1. Why, how and where did you enter the field of education?
I became a teacher in technical schools in Victoria in the early 70s. I became a humanities teacher, and I became one because I had had a bursary from the education department which paid my fees at university. I had decided that I'd like to become a teacher, but I didn't think that I would stay in it forever. But I was very enthusiastic in my DipEd year, because I was part of an experimental DipEd and we had absolutely fabulous intellectual work as well as really unusual practicum-based experiences. Bernard Newsome was my DipEd teacher, and I still keep in touch with him, and so that was really important in my orientation to education.
2. Was there anyone who influenced you? Why?
Not really. I played teacher as a kid like everybody did, but I don't think there was a direct influence, no.
3. What were your original goals or aims?
It's pretty hard to reconstruct the original goals or aims because they're all overlaid by your later understandings of what you thought you were doing. So, I suppose I wanted to get in there and make sure that anyone had a chance to succeed in education, because I had had that chance, and I was very passionate about fairness for everybody; that's why I went into technical schools.
4. Could you outline the milestones or highlights of your career path to date?
I taught in country and metropolitan technical schools in Victoria, and two of three schools that I went to had significant Aboriginal populations and significant immigrant, non-English speaking background populations, and that got me really interested in teaching groups who were not mainstream, and in the whole colonisation process. I was interested from my DipEd on in teacher research, and I was interested in narrative and people's stories. I was engaged in doing research on literacy in disadvantaged schools, and out of that I was invited to join the Access Skills Project team, which was a group in the Education Department of Victoria which was interested in the access skills, literacy, numeracy and social skills that kids needed to succeed and worked within disadvantaged schools in particular to do research with teachers on those areas - particularly literacy - and so that was when I moved out of schools and into the Department of Education, and then researched alongside teachers. I did that for four years and then I went into running a state-wide school improvement plan in Victoria in 1982, and it was a Labour government in power then, and I was working with a parent who had come out of the parent activist area and we were involved in getting parents, teachers and students working together on the kinds of school evaluations, school planning, that they wanted and to make sure that all the partners had a say in what they wanted for their local school - that was replacing the inspectorial system, so that was important. Then I was invited to be the first schools person in the Ministry portfolio of policy and education in 1986, where they had all the different agencies - schools, TAFE, early childhood, universities - all the things that the Minister for Education was responsible for in the one portfolio, and I was the schools' representative in that. I was put into that from the Department of Education, Schools Department, and then I went to Canberra sometimes to work on the national secondary schooling policy, for the Curriculum Development Centre and the Schools Commission. I then went overseas and did my PhD on leave without pay in 1987 and I came back in late 1989, and got a job in the head office in the new kind of school improvement plan, which was a much more top-down model. I worked there for about 18 months and then went to Premier and Cabinet in Victoria, working on the Social Justice Consultative Committee, and then I hopped out of the Victorian public service and moved into university - I became a lecturer in 1991, because I'd been told that I had two crosses against my name, which meant that I was not to be employed in education, and I was not to be employed anywhere in the public sector because the Kennett government was coming into power. I was at Deakin University for 3 years, then I moved to Central Queensland University for 5 years as an Associate Professor where I worked on all the postgraduate programmes, with a special emphasis on the Master of School Management and the Educational Doctorate, and then I went to Canberra as a Professor and was there for 3½ years and then I came to the University of South Australia 2 years ago as the Dean and Head of School. They're probably the milestones.
5. What are you most proud of having accomplished over your career so far?
I think the work we did in the Access Skills project team where I was working with parents, teachers and kids, and working particularly with teacher researchers trying to help build their understanding and skills and their understanding and analyses of their situations. And the publications we put out with teachers and schools - I think that was really important as part of building the professional knowledge bank in a public way. I think then the work in the school improvement plan where the teachers and the parents were working hand in hand and trying to build a capacity for kids to get involved in the process of making judgements about their own education and where they would want to go - I think we really pioneered a very different notion of a state project where you had teachers and parents and administrators and head office all trying to work cooperatively. It was a very different approach to policy analysis and documentation in the public realm, where everybody's voice counted - I think that was pretty important. I also think the kind of programme development, and the work I've done on the Professional Doctorate and the research work I started with Rob Walker and Bill Green at Deakin, and the work that continued on the Professional Doctorate with Bill Green and Alison Lee throughout the 90s, is something that I found to be very important in trying to build a new space for alternative understandings of doctoral research and doctoral education. I think that's been a very important thing for me personally, and I hope the programmes I've worked on have been able to make a different kind of space for educators at universities. The things I'm most interested in working on - being able to work with Kooris and Murris and other Aboriginal groups on trying to decolonise tertiary education. Those are the big projects that I've worked on that I'm really lucky to have worked on, and I'm proud of them and I've been lucky to work with very good people - the Murris in Central Queensland, the Koorie Institute at Deakin and the Kaurna people here and the Pitjantjatjara people that I work with in the programmes that are in education at UniSA. The people there are so committed and trying to work out how to make education not an assimilationist project. This is very important to me.
