Interview on Channel 7 Weekend Sunrise
ATAR scores for teaching courses



Basil Zempilas:            Well, making news this morning: alarming new data has revealed students with low ATAR scores are being accepted into teaching courses across the nation. The shocking figures show Australian universities are accepting students with scores as low as 18 into the field of teaching.


Monique Wright:          Now, the government has shared concerns over the quality of recruits fearing this could lead to a dramatic slide in professional standards and an enormous taxpayer debt in unpaid student loans. But while ATAR scores are not the be all and end all, of course, the question still stands: can low ATAR scoring students still acquire the necessary skills to teach in our schools?


Basil Zempilas:            And for more on this this morning we’re joined by Education Minister Simon Birmingham in Adelaide.


Minister, good morning to you. Thank you for your time. Australians rightly expect our school students will be taught by the highest calibre of teachers. It seems very surprising that this has been allowed to happen. Good morning to you.


Simon Birmingham:     Well, good morning Basil. And yes indeed, look, this sets off alarm bells. ATARs, as you said in the introduction, aren’t the be all and end all but we do expect that graduates coming out of our universities when they go into classrooms to teach Australian students are the best quality they can be, are high quality. That’s why the Turnbull Government has implemented reforms that require universities to assess those graduates to make sure they’re in the top 30 per cent of all Australians for their own personal literacy and numeracy skills. We also now expect universities to have teacher assessment plans and programs in place that ensure they’re classroom ready. And what we want to make sure is that the state regulatory bodies who register our teachers and regulate the unis [sic] are enforcing this to make sure those things are happening.


Basil Zempilas:            So Minister, that’s what’s going to happen but the original question: how has it happened? How did this happen?


Simon Birmingham:     Well look, I think the universities absolutely have questions to answer as to why it is that they have over a period of time allowed this to occur and that’s why we’ve put these types of reforms in place. We’ve already implemented them. We’re making sure now that the states and territories are guaranteeing that at the local level it’s actually happening because that’s what’s really critical now. I think Australians expect that our students get the best quality teachers in the classroom and we want to make sure that those tests for literacy and numeracy standards of people graduating from our universities as teachers are being undertaken, are being adhered to, and that nobody is graduating and entering the classroom without proving they’re in that top 30 per cent cohort.


Monique Wright:          Yes, there’s a huge disparity isn’t there? Some are in the 70s and some univers- one university is accepting ATARs as low as 17. But some of the universities are saying that they’re are in fact accepting students that have gone through hardship in their final HSC or their final year of school and they in fact pass other tests that they’re giving them. It’s just that ATAR is low.


Simon Birmingham:     Well that’s why we’ve made sure the reforms we’ve put in place are about the calibre of the person who leaves the university as a graduate. So you want to ensure that person is classroom ready and of high skills in terms of literacy and numeracy and other subject domains they might teach in the classroom. Of course, the universities then have to be responsible for ensuring the person who enters the university is capable of meeting those high skills. And unis [sic] need to make sure they do that because otherwise they’re ripping off those students and taxpayers in terms of those individuals.


Monique Wright:          Yeah, but what is- what’s your government- what’s the government doing to attract more people into teaching? Because that’s the other reason why they’re so low: that not enough people are being attracted into the profession, perhaps because of the pay Minister?


Simon Birmingham:     We’re putting record and growing funding into Australia’s school systems. We’re also now implementing reforms out of the latest Gonski report that are going to provide more effective tools for teachers in terms of the way they assess in the classroom, better curriculum to track student progress. These are some of the changes that I hope will help to make the teaching profession more attractive. We’ve also backed a program to recognize highly accomplished and lead teachers within our schools because we want to make sure the best and brightest stay in the classroom and stick at teaching, not just leave after five or 10 years.


Basil Zempilas:            Alright Minister, thank you for your time this morning. We appreciate it.


Simon Birmingham:     My pleasure, thank you.


Monique Wright:          Let’s hope that you can address it. Big issues there.