teacher recruitment

What we must do now to rescue Australian schools

We expect education to be a catalyst for more equitable and inclusive societies yet too often governments and systems deploy one-stop solutions without detailed plans for how exactly improvements will be achieved or at what costs.

The Building Education Systems for Equity and Inclusion report comes from an Academy of Social Sciences of Australia workshop I hosted at the Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW. Working with representatives from school systems, academia, professional associations, industry, and teachers, the report offers recommendations aimed at addressing inequities in the school system.

Recommendations centre on five key issues: intergenerational policy failure; the need to look beyond the school gate; raising the voice of the profession; data, evidence and research; and ensuring a focus on teaching and learning.

Intergenerational policy failure

While the Australian Government is spending more on education than at any point in history, disparity gaps endure for various equity groups on a range of outcomes. Needs- based funding tied to the implementation of evidence-based reforms hasve been distorted courtesy of the unique policy architecture of Australian federalism. School systems have limited resources with which to pursue their objectives and the design of school funding policies plays a key role in ensuring that resources are directed to where they can make the most difference. 

Australian federalism means there is neither a national system nor a state/territory system of school-based education. Common critiques focus on overlap in responsibilities and duplication. Achieving uniformity is difficult, time consuming, and frequently limited to the lowest common denominator. However, education is a complex policy domain whose actions impact well beyond state or territory borders. Currently, no jurisdiction wants to be the first to admit there are problems meaning systems can deteriorate substantially before action is taken. Asserting jurisdiction independence and sovereignty surrenders some of the strengths of federalism and removes important failsafe mechanisms targeting overall health of the system.

A significant policy problem for education is the current teacher shortage. Substantial attention has been directed at Initial Teacher Education programs, and the attraction and retention of educators. Less focus has been granted to affordability of housing for teachers. With housing (ownership and rental) costs rising, servicing commitments on a teachers’ salary can be difficult – particularly in major cities. The ability to live near the place where one works, or the drivability or commuting infrastructure means that workforce planning needs to take a multi-dimensional approach built on more than just raising the public profile of the profession.

Beyond the school gate

Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) data indicates that 22 per cent of children in the first year of formal schooling are vulnerable in at least one domain (e.g., physical, social, emotional, language, and communication), and 11 per cent in two. Early data indicates that the AEDC is a predictor of NAPLAN performance nine years later and with 8.1 per cent of early childhood providers operating with a staffing waiver due to a lack of qualified staff, early intervention is a difficult task.

School-based education exhibits many layers of segregation and stratification. The distribution of students from socio-educational disadvantage or requiring adjustment due to disability are not evenly distributed between sectors (government, catholic, and independent). Peer effects can influence outcomes as much as individual socio-economic status. Cultural context has a large effect (between 33 and 50 per cent) on student performance, and the further a school is located from major cities the lower level of student outcomes. Failure to control for segregation and stratification makes it impossible to identify the drivers of school improvement in different locations and better design interventions aimed at equity and inclusion.

Voice of the profession

Education is seen as ‘a’ if not ‘the’ solution to most social issues and the result is that schools are constantly being asked to do more without having anything removed. Many of the decisions to add things to schooling take place without any engagement or consultation with educators – not education bureaucracies but the educators who work in schools. The result is frequent changes in curriculum documents, additional mandatory training programs, shifting accreditation requirements, updated and expansive administrative requirements, all with negligible impact on student outcomes. This not just intensified teachers’ work but de-democratising the profession. TALIS data indicates that only 28.7 per cent of Australian teachers feel that their views are valued by policy makers. With declining educator well-being and in the context of a teacher shortage, it is timely to establish a forum for representatives from the profession to have a voice in decisions regarding the form, objectives, targets, and outcomes of schooling as articulated in the national agenda.

Data, evidence, research

Improving the equity of education is not possible without data and evidence. You cannot improve that which you do not measure and monitor. An effective school education system needs sufficient data points and appropriate data linkage to understand how well it is performing and robust evidence to identify priority areas for planning, intervention, and policy. While the Measurement Framework for Schooling in Australia details nationally agreed performance indicators, inconsistencies across states and territories datasets means that crucial insights for informing policy at a national level are being lost. Data linkage is an urgent task for understanding the relationships between multiple factors and their impact on education and social outcomes to inform effective policy making, program design and research at a national scale.

Systems and schools that embed data-driven evaluation as a core professional responsibility have a greater impact on student outcomes. This has led to schools increasingly being asked to provide evidence of their impact. At the same time, despite an impressive track record, education research is under-funded. Despite the establishment of the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) seeking to position Australian educators at the forefront of education research, without increases in total funding available, it is unlikely that research of the scale and scope necessary to effectively inform policy can be conducted. A promising avenue for increasing the quality of evidence and data use in schools and systems is co-design. However, it requires strategic leadership and matching incentives (including funding mechanisms) to better enable a systemic approach to research use, knowledge translation and breaking down boundaries between stakeholders.

