Pre-Service Teacher Education in the ACT

Here we look at the Canberra College of Education, it’s transition to the Faculty of Education and issues in the preparation of teachers.

An excellent history of the first 25 years (1971-1996) by Dr Geoffrey Burkhardt (linked here: Burkhardt 1996 with permission).  We have not aimed to reproduce this, or add to it. Rather we have sought to make some interpretations from this history and the evidence collated through our oral histories and historical investigations. You can view a historical record of the campus here.

The Affordances of being new

The Canberra School of Education, and subsequently the Faculty of Education, was by all accounts regarded as one of the best in the country in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.  During this time it was at the forefront of educational innovation and the formation of many new professional associations that endure today. Much of this might be attributed to affordances of being a new school, with a new philosophy, and led by an extremely highly regarded educator – Philip Hughes.  These combinations of unique factors enabled the visioning of a new type of teacher education and the recruitment of new staff to develop and implement this vision.  With innovation and leadership quickly comes the challenge of maintenance.  This was true of the college-faculty, primarily due to the ‘times’ in which it found itself, which afforded great opportunity and then considerable challenge.  Consequently the school-faculty is a case study of the tensions and contradictions within the discipline of education and pre-service teacher preparation.

The Discipline of Education at the crossroads

John Furlong’s recent book on the discipline of education outlines the history, and ongoing challenges, of the field of education.  Albeit based in the UK much of his analysis aligns well with the history here in Australia – particularly as pre-service education here was initially modeled on aspects of the UK System.  Historically pre-service education was linked to state departments of education or the religious denominations, with each controlling how teachers for their schools were prepared.

Importantly, and indeed echoed here in Australia, he points out that just as pre-service education achieved university status and the professional independence that goes with it governments stepped in and re-regulated the sector.  What we see in Canberra is a new innovative teachers college and subsequent university faculty, that was able to develop it’s own courses largely free from the controls of the NSW department, slowly becoming like all others in the country –  subject to increasingly stricter regulations about what was to be in courses and the what characteristics of its graduates were to be.

To help us understand the tensions that exist Furlong raises a number of important distinctions, or points of tension, at the heart of education:

  • Between pre-service education and pre-service training, essentially along the lines of professional autonomy and agency and standards driven training. This sits alongside the philosophical orientation of a teachers college or a university faculty and what these distinctions imply.
  • A debate between a focus on professional knowledge or practice based knowledge
  • A debate between personal learning and professional preparation (either of the above).  Here he says that university education has traditionally been about personal learning in Undergraduate degrees.  Increasing state intervention has taken undergraduate education to a practice orientation rather than liberal learning.  End on Degrees, like secondary graduate diploma’s in education, tend to assume that students had previously done the ‘personal learning’ in their prior degree.  In part this tension arises from a legacy of moral reproduction that was characterised by church dominated teacher colleges in favour of a more liberal enlightenment type education of the person who would become the teacher.

These tensions are echoes in the recent history of education here in Australia, with the Canberra School-Faculty of Education, like others in Australia, feeling these tensions.   In many respects they fall into the idea of pre-service education, and the staff that work in pre-service education, as embodying and developing a scholar-teacher or representing more of a master teacher developing a practitioner. Brining these issues into an Australian context the issue of educational research is illustrative: research being symbolic on the one hand of what university faculties do but I direct contradiction to increasing standardization of the pre-service education curriculum.

In the 2012 ‘living in a 2.2 world’ report produced by the Australian Association for Research in Education, after the 2010 university and discipline ranking exercise, a number of the dilemmas facing educational research in Australia were readily apparent.  There was at this time a concern about the quality of Australian Educational Research.  However more accurately it probably reflects the ongoing debate about what counts as educational research, and the relationship between educational research and pre-service teacher education.

