Professional Learning for School Teachers

Tabled: 20 February 2019

2 VIT's responsibilities for professional learning

As the system's regulatory body, VIT has an obligation to assure the community that teachers maintain the currency of their practice by engaging in regular professional learning. This obligation requires VIT to have clear accountability mechanisms, robust risk management and compliance systems, and access to high-quality data. Understanding teachers' professional learning practices is particularly important in the context of Victoria's extensive reform agenda, as it provides policymakers with a strong evidence base to underpin their decision‑making processes and direct their investments.

VIT establishes the requirements for initial and ongoing registration—including the need to participate in professional learning. In this part of the report, we examine whether VIT effectively discharges its responsibilities regarding professional learning for teachers.

2.1 Conclusion

VIT does not routinely collect information from teachers about the focus or impact of their annual professional learning activities—it only scrutinises the number of completed hours as opposed to their quality or effectiveness. This hinders VIT's ability to inform the Minister for Education of teachers' developmental needs—a legislated requirement under the ETR Act.

Each year, VIT requires a random sample of teachers to substantiate their legally binding self-declarations through the submission of evidence. This audit affects one per cent of the workforce and has the potential to provide valuable insight into teachers' professional learning practices. VIT, however, does not comprehensively assess this information to identify any trends. In addition, it lacks robust guidance regarding the threshold for sufficient and appropriate audit evidence, which decreases the reliability of its audit process and creates confusion for teachers about what evidence they need to support their self‑declarations.

Critically, VIT's limited analysis of teachers' professional learning practices weakens DET's ability to develop and deliver targeted initiatives, as it is missing a potential source of information. To support the Victorian Government's Education State reform commitments, we encourage VIT to adopt a more proactive role in assessing teachers' professional learning practices, perceptions, and priorities.

2.2 VIT's knowledge of professional learning

Renewal of registration

VIT requires teachers to renew their registration each year to demonstrate their continued competence. As part of this process, teachers make legally binding self-declarations regarding whether they have completed at least 20 hours of professional learning over the preceding 12 months. VIT neither mandates the completion of specific activities, nor does it accredit service providers. Instead, teachers have the autonomy to determine how and when they complete their annual professional learning hours. VIT's only requirement is that teachers undertake activities that align with the APST's three key domains: professional practice, professional knowledge, and professional engagement.

To apply for renewal, teachers submit their legally binding self-declarations through MyVIT—a secure online portal that enables users to manage their registration and related tasks. This process requires teachers to simply affirm or deny that they have met the 20-hour threshold. VIT only captures further information regarding the type, duration, focus, and impact of teachers' professional learning activities through its audit program, which scrutinises 1 per cent of the teaching profession each year. VIT does not thoroughly assess this data, which impairs its ability to inform the Minister for Education of teachers' developmental needs.

VIT occasionally conducts further research into teachers' professional learning practices, perceptions, and priorities. For example, in 2016, VIT proactively surveyed renewing teachers regarding their engagement with professional learning activities that improved their capacity to assist students with special needs—see Figure 2A. Overall, this survey indicates that VIT has the potential to conduct valuable research that may assist DET to develop policies and target its spending. Going forward, we encourage VIT to conduct similar projects to enhance the system's understanding of teachers' professional learning practices.

Figure 2A
VIT's survey of registered teachers to support the Education State reform agenda's Special Needs Plan

In 2016, VIT collected further information from teachers to support the Victorian Government's implementation of its Special Needs Plan. The Special Needs Plan is critical to government's Education State agenda, as it encourages teachers to abandon a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction and consider the diverse needs of every student. During the 2016 renewal of registration process, VIT required teachers to submit an additional declaration regarding their participation in special needs-related professional learning activities. This formed part of the Victorian Government's vision to upskill the workforce and was the first and only time that VIT imposed formal prerequisites on teachers' annual professional learning hours.

