A comparison of teacher education systems in Australia and the UK

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  1. Education Dissertation Topic with Titles
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The initial teacher education (ITE) systems in both Australia and the UK have been subject to continual reforms in recent years, as education policy is becoming ever more closely linked to national development within a globalised market. There are, however, increasing concerns about early career teacher attrition rates and the decline in the number of applicants for ITE in both these countries. International comparisons of ITE systems can inform the national policy-making process by revealing common strengths, common weaknesses, and points of departure. The aims of this dissertation are to analyse and compare the ITE systems of Australia and the UK, and to identify those common aspects which may be contributing to teacher shortages.

Aims and Objectives

Education plays a crucial role in a nation’s development, and teachers are the key facilitators. Both Australia and the UK have a history of robust teacher education programmes which have been subject to continual reforms over recent decades. Considering the important contribution teachers make to the development of children and young people, and the positive relationship between teacher education and teacher effectiveness (Bahr, 2016), it is alarming that the numbers of teachers in both Australia and the UK are declining while the population in both countries is growing. The shortage of teachers is now a continuing challenge for the education sector in England, which is experiencing a decline in the number of applications for teacher training places (House of Commons Education Committee, 2017). Australia is also experiencing a notable decline in applications for teacher preparation courses (Bahr and Ferreira, 2018), and teaching is an occupation listed as a skills shortage by the Australian Government (Department of Jobs and Small Business, 2018). Reasons for these developments may be complex and varied, incorporating a range of socio-political factors. Because teacher education policies and practices in both the UK and Australia have been subject to continual reform in recent decades, this dissertation will analyse and compare both country’s current teacher training programmes with the aim of identifying factors which might explain teacher attrition in both countries. It is hypothesised that a comparison of similar systems has the potential to reveal common features which may be contributing to the decline in the number of applicants to the teaching profession.

The proposed research questions will initially be:

  1. Are there any common features of the teacher education systems in Australia and the UK which could be contributing to the declining numbers of applicants to teacher training?
  2. Are there any pertinent findings arising from comparative analyses of teacher education in Australia and the UK which could assist policy-makers in solving the problem of teacher shortages?
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Potential problems with the research

Although this dissertation aims to compare Australia and the UK, research carried out for the purposes of this proposal indicates that there are marked educational differences within the UK, particularly between Scotland and England. It is proposed that the dissertation title is retained, but that should the research indicate that these regional differences are too broad to be addressed by this dissertation, that the study will focus on England, and that the title will be amended accordingly.

Identifying the reasons for the decline in the number of applications to teacher education programmes is clearly problematic because there is no clearly-defined set to which research can be applied. In other words, potentially all graduates could be interviewed to establish the reasons why applications are declining, as there is no way of knowing which individuals had actively considered and subsequently rejected the teacher-training routes. Thus, this dissertation will focus on the teacher education programs, rather than on the people who are engaging with them. It is acknowledged that this approach does neglect the many and varied personal reasons why people turn away from teaching, but this approach is justified within the constraints of the dissertation.

Literature Review

The literature review must first commence with sources describing the current programmes of teacher training in Australia and the UK so that comparisons can be made. A starting point for Australia is the study by Mayer et al. (2017) which provides information regarding the present structure of the teacher training programmes. For the UK, details of teacher training programmes are described on the website for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS, 2018), and this will be used as the starting point for the study of UK initial teacher training routes.

In recent years, because of the shortages in teachers, research has been conducted into teacher training reform. Useful preliminary sources include: the Carter Review of initial teacher training in England (Carter, 2015), which details 18 recommendations to the system; Fitzgerald and Knipe (2016), focusing on the political agendas to teacher education in Australia; Gore (2016), which addresses the scale of teacher training programs and recent reforms in Australia; Mayer (2014), which highlights the complexity of the contemporary profession when compared to the historical situation, and the need for suitable training which addresses the various contemporary complexities; Mayer et al (2017), which examines the broader discourses surrounding the reforms; and Rowe and Skourdoumbis (2017), with a focus on the link between ideological discourses and teacher education reforms.

