La Trobe Uni’s Nexus program is transforming teacher education

Sophisticated career-changing professionals with bachelors’ degrees – vets, engineers, entrepreneurs, physicists – have signed up to study a master’s degree to head back to high school and help educate the next generations of Victorians. The number of disadvantaged schools in La Trobe University’s Nexus teacher education program jumped from 15 in 2020 to 80 by the end of 2023, and the program has proved popular with both candidates and schools.

La Trobe dean of school education Joanna Barbousas says the program’s course retention rate is near 100 per cent and the retention of the program’s teachers in designated schools is also extremely high after graduation. Eighty-six per cent of Nexus graduates choose to work in schools in disadvantaged parts of Victoria.

With campuses in the Victorian rural towns of Mildura, Albury-Wodonga, Shepparton, and Bendigo, La Trobe was well placed to attract qualified candidates interested in returning to their home-towns to teach local adolescents, she adds.

Next on the cards is a program for primary school teachers in NSW and Victoria starting in 2024. Funding has already been allocated and interest is high.

Nexus began in 2020 after La Trobe was awarded Commonwealth funding to launch a teaching program for difficult schools. “At that time, the La Trobe school of education was rebuilding courses, considering the evidence-based approach to teaching and what graduates need for complex schools, hard-to-staff schools, disadvantaged schools,” Barbousas says.

From the start, the Nexus program was rooted in the idea of social equity and local understanding, such as recruiting local community leaders to act as mentors in the schools, she adds. “We really want teachers coming into schools who are committed to making a difference in a very specific context.”

La Trobe then reworked a master’s teaching course designed to build trainee teachers’ capability and ensure their success. With elements of psychology and behaviour management in complex situations, cognitive load theory, and a broad understanding of how the brain works, the course is structured to give candidates the confidence to manage a class of 30 or more high-need teenagers.

The masters’ students begin work – as paid teacher’s aides – from almost the start of the Nexus course, Barbousas says. They can then learn on the job from experienced teachers while continuing to earn an income and engage in the university course.

“They are paid as education support officers for the first year, and they also receive a stipend to help them with either relocating or to fund their placement time,” she adds. “They are then paid as teachers in the second year. These students also have Commonwealth Supported Places, which subsidises some of the cost of the degree”.

The teacher candidates are placed with experienced and pre-screened teachers in the designated schools. The schools that apply to be part of the program are checked by La Trobe’s Nexus academics, and some simply haven’t made the grade – but the leading teaching staff were willing to work for inclusion at a later date.

“They really wanted to be part of Nexus,” Barbousas says. “We choose schools who are ready to work with us to build quality mentors in schools so that Nexus graduates are well prepared and supported in complex school contexts.”

The Australian