6. Did you ever see yourself as a future Dean of Education?
No. I don't think I ever thought of myself as being a person who does a Doctorate! I was very surprised when I became a Doctor. I never imagined that I'd be in academia, so when I went to academia, the last thing on my mind was becoming a manager, or a senior administrator - I was much more interested in research work. Anyhow, I loved my teaching and I really miss that - I miss the regular connection with the students. I know I can do guest lectures, and I've still got some doctoral students, but in a school that's got 32 programmes and 3500 students, you don't have much time to do your own teaching. I'm quite looking forward to when my term finishes, really. I think it's a really interesting job at this particular time, but I'd like to get back into teaching.
7. When did you start to see yourself as an educational leader?
I suppose I've always seen myself as part of a leadership team wherever I was. Of course, I don't really see leadership as just being about a formal position of authority. It is, for me, I suppose when I was working in schools, we did all sorts of interesting things that I'm proud of - lots of leadership teams there.
8. Looking back, do you think your understanding of the relationship of practice and research in education has changed over time?
Really it has, but I've understood a whole lot of different things over the years. I mean it's been a continuing theme of my interests: people produce knowledges that are important, and that those knowledges are connected to actions in very different ways. They don't have an idealist notion, with ideas leading the action, but is much more of a praxis situation, I think that is very important. And I would theorise that better - I use the work of people whose work addresses that directly, but I also use work of feminist scholars who are thinking about embodiment, that the action is always embodied and it occurs in historically informed circumstances that are structurally power-imbalanced; I think all of those things are understandings that have become deeper and have changed their theoretical orientations over the years.
9. How do you think the general education community views educational research?
I think we've got a major document that suggests that the general education community views educational research very positively - sometimes too positively I suspect! But in Australia we are well cited in educational research, so other scholars think of us as doing good work. We've got lots of testimony from principals and teachers in schools. We've had two major reviews: the McGraw Report and the DEST published one in the late 90s which both suggested that people in education use our work, and like our work. We have a very strong history in Australia on partnership research and roundtable research. I think we've got a very good history of it, which is not to say that we should rest on our laurels. We've been very strong through the work of Stephen Kemmis and the Deakin push for action research, which is now very strong around Australia - I think it's teachers as researchers and people become researchers in various places within the profession. That actually makes the relations the quality and respect across different kinds of research, which is very helpful. This makes a more public space for a wider range of research - large scale, long distance, highly theoretical, along side the case studies, historical and action research.
10. What do you feel are the current issues facing Teacher Education?
Well, there's the political sets of issues about having the Clayton's National Priority which was announced in 'Backing Australia's Future' by Nelson last year who said that we can't put our fees up, so that actually makes nonsense of recognition for the demand for teachers. It will make us popular with students who haven't got much money because their HECS fees can't go up, where most fees have gone up 25%. But on the other hand, it's much more difficult for people to get in who mightn't have TERs, but who have real reasons to get into university to diversify the teaching population. It also makes us unpopular inside the institutions because they can't get as much money for our students, and they are already expensive to run, so there's a whole set of issues around that.
There is whole set of issues about education being only seen as teacher education, and only school teacher education, when there's actually early childhood, and adult and VET and Community Ed, and the non-formal settings for education that are also very important, so I think that's a particular issue. I think there's a push to standardise the whole set of practices and actions, ranging from teacher competencies to the kinds of programmes that people have, and that is a very dangerous position. One of the strengths in teacher education is that we've had diversity across the different places, different states and different institutions, and that's actually given us a big impetus to move. I think standardisation tends to embed past levels of knowledge and ignorance and not to actually look for how we might innovate.
Another big issue facing teacher education is how we might break the stranglehold of the KLAs - the subject areas, which occurs right through the schooling sector. I think the impact goes right into early childhood and it makes it much more difficult to get ideas and education that are broader than schooling, or broader than the institutions of schooling. Our exit students have to have, if you're in secondary, 2 KLAs teaching areas and each major employing authority tends to bulldoze that, so that tends to structure our courses. The same in the primary area - they have to have at least 7 if not 8 of the key learning areas, and be able to show that they've actually studied them. That has a great stranglehold on our programmes, and the way we design them that we need to break out of. We need to break out of cloning existing practices in our schools and be a part of innovations, which is very difficult to do in the current climate, with the funding of teacher education and the salaries of teachers and academics.
