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Out-of-field teaching in the news, again!

Posted by Assoc. Prof. Linda Hobbs on October 14, 2019

A news item was published in The Age on Friday 11 October raising the profile of teaching out-of-field as a phenomenon that schools must contend with. This was posted after a seminar hosted by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE), which Linda Hobbs contributed to.

Some critique:

  • There are no mandates in Victoria that senior classes must be taught by in-field teachers
  • There is no evidence to support the idea that students are being turned off maths because of out-of-field teachers
  • It is important to note that we have amazingly effective teachers in Victoria!!
  • Out-of-field teaching does not automatically lead to poor quality teaching
  • The announcement by James Merlino is welcomed! Although I’m not sure if he is referring to the STEM catalyst program delivered by Deakin or some other version
  • Also important to note is the announcement of teacher incentives of $50k to move to rural and regional areas, not mentioned here.

Experts say a lack of qualified teachers is turning students off maths

Too many Australian secondary school teachers are forced to teach maths despite being unqualified to do so, a technology think tank has warned.

The Academy of Technology and Engineering said the shortage of qualified maths teachers was contributing to an alarming rise in the number of VCE students shunning maths.

The academy argued students were avoiding VCE maths because too many are being taught in their middle years by “out-of-field” teachers who are not qualified to teach the subject.

Emeritus Professor Doreen Thomas, chair of the academy’s education forum, said Australia would need more mathematically and scientifically qualified workers to take on the jobs of the 21st century.

“To inspire students, we need to have well-qualified and well-trained maths teachers,” Professor Thomas said.

“In Victoria, it’s mandated that a year 11 and 12 teacher must have a degree in mathematics, but if you’ve lost them [students] in year 7 and year 10 you’re not going to get them in year 12,” Professor Thomas said.

The percentage of Australian students enrolled in higher mathematics in year 12 fell to 9.4 per cent in 2017, its lowest recorded level in 20 years, according to a report by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute. In 2008, 10.3 percent of year 12 students did higher mathematics.

Meanwhile, Victoria has among the highest proportion of high school educators teaching subjects they are not qualified to teach, a 2016 study by the Australian Council for Educational Research found.

Thirty-two per cent of Victorian teachers taking classes between years 7 to 10 are not qualified to teach the specific subjects they are teaching, the study found, compared with a national average of 27 per cent.

Dr Linda Hobbs, Associate Professor of Education at Deakin University, said in Victorian schools it was often up to the principal to decide who taught maths and science in years 7 to 10, while NSW placed a greater focus on giving out-of-field teachers additional training.

“There is a culture in Victoria that … a good teacher can teach anything,” she said. “There is an undercurrent of truth in that but it sets aside the value of a grounding in knowledge.”

The most recent international assessment of Australia’s academic performance against other nations put Australian students above the OECD average, but listed it as one of 10 nations that experienced a sharp decline in mathematical literacy between 2012 and 2015.

But Associate Professor Hobbs cautioned that data did not show a strong link between out-of-field teaching and student achievement.

Wendy Powson, principal of Lilydale High School, said she knew of a number of schools in her area that struggled to find qualified maths and science teachers.

“One has advertised a number of times and not attracted one applicant,” Ms Powson said.

Another has often been forced to fill the position with a teacher who is not qualified in that subject.

“The teacher maybe has good relationships with kids and good classroom management but their expertise is not actually teaching maths and science,” Ms Powson said.

Mark Grant, chief executive of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership said the extent of out-of-field teaching in Australia is not well understood, as there is no national data.

Mr Grant said professional standards for teaching required teachers to know the content of what they teach and how to teach it.

“Teachers who find themselves teaching out of field require support to ensure they are properly equipped to handle this challenge,” he said.

Education Minister James Merlino said the state government knew that out-of-field teaching in specialist subjects such as maths and science was a challenge for schools.

“That’s why we are investing to attract high quality teachers through the new $17.9 million STEM Catalyst Program to provide out-of-field secondary teachers with specialised training in mathematics and science,” Mr Merlino said.

1 thought on “Out-of-field teaching in the news, again!”

  1. Prof. Russell Tytler

    It’s interesting what gets foregrounded in news items.
    We need to be cautious about implications of the fact that the lack of strong evidence that out of field teaching doesn’t inevitably lead to poor student outcomes. That doesn’t mean that teacher knowledge is unimportant – OOF teachers can work hard and effectively to get their knowledge up. But also – in a system where maths is mainly taught instrumentally and deeper learning is not assessed, then teachers without deep understanding can better get by.

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