Response—Review of teaching and teacher education

On 4 October 2002, the Australian Academy of Science made the following response to the Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training's discussion paper on the review of teaching and teacher education—strategies to attract and retain teachers of science, technology and mathematics.


The Review of Teaching and Teacher Education provides the opportunity to consider and act upon some important recommendations from recent research such as The Status and Quality of Teaching and Learning of Science in Australian Schools [1].

The Australian Academy of Science (AAS) believes that a high-quality teaching workforce in science, mathematics and technology should be a national priority. Professional, well-educated and excellently resourced and supported teachers in these fields are critical to a future that is secure, prosperous and sustainable. The Review, its recommendations and their resourcing are key components of that future.

If Australia is committed to developing and maintaining an excellent teaching workforce, significant resourcing will be required. AAS believes that this resourcing could come in part from the considerable savings that would be achieved through enhanced national collaboration amongst State and Territory jurisdictions.


The Australian Academy of Science (AAS) is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Review of Teaching and Teacher Education. AAS welcomes the Government’s recognition of the importance of attracting and retaining talented people to the teaching profession, especially in the fields of science, technology and mathematics. AAS also applauds the Government’s recent initiatives outlined in the Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training’s publication, Supporting Science Teachers – The Commonwealth’s Commitment to Improving Science Education in Australian Schools (August 2002) [2].

AAS believes that a high-quality teaching workforce in science, mathematics and technology should be a national priority. The presence of an inspiring, high-quality teacher in the classroom is the single most important factor in improving student achievement in, and enjoyment of, primary and secondary school.

The responses in this submission are aligned with the numbering in the Discussion Paper.  AAS, however, makes the embracing observation that to achieve improvements a key issue is the resourcing of teachers as professionals.  Such resourcing must include the physical conditions within laboratories in schools, technical support, appropriate class size, access to appropriate in-service training and the opportunity for study leave and professional development.  Teachers must be well educated in science and/or mathematics at tertiary level as well as having the pedagogical skills required of a professional teacher.

These overarching themes permeate the responses to the individual sections.

Attractiveness of Teaching as a Career and as a Profession

1.3 What factors may dissuade people from seeking teaching employment, especially in the fields of science, technology and mathematics?

  • The teaching profession suffers from a poor public image. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the profession is perceived as burnt-out, struggling to cope with student welfare and discipline issues, and under-remunerated. Working conditions are not seen as attractive when compared to those in related professions. Graduates in science, mathematics and related disciplines have other employment options and are choosing these in preference to teaching. AAS will be interested in the results of further research to be undertaken in this area by MCEETYA, but is of the view that a substantial increase in resources is necessary to address the underlying issues. Only then will the current image of teaching be replaced with one that conveys an attractive and rewarding career.

1.4 What other strategies could schools, State and Commonwealth Governments, Universities or the private sector consider (including industry and relevant professional bodies) to attract people to consider teaching science, technology and mathematics?

  • As professionals, teachers require professional development.  Programs of secondment to universities and government and private research institutions should be encouraged.  Benefits would flow to the individual, school and the institution because of the return of reinvigorated teachers and by a greater awareness of the educational environment at pre-tertiary levels.
  • Appropriate remuneration and career support are vital.  HECS-exempt scholarships, or schemes which allow the removal of a proportion of the HECS debt for each year of teaching, should be introduced. Western Australia is currently introducing a targeted program based on this philosophy.
  • There should be active recruitment from professions such as engineering and the sciences. Schools and students would benefit from teachers who bring to the classroom other workplace experiences, especially in the application of the disciplines being studied. HECS-exemption for post-graduate education courses for these professionals should be explored.
  • There should be active recruitment from final year degree students in mathematics and science disciplines. These students should be offered the opportunity to spend time in a school with an experienced and skilled teacher, in a structured program that conveys what a career in teaching would offer.

Pathways into Teaching

2.3 What potential impacts can University-School links have on attracting potential teachers of science?

  • Support for teachers by university programs is essential.  For example, elements of the VCE curriculum encourage practical exercises to be conducted in partnership between school, teacher and university. The quality of the educational experience for students and the intellectual experience for the teacher is exceptional in best practice programs.
  • Advanced study programs for secondary students may also encourage closer co-operation between schools and universities.
  • More effective links between education and science faculties in encouraging the school/university interface are also worthy of consideration.

2.4 To what extent does the perceived quality of teacher education influence the attractiveness of teaching?

  • Professional teachers must not only be proficient in educational theory, methodology and practice, they must have a strong discipline base on which the educational philosophy can build.  Science students are typified by an interest in theory, rigorous experimental design, analysis and hypothesis testing.  Their studies are informed by a research-led culture.  Teachers of science should be a continuum of this culture if they are to excite the next generation to the importance of science.  The response of potential teachers of science to an educational training that is not aligned to such a culture is unlikely to be positive.
  • Teacher education courses risk being out of touch with the reality of what happens in schools. Consideration should be given to closer partnerships between teacher education institutions and schools. A report [3] prepared for the National Academies in the United States has explored some innovative ways in which this might be achieved.
  • Teacher education courses should be examined for their gender inclusivity. In particular, courses for primary teachers must be attractive to males to address the concern of under-representation of males in the profile of the primary teaching profession.

Retention of Existing Teachers

3.1 How successful can professional support initiatives be in aiding the retention of teachers of science, technology and mathematics?

