Give Our Teachers Lures and Rewards

The Age

By Katie Lahey
Chief Executive
Business Council of Australia

The present teaching system won’t get top results from teachers or students, writes Katie Lahey.

The work done by teachers in classrooms is vital to the future of our nation. Business leaders are acutely aware of this. More than ever before, our skills and knowledge are the drivers of innovation and economic prosperity. Equally, education is not just a driver of economic success, it is also the key to every individual leading a meaningful and rewarding life.

Research has identified the quality of teaching as the single most important factor when it comes to improving learning for all students.

Despite widespread recognition of the importance of teaching, Australia does not have a remuneration system that adequately rewards high-quality teaching. On average, the most a classroom teacher can aspire to earn is just over $70,000 a year. This does not compare well with other professions.

For these reasons, the Business Council of Australia is proposing that new national teaching standards should be developed that reflect high-quality teaching. These standards should form the basis of a new national approach to recognising and rewarding high-quality teaching. This approach is set out in a paper, Teaching Talent: The Best Teachers for Australia’s Classrooms that the BCA has released. It was researched and prepared by education experts at the Australian Council for Educational Research.

We see it as imperative, first, that the best and brightest young Australians be recruited into the teaching profession. Second, our aim must be to retain the best teachers. In addition, teachers should have a career path that recognises and rewards continuous efforts to learn and improve their teaching.

More recently, research has shown that good teaching practices can be learned and shared within the profession. National standards offer a way to provide the best information about effective teaching practices to all teachers. A career structure linked to these standards should provide recognition of their value. That is why the BCA suggests that the best classroom teachers have the opportunity to earn up to $130,000 in return for demonstrating that they have achieved the highest standard.

Present arrangements for the teaching profession do not encourage, reward, or indeed require advanced professional learning.

A national certification system ought to be introduced with the support of the teaching profession.

One of the main roles of leadership in the professions is to build a framework for continuous learning and improvement of individual practices. This requires a strong professional approach, involving a range of tools such as mentoring and the sharing of information about effective teaching methods.

While the BCA recognises that remuneration is not the only issue that needs to be looked at in order to improve the quality of teaching, it is very important. Poor salary levels are an important reason why many capable and talented people choose not to enter the teaching profession in the first place.

Therefore, a more attractive career structure in return for improving learning outcomes for all students needs to be a fundamental reform.

Business views lifting the quality of teaching as part of a wider strategy that must provide for:

  • The introduction of national accreditation for teacher education courses at higher education institutions.
  • The introduction of a new governance framework that provides principals with greater autonomy.
  • The introduction of a nationally consistent, engaging and flexible curriculum that can be customised to the individual learning requirements of students.
  • Early intervention to prevent students falling behind.
  • Greater investment in education and training in return for the achievement of the other reforms.

At its core, the school system must provide the highest standard of teaching and create the best learning environment possible for all students. Every individual – no matter what their background – ought to be able to finish school with the knowledge and skills that will give them the opportunity to choose a rewarding career and to fully participate in the life of their community.

The challenge is to develop a framework for quality education that is accessible to all, which lays the basis for meeting these lifelong needs and which is respected by teachers, students and the community alike. Fundamentally, it must allow each individual to reach their potential regardless of their economic means, and enable them to live a life of meaning and purpose.

This will provide the foundation for us to negotiate current economic challenges and achieve the BCA’s aspiration of becoming a top-five OECD country, supported by a highly skilled and innovative workforce.