ERO undertook this evaluation at a time when there is considerable scrutiny of teacher education and professional development processes in New Zealand. The pace of change in the education landscape is leading to questions about the ability of current arrangements to provide a teaching workforce that can meet the demands of the 21st century and beyond.

ERO’s national evaluations in early learning services and schools over this time have highlighted concerns about pedagogy, curriculum, assessment practice, and developing educationally powerful connections with parents and whānau. In the period from 2000 to 2015, we have witnessed a decline in New Zealand’s performance as a nation in the critical areas of reading, mathematics and science.

The status accorded to the teaching workforce is a critical element in those education systems identified as high performing, such as Finland, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. These countries assure the quality of entrants to teacher education, place a strong emphasis on accreditation of initial teacher education (ITE) programmes and place significant emphasis on the transformation into the profession through mentored induction and assessment of readiness to teach.

There is a recognised need to refresh and strengthen the teaching profession. Those who enter teaching today will influence the quality, vibrancy and responsiveness of our education system for the next 40 years, in the face of greater challenges than ever before. The quality of teaching, and therefore, our teaching workforce, is potentially one of the most significant contributors to improving learner outcomes and reducing inequity. Work is already underway in New Zealand to lift and strengthen ITE. The Education Council is considering changes to make sure all future teachers enter the workforce well equipped to teach in the classrooms and centres of today and in the learning environments of the future.

In this evaluation, ERO met with newly graduated teachers (NGTs) and leaders in early learning services and schools to find out how confident and prepared NGTs were as a result of their ITE programme.

Despite substantial government investment of more than $80 million in ITE in 2016, ERO has found a lack of confidence in the selection, professional education and capabilities of many NGTs as they enter the profession. These concerns, while not universal, are widespread, and are compounded by systemic issues such as variation in ITE programmes and components of theory and practice, and lack of clarity about the expectations and relative responsibilities of ITE providers and associate teachers in supporting student teachers.

Many NGTs reported insufficient opportunities to learn the practice of teaching and to understand the depth and breadth of the curriculum, and variable quality of guidance by associate teachers during the ITE period. As a result, these NGTs are emerging from their ITE programmes needing to substantially develop their understanding of pedagogy, curriculum, assessment practice, and working with diverse learners and their parents and whānau.

Added to this variability of preparation is the difficulty experienced by NGTs in gaining initial permanent employment. This reduces NGTs’ confidence that they will be able to complete their full certification requirements with the support and guidance they need. The number of NGTs on fixed term contracts in schools further reduces opportunities for these teachers to be well supported as they enter the profession. If we seek to develop consistency across the sector about what modern pedagogy looks like, then NGTs need to feel confident in collaborating with, and making their practice visible to, their more experienced colleagues.

The number and variety of ITE providers and programmes add to this confusion (see Appendix 1). There are 20 providers for early childhood education alone, with 17 of these providing a Bachelor’s Degree. ITE for primary teaching is offered by 16 providers, with almost all (14) offering a Bachelor’s Degree. Nine providers offered a secondary teaching qualification, the most common being a Graduate Diploma (eight) and a Master’s Degree (six).

Opinions are mixed about the relative merit of different programmes, with some school/early learning leaders favouring graduates from particular programmes while others state they would not consider graduates from the same programme. Leaders expressed concern about processes for selection for entry into ITE, and many look for the personal qualities of graduates rather than relying on their ITE to prepare them for the workforce. At the system level, teacher shortages continue in areas of greatest need, such as science, digital technology and mathematics, and of teachers with particular knowledge and skills such as te reo Māori.

Interestingly, the one sector that expressed greater satisfaction with the quality of ITE provision and integration of theory and practice were those employing NGTs undertaking field-based early childhood ITE. Nevertheless, ERO has identified in many recent national evaluations wide variation in the quality of education provision in early learning services, particularly in relation to curriculum implementation, assessment and working with diverse learners. This leads to a hypothesis that such field-based courses may be simply supporting the status quo rather than driving improved quality of teaching across the sector.

In this evaluation, ERO worked with NGTs and school leaders to learn about NGTs’ confidence and preparation as they entered the workforce. ERO’s findings point to a need for better integration of theory and practice both pre-service and for beginning teachers. Both leaders and NGTs told us the balance and alignment between theories learnt and the application of these in practice needed to be strengthened. Balancing theory and practice is about getting it right so NGTs enter their first teaching position with confidence to teach. Our findings reinforce the need for review and strengthening of programmes of teacher education, through the work of the Education Council and government agencies.