Paying High Achievers to Teach Ignores Real Problem

The problem is systemic and giving high achievers money to enter teaching doesn't do much to address the issues at the heart of Australia's teaching crisis.
May 10, 2022
Money changes everything, if placed in the right hands.

The election promises are coming thick and fast and Labor’s plan to help high achieving students into teaching by funding their studies and giving them bonuses to teach looks appealing on the surface.

But dig a little deeper and the proposition to give students with high ATAR scores financial incentives to enter the profession looks like a band aid for a system that needs a general funding overhaul.

Associate Professor Louise Phillips, (Southern Cross University, SCU) says, "The status of education across Australian society requires multipronged strategies to raise the bar. Education across all levels in Australia is in crisis."

Assoc Prof Phillips is Director of Higher Degree Research in the School of Education, and Coordinator of the Doctor of Education program at SCU.

"Labor's scholarship plan for high-achieving ITE students is one small strategy – Is the offer of $10,000 to high achieving students for low SES ITE students? High SES high achieving students don’t need/ would not be enticed to study Education for $10,000 across 4 years.

"The plan seeks to support quality teachers by stipulating that the scholarship graduates teach for at least three years in public schools, with $2,000  bonus per year of teaching. $2000 per year is a small gesture. For example, the Queensland Education Department already offers, for teaching in a rural or remote community: relocation assistance, subsidised housing (in some locations) and financial support for individuals and families through the Recognition of Rural and Remote scheme.

"What the education sector really needs to hear is promise of serious increase in investment (both financial and in societal valuing) in education to be at least in line with the OECD average of 11% of GDP.  2019–2020 (the most recently available data) calculations for Australia list education expenditure at 1.83% of GDP. The new Australian Government needs to loudly and clearly communicate the importance of education at every public forum to enable the Australian population to move forward with confidence."

Dr Jessica Holloway from AARE and the Australian Catholic University shares that sentiment commenting, "Unfortunately, Labor’s proposal for raising teacher quality is short-sighted and fundamentally misunderstands the problem schools face."

Dr Holloway, a Senior Research Fellow and ARC DECRA Fellow at the Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education Research Centre for Digital Data and Assessment in Education, believes, "There are two major issues with their plan to attract high-achieving students into teaching through cash rewards.

"First, the teacher shortage crisis is a matter of retention. We need a plan to keep current teachers in the profession. Research shows they are leaving because of unbearable workloads, unrealistic expectations and the loss of professional autonomy.

"Second, ATAR scores tell us almost nothing about the kind of teacher someone will become. Teacher education is designed to prepare prospective teachers, and resources should be directed at helping them thrive. Rather than placing additional burdens on teachers’ plates, or assuming that high-ATAR students will be the solution, we should do everything possible to provide current teachers with the resources and professional autonomy required to do their jobs well. This will not only encourage current teachers to remain in the classroom today but will also help to attract the teachers of tomorrow."

The initiative Labor proposes will do nothing much to address the need for diversity in teaching especially in cultural melting pots like Sydney’s west.

Dr Kay Carroll, from Western Sydney University thinks, "Cultural and linguistic diversity is a prevalent feature of schools across Greater Western Sydney. One in five Australians have one or both parents born overseas and identify with 270 ancestries. It has been estimated that over 160 of the close to 300 separately identified languages spoken in Australian homes are spoken in Western Sydney.

"In Greater Western Sydney 42% of the population speak a language other than English at home. The English as Additional Language/Dialect (EALD) Survey (2015-2019) conducted across all government schools reported that 25% of all students in government schools came from an EALD background. The report identified that it can take a period of five-seven years for these students to learn English proficiently, and up to ten years for students such as refugees with interrupted schooling.

"Attracting and retaining diverse pre-service teachers is challenging with studies indicating that only 13% of teachers come from diverse socio-cultural and linguistic backgrounds (Cruickshank, 2004).  At Western Sydney University 77% of our students from the local Greater Western Sydney Region and approximately 40% of the University’s (48,458) students were born overseas in 175 countries, approximately 37% of students speak a language other than English at home which includes around 160 languages.

"We increasingly need graduate teachers to demonstrate knowledge and strategies to work with students diverse socio-cultural, linguistic backgrounds especially in geographical areas such as Greater-Western Sydney. This is in response to enrolment trends in government schools that show 25% of the student population identify as EALD learners and the need across Australia to recognise the cultural and linguistic strengths of a more diverse teaching profession." 

Image by Namakuki