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The idea that could drastically change how we think about teachers.

Labor Party deputy leader Tanya Plibersek would like to see teaching courses full of academic high achievers. She’d like to see students competing to get into teaching the way they compete to get into medicine.

“I’d like to see teaching the first choice for high-performing students and not a fallback,” Labor’s education spokeswoman tells the ABC. “In some countries around the world, if you miss out on teaching, you can still get into law.”

If Plibersek had her way, the entrance scores for getting into teaching courses would be raised so that only students with high ATARs would get through. That would be a very different group of students from those getting through now. The average ATAR is 70, and currently, more than 40 per cent of students getting into teaching have ATARs below 70. In fact, more than five per cent of them have ATARs of 50 or below.

“I just don’t know how you can sustain an argument that says it’s okay for us to be taking people with lower and lower marks every year,” Plibersek adds.

But would raising entrance scores mean that our kids would be getting better teachers?

Chris Presland, the president of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, believes Plibersek is heading in the right direction.

“There’s no doubt that we want our best and brightest pursuing tertiary studies in preparation for being a teacher,” he tells Mamamia.

“If you look at some of the ATAR scores that are being accepted in some of the universities at the lower end, you really are talking about kids that are not particularly academically able at all.”

But he doesn’t think that focusing solely on high ATAR scores is the way to go.

“I’d like to see teaching the first choice for high-performing students and not a fallback." Image: Getty.
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“It’s a pretty blunt tool, and I think most of the research I’ve seen around it as being a reliable predictor of performance at university is that it’s not actually a very reliable predictor, but it’s a start.”

Presland says a lot of universities are now looking at some type of selection process, not just ATAR scores. This might involve psychometric testing, or seeing how students respond to different scenarios.

“They’re looking at ways to complement the ATAR measurement,” he says.

On top of that, individual states have begun raising the requirements for students wanting to become teachers. In NSW, students have to achieve at least three band 5 HSC results, one of them being English, to teach in public schools. In Victoria, from 2019, students will need an ATAR of at least 70 to get into teaching courses.

As a parent, I know how much difference a good teacher can make to a child’s life. But I’d be reluctant to raise the ATAR requirement too high. You don’t want people competing to become teachers just for the prestige of it. That’s been happening for a long time with medicine, to the point that universities had to start introducing selection processes, to make sure the right sort of people were becoming doctors.

It’s good to have academic high achievers teaching our kids, but that’s not the main quality I’d be looking for. There’s no point in having a huge amount of knowledge unless you’re good at passing that on. If you can’t interest kids in what you’re teaching them, if you can’t inspire them to want to go on and learn more, if you can’t recognise what might be holding them back and if you don’t care why they’re not doing their best, then you’re not going to be a good teacher, no matter what your ATAR is.

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