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Time for teaching to be a profession


Embargoed until 3pm, 11 December 2013

Time for teaching to be a profession

Leading education systems regard teaching as a career not a vocation

Higher qualification requirements ensure only the best become teachers

Linking pay to expertise, not experience, retains talent and recognises teachers

Encouraging schools to collaborate improves student achievement

Wellington (9 December) - To lift students’ academic achievement, New Zealand needs to take heed of how countries with high performing education systems have turned teaching into a profession.

That is the message of the think tank’s latest report Around the World: The Evolution of Teaching as a Profession, a comparative study that examines how Singapore, Germany, Finland, England, Canada and Australia are focusing on teachers to deliver better educational outcomes.

The report comes just one week after the results of the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) were released, which showed New Zealand had dropped from 7th in the world in reading to 13th, 13th to 23rd in mathematics, and 7th to 18th in science since 2009.

“It is widely accepted that teachers are the biggest factor affecting student achievement outside the home,” said Dr Oliver Hartwich, Executive Director of The New Zealand Initiative. “Yet our research shows that although some of the top-performing jurisdictions have taken this to heart, in New Zealand we still have not harnessed the full potential of our teaching workforce.”

“In Singapore and Finland, for example, the status of teachers is on par with that of lawyers or doctors. We still see it as a vocational calling. That is not a bad thing, but we could really lift our educational outcomes if we attracted more bright people to the profession and retained the best teachers.”

The report, which is being released today, found several commonalities among the countries that had chosen to pursue a professional path for teachers:

Recruiting the best teachers: Finland, Germany and Singapore place strict quality controls on who gets admitted to teaching, ensuring that only the most dedicated, motivated, and academically talented people who have rapport with children become teachers.

Teaching how to teach: The best education systems encourage, or require, would-be teachers to have a master’s degree before entering the classroom. Even with the strong focus on the theoretical foundations of teaching, there is now more emphasis worldwide on practical training in learning on the job.

Career progression: Many other countries recognise remuneration is important for retaining talent. Singapore offers teachers the ability to progress up a career path for teachers to retain the best teachers in the classroom. England has disbanded step-lock pay increases, and Finnish teachers with exceptional skills are offered bonuses.

Develop teacher capacity: Career structures that encourage teachers to lead other teachers are increasingly being adopted internationally. This lateral capacity building is seen in Singapore, and in the way England’s schools are ‘chaining’ together. Ontario’s leading schools also pair up with other schools that serve a similar profile of students to help them raise student achievement.

Dr Hartwich noted that there was a clear trend emerging internationally, with teaching rapidly evolving into a professional career.

The benefit is that by improving the attractiveness of teaching a virtuous cycle is created whereby more high-calibre people become interested in the profession, making entry to teacher training more competitive, and ultimately this increases the quality of people who enter teaching.

“Many countries are deliberately trying to raise the status of teaching as a profession as a means of improving student achievement,” Dr Hartwich said. “If we are serious about education reform in New Zealand, our teachers deserve the same professional opportunities and recognition.”

Around the World: The Evolution of Teaching as a Profession is written by John Morris, a headmaster at Auckland Grammar School for 20 years, and Rose Patterson, a research fellow at The New Zealand Initiative.

The report is being launched at a press conference in Wellington at 3pm on 11 December, with Rose Patterson available to answer questions. The New Zealand Initiative would like to thank the New Zealand Education and Scholarship Trust for their generous support for this project.


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