 2018). Although this facilitates assessment, the method frustrates any ‘sustained conversation about constructivist approaches and evidence-informed decision-making’ (McGraw, 2018, p.163). In both countries, trainee teachers are required to maintain portfolios of evidence relating to their teaching practice and they are also encouraged to engage in reflective practice such as through logging journal entries (Morrison et al., 2018). One advantage of maintaining a portfolio is that it can act as readily-available evidence to all stakeholders (Morrison et al., 2018). However, using tick-box exercises to raise the quality of the teaching profession can have damaging effects on professional identity when they are situated within a performance culture (Mockler, 2013). The standards which are being used to form part of the accreditation process can be used in a negative way, by being linked to performance-related pay, for example (Mockler, 2013). It is commonly held that the goal of teacher education is to prepare a teacher to positively affect student learning (Mayer et al., 2017). In the UK there is a relentless focus on pupil outcomes in ITT, as the recommendation is that ITT courses be delivered purposefully with this overarching goal in mind (Carter, 2015). There is, however, a problem associated with setting such a goal during the initial training stage. If trainee teachers are assessed by reference to the progress made by the students they have taught, this may not be an accurate assessment of a trainee teacher, for two main reasons. Firstly, this approach assumes that the relationship between teaching and learning is linear (Gale and Parker, 2017). Yet this assumption must be questioned within the context of the specific conditions a trainee will experience during their ITE period. The relationship between teaching and learning will certainly be subject to many other variables during the short time the trainee takes responsibility for classes. These variables may skew results when set in the context of the relationship between a trainee teacher and the students they are teaching. Factors such as the extent to which the mentor intervenes in the trainee’s practice, the existing relationship between the usual class-teacher and the students, and the school’s curriculum and practice requirements imposed upon the trainee will all serve to create a somewhat artificial scenario which may impact on the students’ learning. Secondly, there is a difference between assessing teacher effectiveness and assessing teacher education effectiveness. In the first scenario, student progress through standardised test scores can be one legitimate way of assessing the effectiveness of a qualified teacher, since part of the teacher’s role is to enable learning to occur. However, ITE is one step removed from this process, and it is not the students’ learning which should be used as the standard by which a teacher education programme is judged. It is the role of a teacher education programme to prepare a teacher for classroom-readiness and, arguably, to nurture a trainee in line with what Mason and Poyatos Matos (2015) refer to as the development of a teacher’s human capital. They point out that it is the role of pre-service education to provide trainees with the skills and knowledge which will enable them to develop as teachers. It could reasonably be argued that assessment based on outcomes will prioritise the outcomes at the expense of paying attention to the process, yet the training period is an important process through which trainees can have the opportunity to develop if they were freed from the tick list exercise of evidencing standards.
Professional teaching standards
The use of professional standards in initial teacher training systems is common to both Australia and the UK and is ‘an emerging strategy across a number of nations’ (Darling-Hammond, 2017, p.5). In Australia, universities must ensure that their students meet the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) so that the individual can graduate and subsequently apply for teacher registration (Call, 2018). The APST currently has a different set of standards for graduates than for proficient, highly accomplished, or lead teachers, but there are seven main categories of standards which are common to all teachers. These categories include: knowing the students and how they learn; knowing the content and how to teach it; planning for and implementing effective teaching and learning; safe and supportive learning environments; assessing, reporting and providing feedback on learning; engaging in professional learning; and, engaging professionally with colleagues, parents, and the community (AITSL), 2018). These standards cover a wide range of issues and current research suggests that