Sites of Contestation over Teacher Education in Australia

Aug. 24, 2008

Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 14, No. 4, August 2008, p. 295–306
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Teacher education in Australia is subject to a great deal of policy interest at both Federal and State levels; it is also part of education policy shifts for the whole university sector. This article examines Australian teacher education policy in terms of its governance, focusing on three current ‘sites of contestation’: university policy, budgetary policy, and Federal–State relations.

Teacher education within the university context

Education is not a top discipline in the university sector. The field of teacher education cannot easily comply with the new fiscal climate for the overall sector: it does not bring in large international student numbers, it does not attract large research income, and economies of scale in teaching are difficult. Yet, like the rest of the university, education strives to comply with neoliberal managerialism: to produce outcomes according to measurable standardized performance criteria, and to change its normative discourses from social to economic/market benefits. Absorption into universities and their new performance regimes has thus altered the work of teacher education, and its leadership and governance relations, providing many opportunities for contestation and redefinition within the overall university sector.

Federal budget focus on teacher education

Teacher education is expensive to run, and it has been under-funded since its incorporation into the university sector. Moves to centralize teacher education policy in Federal government hands, through its budget powers and processes, are rather haphazard and thus quite difficult to address at the level of the university. Since the announcements appear suddenly, as ad hoc ‘policy’,
the sector does not receive direction from the kind of policy texts we would have seen in the past. Ad hoc budget allocations without clarifying texts might perhaps be called a ‘policy-free zone’ – except that, paradoxically, their focus follows, in a haphazard fashion, the broad agendas spelled out in OECD (2005) and US policies (e.g. No Child Left Behind literacy testing).

Accreditation of teacher education programs: A Federal–State sandwich

A third major area of Federal intervention in teacher education has been in building a national approach to accreditation of teacher education programs. Until very recently, teachers who qualified in different States or Territories in Australia did not have a mutually recognized qualification; there was only a policy of mutual recognition of teacher registration.
Thus, a new teacher who held a qualification from one State did not receive recognition from employers in other States. As a result, in the mid-1990s, the ACDE took the initiative in proposing a national accreditation scheme for teacher education programs. After widespread national consultation with teachers, unions, State education departments and other employers, and teacher registration authorities in those States which had them, the ACDE published Preparing a profession (ACDE, 1998), which was accepted as a major policy direction at all levels of government and by all stakeholders.

In considering the ‘Australian case’, the authors aim to provide a case study of the ways in which ‘globalizing trends’ are played out in particular cultural, historical and political contexts.

ACDE (Australian Council of Deans of Education). (1998). Preparing a profession.
Canberra: Author.

OECD. (2005). Teachers matter: Attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers. Paris: Author.

Updated: Feb. 12, 2009