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Australia's teachers need a system of training and professional development

By Lawrence Ingvarson - posted Thursday, 3 April 2003

What teachers know and do is the most important influence on what students learn. The need to attract and retain high-quality teachers is widely recognised. Debate about the need to reform career structures for teachers has been going on for many years. The time is ripe for action.

Of all the options available to policy makers seeking to improve student learning outcomes, the most effective are those that invest in teacher knowledge and skill. For this reason, professional development is moving to centre stage.

The professional development research indicates that teacher effectiveness is not a fixed thing. Student achievement can climb significantly in schools and school systems that support effective professional learning.

There are many individually effective professional development programs and activities operating at school and system levels, but the overall pattern of provision is brief, fragmentary and rarely sequential. The capacity of the profession to engage most of its members in effective modes of professional learning over the long term is weak.


We need to build capacity for learning, not only at teacher, school and system levels, but also at the level of the profession. The profession is ready and able to undertake this task.

Policies are needed that will support the profession in building a national framework for continuing learning, from registration to advanced certification, guided by professional standards and assessments, and supported by career paths that recognise the central importance of teachers' knowledge and skill to successful learning outcomes for students in our schools.

Performance assessment for certification would serve the important psychological function of providing teachers with professional recognition based on rigorous assessment of the quality of their practice by respected, expert, trained peers.

A national effort to build a performance-based professional certification system is required. Standards and certification might be the responsibility of a professional body, for example, but they will only serve their purpose effectively if governments, employing authorities and teacher unions provide support and recognition for professional learning toward those standards. I believe we are close to creating a national alliance of interested parties who could make a standards-based professional learning system a reality.

A national certification body for teachers should have one core function; to provide a system of standards and assessments that is credible to all parties, including the public, governments, education authorities and teachers.

This would require the establishment of a new independent, expert national body with the sole function of providing an advanced certification function. No existing body has the capacity or acceptability across the professional educational community, to undertake the role of a national professional certification body for teachers. Any serious attempt to introduce and operate a professional certification system will depend of the creation of an entirely new kind of body in Australian education.

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This was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 7 March 2003.

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About the Author

Dr Lawrence Ingvarson is Principal Research Fellow, Teaching and Leadership, at the Australian Council for Educational Research.

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