Across Australia, plummeting retention and recruitment numbers are leaving schools desperate to fill classrooms, yet education is lagging behind other big-ticket issues as the May 21 election looms.
Education experts say the government must face the reality that poor working conditions are forcing teachers and principals to leave the profession at a rapid rate at a time when new talent is being discouraged from pursuing teaching as a career.
Jessica Holloway is a Senior Research Fellow and ARC DECRA Fellow at the Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education Research Centre for Digital Data and Assessment in Education.
She says rather than placing additional burdens on their plates, education policymakers should be doing everything possible to provide them the resources and professional autonomy required to do their jobs well.
“First and foremost, an extensive review of teacher workload, working conditions and compensation needs to be conducted,” Dr Holloway told The Educator.
“My own research and those of my colleagues is showing that workload expectations are unsustainable and forcing teachers to consider other career options.”
Dr Holloway said rising demands around accountability and bureaucracy is a key area that needs serious consideration in this regard.
“We see little, if any, evidence that higher accountability results in better teaching or learning. Indeed, the unintended consequences are exacerbating the teacher shortage problem, which far outweighs any potential benefits.”
In many other countries, the Department of Education (and subsequently education policy) is run by former teachers or school principals, but in Australia, there are concerns about the fact that most school policymakers have little to no classroom/teaching experience.
Dr Holloway says this has long-term ramifications for the nation’s education sector.
“Schools are deeply complex institutions, and it takes working within them to truly understand the intricacies involved in making them function effectively. Too often we see schooling solutions being crafted externally and then imposed onto schools and teachers,” she said.
“The lack of understanding regarding what schools and teachers actually need only intensifies the problems we’re seeing across the country, like unbearable workloads and burnout.”