VIT used an anonymous survey to determine whether this initiative improved teachers' capacity to assist students with special needs. It collected information from over 38 000 teachers regarding the content, delivery method, and perceived impact of their chosen professional learning activities. The survey found that 62 per cent of respondents focused on teaching students with autism spectrum disorder, while 42 per cent learned about the use of differentiated instructional strategies. Most teachers engaged with professional learning through workshops, seminars, or curriculum days at school. Respondents observed that the initiative improved their teaching practice and had a positive impact on students.

Source: VAGO.

Risk management and compliance systems

As discussed in Part 1, VIT audits a random sample of teachers each year to test the accuracy of their legally binding self-declarations. This audit requires teachers to submit evidence—such as certificates, receipts, written reflections, and employer verifications—that substantiate their professional learning claims. Teachers must also articulate how their professional learning aligns with the APST and positively impacts their practice. VIT notifies teachers selected for audit via letter and expects return of their completed forms within 30 days.

In 2016, VIT audited 1 011 (1 per cent) of the 104 429 teachers eligible to renew their registration, including:

  • 1 in 150 teachers practising in any Victorian school
  • 1 in 40 teachers not practising in a school-setting
  • 1 in 50 early childhood educators.

VIT has not documented what constitutes sufficient and appropriate evidence to support teachers' declarations clearly. This lack of clarity means that VIT may assess teachers' evidence inconsistently, which diminishes the audit's overall impact and reliability. Without clear examples of what constitutes sufficient and appropriate evidence, it is difficult for VIT to discharge its regulatory role in an objective manner. We encourage VIT to formalise its evidence requirements, as this may strengthen teachers' accountability for their annual professional learning activities.

This lack of clarity regarding the threshold for sufficient and appropriate evidence extends to the subjects of VIT's audits—teachers. For example, of the 952 teachers that returned their forms in 2016, 139—or 15 per cent—initially failed to substantiate their self-declarations because they used out-of-date, missing, or incomplete evidence to verify their teaching days and professional learning hours. In an internal review, VIT also identified that there was a misunderstanding among teachers regarding what constitutes APST-referenced professional learning activities. This suggests that VIT should review its guidance regarding teachers' professional learning to ensure that it is clear, concise, and contains relevant examples. VIT has already taken steps to address this issue by updating its Renewal audit form to include a mock teacher entry that shows an appropriately referenced professional learning activity and associated reflection.

Analysis of audits

VIT does not evaluate the evidence that arises from its audits of teachers' professional learning claims. Doing so would help it to better understand how teachers interpret their professional learning obligations. For example, while VIT maintains a spreadsheet of teachers that require follow-up due to the use of insufficient or inappropriate evidence, its analysis lacks consistency—see Figure 2B. This inconsistency impairs VIT's ability to identify trends in noncompliance and improve its communication to teachers, as it cannot accurately filter its dataset. To rectify this, we encourage VIT to standardise its assessment terminology. This would facilitate efficient and effective analysis of the data and enable VIT to strengthen its guidance to teachers on persistent issues, thus increasing their accountability.

Figure 2B
Example of the inconsistent terminology used by VIT to catalogue audit concerns

In 2016, VIT used a variety of terms to describe similar or identical problems with the evidence provided by teachers to demonstrate their compliance with DET's Special Needs Plan (see Figure 2A):

  • 1.6 not listed as having been met. No evidence
  • Clarification given for 1.6
  • 1.6 not listed as having been met
  • SN no details
  • 1.6 not listed
  • 1.6 not listed as having been met. Reflection indicate that it should.
  • 1.6 not listed
  • Special needs not clear
  • SN required clarification

Note: SN refers to special needs.

Source: VAGO, derived from VIT.

Likewise, VIT does not scrutinise the evidence collected through audits to determine the types of professional learning that teachers undertake or prioritise. The lack of scrutiny diminishes VIT's ability to inform the Minister for Education of teachers' developmental needs, which in turn limits DET's knowledge of teachers' professional learning practices. It also weakens DET's ability to develop and deliver targeted initiatives and assess whether teachers' professional learning practices align with best practice principles. Considering the Victorian Government's Education State reform commitments, we encourage VIT to analyse its audits to better understand teachers' professional learning needs and uptake. This analysis will help VIT to fulfil its legislated requirement to brief the Minister for Education and ensure that DET has access to up-to-date intelligence about the professional learning that teachers complete.

