Shifting the Culture of Out-of-field Professional Education for Teachers
Australian schools are currently facing a crisis of teacher shortages. This crisis is a long-term problem that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. A common solution has been to assign teachers to teach subjects or levels of schooling for which they are not qualified – that is, to teach out-of-field.
Out-of-field teaching has become endemic in Australian schools, especially those in remote locations and with low socio-economic background demographics. The latest indications from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) are that potentially 40 per cent of Mathematics teachers, 36 per cent of Humanities teachers, 29 per cent of Science teachers and 28 per cent of English teachers are teaching out-of-field. These figures are startling considering that these core subjects comprise the bulk of the students’ learning during the compulsory years of schooling.
The negative consequences of out-of-field teaching for both students and teachers are well-known, and include poorer student participation, engagement, and achievement, teacher attrition, and stress on schools. However, resolving the shortage of suitably qualified teachers requires more than simply increasing the supply of teacher graduates or offering professional development programs that enable teachers to ‘upskill’ in an additional subject area. Such approaches do not necessarily account for system level factors influencing decisions by out-of-field teachers to seek additional qualifications. Teacher upskilling programs have limited impact because cultural norms within schools and education systems often do not recognise or value teacher specialisation.
This project will identify the incidence of out-of-field teaching and work out how to address it through professional education and other measures. The locus of change will be positioned on the entire education system to ensure adequate policy settings, education structures and school practices for supporting teachers through coherent, targeted and specific continuing professional education.
Framing a culture of professional education needed to sustain a highly capable, adaptive and specialised teaching workforce will benefit schools, professional education providers and policy makers through better informed professional education programs for out-of-field teachers, policies that recognise the complexity of the out-of-field phenomenon, and better understanding of the value of professional education and re-specialisation in improving teacher capacity, well-being, job satisfaction and teacher retention.
There is an urgent need to understand the factors influencing the pattern of uptake of professional education by out-of-field teachers.
This project will draw on perspectives from schools, governments and professional education providers to answer the following research questions:
- What factors influence teacher uptake of professional education by out-of-field teachers?
- What is the ecology of an education system that values diverse pathways towards teachers becoming in-field?
A scoping literature review and policy analysis will inform three interlocking studies:
- Key stakeholder interviews will capture current policy settings and the varying cultural norms associated with subject specialisations and professional education for out-of-field teachers.
- A national survey of representatives from across the professional education ecosystem will establish the scope and relative importance of varying factors affecting professional education uptake.
- A Delphi study will inform an innovative ecological framing of an education system that values diverse pathways towards teachers becoming more specialised by building their teaching capability.
Our research is predicated on the assumption that teachers and schools are more likely to value and engage with professional education and reduce the incidence of teaching out-of-field when there are defined pathways to becoming ‘in-field’.
The findings will inform an evidence-based framework reflecting current practices and their impacts, an ideal professional education ecosystem comprised of diverse opportunities for re-specialisation, and principles to inform policy and practice needed to attain the ideal.
This project has the potential to enhance the quality of teaching and learning across Australia by developing policies and practices to produce a highly skilled workforce that will, ultimately, improve the future education of our nation.
We will develop a framework for professional education for ‘out-of-field’ teachers in science, mathematics, English and the humanities. The framework will guide policy settings, education structures and school practices needed to support teachers through continuing subject-focused professional education.
Project outcomes will contribute to the priority area of keeping the teachers we have to address teacher shortages from the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan. Given the potentially crippling effect of long term out-of-field teaching for teachers and the education system generally, the research has wider implications for the professional lives of teachers over the longer term.
Associate Professor Linda Hobbs, Deakin University
Professor Merrilyn Goos, University of Sunshine Coast
Associate Professor Greg Oates, University of Tasmania
Dr Janet Dutton, Macquarie University
Dr Seamus Delaney, Deakin University
Dr Susan Caldis, Macquarie University
Dr Constance Cirkony, University of Tasmania
Dr Emily Ross, The University of Queensland
Australian Research Council Discovery Project
Literature review and Policy Analysis – Year 1
Study 1 Interview study – Year 1 and 2
Study 2 National Survey – Year 2
Study 3 Delphi Study – Year 3