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Education ministers’ meeting a missed opportunity

The meeting of education ministers on 6 July 2023 was a missed opportunity to mandate the adoption of explicit instruction in every Australian classroom, according to Shadow Minister for Education Sarah Henderson.

“While the Opposition welcomes the government’s decision to hold universities to account for poor initial teacher education (ITE) courses, the mandating of explicit instruction including the teaching of phonics is critical to reversing declining school standards,” Senator Henderson said.

The Teacher Education Expert Panel (Expert Panel) headed by Professor Mark Scott AO, in its report Strong Beginnings, made 14 recommendations including that higher education providers must deliver core content in ITE courses such as evidence-based teaching and learning methods like explicit instruction.

“It is pleasing that the Expert Panel endorsed evidence-based teaching such as explicit instruction and the teaching of phonics as essential to better preparing teachers for the classroom,” Senator Henderson said.

“Evidence-based teaching methods give school students the best chance of proficiency in the fundamentals, such as literacy and numeracy.  As found by the Australian Education Research Organisation, it is untenable that 20 per cent of Year 7 students have the reading ability of a Grade 4 student,” Senator Henderson said.

The Opposition also welcomes the proposal to establish an ITE Quality Assurance Board to monitor the quality of teacher training across Australia, and to hold universities to account for poor performance.

“Teachers must be celebrated every day for the work they do, and given every chance to succeed. Universities which fall short of producing the best-qualified teachers are contributing to half of all teachers leaving the profession after five years, and an unacceptable decline in student outcomes,” Senator Henderson said.

In many respects, the Strong Beginnings report reflects the work of the former Coalition government which made a series of important recommendations to improve the quality of ITE and better prepare teachers for the classroom in its 2022 Quality Initial Teacher Education Review (QITE Review).

The Albanese Government was handed a ready-made report, and it is regrettable that Education Minister, Jason Clare, chose to conduct another review rather than get on with the job.

Senator Henderson said the Albanese Government must drive education reform much more urgently.

“I congratulate the Tasmanian Government for mandating explicit instruction in all classrooms, but it is time for federal and state Labor governments to step up.  The era of inquiry-based learning, or loose learning as I call it, has been an utter failure.  Explicit instruction, including the teaching of phonics, must be front and centre in every Australian classroom as a matter of urgency,” Senator Henderson said.

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