A study revealing how initial teacher training has changed dramatically in recent times was conducted by McNamara et al. (2017), who found that schools have now become the key location for learning in initial teacher training in the UK. Developments relating to schools-based issues are addressed by Morrison et al. (2018) who report on recent developments in Australian teacher education featuring the new training portfolio. Focusing on the wider context, research by White (2016) reveals that there is a need for a closer dialogue between teacher education researchers and policy-makers.  Extending the dialogue debate, Yeigh and Lynch (2017) address the facets of the school-university partnerships in Australia. Broader studies which address the reforms within the context of the wider political domains (Fitzgerald and Knipe, 2016; Little, 2015; Youens et al. 2018) will also be utilised in this dissertation.

An initial review of the literature reveals that there are few qualitative sources which have conducted primary research in recent years into the possible reasons for teacher attrition rates, although research is growing in this field. Ingersoll et al. (2014), conducting research in Australia, and the House of Commons Education Committee (2017) in the UK, report on teacher attrition rates and suggest possible reasons for the phenomenon. These studies indicate that the reasons for the decline in the number of teachers in Australia and the UK are wide-ranging and may not be solely attributable to teacher education per se.

The studies which are most closely linked to the aims of this dissertation include: Ingersoll et al. (2014) (examining whether the kind of pre-service education has an impact on whether teachers leave education); and the systematic literature review by Mason and Poyatos Matas (2015), addressing thirteen themes which contribute to teacher attrition, one of which is the quality and nature of pre-service education.

There are numerous research papers which focus on the contribution of international comparisons in teacher education to the field of developing best practice. A selection introduced by this proposal includes the following studies: Darling-Hammond (2017); Dinham (2015); Gilroy (2014); Ingvarson et al., (2014); Jasman (2009); and Page (2015). Although the scope of these papers reaches beyond the question of teacher attrition, such research is nevertheless useful to the aims of this dissertation since these papers employ the comparative approach by which this paper can be developed.


This dissertation will employ a systematic literature review of secondary sources in the field of teacher education in Australia and the UK. Published articles relating to the topics of initial teacher education in Australia and the UK, teacher training reform in Australia and the UK, and teacher attrition will be collected from journal database and online search engine sources. Initial search terms include the following: ‘Australia teacher education’; ‘UK teacher training’; ‘teacher education reform’; ‘teacher training reform’; ‘teacher attrition’. It is anticipated that a range of more nuanced search terms will develop from these initial proposals.

For the purposes of this dissertation, it is hypothesised that the most salient reason for the decline in applications for teacher-training is that routes into teaching have fundamentally changed in recent years, with a strong shift away from university-led teacher training, especially in the UK. This hypothesis reveals a certain cognitive bias on the part of the researcher, so the methodology employed will need to mitigate the risk to impartiality. It is anticipated that one such method will involve research into the benefits of schools-based teacher education programs, when compared to university-led programs. However, the theory-practice divide continues to be a contentious issue in teacher education (Kitchen and Petrarca, 2016) and it is anticipated that this will be an underlying theme throughout this dissertation.

Ethical concerns

As this dissertation relies solely on secondary sources, there are no ethical concerns related to human harm at present. The sole ethical issues identified at this stage will include the need to report and cite information accurately when using secondary sources.

Reference List

Bahr, N. 2016. Building quality in teaching and teacher education. Camberwell, Victoria: Australian Council for Educational Research Press.

Bahr, N. and Ferreira, J.A. 2018. ‘Seven reasons people no longer want to be teachers’. The Conversation, April 14, 2018. Available at: https://theconversation.com/seven-reasons-people-no-longer-want-to-be-teachers-94580 (Accessed 02 September 2018).

Carter, A. 2015. Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training (ITT). London: Department for Education. Retrieved from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/399957/Carter_Review.pdf (Accessed 29 August 2018).

Darling-Hammond, L. 2017. ‘Teacher education around the world: What can we learn from international practice?’. European Journal of Teacher Education, 40(3), pp.291-309.

Department of Jobs and Small Business. 2018. Occupational skill shortages information. Retrieved from: https://www.jobs.gov.au/occupational-skill-shortages-information (Accessed 02 September 2018).

