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The Pre-Service Country Teaching Mapping Project

R John Halsey
Executive Officer, Rural Education Forum Australia and Senior Lecturer, School of Education, Flinders University. Email john.halsey@flinders.edu.au or tel: 08 8201 5638

The following article is adapted from the Executive Summary of the report Pre-Service Country Teaching In Australia: What’s Happening – What Needs to Happen? produced by the Rural Education Forum Australia (REFA) August 2005.

 

Issues associated with the preparation of teachers for country schools have a long history which is illustrated by reference to two major national reports. In 1987, the Commonwealth Schools Commission presented a report to the then Minister for Employment, Education and Training, the Hon JS Dawkins, entitled Schooling in Rural Australia. Well over a decade later, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) initiated a national inquiry into rural and remote education in Australia in 1999.

Both of these major reports emphasised the necessity of pre-service teacher education programs that provide significant opportunities for teachers to receive education that will prepare them for teaching in rural and remote areas. In essence, the preparation of teachers for country schools is part of the challenge of attracting and retaining professionals to other-than-metropolitan locations.

In 2004 the Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training funded the Rural Education Forum Australia (REFA) to map the range of pre-service country teaching programs currently available in Australian teacher education courses, with specific reference to professional experience and practicum placement. This work took place through the Pre-Service Country Teaching Mapping Project. Its purpose was to establish, through point-in-time (November and December 2004) quantitative and qualitative information collection, what was happening and what the issues were in relation to pre-service country teaching placements in Australia. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Education, Science and Training.

Conduct of the project

The research, report writing and management of the pre-service country teaching mapping project was undertaken by the Executive Officer of REFA, R John Halsey.

A reference group and a working group were established to assist shape the nature of project, including providing feedback on progressive drafts and communications and links with organisations and experts in the field of teacher preparation.

All communications with the providers of teacher education for the distribution and return of surveys was through the executive office of the Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE).

The interviews with representatives of government and non-government school providers were negotiated in writing, by phone, or both in the first instance, contacting the respective chief executive or equivalent.

The Report lists the membership of the reference group and the working group, and the schools and faculties of teacher education that participated in the project.

Data sources

The Pre-Service Country Teaching Mapping Project comprised three main data and information sources:

  • a survey of current pre-service placement teacher education programs conducted with the assistance of the ACDE
  • a literature review
  • an interview-based survey of officers in government and non-government school systems and sectors associated with pre-service teaching placements.

The heart of the mapping report is the survey results from the 23 teacher education schools and faculties (out of a total of 46) around Australia that accepted the invitation to participate.

Statistical findings

  • The survey respondents organised 39,556 pre-service teaching placements in 2004 representing 764,608 days of teaching.
  • By the definitions used by each of the participating institutions, 22.7% or 8,967 of the placements were in country locations, of which 433 were considered to be in remote areas.
  • The universities located outside capital cities arranged 7,923 of the country pre-service placements.
  • The city-based universities arranged, on average, one rural placement for every 25 city and urban placements.
  • In the case of rural-based universities, there were two rural placements for every one non-rural placement.
  • The mean length of a rural pre-service teaching placement was 19.3 days.
  • The duration of rural pre-service placements ranged from 4 to 60 days.

Other findings

The cost pressures of rural placements for pre-service teachers and for the providing institutions are the most significant issues affecting the ready availability of high quality pre-service country teaching placements.

