There is widespread agreement that Australia needs to place greater value on teachers’ work. Simply paying teachers more will not achieve this. There is a considerable level of public support currently for significantly improved salaries and working conditions for teachers, but that support will be conditional on guarantees of quality teaching and learning.
A rigorous profession-wide certification system is the best way of assuring the public that improved salaries for accomplished teachers will be linked to high standards of performance.
Most professions have a standards-based assessment system for providing certification to members who want to show they have met higher standards of performance. This is a valuable service to employers as well. Teaching is almost alone among the professions in not having such a system.
To strengthen teaching as a profession, we need a profession-wide certification system. Professional certification would then become a criterion for increased salary.
Such a redesign of teacher pay scales would send a clear message that reaching high standards of performance is the main road to high status and career advancement in the teaching profession.
Reform of teacher pay scales based on professional certification would involve several steps.
The first is to significantly increase base pay scales for registered teachers and to improve their conditions of work. Teaching must be able to compete with other professions in attracting an appropriate share of able graduates.
However, while this will help to attract more able graduates to teaching, it will not be enough to retain the best in teaching positions where they can have the most influence on student learning.
The second step, then, will be to provide incentives sufficient to attract most teachers to seek voluntarily a rigorous independent assessment of their performance against professional standards to gain certification.
The idea of setting standards that define levels of teacher performance has gained the acceptance of most stakeholders in education. Both sides of federal politics, teacher unions, state and territory governments, non-government school authorities and a large number of professional associations support the concept. They were joined recently by the Business Council of Australia, which recommended $4 billion to support the introduction of a national system of standards for the assessment and certification of teachers.
The current ALP policy, A National Strategy for Recognising and Rewarding Quality Teaching in Public Schools, recognises the need to institute professional standards and reform pay structures for school teachers based on these.
This policy envisages three levels of professional standards for teachers: Competent Teacher, Accomplished Teacher and Leading Teacher.
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