Teacher shortage survey confirms QTU concerns
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 No number 4, 3 June 2022, page no. 11
During April this year, 500 school leaders took the time to complete the QTU teacher shortage survey.
While the QTU and its members have long been clear that a shortage exists, the survey was organised because the data relied upon by the department has been used to camouflage the true extent and impact of the shortage.
The survey, completed by school leaders from across Queensland, clearly demonstrates that the department has been unable to fully staff a significant number of schools over the past few years, with the data showing that the understaffing of schools has been increasing by at least 5 per cent per year.
The teaching areas experiencing the most significant teacher shortages include technologies, mathematics, science, instrumental music, HPE and the arts.
Such is the extent of the teacher shortage that 476 respondents provided qualitative data to describe its impact on their and their staff's wellbeing, with 73 per cent of respondents saying that the impact on wellbeing was "high" or "significant".
It is clear that the processes used by schools to mitigate the teacher shortage are camouflaging the extent of the problem in the department’s data, with around 75 per cent of respondents indicating that non-classroom-based teaching staff are required to provide internal coverage to ensure continued operation of the school; 67 per cent of teachers are working outside their areas of specialty; 54 per cent of school leaders are taking on a teaching load and 46 per cent of teaching staff are not able to access their NCT and other working conditions each week.
Schools also accessed Permission to Teach (PTT), with 23 per cent of respondents reporting that their school has at least one PTT. One school stated that it currently has 9 PTTs on its books. While the majority of these were completing their fourth year of initial teacher education; worryingly, 24 PTTs are in their first two years of education study.
Local action results in the Rapid Response Team
While the QTU was conducting its survey, members in three schools in Central Queensland commenced dispute proceedings against the department for its failure to provide adequate staffing. Members preparedness to take action resulted in all three schools being fully staffed from Week 3 this term. This is largely because of the establishment of the Rapid Response Team, which supports teachers who are willing to relocate for a short term to access allowances, accommodation and right of return to the location from where they came. The Rapid Response Team is a strategy that can address teacher shortage issues in the short term. More, however, need to be done.
The QTU believes that the teacher shortage needs a multi-faceted approach.
Strategies such as the Rapid Response Team are the first step. Other medium-to-long term strategies include:
- support from the federal government to expedite visas for appropriately qualified teachers prepared to work in rural and remote Queensland.
- reinstating the payment of HECs debts and HELP fees of teachers working within rural, remote and regional Queensland
- access to monetary incentives and allowances that compensate for the cost of living in rural, remote or regional centres, which can include teacher accommodation, housing allowances where accommodation cannot be provided, and improvements to the locality allowance
- a right of return process to support teachers who are prepared to relocate for at least a term to rural, remote and regional Queensland
- incentives to undertake an additional period of service in difficult to staff locations (for those teachers and school leaders who have previously undertaken this type of service)
- processes to support PTT, accelerated progression in study and other modifications to initial teacher education programs to expedite graduates who commit to teach in state schools.
In May, QTU State Council resolved to continue supporting local campaigns and called for a meeting between the QTU, the Department of Education and the Queensland College of Teachers as a matter of urgency.
Our campaign to address the teacher shortage has only just begun and will be a key element of any outcome of the EB negotiations. It is important that improvements to working conditions and pay are aimed at two fundamental issues: teacher attraction and teacher retention. Given the impact of the teacher shortage on teacher and school leader wellbeing, it must be addressed if we are to ensure that everyone has access to a safe and healthy workplace.