Gillard's school plan a costly failure

A $16 million federal Labor commitment to stem the shortage of maths and science teachers by fast-tracking bankers, accountants and engineers into classrooms has been an expensive failure with just 14 participants recruited.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the Teach Next scheme during the 2010 election, promising that Labor would recruit 450 mid-career professionals into teaching over four years.

Teach Next was supposed to play an important role in addressing teacher shortages in regional and hard to staff schools and reduce the number of teachers teaching outside their subject areas.

However just 14 participants have been placed in schools after two intakes and every state and territory except for Victoria and the ACT has either not participated at all in the scheme or pulled out.

A spokeswoman for Federal School Education Minister Peter Garrett said it was disappointing a number of states had chosen not to offer vacancies, which had reduced the number of teachers taking part.

She said there would be just one more intake of up to 50 participants, following a national advertising campaign to encourage greater take-up.

Half of the promised funding – $8.1 million – had been redirected to Teach for Australia, a program that places high-achieving non-teaching graduates in disadvantaged schools.

Participants in Teach Next are parachuted into schools after six weeks' intensive training at Deakin University, eventually earning a postgraduate diploma of teaching after two years.

Grants of up to $10,000 are offered to contribute to course costs and assist with relocation.

''This is about bringing people into teaching from all walks of life,'' Ms Gillard said, when she announced the scheme at her old school in Adelaide, Unley High, during the 2010 election campaign.

''Teach Next will help reduce teacher shortages in crucial subject areas like maths and science and help create a teaching workforce with greater diversity.''

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said he wasn't surprised that ''another part of the government's so-called education revolution has failed to deliver''.

''This is a government that is promising big in education, but their record is one of under-delivery, waste and mismanagement.

''How can they be trusted on anything they promise?''

Associate professor Damian Blake from the School of Education at Deakin University said Teach Next had attracted a lot of very highly qualified people.

The first intake of the program last year attracted 71 applications and the second intake had attracted 521 applications.

''Teach Next attracted the people we were hoping to get,'' Professor Blake said.

However he said the program had been stymied by different legislation and regulations in each state and territory.

Some jurisdictions did not allow people to teach in schools unless they were already fully qualified while others had requirements on teaching certain subjects. New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia had also pulled out in the second round.

A NSW education department spokesman said NSW had agreed to take 10 Teach Next recruits during the first year of the program, however, only two candidates were identified as eligible. ''The program was not viable for such a small candidature,'' he said.

Fairfax Media understands they were either not prepared to teach in the regional and hard-to-staff schools where they were needed or did not have the necessary background to teach in the areas of skill shortage.

Professor Blake said while the low numbers were disappointing, they were not the only measure of the success of the program.

He said the hurdles faced by Teach Next had started a national discussion about the difficulties of working across state boundaries and assisted universities to run similar programs for mid-career changers.

''If we are serious about moving to a more national approach to improving teacher quality, these are the conversations we have to have,'' Professor Blake said.

''I think Teach Next has been really important in doing that.''

jtopsfield@theage.com.au

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The story Gillard's school plan a costly failure first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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