  • For pre-service teachers, the main cost pressures are paying for placement accommodation and maintaining their rent commitments, travel to and from a placement, loss of income from part-time work (as well as the possibility of losing their job or missing out on wage increments), and extra costs associated with living in the country.
  • For universities, there are the costs of administering placement programs and providing supervision by either university staff and/or staff engaged at a more local level. For some programs, there are payments for school supervisors and mentors, and there are also the hidden costs of the personal time provided by lecturers. It was reported that in some instances, the time associated with travel to country placements is not calculated as part of workloads.
  • There are school-based and some system and sector costs associated with supervision and the overall coordination of state-wide processes and initiatives where they exist.
  • Universities encourage – and in some cases strongly encourage – but do not mandate country placements as part of course completion requirements.
  • Church-affiliated teacher education programs often use their community networks to support students with accommodation and introductions via social networks while on a pre-service country teaching placement.
  • Typically, teacher education programs place year level stipulations on when a pre-service country teaching experience can be undertaken, or they require evidence of satisfactory performance in a previous placement.
  • There are linkages between what happens in a placement program and what happens in curriculum studies and teaching studies units. Debriefing and follow-up occurs quite extensively following country pre-service placements. The main forms of debriefing and follow-up include evaluative workshops, discussions involving all key players to incorporate links between theory and practice, and taking up issues raised by students as part of rural education and curriculum topics or electives.
  • There appears to be a significant lack of fundamental budget information for effective and efficient management of pre-service placement programs, such as the main sources of funding for them and how much programs cost to run.
  • Personal circumstances – like the need to care for family and to maintain paid employment – of pre-service teachers play a significant role in decisions about participation in a pre-service country teaching placement.
  • The perceived benefits of a pre-service country placement were reported to outweigh the downsides and include the opportunity for rural schools to use country placements to ‘job test’ pre-service teachers for recruiting to vacancies.
  • Communities gain from pre-service country teaching placements, as do teachers and school students, because pre-service teachers often bring  into communities and schools expertise and knowledge which are not available locally. This is most obvious, and apparently highly valued, when the expertise is visible – and non-contentious – like the ability to play a musical instrument, participate in a local drama production, or play sport. There are also economic benefits that flow into small businesses from purchases of local goods and services.
  • In terms of supervising teachers, pre-service placements can provide valuable extended professional development, as well as the assistance of extra resources to handle the many tasks of a multi-grade classroom. From a pedagogical point of view, it is probably the case that the presence of a pre-service teacher means that some students have their learning styles needs met, perhaps for the first time.
  • Although not reported in either the survey of the universities or in the interviews with schooling sector personnel, it is well known to a number of the member organisations of REFA that pre-service teacher placements in rural and remote communities can introduce potential relationship partners into a community. This is a very significant matter beyond the scope of this report, but one that is critical to the long-term maintenance and renewal of a number of primary industries which are currently heavily biased towards males. The gender imbalance is exacerbated by more young females than males moving out of rural communities.

The results of the pre-service country teaching mapping project demonstrate that there is a substantial base of good practice in the area of country pre-service teaching placements. This augers well for developing ways and means of expanding the availability and attractiveness of pre-service country teaching, and for significantly decreasing the sense of struggle that many experience when participating in a country teaching pre-service placement under arrangements as reported.

Recommendations

Policy framing recommendations

The recommendations in this category focus on creating policy orientations for expanding support for pre-service country teacher placement programs.

1. That universities and other providers of teacher education programs be strongly encouraged to develop policies to increase significantly the number of pre-service country teaching placements arranged and taken annually.

2. That choice for individuals and institutions is used as a key value for guiding decisions about the provision of, and participation in, pre-service country teaching.

3. That resources for pre-service country teaching placements are based on the actual costs for students, universities, schools and communities, and that the data required for determining costs is regularly monitored and assessed.

4. That cooperation and collaboration between and among pre-service teachers, universities, participating schools and communities are necessary, but not sufficient requirements in themselves, for achieving increases in the size, scope and quality of pre-service country teaching placement programs.

Operational recommendations

The recommendations in this category focus on changes to key operational aspects of pre-service country teaching placement programs.

1. That pre-service country teaching placement programs be strongly encouraged wherever and whenever possible to place students in groups or clusters of schools, or place at least two students at a site, for example one coming from a mainly metropolitan background and one from a mainly rural background.

2. That metropolitan universities and key stakeholders be strongly encouraged, and provided with incentives, to progressively and significantly increase the proportion of their teacher education cohort that participates in a country pre-service placement.

3. That procedures for schools to notify teacher educators of their willingness to participate in pre-service country teaching placement programs be reviewed and, where required, modified to ensure that the site pool includes all schools that have the human and other resources required for participation in placement programs.

4. That further research be conducted into the funding of pre-service country teaching placements and that the terms of reference for the research include:

  • determining the costs of placements from the perspective of pre-service teachers, universities, participating schools and communities
  • determining the amount and disbursement of the funds currently allocated by government for pre-service teaching placements
  • determining benefits that may accrue to employing authorities from pre-service teachers who have taken a country placement(s) prior to employment
  • investigating current country education funded initiatives like the Country Areas Program as a vehicle for receiving and disbursing funding required for pre-service country placements
  • developing and evaluating new models for funding country pre-service placements that are based upon user choice and incentive grants for teacher education providers and schools and communities that participate in placement programs.

Background to REFA

REFA was formed in 2002. It developed from Roundtables co-hosted by the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association and the National Farmers’ Federation, in response to the HREOC National Inquiry into Rural and Remote Education initiated in February 1999.

Its vision is quality education and training outcomes in rural and remote areas so that individuals, families and communities can develop their full potential in the social, economic, political and cultural life of the nation.

REFA works with its member groups, departments of education in all States, Territories and the Commonwealth, and other service and private sector providers, to identify and progress issues that will improve opportunities for country children and families.

 

KLA

Subject Headings

Surveys
Rural education
Teacher training
Statistics
Educational planning
Educational evaluation