Academics are falling behind teachers in salaries, and it's going to be hard for us to replace ourselves now that the average age in many institutions is well over 50 for our staff in the faculties; it's hard to replace ourselves when we've had years of training, and it's very difficult to replace ourselves also when we earn less. So, I think they're the big issues facing us; we still have to face the key issues of educational inequality and the role of preparing teachers to teach that - to teach them how to reduce inequality.
11. What do you think the future of Teacher Education in Australia holds?
Well, we can't crystal ball that. Much will depend on federal funding. I think there's a whole lot of issues surrounding what's happening to universities and how they get reinvented, because there's currently a push for vocationalisation and utilitarian education, and I think that could be much broader. I suspect one of the issues will be that we may well move to graduate - only education of teachers, but I really don't know what the future holds! We've got to keep certain things on the agenda: you have to learn new technologies; educational inequality; teaching for everyone to have success in schools - those are all big issues for us now and in the future.
12. What are your views on the current Australian Tertiary sector?
That's related to the politics of funding in tertiary education - I mean we've effectively had continual cuts since 1996, and at the end of last year, the effective cut was about $1.2 billion. I'm not at all hopeful, even if there's a change in government that we'll make up the shortfall. All additional monies have gone into awards and prizes and redistributing existing money. I think that the cuts to tertiary education have actually moved all the costs to the students. I'm particularly anxious about that, and I'm very anxious about what that means for the sector as a whole, when the federal government currently pays more for supporting private schools than it does for the whole tertiary education sector. I think, politically, that's very difficult; I think we're moving back into a two tier, or even a three tier system, reminiscent of the years prior to the Dawkins era, where we built a unified national system, supposedly. So, that's actually making it much more difficult, and I think it's very important to build a unified national system in the public sector.
13. What do you think the sector's immediate challenges are?
The tertiary sector has an issue of getting some major support for a massive increase of public investment back into education, and we can do that by looking seriously at the fact that students aren't going to get as much private benefit now that we've got a much bigger pool of graduates who have degrees, and the private benefits that arise from having a degree, which comes from its scarcity which isn't now going to operate. They are now going to leave with debts bigger than a mortgage for their fees, and it is a most expensive place to get an education. I think the issue of the women's occupations - largely the feminised areas of the workforce such as teaching and nursing are difficult, but it is also very difficult for the sciences, which are not as popular, so there's a really big issue of how you deal with people who are working part-time, but trying to carry full loads and higher fees. The sector's revision of what tertiary education is for, and the fact that much knowledge is now produced outside university is a big issue, and will make us rethink our role. How we live with TAFE is another big area - I think another big challenge for us is to make good on our equity policies for Indigenous people, and for people from low SES, where the percentages of both groups has been going down, so that there is successful participation.
14. What do you think your faculty's strengths are?
I think our strengths are that we've got a very large staff who are very diverse, and have a lot of expertise in a range of areas, in everything from early childhood through to primary schooling, middle schooling, secondary schooling, adult, community, VET. That's a real strength because it actually requires people to talk to each other across sectors, and that enables the students to get a richer education because they actually understand their sector better. I think we've got great strength in research in several areas, particularly in the areas of literacy and educational disadvantage and in the areas of VET and work, and equity. I think we've got a good strength in partnership research with schools in particular, and also in other sectors. I think that the educators here at this faculty have a very good set of networks, both national and international, but particularly throughout SA, and our people are willing to rethink programmes and continue to improve and change what they're doing.
15. What do you consider to be the most important attribute of graduates from your faculty?
I don't think there is a single most important attribute - I think that what people leave with, particularly in teaching. There's so many graduates - I mean we've got 200 doctoral students and hundreds of graduates every year - and there isn't a single attribute that would be appropriate for all graduates. But I think that we do pride ourselves here in the schooling area on people who understand children, the schools and practice. In the early childhood area, people have a strong understanding of their sector and their own faith in it and as far as developing kids in the way they develop, learn and change. We also see ourselves as being useful in the teacher education preparation areas with a staff who are a very wise and diverse group of teachers from TAFE teachers and community educators right through to early childhood and schooling. Being willing to work in a highly contested area is a critical feature for all of them.
16. Are there any other questions you'd like us to ask other deans, or have you anything else you'd like to add?
An important issue is how you position your faculty or school inside a university, particularly when most of the faculties of education aren't actually faculties anymore - there are only 14 separate faculties of education. How Deans position themselves inside the university when they don't have a high internal profile, and where they're not very popular economically - I don't have an answer to that. This is something that the Council of Deans of Education have been struggling with for a while.
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