‘Big five’ education challenges: The ‘wicked problem’ of how to raise teacher status

The final webinar in a series tackling major challenges in school education in Australia will explore the ‘wicked problem’ of how to raise the status of the teaching profession.

Making teaching a highly regarded and sought-after career was one of the ‘big five’ challenges Professor Geoff Masters wrote about in 2015. Six years on, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) has been revisiting those challenges.

As Australia continues its journey toward improved quality and equity, expert practitioners, researchers and policymakers have been discussing what progress has been made on each, and what needs to happen next.

In his original article, Masters argued one of the biggest challenges is to attract highly capable people into the teaching profession. ‘… in high-performing countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong, teachers are drawn from the top 30 per cent of school leavers. In South Korea and Finland, teachers are drawn from the top 10 per cent,’ he wrote, and noted that 2015 data show ‘in this country, we are falling well short of drawing our future teachers from the top 30 per cent of school leavers’.

However, he suggested that recruiting highly capable people into the teaching profession is just the first step. A second and more important step is to identify policies that will raise the status of the teaching profession and encourage highly capable people to choose teaching as a career. Ensuring ‘rigorous initial and continuing professional development’ was also highlighted as a key policy target.

So, what progress has been made on these fronts? What do we know about the status of teaching in countries where students are high-performing? And, what’s needed at both a strategic and school level to develop, support and continue to grow a high quality teaching workforce in Australia?

ACER Principal Research Fellow Dr Hilary Hollingsworth and Senior Research Fellow Dr Kerry Elliott and Chris Short, Principal of Berwick Chase Primary School in Victoria, will be discussing these key issues, and current perceptions of the teaching profession, in the final webinar in a series of the ‘Big Five Challenges’ on Wednesday, 19 May.

Hollingsworth agreed that the status of teaching is a complex, multifaceted problem and noted that demands on the profession have increased.

‘The NSW Gallop Inquiry pointed to the diverse and changing needs of students, the pace and depth of change of technology, and increased accountability through assessment as just some of the ways in which teaching has become more complex in recent years,’ Hollingsworth said. ‘At the same time, society expects much more of its teachers, which can impact morale and motivation.’

Short believes attitudes towards teachers and teaching have changed dramatically over his career.

‘In just 20 years, I’ve seen parents move from an attitude of respecting teachers as professionals and working together, to a more antagonistic and demanding attitude of expecting more and more while respecting less and less,’ Short said.

Hollingsworth said that the discussion on Wednesday would look at some of the mechanisms used by high-performing countries like Finland and Singapore to attract and retain talent and build respect for teachers, and explore ways to translate them into the Australian experience.

Join ACER’s Dr Hilary Hollingsworth and Dr Kerry Elliott and Berwick Chase Primary School Principal Chris Short for the free webinar Raising the professional status of teaching: The Big Five Challenges in Education in a Changed World on Wednesday, 19 May 2021 at 4pm (AEST). Click on the link for more details and to register.

The other four webinars in the series are available to watch individually on YouTube:

Or you can access the full series via the link.