The Committee's Inquiry into the Status of Teachers is very
timely because significant changes in education policy, particularly at the
Commonwealth level, and cuts in government funding to public schools undermine
the quality of education provided to our students. The Inquiry has been
remarkable both for the extent of the interest it has generated and for the
unanimity of the views expressed by participants. Parents, students, school and
community organisations, unions, universities, teachers and professional
organisations have contributed their perspectives in more than 300 submissions
and in public hearings in every state and territory. The message from these
groups is consistent and clear.
Teaching in the 1990s is a highly complex and demanding
activity. Despite shrinking budgets, alarmist media reports, unsupportive
ministers, a crowded curriculum, and the disappearance of support services,
teachers have continued to dedicate themselves to their students. The Committee
has been encouraged by the evidence of the deep commitment of teachers, by
their passionate concern for young people, and by the many examples of
innovative and cooperative teaching practice brought to its attention.
But all is not well in the teaching profession, and it is
generally agreed that there is a widespread crisis of morale amongst teachers.
The status of the profession is disturbingly low. Perceptions in the community
about the low tertiary entrance requirements for teacher training, and the low
status accorded in this country to children, contribute to this state of
affairs. As well, the feminisation of the profession - that is the high
percentage of women teachers – means that prejudiced views about the value of
women’s work are also a factor. Few teachers recommend a teaching career to
their children or their brightest students. Some are even ashamed to admit to
being teachers. While teachers themselves value their work they believe it is
not understood, appreciated or supported in the general community.
The Committee considers this is an unduly pessimistic
assessment of the situation. The evidence received shows that community
perceptions of teachers and teaching are more varied and more positive than
many teachers realise, particularly among people and families most familiar
with teachers' work. This is a clear indication of the need for teachers and
others, especially governments, to publicise more effectively the excellent
work taking place in our schools.
The Committee believes that a tolerant, vigorous, successful
society requires a quality education system, and at the heart of quality
education are quality teachers. Low morale amongst teachers works against
quality teaching. As this Report shows, steps to improve morale and to address
the difficulties described will go a long way to achieving quality outcomes in
education. Teaching needs to be accepted as a profession. To reinforce
that view, the recommendations in this Report aim to give teachers
responsibility for professional standards in teaching and governments
responsibility for staffing, facilities and back up support.
The Committee accepts that teachers are central to the
quality of students’ learning and that therefore it is necessary to support our
teachers more effectively. The Labour Party in Britain and the Democratic Party
in the United States both won recent elections with campaigns in which
education was a central issue and in which teachers were acknowledged as
critical to its quality. Evidence to the Committee indicates that community
support for education is equally strong in Australia.
Now is the time to act. The teaching force is ageing. Its
average age is 46. Many teachers will retire within the next ten years and new
teachers will be needed to replace them. To attract and retain high quality applicants
it is important to enhance the status of the profession. Our students deserve
The causes of teachers' declining status are well known.
They are documented in this Report. So are the means by which they might be
addressed. The Report's recommendations will be a significant step in this
What remains to be seen is whether governments in Australia
will acknowledge the central importance of teachers to ensuring a successful
education system, and whether they will make a commitment to practical measures
to support teachers. It is clear from the evidence presented to this Committee
that governments ignore community commitment to education at their peril.
Senator the Hon Rosemary Crowley
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