The ‘living in a 2.2 world’ report states that the FoR codes used to determine ERA are ‘defined in terms of the way knowledge is produced’ (p.3).  But how is education an area of knowledge production? Is there a method particular to it, as distinct from the other social sciences and humanities? Can education even lay claim to the methods of these disciplines? As part of the slippage of foundational studies in education, and a disciplinary base in say, philosophy, history, psychology, we have the phenomena where these are actively removed from ‘education’ by the accounting mechanism.  This question of the foundations links back to the approach to this project of ‘History for Education’, as a step in reclaiming some of the foundational studies and disciplinary traditions.

As Furlong points out, ‘education’ as an area of study is remarkably recent, and that therefore todays scholars have a responsibility to help build it.  Entering the discussion about whether education is a discipline or a field of practice, he argues that while it still lacks the methodological and epistemological uniformity of other more recognisable disciplines, it does have the social aspects of recognised disciplines: an identifiable group of ‘academics’ and a social history.

Furlong also makes plain the tension in the field between university faculties being for preparing competent teachers or for researching society and improving education. His chapters on the history of the development of education in universities is revealing, from preparing teachers along a social moral code to being the academic development of intellectual mentors.  The former suggests the standardised practitioner envisioned in most recent reforms, the later the professional of the initial period of educations entry into the academy.

Today, with the merging in 2013 of the Faculty of Education into the new Faculty of Education, Science, Technology and Mathematics (ESTeM) pre-service education and educational research is again being revisioned.

The Canberra Context

The history of the Faculty of Education up to 1971-1996 is recoded in this booklet written by Geoffrey Burkhardt, and reproduced here [Burkhardt 1996] with his permission.   This is not intended to be a history of the subsequent years.  The history of the Australian Catholic University Campus is available at this link.

The Canberra School of Education preceded the ACT schools Authority by only a couple of years. With the debates leading to the new authority and discussion about the form of the new authority happening as the school of education was setting up and beginning its operations.  Thus, both were evolving at roughly the same period, in the same context and influencing each other.  Indeed this simultaneous development, and that the Head of the School of Education, Philip Hughes, wrote the basic design document for the new system (the Hughes Report) and chaired the Authority, ensured a close intellectual relationship between both institutions.  Additionally the new authority required teachers to undertake further study, resulting in about a third of all teachers studying the latest educational theories together at the College of Education in the early years of the new system.

With the Dawkins reforms of the late 1980’s the Canberra College of Advanced Education (CCAE) became the University of Canberra (UC), and the College of Education the Faculty of Education, in 1990.  While sponsored by Monash University for its first three years UC was the only CCAE and ‘Teachers College’ to achieve university status without amalgamating with another institution.  There was speculation that the CCAE may merge with the Australian National University but a combination of local politics and a degree of hostility to some of the professional preparation degrees of the CCAE stifled this possibility.

The failed merger highlights two issues relevant to the debates around pre-service education and educational research: the perception of professional training versus professional education, and the impact of federal policy and funding issues.   As Furlong described,  just as pre-service education had achieved degree of independence, particularly in the ACT, and was developing its unique academic base, government intervention changed the game.  While the Dawkins reforms were ostensibly aimed at opening up the higher education system to more of the population, there was also a strong economic motivation to reduce expenditure and duplication.  The Colleges of Advanced Education were often well funded and duplicated the work of universities.  The Canberra CAE was particularly well funded, a reason why the college of education was able to develop such innovative programs.  However, with University status came a significant change in the budgetary position.

The Dawkins reforms were also couched in the developing ethos of efficiency and it’s increasing focus on the quality of university education and research.  This approach, coupled with broader school choice polices, has fueled an increasing anxiety about the quality of education in Australia, and therefore the quality of teachers and their education.  Highlighting this anxiety is that there has been at least one teacher education inquiry at either the Federal of State level each year for at least the last thirty years (for example).  In response to this growing anxiety a more standardized form of preparation has been legislated, taking away much of the freedom and innovation of university pre-service education.  More recently the quality movement, and the ERA exercise, has exerted considerable new pressure on the sector and educational research more generally.

Adding to the emerging ‘perfect storm’ was the development of self-government in the ACT in 1988.  Echoing the issues in the administration of school education, self-government and the desire to administer a university was a significant local political factor in resisting the merger with the ANU (that was administered federally).   On the school side new management coincides with the abolition of the independent schools authority and its broad community representation in favour of ministerial authority.  On the university side it results in a new university, in a resource constrained environment, needing to develop from scratch in a competitive research environment.

