A spade is now a spade

March 2011


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GEOFF VAUSE reports on expectations now placed on providers of teacher education.

The language describing teacher education has become more specific, and the expectations on the 26 institutions shaping the people for the chalk face is a lot clearer.

The New Zealand Teachers Council used language like “(this skill) is likely to be necessary” in its teacher education guidelines for providers prior to last October’s launch of the new processes and requirements for approving teacher education programmes. The council felt that language in itself carried some imperative, but this has sharpened considerably to the more specific terms “must” and “will”.

Most of our school teachers come from colleges or schools of education within seven New Zealand universities, which like to underline their academic freedom to teach what they choose. For some, the sharpened language and express requirements emerging from the Teachers Council is creating tension.

In October, the council launched the new approval, review and monitoring processes and requirements for initial teacher education (ITE) programmes. The requirements will apply for new programmes approved from 1 January 2011 and for existing programmes reviewed from 1 January 2011.

There is a requirement that “all approved ITE programmes must demonstrate how graduates have met the Graduating Teacher Standards: Aotearoa New Zealand”.

Students with special needs are among those likely to benefit from the specific approach to training their teachers. Part of the Graduating Teacher Standards (GTS) is Special (Inclusive) Education, and a number of the current Graduating Teacher Standards [1c; 2a-d; 3a,c; 4a,b,c,f; 5a,b; 6b-d; 7c] are relevant to this aspect of ITE.

The GTS appendix guidelines state that teacher educators delivering the inclusive education component of the ITE programme should have qualifications, theoretical expertise and practical experience in this area. The rest of the document is more strongly worded. If providers want their courses approved, they will need to show how their graduates meet the GTS, and special education is one of the aspects of teacher education now under scrutiny.

NZEI President Frances Nelson said the new requirements “would ensure greater clarity and consistency across teacher education providers”.

“It would mean more robust and consistent selection of people wanting to enter the profession, better communication between teacher education providers and schools and centres, and more emphasis on ensuring that all teachers could address the needs and aspirations of Māori learners and students with special needs.

“New Zealand already has a teacher workforce that is envied and sought after globally. These new requirements will ensure that the selection and training of teachers is even more robust. This can only strengthen the profession and be good for students and learning.”

Other commentators include PPTA president Kate Gainsford who says the Teachers Council’s “insistence that students have teaching practice in schools across a range of socio-economic and cultural settings is very important in preparing them for the range of places they might end up teaching”.

Massey University’s director of teacher education Dr Sally Hansen claims the new requirements interfere with the “autonomy and academic freedom” of universities. She says Massey’s selection process is already rigorous, and slated other GTS requirements as likely to cost the university about $1.5 million to implement.

This includes the need for additional staffing, added travel costs for college staff to undertake teaching practice visits, and the costs involved with bringing existing teachers onto student selection panels.

Dr Hansen questions the legislative authority of the new regulations, citing the New Zealand Education Act 1989, which guarantees tertiary institutions freedom to determine matters including their teaching, assessment and staffing.

“The Act does not provide a legal framework for the Teachers Council to specify admission requirements for students into initial teacher education programmes, to determine class sizes, to determine pedagogical approaches in either face-to-face or distance learning modes, or to specify attributes of staff teaching in programmes,” Dr Hansen says.

“Most disappointing of all is that the Teachers Council, at both governance and management levels, has proven unwilling and unable to provide any research evidence that its detailed proposals to revise the criteria for approval of initial teacher education providers and programmes are based on any more than the desire to micro-manage the work of university colleges of education.

“How the university chooses to teach is fundamental to the academic freedom and autonomy accorded to universities in current legislation.”

New Zealand Teachers Council director Dr Peter Lind says under the Education Act the Council is empowered to develop standards around qualifications that lead to registration, and then take account of those standards when conducting approvals of teacher education programmes, as it currently does.