embedding teaching standards early on in undergraduate programs may build trainees’ confidence and classroom-readiness (Call, 2018). When standards are used during the training period they are typically viewed as being teacher standards which describe what a teacher is expected to learn during their ITE period (Jasman, 2009) although it is noted that they do not primarily define teaching quality (Buchanan, 2017). The APST system was introduced in 2011 (Larsen, 2017) and Teacher Standards were introduced in 2012 in the UK, although the latter have since been subject to reform. There are clear benefits to having a system of standards which can be linked to national educational reforms. One example in Australia has been where the standards were aligned to the new national curriculum for students, thus facilitating assessment of the effectiveness of both teaching and learning (Darling-Hammond, 2017). It is through the mandating of standards that a standardised disposition of a teacher can be formed (Rowe and Skourdoumbis, 2017) although this may be either a positive or a negative development, depending on perspective. One negative view of standardised disposition is that it has the effect of challenging the intellectual autonomy and professional expertise of the trainee teacher because the authority is relocated beyond the individual, to a realm of pre-ordained standards. This method of standardisation therefore suggests that policy-makers have a narrow conception of a teacher as a technician (Mutton et al., 2017). This view ignores the opportunities that a diverse cohort of trainees with their own unique qualities can bring to the development of the profession. For instance, it has been observed that second-career changers bring a valuable mix of personal and professional attributes (Varadharajan and Schuck, 2017). As Bahr and Ferreira (2018) point out, the best teachers will find teachable moments, will use humour to explain concepts, will inspire students and care for them as individuals, and will adapt their teaching to connect with their students in meaningful ways. This description shows how the best teachers cannot be reduced to standardised models nor can effective teaching be assessed via the use of a set of pre-ordained standards. Essentially, as Bahr and Ferreira (2018) argue, the interpersonal dimension is lost in programmes of accreditation. A further critique of the use of professional standards when assessing trainees relates to the conflation of a training period with a teaching period. In other words, when a trainee starts to teach classes during their training period they should not be viewed as teachers who are teaching. Rather, they should be viewed as trainees who are learning how to teach. As Jasman (2009) points out, during their training period, teachers are assessed according to teacher standards, yet following qualification, a teacher will be assessed on their teaching quality. Essentially, the standards should enable the trainee teachers to be assessed as learners (Buchanan, 2017). There is a subtle difference between the requirement for an individual to collate evidence to demonstrate their learning (or, where they have satisfied teacher standards), and the assessment of teaching quality. The former can be satisfied even if the students who were taught by the teacher did not ultimately learn anything; the latter necessarily demands evidence that teaching has led to successful learning. It appears that there is some confusion as to what the use of standards during the ITE period is trying to achieve. The transition as it concerns satisfaction of teaching standards may be too sudden for newly qualified teachers, who may find that their previous success at passing their training period cannot immediately be transmuted into quality teaching in accordance with the standards. This situation may be compounded by other factors which frustrate learning, such as unfamiliarity of school procedures and difficult students who require specialist behaviour management. Such aspects are beyond the immediate control of the newly qualified teacher and may be overwhelming when compared to the training programme. In summary, depending on the way standards are used, they can offer security, can protect, can function as a control device, or can even be used to intimidate (Buchanan, 2017). They can also act as a compliance device which constrains the teaching profession because, as Taylor (2016) asserts, ‘compliance minimises risk, it never fosters greatness’ (p.222). Considering the wide variety of ways in which standards can be used, and mis-used, and the confusion surrounding the use of standards when training potential teachers, further evidence is needed to ensure that this system of accreditation is used appropriately and effectively.
Australia and the UK compared
Although this dissertation seeks to identify similarities between Australia and the UK, there is a key difference which must be referenced since it has the potential to reveal a profound problem common to ITE in both countries. This key difference is implicit in the designation of teacher preparation programmes. In Australia, teachers receive education through ITE programmes; in the UK, teachers are trained during their ITT period. This apparently insignificant difference is noted by Bahr and Mellor (2016) who posit that there must exist in the UK the belief that individuals who are on the path to QTS can amass a set of trainable skills to become teachers, with their education being less important. Bahr and Mellor believe that this approach will have ‘disastrous consequences’ for the teaching profession in the UK (Bahr and Mellor, 2016, p.47). Whilst this is an important point for schools-based routes, the argument is invalidated in the case of the university-led routes where, although still under the nomenclature of teacher training, there is a significant amount of academic learning which takes place in the university. For example, over the course of the academic year, although some 120 days will be spent in school placements, there are a further 70 days allowed for university lectures, seminars, and essay assignments (University of Sussex, 2018). However, considering that both the PGCE option and the school-based options are presented to potential candidates as being of equal merit on the UCAS website, and therefore candidates can choose to follow a route which does neglect the academic elements of ITE, such concern for the teacher training system in the UK is vindicated. Yet Bahr and Mellor’s concern should not be focused solely on the UK, since Australia appears to be following the UK in its preference for diversifying the teacher education landscape (Gale and Parker, 2017) and this is a trend not wholly surprising, considering Australia’s close links with the UK (Dinham, 2015). Following the analysis of the various themes within ITE and considering the comparative analysis between Australia and the UK, there are three key similarities which should be noted. Firstly, the preference for diversification manifests in both countries as the multiple pathways to qualified teacher status which are presented to potential trainee teachers. Secondly, both countries appear to be entering a paradoxical situation in the sense that ITE is becoming increasingly professionalised and regulated through the implementation of teaching standards while at the same time becoming deregulated through the devolution of accreditation to school-based providers. Through the ‘neoliberal educational ecologies’ (Taylor, 2016, p.13) which dominate policy in the UK and Australia, standards can serve both as a strategy of governance and as the vehicle by which providers can demonstrate how they compare against their competitors in the market via a shared and standardised assessment framework. The third similarity is that both countries have gone down the route of using teacher standards as part of their ITE programmes. As has been shown, although teaching standards are generally considered to be necessary and valuable for qualified teachers, there are significant problems associated with using such standards within ITE.
Conclusion: How ITE and teacher attrition are related
Diversity of options
As has been shown, both Australia and England and Wales offer a variety of routes into the teaching profession. While this approach is attuned to the neoliberal ideal of choice within the marketplace, this may be an inappropriate technique for attracting new teachers. Traditionally, teaching has been viewed as a profession. Typically, when studying a profession such as law or accountancy, trainees will follow similar routes, although may be members of different professional bodies. By opening the teaching profession to an array of routes which include apprenticeships and employment-based options as well as full-time postgraduate courses, there is the risk that confusion is created such that would-be applicants may not know which pathway would be the best one for them to follow. It is tentatively hypothesised here that the developing diversity in pathways to QTS might be contributing to the decline in teacher training applications because prospective applicants may have difficulty in ascertaining which route would be the most appropriate for their future development. However, this hypothesis is challenged by the fact that, while England, Wales and Australia have an array of options, Scotland and Northern Ireland still focus on university and college-led postgraduate courses, so clearly offer fewer options, yet are simultaneously experiencing declines in applications. Further research could focus on collecting the views of potential applicants to establish to what extent the diversity helps or hinders their decision-making when considering a career in teaching.
The neoliberal agenda
The neoliberal agenda in education, which has a direct effect upon ITE programmes, may be contributing both to the reduction in applicants to training programmes, and to newly-qualified teacher attrition rates. While neoliberalism is not a new phenomenon in the UK, its effects upon ITE are relatively more recent. As an example, Stone (2016) suggests that prospective trainees may have an idealised view of teaching and may not be aware of the performativity aspect which is developing within teaching. In other words, it is only when the trainees have experienced time working in schools that they become aware of this aspect, and this factor may contribute to early attrition rates. Teaching has traditionally been associated with a vocation, with applicants to the profession being motivated by the desire to improve students’ lives, to pass on knowledge and to contribute to the advancement of knowledge within a society. These desires do not always align with the neoliberalist ideals of free-market competition which favours individualism. If education is being situated within the neoliberal agenda (and many scholars argue that it is) then the teacher-training market will need to attract applicants who share such neoliberal values.
