How did Australia’s private schools fare in 2022?

How did Australia’s private schools fare in 2022?

For some teachers returning to the classroom for Term 4, it might be hard to believe that another year has flown by so quickly. For others, 2022 has felt like an eternity.

No school sector has been immune from the many complex challenges facing teachers and students this year. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted staff, students and families in a multitude of ways that are still being examined by researchers worldwide.

Perhaps most challenging of all is the youth mental health crisis, which the pandemic has only served to exacerbate. 

Beth Blackwood, CEO of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, says like principals of schools in other sectors, independent school principals have been particularly concerned by the wellbeing of students.

“Helping students re-adjust to the physical school environment after COVID disruptions has been an additional challenge for teachers, especially in those states which experienced prolonged lockdowns,” Blackwood told The Educator.

“Even where lockdowns were relatively short, many students have increased anxiety levels because they are living through at some level the impact of a global pandemic, global warming and the threat of an escalating war in Europe.”

Blackwood also pointed to the ongoing workforce challenges facing schools.

“Schools have also had to find relief staff to fill in for teachers who have suffered from COVID or had to care for a family member with COVID or had to isolate as a close contact, which has been difficult.”

Blackwood said that while it isn’t entirely clear what is driving the immediate shortages schools are experiencing, AHISAs data suggests that, at least in the independent sector, there is not a mass exodus of teachers from the profession.

“What we are seeing is more teachers moving to a position in another school. That may be through relocation to assist family, or a need for greater work-life balance, or to improve career prospects,” she said.

“There is also evidence that mentoring programs in some states, which aim to help students recover lost academic ground after COVID lockdowns, have drained the usual sources of teacher supply.”

Blackwood noted that some issues may be short-term in nature, but there are longer-term issues that are concerning principals, system authorities and governments.

“These include the high attrition rate of students from initial teacher education courses and the number of ITE graduates who then leave the profession within their first five years of teaching,” she said.

“At school level, we see principals addressing these issues by reviewing their graduate induction and mentoring programs.”

Blackwood said principals are also paying as much attention to staff wellbeing as they are to the wellbeing of students.

“Teachers have been responding to COVID-related disruptions in one form or another for well over two years and they are tired.”

But looking ahead, Blackwood is cautiously optimistic that meaningful help is on the way.

“We have a federal government looking at further reform of initial teacher training and also gearing up to define new national initiatives for renegotiation of the National School Reform Agreement,” she said.

“It would be fantastic if principals’ red-tape burden could be reduced. At the very least, government reforms should not add to that burden.”