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Who says we are not attracting the best and brightest? Teacher selection and the aspirations of Australian school students


Internationally, the quality of teachers is a growing focus of educational reform, with new policies attempting to ensure that only the ‘best and brightest’ are selected for the teaching profession. This article tests the assumption underpinning these developments that prospective teachers lack the desired academic and personal qualities. Drawing on data on the career aspirations of 6492 Australian school students in Years 3–12, we investigated who, among these students, expressed interest in teaching and their reasons for doing so. Using logistic regression, we found that interest in teaching was widespread and prior academic achievement was not a significant predictor. Thematic analysis of reasons expressed for interest in teaching indicated that working with children and/or in specific subject areas, altruism, and perceptions of personal suitability for the job dominated student responses. These data provide a counter-narrative to the primacy, in policies for teacher recruitment and selection, of needing to attract ‘better’ students. We argue that policies for improving teacher quality should also capitalise on the widespread interest in teaching among school students. Without such a discursive broadening, we caution that current attempts to attract the ‘best and brightest’ risk undermining the very goals espoused.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2
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  1. 1.

    As stated on the NSW BOSTES (2015b) website, ‘student performance in each HSC course is measured against defined standards. HSC marks for each course are divided into bands and each band aligns with a description of a typical performance by a student within that mark range. The performance bands and descriptions give meaning to the HSC mark. For a 2 unit course, Band 6 indicates the highest level of performance’ (n.p.). A Band 5 result includes marks ranging from 80 to 89 out of 100 (NSW BOSTES 2015b).

  2. 2.

    Figure 1 was created using data that is publically available via uCube (Australian Government Department of Education and Training 2016) under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence.

  3. 3.

    A Generalized Estimating Equation (GEE) takes into account that students who completed the survey were in different grades and some students completed the survey on multiple occasions.

  4. 4.

    Differences between Models 1 and 2 would have indicated a mediating effect for the school-related variables of ICSEA, NAPLAN results, self-rated relative performance, and tutoring, but results across the two models were highly consistent. This was not the case for some other occupations that we examined within the larger study (see Gore et al. 2016).


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The data for this analysis came from a linkage project funded by the Australian Research Council and the New South Wales Department of Education under Grant LP12100013. The study reported in this paper was funded by the Commonwealth’s Higher Education Participation Programme under the National Priorities Pool scheme and supported by the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre and Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education at the University of Newcastle, Australia. The authors wish to acknowledge the support provided in the preparation of this manuscript by Dr. Leanne Fray, Dr. Natasha Weaver, Claire Wallington, and Le Hoang Le. We also value the input of anonymous reviewers. We are most grateful to the students and their parents, carers, and teachers for their participation in this project.

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Correspondence to Jennifer Gore.

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Gore, J., Barron, R.J., Holmes, K. et al. Who says we are not attracting the best and brightest? Teacher selection and the aspirations of Australian school students. Aust. Educ. Res. 43, 527–549 (2016).

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  • Aspirations
  • Motivations
  • Teacher selection