Teach for Australia: new funding to extend controversial program
A program that parachutes “career changers” and high-achieving university graduates without teaching degrees into disadvantaged high schools will continue for at least another four years thanks to a funding boost from the Turnbull government.
The government will announce in Monday’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO) that it will spend $20.5 million to fund another two cohorts of the Teach for Australia program.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said there was growing evidence that the Teach For Australia program is making a positive impact on and in schools. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Launched by the Gillard government in 2009, the highly competitive program provides non-teachers with 13 weeks of intensive training before they begin a two-year classroom placement at a regional or low-socio-economic school. While teaching, the participants work towards a master’s of teaching degree.
The program has proved controversial since its inception with teachers’ unions decrying it as an “expensive distraction” that undermines the teaching profession. Victoria, Western Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory have signed on to the program but NSW, the state with the country’s biggest teaching workforce, has steadfastly refused to join.
Teach for Australia CEO Melodie Potts Rosevear said 65 per cent of those who completed the program remained in classrooms as teachers in the long term.
The new funding, which runs until the 2020-21 financial year, will allow up to 300 more new teachers to participate in the program.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said: “There is a growing body of evidence that the Teach For Australia program is making a positive impact on and in schools.
“The data shows that after two years in the classroom almost 90 per cent of principals considered TFA graduates to be more effective teachers than other graduate teachers with the same level of classroom experience.”
Senator Birmingham said the program focuses on intensive mentoring, classroom observation and professional development – the key features of high-ranking schooling systems of Hong Kong, South Korea, Shanghai and Singapore.
Melodie Potts Rosevear, chief executive of Teach for Australia said: “This funding means we will be able to continue the program and get hundreds of excellent people into where they are needed most.”
Teach for Australia received more than 1500 applications for just 130 positions in its most recent round of offers.
Ms Potts Rosevear said participants were evenly split between those who had recently finished university, young professionals and “career changers” who decided to become teachers late in life. Participants come from a wide range of backgrounds including aerospace engineering, atmospheric physics and zoology. There is a particular focus on graduates with science, engineering, technology and mathematics skills given Australia’s poor performance in these areas in recent international studies.
Ms Potts Rosevear said 65 per cent of those who complete the program remained in classrooms as teachers in the long term.
She said she hoped NSW would join the program and that it would become truly national. NSW Board of Studies president Tom Alegounarias has said the state opposes the program because student interests should not be “compromised for the convenience of short-term packaged approaches”.
The government has commissioned an evaluation of the program which is due to report next year.
A recent review by the Australian Council for Educational Research found Teach for Australia was “generally successful”, had a high retention rate and that participant schools had been “very positive” about the calibre of the associates assigned to them. But it found the program was “very costly given the very small numbers of associates involved”.