Improving teacher education

Rose Patterson
Insights Newsletter
5 April, 2013

In The New Zealand Initiative's Better Education Project, I am looking at how policy levers interact and affect the quality of teaching in schools.

Teacher training and qualifications, or Initial Teacher Education (ITE), is one policy area of promise. Through my discussions with educators and researchers so far, two interesting strands of thought for improvement are coming through: enhancing the practical component of ITE and raising the qualification for entry into teaching.

For the practical component, McKinsey and Co in their 2007 report identified the characteristics of the world’s best performing school systems and suggested at least 20 weeks of in-school coaching. In New Zealand, most of the one-year graduate diplomas in teaching include only up to 14 weeks of practicum. The quality of practicums is also important and relies heavily on strong links between ITE providers and schools.

The second strand of thought is increasing the level of qualification required for entry into the teaching profession. In 2010 the Education Workforce Advisory Group recommended to then Education Minister Anne Tolley that ITE be provided at post-graduate level.

So, is it possible to enhance the practical component of ITE while raising the qualifications for entry into the profession? The highly selective Teach First NZ programme is trying to do just that.

Teach First NZ is in its inaugural year and is modelled on the successful Teach First UK, now the largest recruiter of Oxford and Cambridge graduates. In New Zealand, the 16 participants selected for the programme this year have made a two-year commitment, starting with a six-week intensive summer residential programme of study. They have now been put to demanding and challenging teaching work in schools in low-decile communities, and will be intensively supported over the two-years of training with in-school mentoring and visiting specialists from the university. While they work, they also study towards a postgraduate diploma in teaching at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education.

Teach First NZ is yet to be evaluated, but it seems to have the ingredients for providing high quality teachers. It is strongly grounded in reality, has firm links between the university and the schools where participants are placed, provides all necessary support to participants, and ends in a higher qualification. The programme is receiving a lot of political interest. Watch this space.

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