FedUni fears proposed changes could hurt teaching numbers

Federation University fears a proposed overhaul of Victoria’s teacher education system will lead to a shortage of regional teachers.

Education Minister James Merlino has flagged the major overhaul in a bid to attract more suitably qualified teachers to the classroom as part of the Working Together to Shape Teacher Education Discussion Paper.

The minister has proposed an ATAR threshold or minimum VCE study scores for teaching courses, along with making entry to teaching degrees available to university graduates only.

The Australian Education Union welcomed the government’s review, with Victorian branch president Meredith Peace saying in order to “raise the quality of teaching and the status of the profession, the issue of entry standards must be addressed”.

However, Federation University School of Education deputy head Dr Nicola Johnson told The Express the changes would reduce teacher numbers, with low socio-economic students and mature-aged students possibly missing out on entry to degrees if an ATAR threshold was implemented.

“People who ‘just want to be teachers’ may also be put off courses if they became graduate-only,” Dr Johnson said.

“They want a professional degree that qualifies them to do something.”

“They don’t want to complete a sociology or art degree just to get into a teaching course.”

She was also concerned regional areas such as Gippsland would further suffer if the proposals were implemented, with the area already struggling to address teaching needs.

Dr Johnson said universities should instead focus on initiatives providing teaching students with the hands-on experience and support needed to meet graduate requirements, such as FedUni’s four-year teaching programs.

She said the university’s programs, such as a newly-developed Federation University/Kurnai College partnership, provided “a clear pathway to meet the needs of our region” and “ensure graduates were work-ready”.

In the Masters of Teaching (Secondary) course, FedUni Gippsland’s pre-service teachers attend Kurnai College’s Morwell campus two days a week for face-to-face classes.

Students are “immersed in the life of the school” and participate in morning teas, sports days and sit in on classes.

“If we do a lesson on a certain teaching method, the students can then pop into the maths room and see what it will look like in practice,” Dr Johnson said.

She said these initiatives ensured pre-teachers had real-life teaching experience upon graduation, while also strengthening the ties between university and school.

She said this was core in raising the standard of graduate teachers.

“Our focus is on offering a range of support services to get pre-teachers ready for the workforce, regardless of their background,” Dr Johnson said.

Education Minister James Merlino said the review was about “improving the overall quality of teaching in our schools, not cutting back the number of candidates who hope to teach”.

“Over the coming months we’ll look at ways to boost teaching as a profession of choice and attract a diverse range of candidates with the qualities and skills to make excellent teachers,” he said.

“We’ve already been talking to stakeholders, universities and experts, and this discussion paper provides an opportunity for them to provide specific feedback on a range of potential reforms.”