Denying diversity and the betrayal of multicultural education

A critical review of Victoria’s teacher registration policies

The Victorian Institute of Teaching’s teacher registration policies reflect colonial biases by excluding culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) educators. Discriminatory policies, particularly around language requirements and teaching experience, not only exacerbate the country’s teacher shortage but also fail to serve the needs of CALD students. Dismantling systemic barriers to teacher registration is necessary to create a more equitable and inclusive education system.

Education is a powerful tool for the reproduction of structural or institutional oppression against a particular group. In what we now know as Australia, colonialism aimed to exert control through education, establishing missionary and government-run schools to assimilate Indigenous children into Eurocentric norms and values (Bodkin-Andrews & Carlson, 2016). Although many facets of the Australian education system continue to preserve this cultural insularity, in this article, we would like to focus on one facet in particular: the teacher registration policies from the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT).

We argue that the policies on teacher registration from the VIT are resistant to cultural diversity. In particular, VIT maintains biased policies that reflect prejudice against teachers from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. We explore policies surrounding its language requirements, teaching experience and assessor requirements. Further, we argue the maintenance of these biased policies aggravates the ongoing teacher shortage within Australia. Yet, proposed solutions to the teacher shortage by state and federal governments overlook a simple answer to this problem. In ignoring the cultural and linguistic diversity of its teachers, Australian education also ignores the needs of its diverse learners. Changing the biased teacher registration policies of the VIT would both better serve the multicultural needs of all Australian learners and simultaneously address the ‘generational crisis’ of Australia’s teacher shortage (Longmuir, 2023).

We write this article due to our shared experiences with the VIT’s teacher registration policies. Simon is an Australian-born Asian male who completed a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature at the University of Hong Kong. That experience provided him with an understanding of society and culture that is informed by a largely postcolonial perspective. After he taught for three years in another Australian state, it shocked him to realize how difficult it was to obtain teacher registration in Victoria. The VIT did not recognise his university degree on the account that Hong Kong is not (debatably) an Anglophone country. To meet these requirements, he was required to complete an IELTS examination. This was despite being Australian-born, educated in English his entire life and having three years worth of experience teaching senior-secondary English courses. The ludicrousness of this experience inspired him to critically reflect on how the teacher registration policies actually represent a xenophobic mindset that seeks to gate-keep and homogenize the Australian teaching profession. 

Katie, a White British woman born in the UK, moved to Melbourne last August to pursue a teaching career after spending eight years teaching and leading English Departments in London. Her three-month journey to gaining VIT registration was, she felt, incomprehensibly slow, marred by a total lack of transparency, and was personally demoralising. She was left wondering how other teachers were faring, particularly foreign teachers without the privileges attendant on being White, European and educated in an English-speaking country. 

Teacher Registration Policies in Victoria

The VIT was established in 2001, following recommendations from the Ministerial Advisory Committee. Victoria was the fourth Australian state to establish a regulating body for the teaching profession, likely influenced by a global trend towards regulating professions and services (KPMG, 2017). Initially, the primary goals of the VIT were to enhance the profile and status of the teaching profession, advocate for high standards and best practices, and acknowledge the contributions of its members (KPMG, 2017). Over time, the VIT’s functions have evolved, including removing the task of promoting the profession from its responsibilities (King Review, 2008). KPMG’s (2017) review identified that teachers continue to distrust VIT, as they have since its inception. 

While proficiency in English is needed for teaching in Victorian schools, the language requirements set by the VIT fail to consider the advantages that CALD teachers may offer in educating non-native English-speaking students. The 2021 Australian census reported 22% of Australians not speaking English at home. As such, the lack of CALD teachers in the Australian teaching workforce could potentially disservice up to a quarter of the Australian population. Currently, VIT registration mandates that teachers from non-Anglophone countries achieve an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) band score of at least 7.5. No score below 7.0 in any of the four components (listening, reading, writing, and speaking) is required for full registration. Furthermore, although IELTS claims itself to be fair, valid and reliable, regardless of nationality or cultural background (Cambridge English Language Assessment, 2015), the assessment has been accused of biasing British and American English cultural values. Analyses have revealed question items and practices that are rooted in nuances of English-speaking culture, but also are culturally insensitive (Khan, 2006; Freimuth, 2013). Nonetheless, CALD teachers who learned English as an additional language often possess extensive grammatical and syntactic knowledge, coupled with lived experiences of language learning (Medgyes, 1992) as well as cultural similarities to many CALD students. These teachers are therefore well-placed to support non-native English-speaking students, particularly those who may be racialised or othered.

