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March 17th, 2016

Teach for Australia: addressing educational disadvantage

The Australian government was concerned at the educational disadvantage experienced by Australian children from low-income households. It worked with the state government of Victoria to address this shortfall by creating Teach for Australia, a programme designed to get more graduates into teaching in the public education system.

The initiative

The Teach for Australia (TFA) programme aims to fast-track high calibre, non-teaching graduates into disadvantaged schools through an intensive training programme which leads to a postgraduate teaching qualification.

TFA is an ambitious not-for-profit organisation and works to tackle, through teacher quality and leadership, the disadvantages in the education received by those from low-income households.

Teacher quality is to be obtained by:

  • Recruiting and training talented graduates, young professionals and those changing careers to teach in schools in low-income communities and to provide improvements in student and school outcomes.
  • Create a pipeline of leaders to drive reform and innovation in education over the long term. Leadership occurs within schools - as lead teachers and principals as well as more broadly, through social entrepreneurs, local community leaders, and government and political leaders who drive systemic change.

In 2008, the state government of Victoria was very interested in exploring the "Teach First" model to operate in disadvantaged public schools. The federal government showed interest and, in early 2009, TFA secured a funding of about AUD14 million to initiate the programme nationwide.

The working model is that the applicants commit to spending two years teaching and, while doing so, they study for a formal teaching qualification. The graduates, known as associates, work four days out of five, and the other day is for them to study towards a Master's in education. When they have completed the two years they commit to TFA, they receive a teaching degree.

The challenge

Without access to basic skills, many Australian children were set to miss out on key educational opportunities. Two in five of Australian adults had poor reading skills and 55 per cent had low-level maths skills.

Almost a third of children from the lowest socioeconomic households were unprepared in at least one key area of child development, such as language or cognitive skills. [1] By the age of 15, children from the lowest socioeconomic households were, on average, almost three years behind in school than children from the highest socioeconomic households.

The public impact

In 2009, the programme received 750 applications and the first group of more than 40 associates started teaching in January 2010.

In its first seven years, TFA has recorded a number of achievements:

  • Half of its associates have been rewarded with additional responsibilities or taken on positions of leadership in their schools. [2]
  • It has 96 partner schools and has conducted 419 placements
  • Over 60 percent of alumni are currently teaching in schools, with 47 percent of the 2016 cohort teaching science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.
  • More than 75 percent of alumni remain in the education sector.

TFA's recent successes indicate significant impact in Melbourne's classrooms:

  • A 100 percent pass rate for year 11 Physics with a number of students with extremely low literacy.
  • An associate's Year 7 class in both 2010 and 2011 improved significantly more than any other year 7 group.

Stakeholder engagement

There was internal support from the federal and state governments, and it was launched by the Australian education minister, Julia Gillard, and Victorian state premier, John Brumby. The federal government gave AUD34 million in funding to TFA for the first five cohorts of graduates.

The University of Melbourne was contracted to provide the programme's curriculum. However, it was criticised by the president of the Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE), Sue Willis: “of course we want capable bright teachers, but we need them to be teachers and that does not occur in a six-week starter course.” [3]

There was also funding support from corporate organisations: the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), legal firms Herbert Smith Freehills and Corrs Chambers Westgarth, property firm Stockland, and Microsoft.

Political commitment

As well as the initial state and federal government funding and involvement, the then minister of education and training announced increased funding of AUD 22 million in June 2014, which shows the government's continued support for TFA. [4]

Clarity of objectives

TFA’s main objective, addressing educational inequality by providing quality teaching, was clearly set out, and this focus has been maintained throughout the life of the programme.

Strength of evidence

TFA took inspiration from Teach for America and the programme drew on evidence concerning the effectiveness of the US programme. Also, it is a part of the global network Teach for All, and the evidence from the 18-nation global network is reliable. TFA was trialled in Victoria and has been extended to other regions, such as the Northern Territory.

However, viewed objectively, there was mixed evidence in the US with some studies showing that uncertified TFA America recruits obtained significantly poorer student results than did their professionally trained and fully accredited counterparts.


Melodie Potts is an effective and well-qualified founder and the CEO. TFA also has strong support from the corporate sponsors. The selection process for associates is rigorous and there is a mechanism in place which evaluates and measures their impact in schools.


TFA's impact is monitored by the Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, and it has also commissioned several evaluations were commissioned. One such evaluation, by the Australian Council for Educational Research found that TFA had been successful in recruiting suitable, academically able graduates, some of whom would not normally have entered teaching. [5]

There is a TFA manager specifically responsible for directing the work on impact measurement and evaluation This suggests that monitoring and evaluation has been incorporated in the delivery of the programme, and the results are used for continuous improvement.


There is good alignment between TFA and its partners, including:

  • The founding partners (BCG and Corrs Chambers Westgarth).
  • Companies, like Shell, which contributed more than AUD1 million in funding.
  • The University of Melbourne's Graduate School of Education, the primary university partner delivering teacher education.
  • The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Victoria, which partnered with TFA to place the inaugural cohort of associates in Victorian state schools.
  • The Australian Capital Territory Education and Training Directorate, which provided support to participating schools by funding time-release for associates.
  • The Catholic Education Office Melbourne, which partnered with TFA Australia to support principals in employing associates in 2011.

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