In November last year, the House Standing Committee on Employment, Education launched a federal inquiry into the status of the teaching profession to examine ways to improve the retention of teachers in Australian schools.
The inquiry followed reports of Australian universities experiencing a decline of up to 40% in initial teacher education (ITE) course applications between 2015 and 2017.
Fewer teachers at a time when student enrolments are booming in major cities presents obvious operational challenges for school leaders who want to both retain new teachers and prevent experienced ones from leaving the job.
Now, a new report, which surveyed responses from over 7,000 primary and secondary school teachers, has found that schools serving disadvantaged communities struggle to recruit suitable teachers.
The surveys were conducted through Teacher Tapp, an app that asks teachers in state and independent sectors three questions a day. ‘The Recruitment Gap’ is authored by Teacher Tapp’s founders, Professor Becky Allen and Laura McInerney.
In general, the social inequalities noted in the report were found to be more pronounced in the secondary sector, and shortages there are worse overall.
“Social inequalities are worst in core subjects of maths and sciences, where one-in-three departments within schools serving the most disadvantaged communities saying they are currently not well-staffed,” the report stated.
Worryingly, teachers in disadvantaged schools also reported feeling less attached to teaching as a career. In particular, women outside their twenties said they are “quite unwilling” to consider longer commutes, which has implications for the profession given its demographics (especially in primary).
“Teachers in secondary schools serving disadvantaged communities are the most likely to say they will soon leave the profession and seem least attached to their work,” the report stated.
In part, this was because teachers believed schools serving disadvantaged communities are harder to teach in.
The survey found that more affluent schools seem to be attractive due to their ‘reputation’ in the broader community.
Compared to affluent schools, teachers overwhelmingly agreed that working in schools serving more disadvantaged communities involves harder work and requires more skills.
“Teachers typically prefer to teach classes with higher attaining pupils and fewer behaviour problems,” the report stated.
When it comes to dealing with teacher shortages, pursuing local recruitment strategies was deemed the best way forward.
“Provided that the conditions are right, 80% of teachers are willing to consider a local move to a school with recruitment challenges,” the report stated.
“Though expensive, the right conditions – pay, promotion, and a reduced timetable – are attractive to many.”
However, the report pointed to other low-cost perks that schools could also offer, including lower marking loads, quality training opportunities and mentoring.