Speech to Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher Summit, Sydney

Simon Birmingham:     Good morning. Ninna marni, in the language of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains where my home is. Good morning, hello, how are you? Uncle Ray, thank you very much for your welcome to the Eora Nation, and can I too acknowledge all of Australia’s Indigenous people. In doing so, typically acknowledge as Education Minister, how much we continue to learn of Indigenous culture and knowledge from Indigenous  culture and knowledge and together as a nation to build upon Indigenous culture and knowledge. 

Lisa, thank you for your very warm and generous, almost over the top, welcome. I hope I can live up to the challenges that you’ve set me there. Can I acknowledge Professor John Hattie, the chair of the  AITSL Board, members of the AITSL Board, but most importantly the around 175 members of the HALT Network, nationally certified Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers who are gathered here today. And I’m very delighted to be able to welcome you and to open these couple of days’ worth of proceedings. 

Just a couple of weeks ago, I joined the Prime Minister at a graduation ceremony hosted by The Smith Family for some of their Learning for Life students in Melbourne, students who come from very challenging circumstances. With the helping hand of The Smith Family, the dedication and commitment of teachers in schools who have identified them as worthy of that helping hand and they have accomplished and they’re achieving great, incredible things. We’re delighted to be able to help The Smith Family extend their program, to do more with more families, and in doing so to be able to ensure that you, teachers and schools, have that support that connects through to the homes of the family environment. 

And Malcolm told a story while he was giving his remarks to the students there, and he spoke about his daughter Daisy, who is a teacher. And he said that recently he’d been walking through part of the electorate and he was stopped by somebody who said: Prime Minister, is your daughter Daisy? He’s thinking, ‘where’s this going to go?’, ‘so I just wanted to tell you how much Daisy has changed the attitude and approach of my daughter to her education and to her school’. And Malcolm went on to talk about, of course, the power and the impact that teachers have on individual lives and circumstances. 

And whilst tending to think about my own teachers in that circumstance, what I actually thought of and recalled was growing up as a little boy, and when I lived for about six years with my grandmother. She was a teacher. And we’d go along to the local supermarket. She’d just retired, and I was living with her. Pretty much each trip to the supermarket took about twice as long as it needed to as she was invariably stopped by parents of former students, or former students themselves thanking her, telling her stories, updating her, and for me that is the powerful reminder of the impact that you and your colleagues all have. 
But I launched last year the inaugural Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher Summit. I could see the enormous potential of this network, thanks to the combination of passion and skill that is amongst you, its members. I appreciate the personal commitment that you have show in going through the certification process; the expertise and leadership that you bring to Australian schools which is critical to continue lifting the quality and the professionalisation of teaching. I want to acknowledge particularly AITSL, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School leadership in its work in creating real momentum for this network which is just one example of the unique role that AITSL plays in supporting our teachers, leaders, and school systems to strive for excellence. 

We all know that the key to achieving a high quality education system is in large part to continually improve teaching practice. But how do we go about that task? And, some may ask, why we need to? Data released over the last year shows in some areas, we are flat-lining in Australia. Various comparative tests- and I know there are strong views that these tests don’t and can’t measure everything that matters in education, and I agree. But they do provide a unique capacity to compare performance in some key skill areas across schools, across systems, across states, and across countries. 

We should not ignore evidence that we may be slipping behind in some areas. Further, for the sake of Australia’s future economic competitiveness and therefore our standard of living and standard of living with students who you’re teaching today in their future lives, in their children, we cannot afford to have anything but one of the great education systems in the world. We must also continually strive to improve teaching practice because, fairly or unfairly, society has come to expect schools and teachers to address more issues and to establish even richer skills in the students who you teach.

The Australian Government is committed to striving for a high quality school system that assists each and every Australian child to reach their full potential. This is why we’re investing record amounts in schools. It’s why the amount will continue to grow each year, above inflation, above enrolment levels with real per student growth. Maybe not as much as everyone may wish for, I acknowledge that, but real growth nonetheless, which will be distributed according to fair, needs-based principles.

