‘Teachers need a new career architecture’

‘Teachers need a new career architecture’

Australian teachers need a new career architecture, one that will drive quality standards, attract and retain top talent, and encourage and reward ongoing professional development, says leading educator Stephen Dinham from the University of Melbourne’s graduate school of education.

Dinham says the present lock-step incremental salary and career structures for teachers are 19th-century industrial artefacts that see teachers’ salaries peak too soon and at too low a level. Up to 25 per cent of teachers resign in the first three years of work. More disturbing is another resignation spike that occurs when teachers reach the top of their pay scales after 10-12 years, generally when they are in their early 30s.

“[That group] tends to be the more able teachers, who say, `Well, I’ve reached the top of the scale, now what? If I don’t go now I’ll probably never go,’ ” Dinham says.

More than three-quarters of Australia’s teachers are at the top of their pay scales, earning about 1.5 times the salary of a beginning teacher. In other comparable countries, the differential is typically 1.75 to 2.25 times the salary of a beginning teacher.

“What I’m suggesting is a salary career structure that would take people beyond that point throughout their careers, so that they have the opportunity, if they pass rigorous assessment and meet certification against [appropriate] high-level standards, [to] get a higher salary,” Dinham says.

Dinham has been working with the government-funded Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership on drafting the new national professional standards for teachers. Under these, there will be four levels: graduate, proficient, highly accomplished and lead. The first two are mandatory, the second two optional. How these levels are assessed and certified is critical to the success of the scheme.

“The assessment processes [must] be valid, reliable, credible and involve the profession,” Dinham says. “If it just comes back to a principal’s [recommendation], the big worry is that you’ll have a salary blowout but you won’t have any improvement in quality.”

Confounding the process is that education is state-based, presenting a challenge to formulate assessment processes that will be comparable across the various jurisdictions. There will need to be facilitation funding from the commonwealth to enable widespread adoption of the standards.

But within this, Dinham sees an opportunity to redesign the career architecture of teaching by combining the national standards push with the other front-line agenda: the call for merit or performance pay to reward and drive improvement in teacher effectiveness. The federal government has allocated $415 million for the top 10 per cent of Australia’s more than 250,000 teachers.

“[But] no one has actually worked out how they are going to be identified,” Dinham says.

“My suggestion has been, consistently, that it would have been better to spend that money to operationalise the lead level of the standards because one-off bonuses don’t work.

“We know that from international experience. Nobody plans their career on the basis of a one-off possible bonus in the future.”

The need to find appropriate assessment criteria for the proposed bonus scheme lines it up with the key issue facing the national standards initiative.

It makes sense to put the two together to create workable incentives for attracting, fostering and retaining good teachers.

“That’s precisely what this is all about,” Dinham says.

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