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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Fiona Longmuir, Lecturer – Educational Leadership, Monash University

Education Minister Jason Clare has released a draft plan to address what he calls an “unprecedented” teacher shortage in Australia.

As he said on Thursday, “there is a shortage of them right across the country”. For example, federal education department modelling shows there will be a high school teacher shortfall of about 4,000 by 2025.

The plan has been brewing since a meeting between Clare and his state and territory counterparts in August.

Since then, education department heads, schools, university and union leaders have been working on ways to address the teacher shortage. Clare now wants to know what should stay and what needs to change, before education ministers sign off on the plan in December.

First, what’s the problem?

We are education researchers who study teachers’ perceptions of their work in Australia. Earlier this year, we conducted a national survey of 5,000 teachers. We recorded more than 38,000 comments, including proposed solutions and ideas for change.

This research showed the teacher shortage is the result of complex problems that have been building for years.

If we are going to fix it, we need to address issues including excessive workloads, the increasing complexity of the role, growing expectations and administrative responsibilities, and a lack of respect for the profession.

What’s in the plan?

The plan includes a headline figure of A$328 million, some of which was announced in the budget last week.

It looks at six themes: improving teaching’s reputation, encouraging more people to do teaching degrees, improving how we prepare new teachers for the job, reducing workloads and better data. It includes 28 “actions”, such as:

  • $10 million to raise the status of teachers
  • new teacher of the year awards
  • recognising skills in other areas (like maths) that can be “transferable” to teaching
  • improving access to First Nations cultural competency resources

The draft plan also includes:

  • $25 million for a “workload reduction” pilot
  • improving data about current teacher supply, teaching graduate numbers and why teachers leave
  • improving mentoring and support for teachers starting out in their careers.

What does it get right?

The draft has many promising elements, which suggests there is a commitment to real action on key issues. This is particularly the case when it comes respect for teachers and their workloads.

1. Elevating the profession

The draft says we need to “recognise the value teachers bring to students, communities and the economy”. It is encouraging to see this is the top of the list of action items. Importantly, it also states:

ministers, education stakeholders, and the media will take every opportunity to actively promote the valued work of teachers and the merits of the profession, effective immediately.

Our research found 70% of surveyed teachers feel the profession is disrespected by the public. We also found 90% felt politicians don’t respect teachers and 80% felt the media do not respect teachers. As one teacher told us:

I plan to leave […]it is wearying constantly having to defend my profession against attacks in the media.

Raising the status of the profession and valuing teachers as a highly skilled, expert workforce (that is a critical part of society) is of utmost importance.

Read more:
‘They phone you up during lunch and yell at you’ – why teachers say dealing with parents is the worst part of their job

2. Workloads

In another section called, “maximising the time to teach”, there is a much-needed focus on workload issues. In our study, only 14% of teachers agreed their workloads were manageable. Workload issues were also the most frequent reason given for wanting to leave the profession, as illustrated by this teacher:

I’ve hit burnout twice already. I don’t expect I can keep up the level of energy or give so much of my time for much longer.

Workload is a crucial issue that requires an immediate response, as this draft has recognised. Ongoing consultation with teachers is crucial. Ministers and policymakers should keep asking teachers what support they need to make their workloads manageable – and listening to the responses.

What needs to change?

In releasing the draft, Clare has called for feedback from teachers and the broader community, and he wants to know what is missing. In our view, the final plan needs to have a bigger focus on two things:

1. Retaining teachers

Although the report includes sections to support current teachers, a significant proportion is spent on attracting new teacher and strengthening teaching degrees.

There is no question we need to attract and train great teachers. But if we want to have any short-to-medium-term impact on the issue, the top priority should be keeping the teachers we have now.

The current workforce shortage crisis is a result of teachers leaving the profession. Our research suggests attrition will continue, with only 28% of teachers indicating they plan to stay in the job until retirement, and almost 50% planning to leave within the next ten years.

There is also a lot of attention on teachers leaving the profession within their first five years. But we found those who had been in the profession for six-to-ten years were the most likely to be planning to leave. This suggests the more significant issues are those experienced on the job rather than while studying.

2. More trust

The other big element missing from this draft is trust. Australia has a history of blaming teacher quality for problems in education.

Policy responses have suggested teachers can’t be trusted to do their jobs well. We require teachers to constantly account for their professional decisions through excessive data collection and narrow performance-based markers (such as the NAPLAN tests).

Our research showed the lack of trust erodes Australian teachers’ commitment to, and passion for their work. As one teacher told us:

It’s not the profession I want to remain in. I became a teacher to educate and inspire students, not to push agendas and collect data.

When it comes to keeping teachers in the classroom where they are needed, we need to trust they are well-trained and committed to delivering the best for all their students.

If not, teachers will not feel respected, will be burdened by unrealistic workloads and they will not stay.

Read more:
No wonder no one wants to be a teacher: world-first study looks at 65,000 news articles about Australian teachers

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Jason Clare has a draft plan to fix the teacher shortage. What needs to stay and what should change? –