But funding formulas and policy documents developed in Canberra are always going to be many steps removed from the classroom, which is where the real gain in educational improvement happens. Many governments over many years have tried to effect a change in this area, but often have done so without successfully enhancing the profession itself. That is exactly where this network of Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers has an incredible opportunity to drive change. You are battling the classrooms in schools right across Australia.

As teachers working in the peak of your profession, you have a critical role to play. Highly skilled, exemplary teachers like yourselves can enhance the performance culture of this profession and encourage more effective teaching practice within your schools and networks. We know that will help all our students to do better. And it’s with students in mind that I would encourage you all to take up the challenge of being an agent for change in your school and within your networks.

Now, I think Renez has been given a heads-up that I was going to embarrass her this morning, which she probably hates. But I want to single out Renez Lammon as an example of a teacher embracing the challenge of being an agent for change. Renez is a nationally certified Highly Accomplished Teacher. She’s also the 2016 Northern Territory Indigenous Educator of the Year, and for good reason. As well as teaching her own students at Casuarina Primary, Renez’s found time to help other teachers improve their teaching methods and practices. Her principal John Cleary backed her to achieve certification. Then he leveraged her expertise to build teaching quality within the school and in surrounding schools. 

You’ll hear more from Renez and John later this morning, but I raise this as an example of what a powerful change agent a single teacher can be. In this case, Renez was supported by her principal, demonstrating that great school leaders create the conditions where teachers can thrive and make a difference, not just in their classroom but across their school and across the community of schools of within which they work.

One of the important characteristics I have seen in the Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers I have met is the setting of clear ambitions and high expectations for their students and the translation of this into teaching practice in their classrooms. This leads to real improvements in student outcomes, and teachers ought to be recognised and rewarded for this.

I’m really pleased to see more and more teachers seeking certification at the Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher levels. More than 350 teachers are now certified and many have joined this HALT Network. Each and every one of you is demonstrating the value of certification and connecting expert teachers with each other. 

As I said at this forum last year, I encourage employers to recognise this and reward it. I am disappointed that not all states, territories or systems are on board in offering this pathway for their teachers to excel.

Under the expert leadership of Professor Hattie and Lisa Rodgers, our new CEO at AITSL, AITSL’s doing a fantastic job of promoting certification. AITSL’s range of tools and resources is helping teachers and school leaders reflect on their practice.

I was pleased to learn that the HALT Network has contributed to these excellent resources, including the recently released My Induction app, which is proving immensely popular with around 1800 downloads just in its first fortnight. 

I encourage you to read the paper developed by AITSL together with certifying authorities that presents a strategy to embed certification in our schooling system.

And I am pleased to be here celebrating the launch of AITSL’s vision for national teacher certification with the Taking the Lead paper. It offers a call to action for national certification as an option for teachers in all Australian schools. It outlines an approach to national certification which sets a rigorous high bar and will raise the standing of the profession. It reaffirms that HALT teachers are essential to strengthening the profession.

Our goal, through AITSL, is to boost the number of expert teachers, and make it clear to the public that their expertise should be valued.

Much of our reform agenda over recent years has been focused on ensuring the quality of initial teacher education. While initial teacher education has rightly been our focus – and there are certainly some reforms that still require implementation and follow through – we must now sharpen our focus on the current teaching workforce.

One of the major barriers to improvements is the availability of reliable data on the critical issue of teacher effectiveness, or impact.

Today, I am pleased to release a significant report – a research report prepared by the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, entitled – catchy title – Teacher Effectiveness Systems, Frameworks and Measures: A Review …


… Bound to be a bestseller. 


But led by Professor Janet Clinton, it’s an in-depth examination of approaches to teacher evaluation in a range of school systems around the world.

We commissioned this report in April of last year. And while we know that quality teaching is the most important in school factor affecting performance, we commissioned it because we don’t really know how to measure impact or effectiveness. 

