Literacy and numeracy for preservice teachers:

When, how, why?

For decades, Australian universities have played a central and leading role in the initial education and training of teachers. In 2013, there were over 79,000 students enrolled in initial teacher education (ITE), in over 400 courses at 48 providers across the nation, IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Professional Officer Matt Esterman writes.
Current requirements to enrol and participate in NSW based university teaching degrees
  • Minimum ATAR score (as determined by the universities for that intake)
  • Since 2009, HSC Band 4 in English and General Mathematics for primary teaching and HSC Band 4 in English for secondary teaching – updated to three Band 5 results including one in English.
  • Ongoing curriculum requirements within the ITE program as determined by BOSTES
  • Ongoing practicum expectations: minimum 80 days supervised teaching practice (60 days for graduate entry two year programs).

The Union has supported the next generations of teachers coming through the various ITE programs and therefore wishes to highlight a new feature to be integrated into these formative and essential steps to entering the profession.

In March this year the Federal Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham released a statement announcing the opening of the National Literacy and Numeracy Test for preservice teachers across Australia, to be completed before they graduate from a recognised teaching degree. According to the Minister, the test, to be conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), “will ensure Australian children are taught by educators with literacy and numeracy skills in the top 30% of the population.”

The test itself must be completed before graduation and “will be delivered flexibly and available to students through a mix of physical testing centres and online delivery.” The statement highlighted that “92% of the students who sat the pilot test last year passed the literacy component and 90% passed the numeracy component”.

Universities and their curriculum are within the federal educational sphere, though in NSW, the Board of Studies and Educational Standards (BOSTES) also have legislated powers to oversee and endorse teaching degrees and their delivery. Universities are therefore in the same complex and shifting world of policy and regulation that schools traverse, whereby national and state priorities and demands are mounting, sometimes conflicting, and not always utilised for the benefit of teachers, students or parents.

Constructive spirit

The Union’s view is that the experience of initial teacher education should be formative, supportive and inclusive of the range of those who successfully enrol. Our position is that the test should be undertaken in the constructive spirit in which university education works best, including being taken in the first year of the course so that any issues can be highlighted, remedied or otherwise addressed quickly and fairly for all parties.

The Union has reservations about the cost of the program: ACER is to charge $160 per test and it is not yet clear who will foot the bill. The IEU hopes that all universities will adopt the best practices demonstrated by some in NSW, in which the university pays the cost without passing it on to the student.

The Union is respectful of universities to choose the method and manner in which they implement the national requirements and look forward to working constructively with them to support our preservice teacher colleagues. We also acknowledge that there are more requirements than ever before on entrants to teaching degrees, due to changes implemented by the NSW Minister of Education and BOSTES.

Preservice teacher members need to be cognisant of the changes, those in NSW or ACT who have questions about initial teacher education (ITE) or ongoing teacher qualification requirements and accreditation, email


Birmingham, S., 7 March 2016, Media Release: Teacher test registrations open today

BOSTES, Initial Teacher Education,

Matt Esterman asked Professor Michele Simons, Dean School of Education and Lead Dean Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education at Western Sydney University about the practice and approach that Western University (WSU) is taking on this issue.

Our largest teacher education programs are graduate programs – so our students have already completed an undergraduate degree in preparation for their enrolment in our Masters of Teaching programs.

The School of Education at WSU is supportive of the literacy and numeracy test as part of our processes to prepare graduate teachers for the profession. The School is committed to maintaining high standards for literacy and numeracy and to developing graduate teachers who are in the top 30% of the Australian adult population for personal literacy and numeracy. It is important that we ensure that our graduating teachers are well prepared for all facets of their work as teachers and we see the literacy and numeracy test as part of our work in doing this.

At WSU we take a holistic and systematic approach to preparing our preservice teachers for success in the literacy and numeracy test.

Our processes for supporting our preservice teachers commence from the first week they are with us – during orientation. During this time they complete a diagnostic literacy and numeracy tasks. The literacy task takes about 90 minutes to complete. The numeracy task about 60 minutes to complete.

The Academic Literacy TASK is designed to quickly and accurately measure academic literacy, in particular use and knowledge of the English language at the word, sentence, paragraph and whole text levels.

Similarly the numeracy task has been designed to evaluate preservice teachers’ fundamental knowledge, core skills and proficiency in various aspects of numeracy.

Both tasks are assessed as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Those students who we find need some assistance to achieve a satisfactory rating on these diagnostic tasks are then provided one-to-one assistance with literacy and numeracy advisors who are academics with expertise in these areas. These people provide access to resources and also link the preservice teachers to the wide range of resources that the WSU makes available to all students to support numeracy and literacy development.

Preservice teachers must successfully complete the Academic Literacy and Numeracy TASKs with a satisfactory grade before they can undertake their first professional experience unit. Once they have completed our tasks satisfactorily, we then encourage the preservice teachers to sit the national literacy and numeracy test when they are able to do so. Here in NSW our preservice tachers must pass the national test prior to them taking up their final professional experience placement so we need to work diligently to ensure that our processes support this happening.

We have also integrated support for the development of pre service teachers’ personal literacy and numeracy skills into our programs. There are multiple opportunities across a number of units where preservice teachers are supported in very explicit ways to continue to develop these skills as they progress through their course with us.

The test is important for a number of reasons:

  • Teachers play an important role in the development of children and young people; we need to assure the children and young people as well as their families and the wider community that our teachers are the best they can be when they graduate from WSU.
  • This test is one way we have of showing the quality of our graduates.
  • More importantly the application of the tasks and completing the tests – and the way we manage it here at WSU – models what we believe to be best practice. We do not ‘teach to the test’; we take an approach that emphasises that literacy and numeracy development for the job of a teacher is integral to that role. The ways in which teachers apply literacy and numeracy in their work needs to be understood, practiced and learned by our preservice teachers. Our preservice teachers come to us with many skills and the diagnostic approach that we use acknowledges the capabilities that they bring while providing them with a way to benchmark their capabilities in these two important areas and then plan for their ongoing learning and development.

It is a little hard to know what to say about changes as up until now, only a small number of our preservice teachers have participated in pilot testing and validation of the national test. We do not have much information about the exact nature of the test. As we learn more about the test – particularly when ACER is able to provide some mock tests – we will be able to refine our diagnostic tasks to ensure that they are more rigorous predictors of success in the national test.

I am keen to see how the national test accommodates preservice teachers with disabilities and other needs. It is important to ensure that we have a diverse teaching profession and it would be a step backwards if the test did not support this.

Widely available, high quality resources to assist preservice teachers to prepare for the national test are also an issue.