Education operates through the whole schooling environment, including through implicit cues conveyed in staffing choices. A higher visibility of CALD teachers may therefore contribute to an increased sense of belonging, motivation and sense of self-efficacy among non-native English-speaking students. Furthermore, the capacity of CALD teachers to communicate with students in their native languages should not be underestimated. Rather than adopting a deficit mindset that perceives non-Native English-speaking teachers as lacking, the VIT should embrace a stance of imagination and inclusivity. This approach would break rank with some of the culturally imperialist tendencies remaining in the Australian education system and better serve the reality of Australia’s multicultural population.

The registration requirements of the VIT further exhibit bias against CALD teachers through registration requirements on prior learning and teaching experience. Those who have acquired teaching expertise through non-traditional pathways may encounter significant challenges in meeting formal registration criteria. For instance, VIT mandates that teachers must complete 45 days of supervised teaching practice, without providing clear justification for this requirement beyond vague references that suggest alignment with Australian teaching qualifications. Given the similarities between the educational institutions in Australia and other Western Anglophone countries, such a policy can be seen as favouring teachers from the Global North.

The registration requirements neglect to recognize the professional potential in those who are racialised, othered or otherwise divergent from settler colonial norms. Moreover, the emphasis on university training as a prerequisite for teacher registration disadvantages individuals for whom this route is financially unfeasible. Many teachers worldwide may have had less formal forms of initial teacher education, where consistent “in the classroom” supervision is not the predominant style. It is also likely that these teachers would not have their classroom experience recognized by the VIT. Is it fair to demand such conformity to the conventions of Australian teaching qualifications? The insistence on the 45-day requirement fails to recognize the wealth of experience that teachers of diverse backgrounds possess. 

The lack of transparency from the VIT regarding its policies is also concerning. Notably absent from their published policies are any measures addressing bias elimination within the checklist of evidence demanded from teachers. There is a lack of policy or reporting regarding the employment, training, or identities of the human assessors responsible for validating this evidence. Who are these assessors, and have they received training on mitigating personal prejudices? Ignoring this aspect of assessment design opens the VIT to questions of both assessment validity and issues of equity and anti-racism. The human assessors have a level of discretion in the registration process. While this is not necessarily a negative, there is an absence of transparency regarding how this discretion is regulated and reviewed. Although the VIT publishes data on the nationalities of teachers to whom they give registration, they do not provide data on how many apply and how many are rejected. 

The opacity surrounding these processes is concerning. In a society where xenophobic attitudes persist, expecting trust in an assessment process that lacks safeguards against colonial and cultural bias is unreasonable. The teaching profession, along with those concerned about the teacher shortage, cannot be expected to have faith in the robustness and fairness of its assessment policies without transparency. Such a failure to ensure transparency in its assessment process represents a dereliction of duty for an organization that is fundamental to supporting the public sector.

The Teacher Shortage and Cultural and Linguistic Diversity

In response to the teacher shortage, the Australian government has implemented the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan (Australian Government Department of Education, 2024). The plan identifies five priority areas: increasing teacher supply, improving initial teacher education, supporting current teachers, elevating the teaching profession’s status, and enhancing future teacher workforce planning. To implement these initiatives, the Australian Government has committed $337 million. However, significant questions remain as to whether these actions appropriately address the ongoing teacher shortage. Here, we argue that the plan does not include adequate strategies to meet the learning needs of a diverse and multicultural Australian population. Instead, the plan only reinforces the colonial mentalities that have exacerbated the problem from the very beginning.

In an interview with the ABC on January 30th, 2024, the education minister Jason Clare proposed the reintroduction of retired teachers back into the classroom as a way to increase teacher supply. Similarly, the Victorian government has also introduced policies aimed at encouraging students into initial teacher education. Both of these proposed solutions highlight the racialised myopia of policymakers in their thinking around the teacher shortage.

The first solution suggests that prolonging the service of those who have already given years to education and teaching proffers a suitable answer to the teacher shortage. Rather than introduce greater diversity into the teaching workforce, the government would more willingly delay the retirement of those who already represent their idealized images of what an Australian teacher should be. Meanwhile, teachers with professional qualifications from overseas are not even afforded the opportunity to begin their teaching careers in Australia. The outdated and discriminatory policies of the VIT form significant barriers to registration for anyone who is not educated in an Anglophone country, or who cannot afford expensive English language ability testing. As such, this solution ignores the pool of CALD educators who are already living in Australia but unable to obtain teacher registration. The message of this approach is clear – we would rather stick with what we have and who we know than encourage difference and diversity into the teaching profession. 