  • AAS believes that such initiatives can be very successful in aiding the retention of teachers. All teachers need some degree of professional support, in particular, support to mix with scientists and share the excitement of scientific discovery which is what initially attracted them to teach in the field. Beginning teachers need additional support. AAS believes that beginning teachers should have 20% of their working time available for planning and discussions with mentors.

Professional Development

4.1 What should be the level of qualification and experience necessary to teach science, technology and mathematics?

  • A professional teacher at secondary level should be qualified to teach to the most advanced level in the school system.  Typically this would require at least 50% of the final year of their discipline studies to be as a major in mathematics, technology or science.  Without such an established template, educational methodology or experience is unlikely to bridge the knowledge credibility gap between teacher and student. At primary level, a teacher should have sufficient understanding of the discipline area to feel confident about the concepts that are to be taught.

4.2 How can teachers who are either teaching in areas outside of their original specialisation or are under-qualified in those areas, be assisted in improving their knowledge and competencies to teach in these fields?

  • Given the response to 4.1, clearly crash courses are not the answer.  Paid time-release to establish an appropriate base is required through involvement in Community Access Programs or programs specifically designed to provide expert discipline knowledge at levels necessary to provide confidence and competence in the inspirational discharge of scientific knowledge.

4.4 What level of resources for professional development are necessary to ensure teacher professional standards?

  • Professional teachers of science, technology and mathematics should be able to attend conferences on science/mathematics and/or science/mathematical education on a regular basis.
  • The response of those teachers attending the annual conference of AAS reflects the value that individuals, schools and educational systems derive. In particular, teachers appreciate the opportunity to update their discipline knowledge and comment that professional development is sometimes overly focused on systemic and pedagogical imperatives at the expense of discipline updates. Establishing networks with scientists is another important aspect of attending a discipline-based conference. AAS uses a structured program to achieve this with teachers and early career researchers attending the annual conference.
  • Opportunities for time release, study leave and enhancement of school/university/industry interfaces are essential. In recent time teachers who have been fortunate enough to participate in such activities have typically done so with some encouragement from their school but little financial support.  They have participated by extending their range of duties as position/time replacement is seldom available. Professional development of teachers has often been seen as a personal, rather than a partnered, responsibility. Resources are necessary to allow such activities to be undertaken without unreasonable demands on the time or finances of participants.

School Leadership and Role Models

6.3 What concerns are there with the profile of the teaching workforce, and what kinds of strategies might address these concerns?

  • AAS strongly believes that the main concerns are the age profile of current teachers and insufficient recruitment of appropriately educated teachers in science, technology and mathematics.  In areas of the enabling sciences (mathematics, physics and chemistry) the shortage of well-qualified teachers is of major concern.  It is also a concern that many of the best teachers are promoted out of classrooms as their career progresses.  While some important career structural changes have occurred in recent times, clear career progression within the classroom to competitive salary levels would enhance recruitment and retention.

National Collaboration

  • AAS strongly endorses national collaboration, as outlined in Recommendation 8 in the report The Status and Quality of Teaching and Learning of Science in Australian Schools, and believes that the suggested actions should be implemented. There is currently wasteful duplication of resources at State and Territory level. Collaboration can be effective. It is important to support collaboration at Ministerial, Directors-General and Curriculum Officer level to facilitate a national approach to the development and sharing of curriculum resources, professional development and educational research. Ideally, every State and Territory education jurisdiction should have a Curriculum Officer in the fields of science, mathematics and technology. This is not currently the case. Two Commonwealth-funded projects – the Collaborative Australian Secondary Science Project and the Science Education Assessment Resources Project – are demonstrating how a national focus can be achieved.
  • The recent report Evaluation of Primary Investigations [4] commissioned by AAS and the Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training recommends a revision of this successful primary science and technology professional development and classroom resource program. AAS believes that a revised Primary Investigations would build upon an already successful program, and further enhance the confidence and effectiveness of teachers of primary science. In their report, The Status and Quality of Teaching and Learning of Science in Australian Schools, Goodrum et al quote an individual respondent as saying ‘The Academy’s Primary Investigations curriculum materials are an excellent set of resources that should be more widely promoted and could be funded as a national primary science program’.
  • AAS supports the development of a national database and a national digital library for science, mathematics and technology education. This would allow the coordination of resources from the States and Territories and allow effective sharing of these resources. The Science Education Assessment Resources Project is an excellent first step in this regard.
  • AAS is highly-regarded in the education community and has considerable experience in primary and secondary science, mathematics and technology education. AAS would be pleased to assist in national initiatives where appropriate.


AAS promotes the importance of excellence in science and technology as the foundation for Australia’s future.  If we are to compete with evolving knowledge-rich economies it is essential that we have the necessary scientifically educated workforce. If sensible decisions are to be made at political, economic, ethical and social levels, we require a scientifically informed population who can understand and participate in debates on issues of national importance.

Professional, well-educated and excellently resourced and supported teachers of science, technology and mathematics are critical to a future that is secure, prosperous and sustainable.  The Review, its recommendations and their resourcing are key components of that future.

AAS would be available to expand upon this submission should the Review Committee wish to follow up on any of the issues raised.

This document has been prepared on behalf of the Australian Academy of Science by Professor John McKenzie, Secretary, Education and Public Awareness. The timeline has precluded obtaining endorsement by the Academy’s Council prior to its submission.


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