5 May 2021

Principals want overhaul of initial teacher education

8:31 am on 5 May 2021

Principals are calling for an overhaul of initial teacher education, because some newly qualified primary teachers are ill-prepared to teach basic subjects like reading and maths.

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(File image). Photo: RNZ/ Dan Cook

The Principals Federation, the Educational Institute, and the Normal and Model School Association told RNZ many new graduates had studied how to be a teacher for just one year and that was not enough.

They said recent Teaching Council changes to the requirements that teacher education courses must meet would help, but more needed to be done.

The Normal and Model School Association represented 29 schools specially funded to work with teacher education providers and their students. Its president, Stuart Armistead, said members were worried by what they were seeing.

"We have increasingly become concerned over the last seven years around the quality and the decline of initial teacher education," he said.

"What we're finding is that we need to be working with student teachers and, recently, beginning teachers around the basics of quality literacy and mathematics programmes. They're not being given the effective base to do what we'd consider the bread and butter of primary school education."

Armistead said the schools worked with about 1000 student teachers each year.

He said gaps in teachers' education meant schools had to do a lot of work to bring newly graduated teachers up to scratch, and it was more than some schools could cope with.

"For many, many schools the work that is needed to actually induct teachers and set them up for success is putting huge strain on experienced teachers, on school systems and it's almost the straw that broke the camel's back at the moment from what I'm hearing from the profession," he said.

Armistead said there had been an assumption that pitching teaching qualifications at the level of a master's degree would raise the quality of teachers, but that did not seem to be the case.

He said education providers might also need to be tougher about who they accepted into teaching courses and who they passed.

"Given what I'm hearing across the country, you would have to question whether there is enough rigour to the entry and exit standards," he said.

Armistead said there had been a lot of focus on recruiting enough people into teaching courses to meet demand, but it was time to shift the emphasis to quality.

Council of Deans of Education chair Mark Barrow said he did not agree that quality had fallen in teacher education.

"That is a misapprehension," he said.

"It's not what individual schools tell us when we work with them, and we work with them closely."

Barrow said aspiring primary teachers could study a three-year bachelor's degree or one-year postgraduate. However, the ideal would be two years of postgraduate study.

"If we look at some of the jurisdictions that we'd like to think that we could emulate, the Scandinavian countries in particular, that's the expectation, that it's actually a five-year preparation to get to be a teacher, not what we're doing here," he said.

Barrow said that would require more government funding, which was unlikely in the current climate.

He said the Teaching Council's new standards for teacher education courses should "fit like a glove" with schools' expectations, because they were developed in consultation with teachers and principals.

Barrow said new graduate teachers were mentored through their first two years of work before they could gain full registration and that period needed to be considered part of their training.

"The schools are right that the time that they spend in universities is not enough, but I do think we need to remember that it is a three-year programme that those students are entering and it's not until the principal or her delegate signs them off at the end of those two years that they become registered teachers, so I think that whole process needs to be thought about in total," he said.

However, Educational Institute president Liam Rutherford said the union was consistently hearing complaints about initial teacher education.

He said the institute and the Normal and Model School Association organised a recent meeting of principals' associations and teacher education providers to discuss the issue.

Rutherford said the NZEI was now consulting about potential areas for change, including stronger partnerships between the education providers and schools and early learning centres, better mentoring of new teachers, and whether there should be a national institute of teacher education.

He said teaching had become a lot more challenging and new graduates did not have the skills they needed.

"We are seeing such an increase in the number of students that are requiring additional needs and support and more often than not we are finding that our beginning teachers, because they are having typically much shorter initial teacher education programmes, don't come out ready to hit the ground running," he said.

"Behaviour management is definitely part of it, but it is also what we're seeing around the breadth of the curriculum and there seems to be the onus on schools themselves during their first couple of years to be doing a lot of the backfilling that's traditionally been done in teacher education."

He said part of the problem was many new teachers had not spent enough time studying how to teach.

"What we've seen happen over the last 10 to 15 years is the evolution of a lot of programmes that mean somebody can train to be a teacher within 12 months as opposed to some of the longer three-year programmes and I think we are seeing a lot of people in the sector starting to question whether or not one-year training is enough."

Rutherford said schools needed more funding so they could spend time mentoring and inducting new teachers into the profession.

Principals Association president Perry Rush said criticism of teacher education programmes had been building for years.

"We disestablished our Colleges of Education that had a good practice-based focus about 20, 25 years ago and over the course of that time increasingly we've seen challenges to the capability of our teaching workforce as they come into schools," he said.

Rush said many university-based programmes were too focused on theory and not enough on practice.

He said nobody was expecting new graduates to start work as fully-formed teachers, but too many were graduating with gaps in their knowledge.

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