Barely eight weeks into Term 1, a nationwide report revealed that Australian principals are struggling with the highest burnout rates in a decade.
The latest report into the health and wellbeing of Australia’s school leaders found that principals and their deputies work on average at least 55 hours a week, while a quarter of those report working more than 60 hours a week.
With Term 2 now underway, teachers and leaders continue to feel the pressure of massive administrative workloads, booming student enrollments and widespread staff shortages.
The most recent State of the Sector report by PeopleBench found that workforce shortages had moved from the fifth most pressing challenge, to the second in 2021 and is anticipated by the industry’s leaders to hit number one workplace priority by 2024.
Current forecasts are predicting teacher shortages in the tens of thousands
The report also found that the demand for teachers caused by student enrollment growth is outpacing the supply of new teachers (1.4% versus 0.6%). Added to this, one in four will leave the profession ahead of retirement with more than half of those planning to do so in under ten years
The research suggests the main reason for this is workload and ability to cope. Nine in 10 teachers planning to leave the industry cited reasons related to this.
“While the $25.3 billion funding for schools in 2022 is at an all-time high, the focus falls short on how we’re attracting and retaining teachers,” PeopleBench founder and CEO Fleur Johnston told The Educator.
“After all, no high-tech classroom can replace the workforce.”
Johnston said it is going to take more than a pay rise to fix the alarming levels of teacher burnout and overwork that are exacerbating supply issues.
“We need action that addresses the increasing challenges of teacher wellbeing and resilience by engaging our teachers in the redesign in their role to shape jobs of the future, and better reflect changing service delivery such as the rise in online and hybrid delivery of learning,” she said.
“We need a long-term plan focused on the complete hire-to-retire lifecycle in school systems.”
‘It’s going to take a cultural shift’
Johnston says the risk of a large-scale US style Great Teacher Resignation in Australia is now “very real”.
“Within the next ten years, there is a predicted shortage of 11,000 teachers within New South Wales alone, affecting both rural and urban locations throughout the state,” she said.
“It’s going to take a cultural shift to overcome this pressure. We need as much focus on measuring and managing risks of work intensification and burnout as we place on student performance and outcomes.”
Johnston said that unless people are put at the heart of the education system, there might not be one left to salvage.
“This is more than just a happy workplace for our teachers, it’s for the good of student outcomes and sustainable delivery of schooling now and well into the future.”