For years now the Government has been toying with the idea of making a postgrad qualification mandatory for initial teacher education (ITE) in New Zealand.

In 2010 an Education Workforce Advisory Group tasked with investigating the best path for ITE recommended to the Minister of Education moving toward ITE being provided only at postgraduate level. Although the subsequent public consultation revealed some concerns about the proposal, many were supportive of raising the standard of teacher education through a postgraduate programme.

In her Budget 2012 speech, Minister Parata declared that “a postgraduate qualification will be introduced as a minimum for all trainee teachers”. By 2013, the Ministry launched a pilot involving partnerships with several universities to trial new ‘exemplary’ postgraduate level ITE programmes, intended to lift the quality of graduating teachers’ practice and contribute to raising student achievement, particularly that of priority learners. Extra funding was provided by the Ministry to support these providers.

“All the research shows that the in-school factors that make the most difference to student achievement are the quality of teaching, performance expectations, school leadership and positive relationships between parents and teachers that focus on learning,” says Lisa Rodgers, the Ministry of Education’s deputy secretary for early learning and student achievement. “So we want to ensure we attract the best and brightest
into teaching to raise quality and lift the status of the teaching profession and education leadership.”

The pilot, now in its third year, includes seven programmes in English medium, four in Māori medium, two in early childhood education, and one programme in field-based secondary ITE, Teach First NZ. There are currently 269 full-time equivalent students enrolled in the English medium primary and secondary schooling and early childhood education programmes in 2016. The Māori medium programmes are under development and likely to start in the second semester of 2016, or at the beginning of 2017. Teach First NZ accepts 20 students per cohort.

The pilot

The pilot has given providers the opportunity to design innovative programmes that differ substantively to existing ITE options. The programmes are explicitly designed around inquiry-based approaches with the aim of producing teachers who are self-regulated learners.

The exemplary postgrad programmes also aim to enhance the integration of theory and practice during practicums. Mentor teachers at the partner schools play an important role, allowing student teachers the opportunity to experience regular, sustained placements in classrooms, working alongside experienced teachers.

The close partnership with schools is one of the defining features of the programmes. There is even an expectation that providers work with schools to co-design the programmes.

There is also an emphasis on developing teachers capable of teaching priority learners. Subsequently, many partner schools are low-decile schools.

The Ministry engaged Martin Jenkins to evaluate the implementation and early outcomes of the programmes. His report found that of the 33 graduates who had secured teaching positions at the time of writing, just six were in low decile schools. Survey feedback also showed that less than a third expressed an active preference to teach in a low decile school.

The pros of postgrad ITE

It is still perhaps too soon to tell whether the pilot can be given the seal of approval. Martin Jenkins’ report suggests that, based on early feedback and outcomes, it has largely been successful so far, with good integration between theory and practice. It also shows the requirement to provide regular days in school along with strengthened practicum placements is also making a difference to the depth of student experience.

An NZCER evaluation of the Teach First programme was very positive about the quality of teaching experience in classrooms for Teach First graduates.

Two further evaluation reports about the English medium exemplary postgraduate ITE programmes are due for release in February 2017 and May 2018.

Providers are largely in favour of a postgrad model for teaching.

The New Zealand Council of Deans of Education has written to the Ministers of Tertiary Education and Education about its view on what future ITE should look like. Among its recommendations was that of requiring a postgraduate qualification before registration, and raising entry requirements to ITE programmes.

Professor Gail Gillon, Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Canterbury’s College of Education, Health and Human Development says the
New Zealand Council of Deans of Education is very supportive of the trial and strongly supports the introduction of a mandatory master’s-level qualification as a requirement to becoming a teacher. Gillon believes the critical analysis and research base combined with the integration of theory and practice provide the right foundations for teaching.

Dr Alexandra Gunn, Associate Dean Teacher Education, College of Education, University of Otago agrees that the research component is important.

“In this evidence-based paradigm that we’re in, we need inquiry-based, scholarly teachers who can identify problems, explore problems and are equipped to deal with a curriculum that isn’t uniform,” she says.

Gillon says they are keen to maintain multiple pathways into the master’s degree, whether it is through a Bachelor of Education or an undergraduate degree of a completely different subject.

At the University of Canterbury she says they’ve noticed that the postgrad approach has helped attract teachers in areas where there are typically teaching subject shortages, such as maths and sciences.