Using the MyPD portal

Although VIT provides minimal information to audited teachers regarding what constitutes sufficient and appropriate evidence, it encourages the use of MyPD—an optional component of MyVIT that enables teachers to maintain centralised records of their professional learning activities. MyPD requires teachers to enter the topic of their completed professional learning activities into free-form text fields. For example, of the 75 918 professional learning activities logged by teachers during the 2014, 2015, and 2016 renewal cycles, over 58 per cent have unique titles. Providing the free-text option hinders VIT's ability to identify trends in teachers' professional learning practices, as it cannot easily filter its dataset. To facilitate efficient and effective analysis, we encourage VIT to create a list of consistent keywords or signifiers that teachers can use to catalogue their professional learning activities according to their focus or desired outcome.

In addition, we found that 6 552 or almost 14 per cent of government school teachers logged their engagement with professional learning on MyPD throughout the 2014, 2015, and 2016 renewal cycles, which indicates that VIT could enhance its promotion of the tool. We encourage VIT to further highlight MyPD and use its data to supplement the information obtained from teachers during the audit process. Doing so may enhance VIT's ability to effectively brief the Minister for Education on teachers' professional learning needs and uptake. It also has the potential to help VIT fulfil its legislated requirement to undertake or endorse research that explores effective teaching and learning practices. For example, we found that MyPD users logged an average of 32.8 hours of annual professional learning between 2014 and 2016—over 50 per cent more than the mandated requirement.

From 2018, VIT has required all audited teachers to submit evidence regarding their completed professional learning activities through MyPD. Teachers must then download a copy of the list generated by MyPD and attach it to their applications. This highlights an opportunity for VIT to drive efficiencies by linking its databases, which could improve its ability to undertake further analysis.

Professional learning framework

Under the ETR Act, VIT has a legislated responsibility to develop and maintain a professional learning framework that supports and promotes teachers' ongoing education. In its current form, the framework does not encourage teachers to pursue professional development throughout their careers—it simply outlines the basic requirements of registration.

Critically, VIT's framework is for internal use only and fails to emphasise the importance of a strong professional learning culture. In contrast, the Queensland College of Teachers' Continuing Professional Development Policy and Framework (2017) is publicly available and explicitly articulates the value of professional learning and its key principles. This framework embeds professional learning as an important regulatory requirement for teachers and disseminates critical information in a clear and concise manner.

In the context of Victoria's extensive reform agenda, now may be an opportune time for VIT to consider DET's vision for an innovative and collaborative workforce when reviewing its professional learning framework. As part of this review, we encourage VIT to consider collating its information regarding professional learning within a single, publicly available document. Currently, teachers must search through VIT's complex, multipage website to locate the professional learning requirements and related advice. Having the information available in one place may improve their understanding of VIT's expectations.

Review of the Victorian Institute of Teaching

AITSL's specially-appointed Expert Panel undertook a review titled One Teaching Profession: Teacher Regulation in Australia on behalf of the Council of Australian Governments' Education Council. It found that regulatory bodies may focus on either compliance or quality at the expense of the other when they can and should 'operate in parallel'.

As discussed in Part 1, this independent review assessed VIT's management, operations, and governance following serious concerns about its decision‑making processes. The review recommended that VIT use its influence to better understand the system's needs and challenges. It found that VIT may achieve this by adopting a 'contemporary risk-based approach' grounded in robust intelligence-gathering and data analytics to target its regulatory activities more effectively. This reinforces our suggestion that VIT codify its audit requirements.

The review also found that VIT is 'too narrowly focused on compliance' and that 'there is greater work to be done in lifting the standards of teacher quality.' It states that modern teaching regulators across the world—such as the Queensland College of Teachers—use their platforms to ensure that the profession remains 'informed and inspired' by promoting examples of high‑quality teaching. The review recommended that VIT 'showcase' similar material. VIT has recently updated its strategic plan to reflect these recommendations, which shows a positive commitment to change. We encourage VIT to consider our observations when implementing the review's recommendations.

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