Teacher education providers have been pushing for years for a master’s level qualification to become the minimum requirement to become a teacher, but there have been many roadblocks along the way preventing a transition to postgraduate initial teacher education (ITE). With the ITE postgraduate pilot now in its third year, the Ministry of Education is getting closer to making a decision on the future shape of ITE.
In 2010 an Education Workforce Advisory Group tasked with investigating the best path for ITE recommended to the Minister of Education moving toward ITE being provided only at postgraduate level. Although the subsequent public consultation revealed some concerns about the proposal, many were supportive of raising the standard of teacher education through a postgraduate programme.
Minister Parata’s Budget 2012 announcement on 12 May declared a shift to a postgrad focus for teacher education. However, it was another aspect of this speech that would see all hell break loose in education circles. The proposal to increase class sizes and reduce teaching staff at intermediate and middle schools provoked intense backlash from schools around the country. Under immense pressure from the public, by 7 June, Minister Parata confirmed a complete policy u-turn of no teacher cuts or increases to class sizes.
Teachers, principals, and parents expressed huge relief at the reversal of the decision. However, little attention was given to the repercussions of the policy backflip. The Ministry had hoped to save some $114 million through the unpopular proposals, which was to be channelled into strengthening teacher education and professional development, among other initiatives.
Although at the time of the backdown on class sizes, Parata said the shift to postgraduate initial teacher education would still go ahead, it now appears the Ministry is also pushing back on this policy in an attempt to save costs and buy more time. A further report released under the Official Information Act also cites teacher supply and demand trends as a reason that moving to a postgraduate qualification will deliver limited results in the short term.
However, by 2013 the Ministry had launched a pilot involving partnerships with several universities to trial new ‘exemplary’ postgraduate level ITE programmes, intended to lift the quality of graduating teachers’ practice and contribute to raising student achievement, particularly that of priority learners. Extra funding was provided by the Ministry to support these providers.
The pilot, now in its third year, includes seven programmes in English medium, four in Māori medium, two in early childhood education, and one programme in field-based secondary ITE, Teach First NZ. It has given providers opportunities to design innovative programmes that differ from existing ITE options. The programmes are explicitly designed around inquiry-based approaches with the aim of producing teachers who are self-regulated learners.
The exemplary postgrad programmes also aim to enhance the integration of theory and practice during practicums. Mentor teachers at the partner schools play an important role, allowing student teachers the opportunity to experience regular, sustained placements in classrooms, working alongside experienced teachers. The close partnership with schools is one of the defining features of the programmes. There is even an expectation that providers work with schools to co-design the programmes. There is also an emphasis on developing teachers capable of teaching priority learners. Consequently, many partner schools are low-decile schools.
The Ministry engaged Martin Jenkins to evaluate the implementation and early outcomes of the programmes. His report found that of the 33 graduates who had secured teaching positions at the time of writing, just six were in low decile schools. Survey feedback also showed that less than a third expressed an active preference to teach in a low decile school.
Martin Jenkins’ report suggests that the pilot has largely been successful so far, with good integration between theory and practice. It also shows the requirement to provide regular days in school along with strengthened practicum placements is also making a difference to the depth of student experience. An NZCER evaluation of the Teach First programme was very positive about the quality of teaching experience in classrooms for Teach First graduates. Two further evaluation reports about the English medium exemplary postgraduate ITE programmes are due for release in February 2017 and May 2018.
Providers are largely in favour of a postgrad model for teaching. The New Zealand Council of Deans of Education has written to the Ministers of Tertiary Education and Education about its view on what future ITE should look like. Among its recommendations was that of requiring a postgraduate qualification before registration, and raising entry requirements to ITE programmes.
If New Zealand moved teaching to a postgraduate profession, it would be in line with other countries. Finland, for example, requires teachers to have a master’s degree and teaching is generally highly regarded as a profession. In Singapore, prospective teachers must complete a 16-month postgraduate diploma in education (PGDE).
However, some providers believe postgrad ITE “isn’t the be all and end all”. Many would like to see alternative pathways into teaching alongside postgrad ITE to allow second-chance learners and mature students an avenue into teaching. There is also an argument for diversity in the teacher workforce to reflect the diversity of our student population. Students from lower income backgrounds might not pursue a postgrad route into teaching, even though they might be very suited to a career in teaching. The universities typically counter that they will support cautious learners to achieve the master’s programme.
Some concern has also been raised that by increasing entry requirements into teaching, ITE student enrolment numbers will decrease and impact negatively on teacher supply.
Providers have been frustrated by the lack of clarity over the direction of ITE, with some saying it has been difficult to establish the Ministry’s motivation, intention, and extent of support for the various models.
The Minister’s recommendations and decisions are expected in 2017. Providers are anxious to know which shape ITE will take, as it will have significant implications for their course planning and provision.
More coverage in Education Review:
Opinion: Former head of Teachers’ Council, Peter Lind: www.educationreview.co.nz/magazine/october-2012/is-the-move-to-postgrad-ite-any-more-than-just-a-money-grab/#.WCuIimee3IU
Managing supply and demand for teachers: www.educationreview.co.nz/magazine/april-2013/feast-or-famine-the-supply-of-new-teachers/#.WCuLQWee3IU
Failure to launch postgrad ITE: www.educationreview.co.nz/magazine/december-2012/failure-to-launch-postgraduate-initial-teacher-education/#.WCuMcGee3IU
Long and winding road to postgrad ITE: www.educationreview.co.nz/magazine/june-2016/the-long-and-winding-road-to-postgrad-teacher-education/#.WCuTFGee3IU