Teach For Australia a model for attracting high achievers to classroom

The just-released Grattan Institute report, Attracting High Achievers to Teaching, offers a range of recommended reforms which, if adopted, could potentially double the proportion of high achievers who choose teaching as a career within the next decade. The package would carry an estimated $1.6 billion annual price tag. Whatever the actual figure, the bottom line of the report is that shifting the makeup of teacher entrance will not come cheaply.

“As a not-for-profit focused on recruiting, placing and supporting exceptional people to enter teaching and build their efficacy as both teachers and leaders, Teach For Australia has for the past 10 years proven that is it possible to attract exceptional people serving low income communities. We believe teaching deserves its rightful place at the apex of the professions,” Teach For Australia founder and chief executive officer Melodie Potts-Rosevear said.

The Grattan Institute’s report makes the case that today, in Australia, high achievers rarely see teaching as an attractive option, claiming that demand from high achievers has steadily declined over the past four decades. Ms Potts-Rosevear said that Teach For Australia had managed to buck that trend, suggesting the work of Teach For Australia provided something for policy makers to learn from and highlight.

“We’ve seen over 11,000 applications in the last 10 years for our highly selective program. We know from our own market research that the opportunity to make a difference – if marketed appropriately, and backed up by a robust program design – will attract exceptional individuals,” Ms Potts-Rosevear said in response to the report’s recommendations.

“Our program is highly selective, accepting only the top 8 per cent of applicants to become teachers (known as Associates as they go through the program). 44 per cent are eligible to teach STEM subjects – fields where Australia suffers a critical shortage of qualified teachers – and nearly half of Associates hold an advanced university degree including 6 per cent with Doctorate degrees and 11 per cent with Master’s degrees. We know that high achievers make huge impacts in the classroom and in the communities where they live and work.”

“At the same time, we know that to be most effective, high achievers need to connect with the work and that is why we are also increasing our focus on diversity and inclusion within our cohort. We have increased the number of first-in-family graduates into our program. We ensure everyone has leadership qualities, resilience, energy, and a desire to work on reducing educational inequity.”

The report recommends a three-part reform package to meet its goal to double the number of high achievers choosing teaching within the next 10 years. It cites research that shows bright young people are open to becoming teachers, but that changes such as better pay and more speciality roles are needed to convince them to choose the classroom. Ms Potts-Rosevear said however that these proposed new positions, with their higher levels of responsibility and boosted pay may not be enough to address a number of real issues affecting teacher careers.

“Whilst I applaud the Grattan report’s proposal to see new levels of instructional leaders created within our school system, I’m concerned that it could create an unhelpful cycle of centre-driven role creation and promotion. Without ensuring effective school leadership, people management structures and culture change happening alongside, there’s a real risk of promoting and frustrating high achievers simultaneously. Sadly, there’s no silver bullet.” Ms Potts-Rosevear said.

“I’m also concerned that we’re not really sure where to set the dollar figures required. For example, one of the report’s recommendations is offering scholarships but States have been doing $10k+ scholarships for decades, in various forms. Meanwhile, the talent profile of teachers has declined, as the report illustrates.”

“What we’ve learned is that just speaking to the ‘numbers’, whilst important, isn’t enough. Teach For Australia aims instead to inspire program participants to see how their existing career ambitions can sit alongside taking action towards education equity.”

/Public Release.