Australian schools call for a new expert teacher career path

The Grattan Institute has some game-changing suggestions on how we tackle teaching STEM in Australia. Image: Shutterstock

– by Julie Sonnemann, Education Fellow at the Grattan Institute

In any job, it’s important to have opportunities to learn from the best people in your field. If you are a maths or science teacher, this means learning from the best maths and science teachers in your school and beyond. Grattan Institute’s latest education report, Top teachers: sharing expertise to improve teaching, calls for a new expert teacher career path, so that the day job of the best teachers in each subject is to lead professional learning within and across schools.

The report details the results of a Grattan Institute survey of 720 educators, which throws light on big problems in teacher ‘instructional leader’ roles in schools today. It shows that while teachers in theory value the idea of learning from great teachers, in practice their teaching doesn’t change based on the advice of instructional leaders. Instructional leader roles are often very general rather than subject-specific, which makes it hard for the leaders to give practical support that integrates curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. And some teachers believe these jobs are often given to the ‘principal’s mates’, rather than the best technical teachers.

The right track

Under the Grattan model, which is similar to those used in high-performing school systems overseas, such as in Singapore and Shanghai, Australia’s best teachers would have better designed and better rewarded roles to improve teaching in their subject fields.

There would be two new positions as part of an expert teacher career track. ‘Master Teachers’ (the top 1 per cent of the profession) would be the overall subject leaders, working across a network of schools in their region. They would guide ‘Instructional Specialists’ (about 8 per cent of the teacher workforce), who would work within their own schools to support and guide other teachers. Every teacher across the country, whether primary or secondary, would benefit from more than one hour a week with Instructional Specialists in their subject area.

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Instructional Specialists would focus on building teachers’ subject expertise, and they themselves would need to be expert in their subject. Within each subject, their work would support implementation of the curriculum. In secondary schools they would work closely with heads of faculties and heads of subjects, not replacing their work, but complementing it.

The new roles would be selective, and similar in standing and pay to school leadership positions. Selection panels would include subject experts, not just school principals.

Instructional Specialists would receive salaries of up to $140,000 a year (about $40,000 more than the highest standard pay rate for teachers), and Master Teachers $180,000. These levels of higher pay are especially important for teachers in maths and science, many of whom could earn a lot more elsewhere in occupations such as engineering or commerce.

High-performing teachers in their 20s get paid close to high-performers in other professions, but teachers start to fall behind in their 30s. By their 40s, high-performing teachers earn more than $100,000 less than high performing peers in engineering or economics.

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But could we do it?

We recommend the new teaching roles be phased in gradually, over 12 years. By 2032 there should be more than 20,000 Instructional Specialists and 2,500 Master Teachers across Australia.

Governments can afford it: our blueprint would cost less than the planned increases to government school funding through the Gonski 2.0 model over the next decade.

And it’s worth it: the new expert teacher career path signals a big shift in how we recognise and value teaching expertise, a vital step to further professionalise teaching and boost student learning.

 Julie Sonnemann is Education Fellow at the Grattan Institute. Her Top teachers report, co-authored by Grattan’s Education Program Director Peter Goss, can be read at

STEM Contributor

Author: STEM Contributor

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