What’s behind Australia’s teacher shortage?

What’s behind Australia’s teacher shortage?

Reports show that more than 30% of Australian teachers leave within their first five years in the role, and according to dozens of submissions made to a federal inquiry, this issue is being compounded by a lack of support and respect for the profession.

The federal inquiry into the Status of the teaching profession was launched in November last year by the House Standing Committee on Employment, Education to examine ways in which to lift the status of the teaching profession.

In particular, the inquiry is looking at opportunities to improve outcomes in teacher retention, the provision of support platforms, lower workloads and increasing the attractiveness of the profession for aspiring teachers.

A major concern for Australia’s education system has been a shortage in quality teachers. According to Professor Tania Aspland, president of the Australian Council of Deans Education (ACDE), some Australian universities have experienced 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 schools who want to both retain new teachers and prevent experienced ones from leaving the job.

‘Blaming and shaming must end’

In its submission to the inquiry, the Australian Heads of Independent Schools Australia (AHISA) said that until political rhetoric based on “blaming and shaming” ends, respect for the teaching profession cannot improve.

AHISA national chair, Dr Mark Merry, said governments should instead adopt a ‘strengths-based’ approach to policy making for school education.

“This must begin with recognition of the professional expertise of teachers and school leaders and the development of policies and programs that seek to build on that expertise, that is, by strengthening the profession rather than scapegoating it,” Dr Merry said.

According to the Australian Education Union (AEU), there should be a greater investment in appropriate salary and reward structures to attract high quality candidates into teaching.

“Numerous international studies from the 1970s to the current decade have consistently shown that higher teacher salaries relative to those of other comparable professionals increase the likelihood of highly performing secondary students becoming teachers, and reduce long term rates of attrition,” the AEU said in its submission to the inquiry.

Another area of concern highlighted in the submissions was the lack of support being given to special assistance, alternative education and rural and regional schools.

Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) told the inquiry that the issue goes deeper than just school funding.

“Increasing human resources will not be an easy outcome to achieve given that, particularly in contextually specific circumstances, these schools already find it difficult to staff adequately for the needs for their students,” the ISQ’s submission read.

“In addressing this need, therefore, it is more complex than simply making funding available for extra staffing. Thought must be given as to how suitably qualified and experienced staff can be encouraged and supported to work in these areas.”