Students with low ATAR scores accepted for teaching degrees
Students with poor high school results are being accepted into university teaching courses, setting off alarm bells about the quality of Australian education.
The university sector, however, says low scores don't tell a student's full story and only represent a tiny number of teaching admissions.
Figures released to a Senate inquiry show one student was accepted to a teaching course at a Victorian university in 2018 with a score of 17.9 out of a possible 99.95, while the lowest score accepted at another institution was 22.1.
Federal education minister Simon Birmingham said Australians rightly expect that school students are taught by the best and while scores are not everything, he believed the data are alarming.
"Our kids deserve no less than high quality teachers, with high quality skills," he said.
Mr Birmingham said the Commonwealth, unlike state and territory governments, does not have the power to set minimum entry scores.
But it has introduced a literacy and numeracy test that teaching graduates must sit to confirm they have skills in the top 30 percent.
He urged universities to only admit students likely to pass the test, and asked states and territories to ensure the testing is implemented.
Australian Education Union president Correna Haythorpe said a test at the end of a degree is "the wrong way around".
"You actually need to know before a person goes into a course whether they have those issues," she said.
Ms Haythorpe said educators want the federal government to take the lead on introducing minimum teaching entry scores.
"There needs to be accountability mechanisms built in as well, so that universities don't use backdoor approaches," Ms Haythorpe said.
Victorian institutions accepted the two lowest entry scores, despite the state government having introduced a minimum score for teaching courses of 65 in 2018, with plans to boost the benchmark to 70 in 2019.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino has ordered an urgent investigation of all university entry data to ensure the standards are upheld.
The university sector has stressed that only two percent of teaching students have an entry score below 50.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the lowest scores are "extreme outliers".
She said the personal circumstances of those students are unknown and they may have suffered a tragedy in their final year of school.
"A young person who has lost a parent while trying to complete their final year of school, for example, shouldn't be turned away from university," she said.