In December, Federal, state and territory education ministers approved The National Teacher Workforce Action Plan, paving the way for significant improvements to teacher supply, initial teacher education and respect for the profession.
Dr Saul Karnovsky, a lecturer at Curtin University’s School of Education says the plan signals a critical shift in the way the Federal Government is talking about the teaching profession.
“The focus points of the plan align with what the research tells us: teacher workload, administrative burdens, and the status of the profession are all vitally important concerns that need to be addressed,” Dr Karnovsky told The Educator.
Another persistent issue, says Dr Karnovsky, is the lack of stable full-time work that is both causing teachers to leave and deterring other prospective staff from entering the profession.
“Many teachers have left the profession because they are unable to secure long term or permanent teaching positions,” he said.
“Like many industries there has been an increase in the casualisation of the profession, with numerous schools adopting a short-term contract system to employ classroom teachers, especially when employing graduate teachers.”
Indeed, reports in recent years have revealed a high percentage of early career teachers leaving the profession in their first few years. Currently, more than 60% of new teachers are employed on contracts of less than one year or as casual teachers, taking them years to secure long-term employment.
As of November last year, there were 3,311 vacancies, according to The Permanent Teacher Vacancy Dashboard. Meanwhile, the Victorian Government has been urging its former teachers to return to the classroom in response to growing teacher shortages impacting schools in that state.
In a bid to keep early career teachers in the classroom, The University of South Australia has launched a research project that will investigate how improved induction programs can better support new teachers in the classroom.
Funded by a 2023 ARC Discovery grant ($371,000) the study will prioritise ‘precariously employed’ early career teachers – those on casual and short-term contracts – to effectively manage student classroom behaviour.
Chief investigator, UniSA’s Professor Anna Sullivan says the study will propose alternative policy and induction practices that better support the transition of insecure replacement teachers within the profession.
“In Australia, there is a focus on school-based induction programs, and while these may be very good, most early career teachers tend to be employed for short periods, so they miss out on a proper induction,” Prof Sullivan said.
“As a result, these new teachers may be left feeling unsupported, isolated, and lacking confidence in their abilities, increasing the likelihood of them leaving the profession.”
Prof Sullivan said that while learning how to manage student behaviour is one of the most important teaching skills, it’s also one of the top-ranked challenges faced by early career teachers.
“This is something that could be better accommodated through a thorough and ongoing induction process,” she said.
“Finding ways to better support, guide and coach new teachers as they start their careers is imperative for Australia’s education sector.”
According to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, induction programs should be school-based practice-focused to develop teaching skills, embedded in daily practice, and delivered over two years.
“The Australian Guidelines for Teacher Induction emphasise mentoring embedded in daily practice, regular interactions with school leaders, as well as access to targeted professional learning, and extra time allocation for planning,” Professor Sullivan said.
“Yet most new teachers do not qualify for such induction programs because they’re employed on a casual or short contract. Therein lies the conundrum. Newly qualified teachers need a comprehensive induction program, yet their employment status doesn’t enable this.”
Professor Sullivan said the project aims to find ways to change this so schools can attract, retain and better support new teachers.
“We must address this issue if Australia is to build a healthier education system,” she said.
Expected outcomes of this project include alternative policy and practice recommendations to support the transition of insecure replacement teachers within the profession.