The assessment procedures
The requirement for teachers to collate evidence to show how they are achieving teaching standards is robust in both Australia and the UK. The process of collecting and reflecting upon evidence not only facilitates the external assessment of teachers; it also provides a vehicle by which teachers can drive their own development, through identifying strengths and weaknesses in the various categories of their practice. Paradoxically, however, the extensive scope of the teaching standards may be one reason why newly-qualified teachers decide to leave the profession. The pressure to achieve all the standards in a relatively short period of time may project an unnecessarily complicated vision of their own teaching future. Another aspect of the standards is that they are rooted in power and authority and may, therefore, be antithetical to prospective teachers who feel a ‘calling’ to make a change to young people’s lives. This is because the trainee teacher must comply with the standards imposed upon them to pass the programme yet may not necessarily agree with the underlying ideologies upon which the standards are based. Research is scarce regarding the impact of teacher accreditation (Menter et al., 2010 cited in Taylor, 2016), so the relationship between professional standards and teacher attrition is relatively unexplored. This suggests that further research needs to be conducted into the ways in which trainees are assessed and how this then relates to their own teaching practices and experiences once they enter the workplace.
Tensions between school-based routes and academic routes
When more than one route exists to obtaining teaching qualifications there will be tension between providers. When trainees are trained by schools, the trainee will receive a more practical introduction to the teaching from the start of their experience. Conversely, trainees on the PGCE route in England will usually commence with university-based lectures and then proceed to two professional placements at schools where they will be mentored. Trainees commonly report that their practical experience is more valuable than their course-based work (Petrarca and Bullock, 2014). This may, however, be due to the priorities which become pressing when a trainee is presented with the unfamiliarity of the classroom. Petrarca and Bullock (2014) found that when trainees felt supported and were encouraged to explore the interplay between theory and activity in the classroom, intellectual links between practice and theory could be articulated. Whilst many scholars advocate a balance between academic learning and school-based practice (Bahr and Mellor, 2016; Carter, 2015; Dinham, 2015) there does appear to be a practical problem in assuming that such balance can be achieved within a neoliberal market which offers courses that emphasise the practical route rather than the academic route. When trainees are predominantly situated in schools, there is a risk that trainees may mimic the teachers they are observing (Stone, 2016), thus perpetuating current pedagogical practices at the expense of developing new practice through critical analysis. Furthermore, although trainees observe the behaviour of qualified teachers, the underlying reasons for the behaviour is rarely explained (Petrarca and Bullock, 2014). These factors may become problematic for newly qualified teachers who, when they are the sole adult in the room, may struggle to translate their previous observations into their own individualised practice. There is also the question regarding the extent to which trainees in school-based routes are being exposed to theoretical elements which underpin practice. Since school-based routes are relatively new in the UK, and are a growing trend (Dinham, 2015) in Australia, it appears that further research needs to be conducted to ascertain the amount of theoretical teaching trainees in school-based pathways are receiving compared to their counterparts in the more traditional routes.
Summary of further research areas
Although this dissertation attempts to relate teacher attrition to factors related to ITE, it is acknowledged that these are tentative connections and further research would be required to test the hypotheses presented. A future research area which could address the decline in the number of applicants to teacher training could include interviewing new entrants to ITE programmes in England about the factors which influenced their decision to choose their pathway and how they navigated the diversity of options. To establish any links between early career teacher attrition and the framework of professional teaching standards, it is suggested that research could be conducted into newly-qualified teachers’ views of these standards during their first year of teaching, with a comparison made with how the standards featured during their training period. The use of the reflective portfolios during the training period could also provide valuable insight into how individuals view the standards, thus potentially revealing a connection between the accreditation process and subsequent teacher attrition rates. Finally, because of the increased focus in both Australia and England on practice-based routes, there is a need to collect evidence of pedagogical training within schools and compare this to the content provided by university-led courses. The transition from the training period to the first teaching position will always involve challenges, since it is a unique position. To mitigate the effects of teacher attrition in Australia and the UK, it might be that training providers need to backtrack and critically assess the elements of their training programmes that might inadvertently be making this transitional period more challenging than it ultimately needs to be.
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