There has been some debate over whether the mandatory postgraduate requirement should be extended to early childhood educators. Gillon is in favour of this and says there are strong advocates from the ECE sector to support this move.

Gillon says it is an exciting time for New Zealand. She views this not just as an opportunity to raise the profile of teaching, but a chance to reduce some of the inequities of New Zealand’s education system.

If New Zealand moved teaching to a postgraduate profession, it would be in line with other countries. Finland, for example, requires teachers to have a master’s degree and teaching is generally highly regarded as a profession. In Singapore, prospective teachers must complete a 16-month postgraduate diploma in education (PGDE).

Raising the bar too high?

However, although Gunn sees real benefits with postgrad ITE, she believes it “isn’t the be all and end all”. Her preference would be to allow alternative pathways into teaching alongside postgrad ITE.

She thinks raising the bar higher to become a teacher has the potential to deter people who would otherwise make excellent teachers.

“It’s difficult in New Zealand to get into university and to cope with the demands of postgraduate study – especially without a student allowance. We get a lot of people who are second chance learners, mature students,” says Gunn. “We’re focused on who we graduate not who we accept onto the programme.

“The teaching workforce needs to reflect the population it is teaching. We need diversity in our teacher workforce to reflect the diversity in our classrooms.”

Chief education scientific adviser Professor Stuart McNaughton agrees that while the evidence supported the idea of mandatory postgraduate qualifications there are risks that need to be considered. There could be an immediate negative effect on enrolments from some groups, for example, Māori, Pasifika and students from lower income backgrounds, he told the NZ Herald. Those students were more likely to have lower entry scores than their peers enrolling in teaching, but their presence was “significant” in schools, he said.

However, Gillon argues that the University of Canterbury’s postgraduate ITE programme does reflect the classroom, due to the way it is co-designed with schools and with input from the Ngai Tahu advisory board. She says they have engaged their local iwi and Pasifika leaders to support students through their study.

“If we have a cautious learner who is passionate about becoming a teacher, we will help them to staircase through a bachelor’s degree and support them through the master’s programme,” she says.

Declining enrolments

One risk of increasing entry requirements into teaching is that ITE student enrolment numbers will decrease.

However, even under current ITE programmes the number of entrants into teaching has dropped by 25 per cent in five years, putting pressure on universities to accept lower entry grades to maintain numbers. The NZ Herald recently reported that students accepted onto ITE programmes have some of the lowest entrance scores across all bachelor’s programmes – although all entry scores are rising. While raising the minimum qualification to postgraduate level would, of course, raise entry standards, it is possible that it might see enrolment numbers dwindle further.

Early feedback showed that enrolment numbers onto the pilot programmes were lower than expected. It was thought that condensed time frames combined with the higher entry standards and expense were contributing factors. However, it is perhaps too early to draw any solid conclusions about enrolment trends.

In recent years, the oversupply of teachers into the teaching workforce has meant that decreasing enrolment numbers is not a huge concern. The shortage of teaching jobs, mainly in urban centres and for certain subject areas, is well known with reports of large numbers of applicants applying for a single job. Many have also struggled to secure full-time employment, having to settle for fixed-term contracts instead. Another contributing factor is an ageing workforce, where more teachers are working longer into their retirement. Naturally, the employment situation is a deterrent for some people who might have otherwise considered teaching as a career.

However, the teaching workforce situation is now being closely monitored. Lisa Rodgers says the Ministry is working with principals and sector groups across primary and secondary schooling to respond to their concerns about teacher supply.

“We have been meeting regularly over the last few months with individual principals and groups, principals’ associations and sector bodies in a series of discussions to develop joint solutions. As a result, a range of potential solutions are being explored and some are being implemented.”

As part of the 2015 Settlement to the Secondary Teachers Collective Agreement, the PPTA and the Ministry of Education established the Joint Working Group on Secondary Teacher Supply. The initial meeting of this group was held in February and the working group is currently underway.

In time, the teaching workforce oversupply situation is expected to ease, and when this happens, providers will hope to fill teaching positions with high-calibre teaching graduates, trained to a postgraduate degree standard.

The biggest problem: uncertainty

While teaching graduates face some uncertainty about the job market, teacher education providers also face uncertainty about the future of ITE.