Dinham, S. 2015. ‘The worst of both worlds: How US and UK models are influencing Australian education’. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23, p.49 Retrieved from: https://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/viewFile/1865/1615 (Accessed 29 August 2018).

Fitzgerald, T. and Knipe, S. 2016. ‘Policy reform: testing times for teacher education in Australia’. Journal of Educational Administration and History, 48(4), pp.358-369.

Gilroy, P. 2014. ‘Policy interventions in teacher education: sharing the English experience’. Journal of Education for Teaching, 40(5), pp.622-632.

Gore, J.M. 2016. ‘Reform and the reconceptualization of teacher education in Australia’. In R. Brandenburg, S. McDonough, J. Burke and S. White (eds.), Teacher Education. Singapore: Springer, pp.15-34.

House of Commons Education Committee. 2017. Recruitment and retention of teachers: Fifth Report of Session 2016-17. London: House of Commons. Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmeduc/199/199.pdf (Accessed 03 September 2018).

Ingersoll, R., Merrill, L. and May, H. 2014. ‘What are the effects of teacher education and preparation on beginning teacher attrition?’ CPRE Research Reports. Available at: http://www.cpre.org/sites/default/files/researchreport/2018_prepeffects2014.pdf (Accessed 03 September 2018).

Ingvarson, L., Reid, K., Buckley, S., Kleinhenz, E., Masters, G. and Rowley, G. 2014. Best practice teacher education programs and Australia’s own programs. Canberra: Department of Education.

Jasman, A. 2009. ‘A critical analysis of initial teacher education policy in Australia and England: past, present and possible futures’. Teacher Development, 13(4), pp.321-333.

Kitchen, J. and Petrarca, D. 2016. ‘Approaches to teacher education’. In J. Loughran and M.L. Hamilton (eds.), International Handbook of Teacher Education. Singapore: Springer, pp.137-186.

Little, G. (ed.) 2015. Global Education “Reform”: Building Resistance and Solidarity. London: Manifesto Press.

Mason, S. and Poyatos Matas, C. 2015. ‘Teacher attrition and retention research in Australia: Towards a new theoretical framework’. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 40(11), pp.45-66.

Mayer, D. 2014. ‘Forty years of teacher education in Australia: 1974-2014’. Journal of Education for Teaching, 40(5), pp.461-473.

Mayer, D., Cotton, W. and Simpson, A. 2017. ‘Teacher Education in Australia’. Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Education. Available at: http://education.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.001.0001/acrefore-9780190264093-e-305?print=pdf (Accessed 28 August 2018).

McNamara, O., Murray, J. and Phillips, R. 2017. Policy and Research Evidence in the “Reform” of Primary Initial Teacher Education in England: A Report for the Cambridge Primary Review Trust. York: Cambridge Primary Review Trust.

Morrison, C.M., Masters, J. and Quentin-Baxter, M. 2018. ‘Implementation of portfolios within Australian initial teacher education: Who’s leading the charge?’. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 43(7), pp.98-109.

Page, T.M. 2015. ‘Common pressures, same results? Recent reforms in professional standards and competences in teacher education for secondary teachers in England, France and Germany’. Journal of Education for Teaching, 41(2), pp.180-202.

Rowe, E.E. and Skourdoumbis, A. 2017. ‘Calling for “urgent national action to improve the quality of initial teacher education”: the reification of evidence and accountability in reform agendas’. Journal of Education Policy, 1-17. DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2017.1410577.

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). 2018. ‘Routes into teaching in England’. [online]. Available at: https://www.ucas.com/postgraduate/teacher-training/train-teach-england/routes-teaching-england?filter= (Accessed 29 August 2018).

White, S. 2016. ‘Teacher education research and education policy-makers: an Australian perspective’. Journal of Education for Teaching, 42(2), pp.252-264.

Yeigh, T. and Lynch, D. 2017. ‘Reforming initial teacher education: A call for innovation’. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 42(12), pp.112-127.

Youens, B., Smethem, L. and Simmons, M. 2018. ‘Move over Nelly: lessons from 30 years of employment-based initial teacher education in England’. Teachers and Teaching, 24(7), pp.854-869.

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