In responding to the challenges of defining what pre-service education is and for, what matters as educational research, and of thriving in a competitive higher education sector the merger into ESTeM affords a myriad of new opportunities to learn from our past.  Not wanting to historicise the future, we’ll leave the future to speak for itself.

Further detail on the changes to pre-service education are available in these two papers provided by students involved in researching this project

  1. The changing face of teachers over Canberra’s first 100 years
  2. Creating the education system of the nations capital


The beginnings of a reference list on the discipline of educational and educational research:

One of the key issues identified throughout this project has been this debate around just what the purpose, nature and structure of pre-service education is and just what educational research is and where it belongs. Below are some references that are useful in beginning to engage with these issues.

Bates, T. (2002) The impact of educational research: alternative methodologies and conclusions, Research Papers in Education, 17:4, 403-408

Bessant, B. and Holbrook, A. (1995) ‘Reflections on Educational Research in Australia: A History of the Australian Association for Research in Education’, AARE, Coldstream, Victoria.

Blackmore, J., Wright, J. and Harwood, V. eds. (2006) ‘Counterpoints on the Quality and Impact of Educational Research’, AARE, Coldstream, Victoria.

Boardman, G. (1995). Sydney Teachers College : a history : 1906-1981. Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, N.S.W

Connell, W. F.  & Australian Council for Educational Research, Hawthorn (1980). The Australian Council for Educational Research, 1930-80. ACER, hawthorn, Vic.

Connell, W. F. & Australian Council for Educational Research (1993). Reshaping Australian education 1960-1985. (ACER) The Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd, Australia

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, TRAINING AND YOUTH AFFAIRS (2000). The Impact of Educational Research. Canberra: DETYA. (PDF download)

Furlong, J. & Lawn, M. (2010). Disciplines of Education Their Role in the Future of Education Research. Taylor & Francis, Hoboken

Furlong, J. (2013). Education – An Anatomy of The Discipline. Routledge, Abiongdon.

Gale, T. & Lingard, B. (eds.) (2010) Educational Research by Association: AARE Presidential Addresses and the field of educational research. Rotterdam: Sense.

Green, B. & Lee, A. (1999) “Educational Research, Disciplinarity and Postgraduate Pedagogy: On the Subject of Supervision”. In Allyson Holbrook and Sue Johnston (eds), Supervision of Postgraduate Research in Education, Coldstream, Victoria: Australian Association for Research in Education, 1999, pp 207-222.

Green, B. & Reid, J. (2012) A new teacher for a new nation? Teacher education, ‘English’, and schooling in early twentieth-century Australia, Journal of Educational Administration and History, 44:4, 361-379

Holbrook, A., Ainley, J., Bourke, S., Owen, J., McKenzie, P., Misson, S. and Johnson, T. (2000). ‘Mapping Educational Research and its impact on Australian Schools’. In The Impact of Educational Research. Canberra: DETYA, pp. 15–278. (above)

Lee, A and others. 2010.Probabilities and possibilities within Australia’s future: Rethinking educational research. Special Edition of The Australian Educational Researcher. Vol 37 (4) 2010.

Lingard, B. & Gale, T. (2010) ‘Presidential Address as Pedagogy: Representing and constituting the field of educational research.’ In Gale, T. & Lingard, B. (eds.) Educational Research by Association: AARE Presidential Addresses and the field of educational research. Rotterdam: Sense, pp. 1-22.

Lingard, B. & Gale, T. (2010) Defining Educational Research: A perspective of/on presidential addresses and the Australian Association for Research in EducationAustralian Educational Researcher, 37(1), pp. 21-49.

Seddon, T. and Colleagues. (2012).  Living in a 2.2 World: ERA, capacity building and the topography of Australian educational research.

Yates, L (2004). What does good education research look like? : situating a field and its practices. Open University Press, Maidenhead, Berks