The report states, and I quote: current Australian evaluation systems appear to add little value to the enhancement of teaching practice, despite some recent support to develop career pathways for teachers. There also appears little capacity to evaluate teacher effectiveness at a local, state or national level, hence capacity building in the workforce is needed.

Generally, when we talk about teacher quality we’re referring to capabilities, training and knowledge. Teacher effectiveness, on the other hand, refers to the extent to which a teacher is able to make a real difference- a real difference to student outcomes. How to ensure the teaching practices deployed within a classroom, over a term or a year, ensure that each student learns or progresses to the maximum extent of their individual abilities.

What is clear from the report is that Australia currently has no reliable, robust way of assessing teacher impact and effectiveness. But it’s also clear that we’re not alone in this challenge. Other countries are grappling with the same issue. And the report notes that no one country or state provides an exemplar of teacher evaluation systems or measures that are generally applicable to the Australian context.

On the plus side, however, Australia has a good foundation with which to build this capacity, based on our teacher standards, the certification process and AITSL’s track record of delivery.

From these building blocks, we can shape a teacher evaluation framework to build teachers in the continuing improvement of their practice. Australia is well positioned to become a world leader in this area and I hope that state and territory education ministers, the education community, including experts like all of you, will join us in coming months to talk about how we can develop a culture of defining and measuring teacher effectiveness in Australia. 

I intend to have this discussion with Professor Hattie at the Education Council, to ensure all states and territories are united with us in efforts to help the profession to measure and therefore maximise effectiveness to achieve this significant and world leading next step.

It is not, however, an attempt to replicate or replace the appraisal, performance and development processes of employment conditions. It must be about enabling the profession, itself, to be its best, be owned by the profession itself in doing so, and look to ensure that teachers themselves have access to information on how effective they are and how they can increase their impact in the classroom. 

Developing a measurement of effectiveness will provide policy makers, school leaders and most importantly teachers with a basis upon which to further improve their own professional development.

I am yet to meet a teacher who isn't driven by the desire to help each of their students to the maximum extent possible. If we can make this work, if we can make that happen – the implementation of that desire happen – more often, then it will be a win for students, who will learn more, teachers, who be more satisfied in their profession, schools, who will be more highly regarded, and ultimately our nation, which will be more prosperous.

In conclusion, I know that you all take seriously your obligation to continually improve your practice. For this you have my admiration and appreciation. You, as individuals, have a critical role to play in being change agents in your schools and your networks. You’re also working together elaborately, to lift the standard, performance and professionalisation of all teachers.

The obligation of your employers – state and territory governments and authorities across all school sectors and systems – is to support you to drive improvement across all aspects of teaching. We need to give you clear guidance and support and practical resources, so that, with the help of your effective teaching, we can achieve what is, together, our shared ultimate goal: improving student outcomes.

We need more people like all of you in the Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher Network. All state and territory and school sectors need to recognise and reward teachers performing at higher levels, through the certification process. And this should happen now. 

We also need to listen to you. I invite you to share with me – and encourage you to do likewise with my state and territory counterparts – your considered opinions on how we can strengthen policies to support you to help our children achieve their best.

Whether it is in curriculum content, discipline policies, parental engagement strategies, impactful programs, red tape reduction in schools, disability support, the most effective use of technology, or any number of other areas, we should consider your ideas to ensure best practice teaching is accompanied by best practice policy.

By developing, retaining and rewarding effective teachers, by harnessing your expertise, and using evidence to guide us, I am confident that we can and will lift student outcomes. That confidence is absolutely reassured by seeing the enthusiasm and knowing the commitment of the people in this room today. By hearing from John, as I hinted how hard it is to contain the discussions when they’re there with the likes of all of you together, because of that passion, commitment and skill. So thank you very much for that. Thank you for what you bring. Thank you for the commitment you give, not just to the HALT Network, but importantly across the profession, back in to your communities. And I wish you every success with your discussions today and tomorrow and most importantly well in the future. 

Thanks so much.