Top Students Shun Teaching

Teacher training programs in Australia are attracting fewer and fewer of the brightest students entering the country's universities.

June 24, 2014

Australia's brightest students are shunning teaching as a chosen profession, with a new report revealing a dramatic fall in the number of top students choosing to train for a career in education.

The report on teacher education compiled by the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership, obtained by The Australian, shows that in 2005 more than 40 percent of students entering teaching were drawn from the top echelons of high school graduates.

By 2012, this had dropped to fewer than 30 percent -- and, over the same period, the proportion of students entering teaching with poor Year 12 results rose to 13 percent, from less than 10 percent in 2005.

Previous studies have linked the level of teachers’ own education with the achievements of their students.

The president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, said the union had consistently supported measures to increase entry levels into teacher education and believed a cap on the number of places available was required.

Gavrielatos said the underlying imbalance in the oversupply of teachers for the number of jobs had to be managed as part of the push to improve standards and was consistent with the most successful education systems in the world.

Education Minister Christo­pher Pyne has commissioned a review of teacher education to report later this year with recommendations for improving training, but entry standards are not part of the review’s scope.

“It beggars belief that Minister Pyne would announce a review of teacher education and exclude issues relating to enrollment standards from its terms of reference,” Gavrielatos said. “The resources spent on educating a surplus number of teachers would be better targeted to further improve initial teacher education.”

The report, which uses customized data provided by the Australian's federal government's Education Department, reveals a startling attrition of the brightest students out of teaching.

The top 5 percent of university entrance scores who enter teaching programs are more likely to transfer to a different degree in their second year of university.

About 20 percent of teaching students are from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared with 15 percent in other degrees, and teaching also has a greater representation of students from regional areas: 26 percent compared with 20 percent.

Teaching has grown at about twice the rate of other degrees, rising by 8 percent in 2012, which was the first year of the full demand-driven university funding system introduced by Labor that uncapped the number of subsidized slots for students at universities.

University admission is based on an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, which converts a student’s Year 12 standardized test score into a percentile ranking.

An ATAR of 90 represents the top 5 percent of students, and 80 is about the top 10 percent, while about one-quarter of students score an ATAR of 60 or less.

The report shows that students with an ATAR of 90 entering teaching dropped to 8 percent in 2012 from about 12 percent in 2005. The fall in ATAR scores of more than 80 was even more dramatic, from more than 30 percent to fewer than 20 percent.

A higher ATAR is also associated with greater retention after the first year of the course, particularly among students with ATARS of more than 70.

Pyne on Monday announced an expansion of the Teach For Australia program established by Labor, which recruits from the highest-performing students into disadvantaged schools in the hope of boosting student learning and attracting bright students into teaching.

An evaluation of the program says the participants are generally regarded by their schools to be effective teachers within their first year and increasingly effective in their second year.

But it is unable to assess their impact on student results. The program recruits from high-achieving university graduates, with applicants selected on the basis of qualities and skills suitable to teaching and a desire to reduce educational disadvantage.

About one-quarter had already decided to enter teaching, and nearly half may have studied teaching as a postgraduate if not accepted into the program.


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