Higher standards urged as number of trainee teachers with low ATARS doubles
Jun 01, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
Australia must act urgently to lift entry marks for teaching courses and stop low-achieving students flooding the profession, says the country’s main teaching union.
The Australian Education Union has renewed calls for a clear minimum entry benchmark after new figures revealed the percentage of students entering teaching courses with ATARs of less than 50 has almost doubled in three years - rising from 7.3 to 13.3 per cent since 2013.
Earlier this year, a Fairfax Media investigation found almost all Australian universities were routinely accepting students with ATARs (Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks) below minimum course entry requirements.
The trend has emerged since the lifting of a cap on university place numbers by the Gillard Government in 2013.
Figures released by the federal education department this week show that 1062 students were admitted to teaching courses with ATARs under 50 in 2016, up from 894 in 2015.
Another 2986 were admitted with ATARs between 50 and 70 - meaning more than half of all teaching students admitted with an ATAR in 2016 had a mark of less than 70.
Last year, NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli implemented a policy restricting teaching places to students who had scored above 80 in three subjects in their HSC.
The AEU is now calling for that policy to be implemented nationally, with federal president Correna Haythorpe saying the federal Government must impose minimum entry standards for teaching degrees to maintain quality in the profession.
“The NSW Government has put clear minimum entry standards in place, requiring teachers employed in public schools to have three ATARs of over 80, including English,” she said.
“This is the model that the federal Government should follow.
“The long-term drop in ATAR scores is alarming, and will affect our education system if it is not addressed.
“Entry scores for teaching degrees have dropped steadily over the last decade, and are now significantly lower than for other courses.
“This is a far cry from successful school systems like Singapore which recruit teachers from the top 30 per cent of high school graduates.
“Teaching courses should be about turning high achieving students into high performing teachers, not helping students who struggled at school learn the basics before they enter the classroom.
“We know that students admitted with low ATARs are less likely to continue with their course and there is a clear correlation between ATAR scores and success at university.”
A 2015 report by the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership showed that almost one fifth of trainee teachers accepted on to courses through pathways other than the school exam system had ATAR marks in the 30 to 50 range.
“While those students may have other qualities or experience that will make them good teachers, it is a concern that this is being used to lower academic entry standards even further,” said Ms Haythorpe.
Lawrence Ingvarson of the Australian Council for Educational Research says that over the past decade, universities have reached a point where almost everyone who applies for teacher training is given a place.
"Over the same period, Australia's performance on international tests of student achievements has declined significantly," he said.
"A situation [like] that would be rectified quickly if it was happening to the medical profession."
Dr Ingvarson suggests all teaching degrees should become post-graduate qualifications to create a better qualified workforce and reduce the number of teaching graduates struggling to find jobs post-study.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham says the Government is "concerned" about university admissions but argues it is up to the institutions to ensure standards are maintained.
"While I've asked the Higher Education Standards Panel to examine university admission processes, at the end of the day universities must take responsibility for the students they choose to enrol and support them to succeed," he said.
The panel’s findings on university admissions policy are due for release later this year.