As Australia’s teacher shortage worsens, federal and state leaders are mulling a plan that could see university students provide classroom support to teachers just six months into their degree.
Pre-service teachers already experience in-school training as part of their initial teacher education (ITE), but traditionally this is later in their course than at six months.
This would provide teachers with the same kind of on-the-job professional training as doctors and nurses – a move backed by NSW Education Minister, Sarah Mitchell.
“Our doctors and nurses are in hospitals from their first semester (at university) and for long periods of time. Teaching should be no different; we need universities to work with us to achieve that change,” Mitchell said, adding that the current approach isn’t working.
‘Incoming teachers must be properly supported’
Mark Grant is the CEO of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), the organisation that supports schools with evidence-based resources to improve students’ outcomes.
He says immersing pre-service teachers in classrooms for longer periods of time, with appropriate support and guidance, would benefit both the pre-service teacher and students, but this would only be successful if employers work closely with ITE providers to ensure they’re supported at all levels.
“This is crucially important – we don’t want more pre-service teachers withdrawing from their course because of an unsatisfactory experience,” Grant told The Educator.
“Further, strengthened supervisory arrangements with well-structured mentor training for supervising teachers would ensure student learning is not negatively affected. Similarly, mentoring teachers could benefit from assistance with some administrative tasks so their focus can remain on quality teaching.”
However, Grant noted that this is only one part of the solution to fixing the current issues the workforce faces.
“Coupled with an integrated set of measures, it has the potential to make a difference to our 346,000 teachers. We know from the Australian Teacher Workforce Data initiative that we don’t have enough individuals entering the ITE pipeline to meet current and future shortfalls,” he said.
“One step would be to adopt a national model of teacher supply and demand, as called for by both the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review and AITSL.”
Grant said this will help align demand and supply in the long term.
“We must consider all viable options for resolving the national teacher shortage. Our 4 million school students deserve a quality teacher in every classroom, every day,” he said.
‘Losing one high quality teacher is one too many’
Grant said the national focus must be on expanding Australia’s teacher workforce to meet the demand while maintaining quality teaching, which studies have shown to be the biggest in-school influence driving student outcomes.
“Without a doubt, a key solution to solving our teacher shortage issues will come from increasing ITE commencements and improving the completion rates of those who start ITE. Currently, it’s around 80% for postgraduate programs, and less than 50% for undergraduate programs,” Grant said.
“Solutions such as recognising high quality teaching practice through certification of Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers [paying them accordingly], attracting skilled teachers from overseas, fast-tracking teachers returning to and into the profession, bringing ITE students into classrooms regularly and with purpose and support, and targeting career changers with appropriate support to meet the national Standard will help.”
‘Today’s teacher crisis will be tomorrow’s leadership crisis’
Grant said unless Australian schools increase the supply of teachers for the longer term, the issue is unlikely to go away.
“For instance, the ABS projects that 21% more students will begin school in 2030 than began in 2021. When the student population grows, the number of teachers needed in schools does too,” he said.
“To be successful, other measures to address workforce issues are also needed – from reducing administrative burden impinging on teachers’ time, creating meaningful career pathways and raising the overall status of the profession, which includes competitive salaries.”
Grant said it is also important to remember that “today’s teacher crisis will be tomorrow’s leadership crisis.”
“Leadership positions are already unfilled in so many of our 9,600 schools, and so leadership must be a key consideration of the integrated measures outlined above,” he said.
“Australia’s four million students, and our future economy, depend on a continued high quality schooling system.”