This is a brief submission from the New South Wales Council of Deans of Education (NSWCDE) in response to the Consultation Paper on postgraduate places in the higher education system.

This submission is a supplementary response to the more substantial submission tendered by the Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE) on behalf of the 39 Faculties and Schools of Education across Australian institutions. The NSWCDE fully supports and endorses the ACDE submission, which involved consultation with all state Deans groups, and which scopes the current situation of teacher education in terms of national policy and teaching standards, and the impact of capping postgraduate places in Education programs within this policy environment.

Strong support of the ACDE submission

In particular, the NSWCDE supports the concern, expressed in the ACDE submission, that should any proposal to cap postgraduate places in Education be introduced, it will undermine the capacity of teacher education providers to deliver the quality teaching outcomes envisioned by MCEECDYA when it adopted national program standards, one of which is to mandate two year postgraduate program standards in teacher education over the period 2012-15.

The NSWCDE strongly supports the three key principles developed in the ACDE submission that should be applied to teacher education programs as new policy relating to the funding of postgraduate places is developed. These principles, as expressed in the ACDE submission, are “that any recalibration of Commonwealth supported postgraduate places in the short to medium term must ensure Faculties and Schools of Education are in a position to:

  1. Deliver the new National Program Standards endorsed by MCEECDYA in April 2011, including a critical shift from one to two year graduate programs, while maintaining the quantum of new teacher graduates to meet predicted workforce needs;
  2. Exercise flexibility and judgement to adjust course profiles and load between graduate and undergraduate programs to:
    • meet local workforce needs within the context of national priorities;
    • graduate a diversity of professional entry teaching staff to build the expertise, capacity, and quality of the teacher workforce
  3. Avoid perverse and unintended outcomes, particularly :
    • Loss of CSPs to other disciplines within an institutional decision-making process
    • The establishment of a two-tier system of Pre-service Teacher Education.”

In addition to these principles, the NSWCDE also strongly supports the following statement from the ACDE submission: “The critical issue for Faculties and Schools of Education is that they must have:

  • capacity to increase their overall load to facilitate a shift from one to two years full time study for graduate entry in Initial Teacher Education Programs (ITE);
  • maintain the number of graduates for the teaching workforce, and;
  • provide professional development opportunities for teachers to undertake postgraduate studies.”

Education Deans, National Standards, and good faith

The NSWCDE wishes to emphasise its strong support for the recent development of a 2 year duration as the mandatory national standard for postgraduate programs in teacher education. This new national program standard, endorsed in 2011 by MCEECDYA, is a very positive development in addressing quality teaching as a policy objective. All members of the NSWCDE participated in consultation processes facilitated by the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) and the NSW Institute of Teachers (NSWIT) around this and other important new national standards. All NSW Deans finally endorsed the new graduate and program standards, and which included two year postgraduate programs.

This was not easy for some Deans to do. While some postgraduate teacher education programs in NSW are already of two years duration, other remain at 1 year or 1.5 years in length. The driver for garnering the support of all Deans was that, for national consistency and in the interests of long term teacher quality outcomes, the two year program was in the best interests of the nation and the profession of teaching. At no stage in the consultation process, nor at the time of MCEECDYA endorsement of the national standards, was the prospect of capping postgraduate funded load at current levels suggested. That it is now being suggested is, to be frank, poor and inconsistent policy, and a breach of faith with Deans of Education who, in good faith, participated in the consultation process.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the NSWCDE feels that Education Deans have been blind-sided by concurrent, opaque and contradictory policy decisions of which they had no knowledge during the AITSL consultation process about national standards. NSW Deans supported the increase of postgraduate programs to 2 years in good faith. Poor funding decisions as a result of this review may mean that the new national standards are likely to have an adverse affect on the supply of teachers, and on the quality of teacher education programs and their graduates. These would be, we feel, unintended consequences of this review process, yet very likely resulting in negative outcomes depending upon the policy decisions made. We follow up on these below.

Negative impact on teacher supply

If as a result of this review process funded postgraduate load is not allowed to increase beyond current levels, those institutions that currently offer postgraduate programs of 1 or 1.5 years duration will be required to cut the numbers of students to whom they offer places when their two year programs take effect. In some programs (current 1 year Dip. Ed. programs, for example), institutions will only be able to accept 50% of current intakes. This will have the affect of decreasing enrolments into teacher education and with it, the likelihood that the supply of teachers in areas of shortage, particularly in the secondary curriculum (English, mathematics and science), will be reduced (in many institutions offering secondary teacher education, postgraduate models are the standard offering). In the view of the NSWCDE, this would represent a negative and unintended consequence of the funding of postgraduate teacher education.

While in NSW there is often the view expressed that teachers are in over-supply – usually this view is driven by the large (but not demonstrably reliable) ‘waiting lists’ said to exist for employment in public schools – there is counter evidence that teacher shortages are imminent. This evidence includes a recent report from KPMG, utilising DEEWR data, pointing to significant skills shortages in health and education by 2025. It also includes a very recent report from the NSW Auditor-General which examines the age profile of NSW teachers and predicts shortages in supply in the medium term as a large ageing band of teachers enters retirement. If we are not to make an unintended contribution to an already anticipated teacher shortage, this review needs to carefully consider the impact of decisions about the funding of postgraduate teacher education places. The view of the NSWCDE is that some growth in funded PG places in teacher education must be facilitated to counter the increase in program length mandated in the national standards. Pertinent levels of supported growth will, in turn, support rather than compromise future teacher supply. As the ACDE submission indicates, the required levels of growth are not large. They are, however, very necessary.

Negative impact on program and teacher quality

There is a bemusing factor in the current political discourse about postgraduate places and their funding. This is the suggestion, put to members of NSWCDE on more than one occasion, that all institutions need to do to work around capped postgraduate places is to convert postgraduate programs to undergraduate programs. As undergraduate load is uncapped and fully funded, problem solved!

We think that this type of thinking misses the entire point of the new national program standards in teacher education and the desire of the Commonwealth and states to drive an enhanced quality teaching agenda (it also, incidentally, adds no benefit to the Education budget’s bottom line). Postgraduate programs in initial teacher education have always been with us, always will be, and always should be. Students who enter into teaching having studied an undergraduate degree bring with them into their studies and into their practice as teachers a richness and diversity of knowledge and experience that exceeds common levels amongst graduates from undergraduate programs. The skills and understandings postgraduates bring enrich their teaching and the contributions they make to their schools. We do not want to retreat to a single, undergraduate-focused model of teacher education, as it would represent a dilution of quality, not an enhancement.

To enhance program and teacher quality was also the reason DEEWR, and finally the Federal and state governments through MCEECDYA, decided to increase the length of postgraduate programs to 2 years duration. While the strengths of postgraduate teacher education are well known, it is clear that the world of professional teaching practice, and the world generally, have changed remarkably since the 1 year postgraduate models were developed many decades ago. It was time to change to a longer and more sophisticated model of postgraduate teacher education.

These attempts to enhance program quality and resultant teacher quality should be supported, not threatened, by the funding of teacher education within higher education. The prospect of leveraging significant additional quality through 2 year postgraduate models is made more exciting by the new Australian Qualifications Framework’s conceptualisation of Level 9 (Masters) postgraduate programs and the skills and competencies they develop. These include research and the development of higher levels of research and analytical skills.

Conclusion

For these reasons, we strongly endorse the submission of the Australian Council of Deans of Education. We do hope that good funding policy, and good faith, prevails as decisions are made about the future funding of postgraduate programs in Education.

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