Second, instead of drawing on an existing pool of already qualified teachers from diverse overseas backgrounds, the government would rather expedite the development of beginning teachers. Again, this ignores the potential of qualified and experienced teachers from CALD backgrounds already living in Australia. Dwyer and Jacob (2022) report that only 17% of teachers were born overseas, compared to 33.6% of the working-age Australian population. Accordingly, the current teaching workforce in Australia may only reflect about half of the country’s diversity. The expedition of initial teacher education also begs the question as to how the government can expect to ‘improve initial teacher education’ while simultaneously speeding up the qualification process as a method to improve teacher supply. Similarly, the government recognizes that many beginning teachers eventually leave the profession within five years. It therefore appears that the government is willing to risk significant resources and human capital rather than simply recognizing CALD teachers. Gide et al. (2022) highlight a lack of focus on CALD teachers in Australian education, despite Victorian governmental resources highlighting the importance of meeting the needs of CALD learners (Adult, Community and Further Education Board, 2012). Once again, policymakers appear oblivious to the benefits that greater diversity in the teaching workforce may bring. 

These proposed solutions undervalue the rich experiences that CALD educators could bring to Australian education. Similarly, it disservices the needs of all Australian learners by ignoring the multiculturalism present in this country. Yet, such multiculturalism is already reflected in the student populations of many Australian schools. What message do we send to a multicultural student body if the teaching body is culturally homogenous and non-diverse? Both the Australian curriculum (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2022) and Mparntwe declaration (Education Council, 2019) emphasize the importance of multiculturalism and place Australia within the histories and traditions of Asia. How can we expect to teach lessons on multiculturalism and diversity when so many policies aim to preserve a workforce based on the rejection of difference?

There is a concerning disregard for diversity present throughout Australian education. Neither the VIT nor the state and federal government’s proposed solutions to the teacher shortage acknowledge the cultural and linguistic diversity of contemporary Australia. Yet, changing the teacher registration policies of the VIT would further provide an immediate solution to the teacher shortage while also catering for the diversity of Australian students. Changing these policies would create a workforce that actually represents the messages of diversity that are promoted in both the Australian curriculum and the Mparntwe declaration.

The proposed solutions to address the teacher shortage overlook the potential contributions of CALD educators. Instead, they favour approaches that promote cultural homogeneity within the teaching workforce. The biased registration requirements of the VIT perpetuate legacies of control and assimilation, with its opaque assessment processes contributing to systemic inequalities and reflecting broader societal hypocrisies and contradictions. While Australia relies heavily on migrants for so-called “unskilled” labour in sectors such as agriculture and blue-collar work, it simultaneously marginalizes these communities by erecting barriers to their entry into the teaching profession. This not only reinforces white privilege but also sends a subtle message that education is reserved for certain privileged groups, exacerbating divisions within society.

Neglecting the skills and qualifications of migrant educators is a shameful waste of human potential. By forcing skilled migrants into less well-paid work while simultaneously seeking solutions to the teacher shortage, policymakers perpetuate a cycle of marginalization and exclusion. Perpetuating this cycle hampers efforts to address the shortage, undermines the potential contributions of diverse educators to the education system, while also being inherently unethical. In light of these considerations, it becomes increasingly evident that true solutions to the teacher shortage and the broader issues of equity and diversity in education require a fundamental shift in mindset. Embracing inclusivity, valuing diversity, and dismantling systemic barriers are essential steps towards creating a more equitable and inclusive education system that truly serves the needs of all Australians.


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Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment. (2019). Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration.

Australian Government Department of Education. (2004). National Teacher Workforce Action Plan.

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Dwyer, R., & Jacob, R. (2022). Just like us: Why Australian students need teachers from everywhere. EduResearch Matters.

Gide, S., Wong, S., Press, F., & Davis, B. (2022). Cultural diversity in the Australian early childhood education workforce: What do we know, what don’t we know and why is it important? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 47(1), 48-61.

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King, F. J., King, J. M. & Associates. (2008). Review of the Victorian Institute of Teaching.

Longmuir, F. (2023, January 30). Australia’s teacher shortage is a generational crisis in the making. How can we turn things around?

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Simon Zhou is a final year PhD candidate at Monash University’s Faculty of Education. His research focuses on understanding critical consciousness in academically high-achieving students. The central tenet of the thesis is that these students are uniquely positioned to either reproduce or transform social inequality. To that end, the development of critical consciousness in these students warrants particular attention. He is also a secondary school teacher of English and EAL whose practice is informed by critical pedagogy.

Katie Johnson is a secondary English teacher of eight years experience. In her five years as Head of English, a key responsibility was designing and implementing curricula. Since the UK government mandates around English teaching were becoming increasingly regressive, fulfilling this responsibility was challenging. Attempts to foster critical consciousness were frequent but challenging to realise. This was the topic of her Master’s thesis, based around the impact of introducing A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. She hopes her experience in Australian schools may provide an insight into more progressive, critical approaches to English teaching.

Image credit. An Office by Scott Dexter (2012) CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED.