Raising the status of the profession is one key to addressing the teacher shortage
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 No 7, 30 September 2022, page no. 10
In August this year, the Teacher Workforce Roundtable was convened by the federal government, following Federal Minister for Education Jason Clare’s comment that “Australian schools are facing unprecedented teacher supply and retention challenges, with workforce shortages one of the single biggest issues facing teacher employers in all school sectors and early childhood education settings across Australia.”
He identified “declining numbers of new graduate teachers, increasing demand from a growing student population and an ageing teacher and leadership workforce are all contributing to teacher shortages.”
The recognition of the shortage by the federal government is welcome.
QTU members have been active in campaigning for methods to address the teacher shortage for some time. Earlier this year the teacher shortage in some schools became critical, resulting in QTU members taking action in places like Dysart, Moranbah and Sarina. This action resulted in a short-term measure to entice teachers into rural and remote Queensland, however more needs to be done.
While the changes to the Recognition of Regional and Remote Service (RoRRS) scheme and the Community Teacher classification in the EB are welcome, the challenge of attracting and retaining teachers and school leaders remains.
If governments are genuine in wanting to resolve the teacher shortage, then they need to work to raise the status of the profession and take steps to address the complexities and workload experienced by teachers and school leaders across Queensland.
This was the message that the QTU took to Canberra when members of the AEU Federal Executive met with Minister Clare. The federal government’s insistence on persevering with workload intensive programs such as NAPLAN and Australian Curriculum changes linked to the quadrennial school funding agreement only adds to the complexity of addressing the shortage and raising the status of the profession.
At a recent meeting, a school leader suggested that teachers and school leaders, and consequently schools, are facing a “complexity crisis” – as schools and the work of teachers and school leaders become more and more complex, it becomes more difficult to wind back workload creep.
Several members have suggested that we won’t address the shortage until we make teaching “attractive” again, and the way to do this is to address workload. Within the current and proposed agreements, there are mechanisms to help members address workload, however these mechanisms are only effective if they are used. Over the next few weeks, the QTU will show how schools have used these clauses to achieve workload change.
But addressing workload at a school level is not enough. Workload needs to be addressed at the system and community level as well.
The QTU has also suggested that we need to identify the barriers to teaching – either the barriers to studying teaching or the barriers to qualified teachers reentering the classroom.
This means having some open and frank conversations about how the status of the profession is inextricably linked to the time spent in studying initial teacher education or completing return to teaching programs. We also need to look at the application process for teaching. Are the prerequisites for teaching discouraging people from applying? Is LANTITE achieving what it is intended to do, or is it just another barrier? Similarly, is the culminating assessment on classroom practice another barrier?
And then, if we are genuinely going to explore internships, Permission to Teach, Turn to Teaching, and Trade to Teaching as solutions to the shortage, how do we resource these programs and resource schools to support them so that when they graduate, beginning teachers stay in our profession?
Which brings us to a fundamental barrier preventing people from joining and staying in our profession – how do we improve the status of the profession?
If the Federal Minister for Education can identify teachers as “the life-blood of the education system”, then the actions that come from the Teacher Workforce Roundtable must reflect this. After all, it will be actions, not praise, that will make our profession one that people once again want to be part of.