Registration and accreditation systems, regardless of their target profession or institution, are key mechanisms for benchmarking safety, competency and quality, and for holding everyone targeted by the system to account. School registration is a prime example of such a system. All schools that provide education to primary or secondary students must be registered in order to operate, meaning they need to meet certain regulatory requirements and minimum requirements for curriculum and operational activities, which vary by jurisdiction, school sector and school type.
The Current Teacher Registration Framework
Much like their employing institutions, teachers are also covered by a registration system; registration is compulsory for all primary and secondary school teachers, and most early childhood teachers, in each jurisdiction across Australia. Due to the impact of teaching quality on students’ educational outcomes, and increasing governmental/societal expectations about teacher quality and student safety, it is little wonder that a system to set and uphold high standards of professional practice for teachers is in place.
The National Framework for Teacher Registration (Framework), which was agreed to by all Education Ministers in 2011, established the architecture of a nationally-consistent registration system – to turn Australia’s teachers into “one profession”. The key aims of the Framework were to improve teacher mobility across Australia, require consistent registration standards and processes, and ensure registration contributed to teachers’ career progression and professional learning. The Framework required each jurisdiction to have an established regulatory authority to deal with teacher registration. This authority was responsible for implementing the key elements of the Framework for its jurisdiction, which included fixed periods of registration, sanctions, suitability and qualifications.
The Framework also embedded the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (Standards) in registration requirements across Australia; the Standards have acted as a benchmark for teachers in progressing their careers and for schools, regulators, educational authorities and governments in implementing registration processes. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) has significant responsibility for administering the Framework and the Standards. AITSL’s primary purpose is to provide national leadership for the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to promote excellence in the profession of teaching and school leadership.
Why a National Review was Needed
While significant steps have been taken to implement the Framework and to progressively streamline registration processes, AITSL notes that the approach to teacher registration still varies between jurisdictions. According to AITSL, local policy contexts, legal and regulatory differences and variations in operational and administrative procedures “influence each jurisdiction’s current approach to registration”, with “variation in the level of focus” developing as teacher registration processes have evolved.
In short, this means that each state/territory manages teacher registration in its own way, with clear differences in relation to what is a requirement to attain and maintain registration and the stringency with which teachers must demonstrate compliance. Some jurisdictions treat the Standards as a continuum of a teacher’s development of professional expertise, with the proficient and graduate stages being linked to equivalent registration levels. Others, such as New South Wales, use all career stages as registration levels. Refer to our previous School Governance article for more information on this topic.
Considering that each jurisdiction has differences in relation to curriculum, non-government school registration and child protection laws, it is unsurprising that teacher registration is regulated differently in each state/territory. However, due to these inconsistencies, as well as enduring questions about the effectiveness of the current system, a National Review of Teacher Registration (National Review) was launched in February 2018 by the Australian Government as part of a package of reforms seeking to boost the quality of Australian teaching, including in relation to requirements for literacy and numeracy skills and accreditation standards for teacher training courses.
The Results of the National Review
The National Review was coordinated by AITSL and conducted by an expert panel of educators. It considered how the Framework is operating, examining each element in terms of consistency and best practice, assessing barriers to successful implementation, and exploring the extent to which the Standards are used within regulatory arrangements to drive teacher quality.
The full report of the National Review - One Teaching Profession: Teacher Registration in Australia (Report) - was released in September 2018. In the Report, the expert panel made 17 recommendations, with findings centering around three core focus areas set out below.
Improving and Reinforcing Teacher Quality
The Standards are well embedded in registration systems across Australia. However, there are opportunities to strengthen teacher registration processes across the career life cycle. A national strategy should be developed and implemented to ensure consistent judgments are made during the transition of teachers from provisional to full registration about whether teachers meet the "Proficient" career stage.
Teachers are increasingly expected to pursue ongoing professional learning, but for performance and development reasons, they need flexibility to focus on the Standards most appropriate to their needs. As a result, the Framework should be adjusted to better account for professional learning requirements.
Registration should also be uniformly extended to early childhood teachers, regardless of their employment setting. The Standards should therefore be amended to ensure their relevance and applicability to early childhood teachers.
Strengthening Children’s Safety
Throughout the stakeholder consultations, the teaching profession expressed a strong commitment to advocating for and protecting children from harm. Teacher regulatory authorities have recognised that reform is necessary to strengthen child safety, with many jurisdictions already reviewing legislation to identify reform areas.
The expert panel expressed support for more consistent collection and sharing of information, to ensure more accurate and evidence-based decision-making at the national level. An automated national information sharing platform should be implemented to streamline the sharing of teacher registration information.
It is in the interests of teachers to ensure that only people who are safe, suitable, fit and proper are permitted to become members of the profession. The expert panel therefore recommended the development of a national policy on suitability to teach, including what constitutes a ‘fit and proper’ teacher.
Streamlining Teacher Registration Processes
A key topic arising from the expert panel’s stakeholder consultations was that teacher mobility needed to be improved. Better teacher registration processes, and greater operational consistency, could allow teachers to move more easily between jurisdictions, and allow people with VET skills to teach.
Numerous recommendations focused on improving teacher mobility, including:
- developing mutual recognition processes between regulators
- creating a plan to enable teacher registration to be fully transferable between jurisdictions
- updating the national approach to English language proficiency assessments
- aligning teacher registration and VET qualifications and collaborating on pathway programs that recognise VET qualifications.
Significance of the National Review for Schools
The National Review was conducted in the context of, and inevitably guided by, the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission), which made numerous findings in relation to teacher quality and professional learning. So while the National Review may not, in isolation, precipitate an immediate internal assessment by a school, the overlap of the National Review with the work of the Royal Commission means that schools should ensure they are prepared to respond to the expert panel's recommendations.
With the Australian Government, each state/territory government and many associations having already provided responses to the Royal Commission, schools should already be formulating their strategies for reviewing and reinforcing their child safety frameworks. The National Review has placed significant responsibility onto schools for maintenance of teacher registration and ongoing professional development, so schools should also be reviewing their policies and procedures in these areas. Key examples include implementing and improving on:
- processes for role-specific teacher induction, mentoring and providing professional development opportunities, including how training on child safety obligations will be conducted
- reporting and decision-making processes for whether teachers have met the requirements for attaining and maintaining registration, including how these decisions are communicated and recorded.