Labor have a new education policy, it’s not about funding and it’s quite good

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Tanya Plibersek, deputy leader of the Australian Labor Party, has warned universities that they need to toughen their entry requirements for teacher education courses or face a cap on the number of places. This is a partial reversal of the Labor government’s 2009 decision to uncap university places.

Much of the discussion centres on the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank or ATAR. Students who wish to attend university sit a series of exams in Year 12 in different subjects – in Victoria, these are the Victorian Certificate of Education exams. These are all cohort-referenced, with the same proportion of students getting the same proportion of scores each year. From these exams, the ATAR is calculated.

The ATAR is intended to be the percentile of performance relative to all students who started high school in that cohort, not just those who sat the exams in Year 12. So an ATAR of 90 places you in the top 10%, an ATAR of 80 places you in the top 20% and so on.

The number of teacher education students with an ATAR below 70 has increased to 40% in recent years and some stories have been published highlighting trainee teachers with extremely low ATARs. There has also been concern about the use of alternative routes into teaching that bypass ATAR cutoffs that some states have implemented.

There is a suspicion that teacher education courses cost less to run than they collect in fees and so universities are motivated to recruit too many students. Although these are shortage subjects, there appears to be an overall oversupply of teachers, with new teachers struggling to find permanent work.

Teacher education courses also employ education academics and so, somewhat predictably, they have come out to fight Labor on this. The basic argument is that we should not be looking at entry requirements, we should be looking at outcomes. I don’t find this convincing given that teacher education courses don’t even appear to be equipping primary teachers in effective methods for teaching reading.

Some will also argue that teachers’ academic achievements don’t really matter. I disagree and would question the evidence base for such a claim. However, I suppose it comes down to what you want teachers and teaching to be.

Do you see education as the process of organising activities with the intention of imparting vacuous skills such as creativity, empathy and resilience? Such a dumbed-down approach does not actually require teachers to know anything. If, however, you would like children to experience a knowledge-rich curriculum then teacher knowledge becomes crucial.

Labor currently seem likely to form the next government later this year. This is a good policy. Let’s have more of the same.


2 thoughts on “Labor have a new education policy, it’s not about funding and it’s quite good

  1. I hadn’t noticed that AARE piece, thanks for the link. God, it would take an essay to unravel all the distortions and muddled thinking there.

  2. Luqman Michel says:

    “….teacher education courses don’t even appear to be equipping primary teachers in effective methods for teaching reading….” Isn’t that the truth!

    In 1969 we have put man on the moon but can’t get teachers to teach many kids to read even as of now?.

    We need to ask ourselves as to how a short period of remediation can get almost all children to grade level and keep them at grade level.

    Dr.David Kilpatrick had said in his book Equipped for Reading Success – “In a large study by scientists from the State University of New York at Albany, researchers were able to reduce the number of children who require ongoing remediation from the national average of 30% down to 2%.

    Another example is a study by researchers at Florida State University. They showed how the most severely reading disabled students could reach grade level – and stay there- using a surprisingly brief intervention programme. (Don’t be surprised to see my name in the acknowledgement pages of the above book as well as on his next book – ‘Essentials of Assessing , Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties.)

    The question we need to ask is; “What did they do different to get kids who could not read to grade level? Why, in the first place, did these kids need remediation?

    How is it that I dare tell the world that I can get a child to grate level within 4 months of three hour lessons per week? I have made it happen just after a few minutes of asking kids in primary 3 and 5 to sound out sounds of consonants. Read my post at

    I have just taken another kid who is in primary 4 and yesterday was my second lesson. I have recorded my first lesson with him and will write on the progress as soon as I get his father’s permission to give details on my blog.

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