“Sally Hansen suggests that the requirements constrain various academic freedoms set out in section 161(2) of the Act. The Council doesn’t accept this view, which would mean that the statutory functions of the council are redundant. The provisions in the Act dealing with the council’s functions, on the one hand, and academic freedoms on the other, must be read in such a way that they can co-exist.

“In any event, nothing about the requirements prevents Massey or any employees of Massey from stating controversial or unpopular opinions. Further, while in setting standards the council has a say in the subject matter and content of courses taught for ITE programmes, there remains ample scope for Massey to regulate the subject matter and content of the courses it teaches. Likewise, there is ample scope for Massey to teach and assess students in a manner it considers best promotes learning and, at the same time, act in accordance with standards set by the council.”

Dr Hansen says requirements set out by the Teachers Council to add teachers to selection panels will add considerable cost for a benefit that has not been identified or demonstrated. “Currently we involve the teaching profession in many aspects of our initial teacher education programmes, across a range of educational settings, however the forced inclusion of teachers and early childhood workers in the initial selection process will add considerable cost,” she says.

This is what the requirement states:

  • The selection process must be able to determine a teaching candidate’s ability for effective communication with learners and their whānau.
  • The selection process must involve a visual interview which includes the use of visual technologies where distance is an issue.
  • The ITE provider must involve the profession in the relevant sector in the selection of candidates into ITE.

“Research strongly supports the importance of establishing effective professional relationships (Te Kotahitanga studies). Other professions that require practitioners to similarly manage professional relationships have introduced face-to-face interviews as part of their selection process. For example, Auckland University’s School of Medicine adopted a formal interview process for potential candidates because relying on academic performance and testimonials was not identifying candidates with the attributes and dispositions they considered important in medical practitioners. These interviews assess each candidate using five domains – maturity, communication, awareness and knowledge, career choice and well-roundedness.

“At a time when there are quota numbers on domestic applicants to university, it makes sense that selection into ITE programmes carefully screens whether applicants have the necessary personal attributes and dispositions considered important to teaching,” Lind says.

Online and distance delivered programmes must now have a compulsory face-to-face component in each academic year, which Dr Hansen says overlooks the advances that have taken place in the delivery of distance and online education. She says there is no evidence the lack of a face-to-face component disadvantages distance students and the requirement also overlooks the fact that distance students have personal teaching and supervision by means of associate teachers in schools during their practicum work.

“The irony is that providers have to demonstrate to the Teachers Council that their programmes are based on research, but it can provide no research to justify its own detailed requirements,” Dr Hansen says.

Dr Hansen says that like most providers, they were surprised by the inclusion of Appendix 2 detailing training for teaching special needs students.

“I am not sure if saying ‘it would be desirable’ makes it a requirement or not. From my point of view, any document that appears in such an unsubstantiated way lacks certain credibility.

“Appendix 2 seemed to appear out of the blue unaccompanied by any introductory explanation, research evidence, description of the consultation process, etc. It would be good to know the background to the inclusion of Appendix 2 and who the authors were and what evidence was used to support the bullet points outlined under ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Attitude and Practice’. Ensuring that graduating teachers will have all of the stated knowledge, attitudes and practices is a big ask.

“However, having said that, we’re not opposed to the notion that teacher educators delivering this component should have qualifications, theoretical expertise and practical experience. Indeed, at Massey we endeavour to do exactly this and have a Centre of Inclusive Education. For providers who do not have such qualified academic staff I could see this as a real challenge to meet this requirement.”

Dr Lind says in writing the new requirements for ITE programmes the council listened to the voices of individual teachers, professional bodies, ITE providers and individual teacher educators who responded to its 2009-2010 consultation with the sector.

“In making its decisions the council has also been informed by its published (2009) literature synthesis of national and international research on ITE. This literature synthesis was made available to all tertiary providers. It is interesting that Dr Sally Hansen has not chosen to provide any critique of this synthesis.”