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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Stephanie Convery

‘We need to fix this’: Australian education ministers to address nationwide teacher shortages

Amanda Rishworth and  Jason Clare
Minister for social services Amanda Rishworth and education minister Jason Clare meet with children at a Sydney kindergarten. Australia’s education ministers are meeting to address a looming teacher shortage. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Australia’s education ministers will attempt to address the national teacher shortage in a meeting this Friday, as universities call for longer school placements, teaching apprenticeships and collaboration between government, schools and unions in tackling the problem.

It comes amid concerns teacher shortages could worsen, with modelling suggesting demand for secondary school teachers will outstrip graduates by more than 4,000 in coming years.

The federal education minister, Jason Clare, will devote the first half of the meeting of national, state and territory education ministers to a roundtable addressing the workforce shortage.

“We have a teacher shortage right across the country. Fewer young people are enrolling to become teachers and more and more teachers are thinking of leaving,” Clare said in a statement.

“We need to fix this. That’s why I am getting ministers, principals, teachers and other education experts together to work on a plan to turn this around.”

An issues paper circulated ahead of the meeting referred to modelling showing that, between 2021 and 2025, there would be a shortfall of 4,100 graduates to meet the demand for secondary teachers.

The Covid-19 pandemic was only one factor at play in a “broader and systemic issue”, the paper noted, with other factors including “the status of the profession, workload pressures” and declining enrolments in teacher training courses.

There were also “limited career opportunities for teachers to be recognised and remunerated for their expertise” outside moving into more senior bureaucratic roles, the paper noted.

Teachers’ conditions, such as the increasing weight and complexity of workloads, as well as flattening salaries, have also contributed to the shortage, with one of the discussion questions for Friday’s meeting focused on strategies for reducing the administrative burden on teachers.

The tertiary education sector has also put forward proposals to help address the shortage.

Longer placements for student teachers in schools, a “degree apprenticeship system” in which student teachers did more of their training on the job, and postgraduate programs that combined study and paid employment were among the suggestions put forward by peak body Universities Australia.

“We must address the barriers to attracting and retaining good teachers – from the status of the teaching profession and their workloads to how much they are paid and are able to progress,” Universities Australia chief executive, Catriona Jackson, said.

“Universities alone can’t solve the problem, we need to work together with governments, schools and unions.”

Universities Australia also suggested a national recruitment portal to link graduate teachers to job opportunities across the country, and for schools to examine different forms of employment that offered flexibility but also provided stability for graduates.

“There aren’t many jobs more important than being a teacher. And we don’t have enough of them,” said Clare.

Friday’s meeting will be the first of its kind since the federal election in May, with state and territory education ministers having met twice this year with the previous Coalition government.

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