Associate professor Sally Hansen, director of Professional Education at Massey University’s Institute of Education says, “ITE providers are finding it increasingly difficult to plan for future provision because the messages we are receiving formally and informally are mixed and unclear.”

She says TEFANZ (Teacher Education Forum of Aotearoa New Zealand) executive was told at their last meeting that the Minister was seriously considering a generic, cross-sector ITE qualification, probably at the master’s level with less focus on specialisations. Since that meeting, Hansen says TEFANZ reps have met with other high-level Ministry officials who have presented a contradictory narrative – a preference for multiple pathways with specialisations and not necessarily at postgraduate level.

Hansen says it is difficult to establish the Ministry’s motivation, intention, and extent of support for the various models.

The Minister’s recommendations and decisions are expected in 2017. Providers are anxious to know which shape ITE will take, as it will have significant implications for their course planning and provision.

The Education Council supports the idea of postgraduate ITE.

“Considering the complexity of the role teachers now play, and the changing nature of learning, we support consideration of a postgraduate qualification as the benchmark for entry to the profession over time,” says Education Council chief executive Dr Graham Stoop.

The Education Council has a mandate to build professional teaching practice in New Zealand and Stoop says examining the role of ITE is a priority.

“Our profession needs to review how we recruit, select and educate teachers so they are fully prepared to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world,” says Stoop. “We need to be clearer about what we expect a graduate to be able to do and on how we manage the pathway from graduation through to full certification.

“We have started the conversation. We are expecting it to progress to action over the coming months as we work with the profession on redesigning for the future.”

Lisa Rodgers from the Ministry confirms there is still a lot of evaluative work to be done.

“No decisions have been made,” she says. “Evaluation of all of these programmes will inform our ongoing work on what approaches have the most impact in lifting the quality of teaching, particularly in relation to priority learners.”

“We are also looking at the role of postgraduate qualifications in the wider strategy to lift the status of the teaching profession,” says Rodgers.

Of course, costs will have some bearing on the Ministry’s decision, too. Martin Jenkins’ evaluation of the pilot stated that “there are indications that the amount of funding available may be low for the provision of truly ‘exemplary’ programmes” due to the high costs of working in partnership with schools, including professional development costs for mentor teachers.”

So it remains a waiting game for providers as work continues at the Ministry on making a decision on the future shape of ITE. However, it looks to be a safe bet that New Zealand teacher education is destined for mandatory postgraduate qualifications.

Student perspective

AUT student Ruby Grace is currently working towards her Master of Teaching and Learning, a full-time, one-year programme, with an emphasis on education for priority learners, including Māori, Pasifika and those with special or high education needs. The master’s students spend two days a week at AUT, one day developing a specialist area in schools, and two days at partner schools on practicum, where they have a chance to put theory into practice.

The master’s programme comprises students from a variety of different undergraduate specialisms: sports and recreation, social sciences, graphic design. Grace graduated in December with a three year Bachelor of Arts in psychology. She feels that everyone brings something different to the course.

Like other ITE providers, AUT also offers an undergraduate route into teaching – a three-year Bachelor of Teaching and Learning.

Grace says she doesn’t feel like she is cramming a three-year teaching degree into one year.

“I don’t feel pressure to learn everything. I’m planting the seeds for future learning and development. I don’t feel I know everything about psychology after three years.”

Fellow master’s student Prudence Wilson feels the same way.

“To be sure, the Bachelor of Education has a great deal more time to spend on understanding curriculum content than students in the master’s, but is content all that important in a world where almost anything can be looked up online? It is certainly not unimportant, but reflexive, creative, critical and adaptive practice is definitely where education is heading,” says Wilson.

The one year postgrad pathway, while more intense, arguably produces graduates more passionate about pursuing a career in teaching. Grace speculates that those taking an undergraduate pathway into teaching may not be 100 per cent sure whether teaching was what they really wanted to do, particularly as most come straight out of high school.

She describes her master’s cohort as “a passionate group of students”.

“Everyone really wants to be there. Everyone is passionate about redressing inequalities in our education system.”

“I’ve always had an interest in helping people,” says Grace. She definitely sees herself working in low decile schools in the future.

While she isn’t nervous about finding employment next year, she isn’t overly confident either.

“I’ll go where there is a need. I expect an opportunity will present itself.”


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