The ACT will be the first state or territory to introduce literacy and numeracy testing for government school teachers.
Education Minister Joy Burch has asked her directorate to consider ways in either adapting the existing basic skills test that prospective new teachers sit before being hired into ACT government schools, or introducing a specialised literacy and numeracy test on top of that.
She wants all new recruits to achieve a literacy and numeracy result that puts them in the top 30 per cent of the general population, saying this was a way in which she could ensure teaching standards would continue to rise..
''We are already a high performing system so this is about always needing to stretch and do better,'' Ms Burch said. ''My message to parents is that in our public schools we will give their sons and daughters the best teachers we can find.
''This means explicitly ensuring and testing for high levels of literacy and numeracy on top of the already rigorous recruitment and registration processes.''
Ms Burch was seeking advice from her directorate about a new testing regime by the first quarter of this year so she could make a decision on how the tests would operate by midyear and have them in place to assess next year's teacher recruits.
The issue of benchmarking teacher literacy and numeracy standards has already received broad support from education ministers nationally, but Ms Burch said she was keen to see it implemented as a priority in the ACT.
The tests will not be retrospective, so existing ACT government school teachers will not be affected. It will not apply to teachers working in the non-government system.
Ms Burch said that after a year in the portfolio, in which she had visited more than 50 schools, she was conscious of the need to raise the professional status of teachers as well as giving parents confidence that their ''sons and daughters are in good hands''.
While there has been a continuing political debate about how to raise teaching standards and whether to raise university entrance cut-offs for education degrees, Ms Burch said she had no control over university policy. She also did not agree with the concept of simply raising the cut-off for university entrance as education degrees attracted students who could prove to be great teachers through applied studies. ''The one lever I have over teacher quality is as an employee, so I want to raise the bar.
''I am looking at the end point. As an employer I want graduates tested to make sure we hire the best of the best. So that when the rubber hits the road they are prepared.''
In time for the school year the ACT government hired 376 new government school teachers. Each year some 700 applicants are received for those wanting to work in public schools. All up, the ACT's full-time teaching workforce is close to 5000. All teachers must now be registered with the ACT Teacher Quality Institute, which sets professional learning standards, determines assessment and certification standards, and develops the code of professional practice.
Ms Burch said her directorate was still researching how a literacy and numeracy test would be implemented and it was not known how many of those 378 new recruits would have passed it. She was ''absolutely'' confident all teacher positions could be filled with applicants within the 30 per cent cut-off.
''There is nothing wrong with our teachers, but we are raising the bar and making it explicit.''
Using research from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, Ms Burch said it appeared that literacy and numeracy benchmarks set at the top 30 per cent would ensure best classroom practice. That 30 per cent cut-off translates to an Australian Core Skills Framework level of 4 out of 5 - or graded marks of B and above for English or an A for mathematical applications and B for mathematical methods.
She was confident most prospective teachers would reach that level.
The directorate would work with the Australian Education Union, which was a partner in government school teacher recruitment.
The union's ACT branch president, Glenn Fowler, said it was broadly supportive of Ms Burch's plans and was seeking greater clarification on how it would be rolled out.
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