Focus on teaching and learning

Pedagogical reform is a low-cost high-return approach to addressing distortions in a school system. Australian research (for example, Quality Teaching Rounds) has demonstrated that targeted and tailored interventions can positively impact student outcomes and teacher well-being. Yet, 76 per cent of teachers describe their workload as unmanageable. Australian schools have more instructional hours (828) than the OECD average (713), with teachers engaged in far more administration and school management than higher performing systems (e.g., Finland, Estonia). Attempts to recognise quality teaching through accreditation have received little uptake with only 0.33 per cent of the workforce certified at Highly Accomplished or Lead. Addressing equity and inclusion requires attention to how systems are designed to focus on the instructional core of schooling and making sure that resources (human, physical, and financial) are targeted towards achieving the highest quality of teaching in every classroom.

Summary

As the world re-sets to life under pandemic, the internal tensions for differentiation and external pressures for standardisation on education policy have never been greater. With increasing costs for public services at the same time as government revenue and household incomes falling, issues of educational equity, inclusion and excellence are amplified. The pressure to consolidate resources and pursue cost efficiencies will be felt most significantly by the poorest and most marginalised children and communities throughout the country. The stakes are high. Education is critical to human welfare, especially in times of rapid economic and social change.

Ensuring that resourcing and oversight focuses on the health of the system, with wraparound services supporting the workforce to have a voice and what they need for high quality instruction give Australian school systems the best chance of delivering equitable outcomes for all. 

Participants in the workshop

Professor Scott Eacott, Gonski Institute for Education, UNSW Sydney

Professor Eileen Baldry, UNSW Sydney 

Laureate Professor Jenny Gore, Teachers and Teaching Research Centre, University of Newcastle 

Professor Chris Pettit, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney

Professor Suzanne Carrington, Centre for Inclusive Education, QUT 

Dr Goran Lazendic, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

Dr Virginia Moller, Steiner Education Australia 

Dr Rachel Perry, NSW AIS Evidence Institute

Dr Bala Soundararaj, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney 

Rebecca Birch, Teacher, Independent School 

Cecilia Bradley, Australasian Democratic Education Community 

Zeina Chalich, Principal, Catholic Education

Mark Breckenridge, Australian Secondary School Principals’ Association 

Elizabeth Goor, Montessori Australia 

Alice Leung, Head Teacher, Concord High School

Alex Ioannou, Montessori Australia 

Matthew Johnson, Australian Special Education Leaders and Principals’ Association  

Maura Manning, Catholic Education Parramatta 

Andrew Pierpoint, Australian Secondary School Principals’ Association 

Daniel Pinchas, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL)  

Diane Robertson, Principal, NSW Department of Education 

Michael Sciffer, PhD Candidate, Murdoch University

Scott Eacott PhD, is deputy director of the Gonski Institute for Education, and professor of education in the School of Education at UNSW Sydney and adjunct professor in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Saskatchewan.

Just like us: why Australian students need teachers from everywhere

Our dwindling teacher workforce makes headlines every week and new Education Minister Jason Clare calls it “a massive challenge”. A wide range of strategies have been proposed: increasing the respect and reputation of teaching as a job, raising completion rates in university teaching programs, attracting more mid-career professionals into the teaching, offering bursaries, paid internships and reducing university fees for students studying teaching. There are also conversations about keeping teachers in the classroom by making the pay more competitive. 

Another option on the table is to fast-track visas for teachers from overseas. But can recruiting teachers internationally work?

Australia hasn’t previously welcomed teachers with overseas qualifications, especially those from language backgrounds other than English. The English Language proficiency scores required by AITSL are higher than is required for migrant doctors (and any other profession we could find). Likewise, the English proficiency scores to enter an Initial Teacher Education program are higher than for any other degree, including HDR programs. This creates expensive additional barriers for non-native English speakers, and could be considered discriminatory, given that native English speakers aren’t required to demonstrate the same level of proficiency.

These barriers are impacting the level of diversity of the teaching profession.  Less than one-fifth of of teachers (17 per cent) identify as being born overseas, compared with 33.6% of the wider working-aged Australian population. Further, it reinforces  a deficit view of teachers from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, overlooking the contribution that such teachers might make to school communities. 

Teachers in countries such as China are highly respected. In Japan and South Korea teachers are well paid and valued as highly educated professionals. Australian ITE programs go through rigorous accreditation to ensure that new teachers have the knowledge and skills they need to be effective teachers, as do other countries. Some countries require all teachers to hold Masters degrees, some require teachers to be bilingual or multilingual. Overseas teachers may actually be more qualified, not less.

A diverse teaching workforce allows culturally and linguistically diverse students and their families to see themselves reflected in their education system. Students will find role models that reflect their life experience, allowing them to feel more comfortable and more able to flourish in learning environments where their home culture is valued. Teachers from racial minorities can understand the experience of racism, and help prevent it from happening, as well as offer empathy to students experiencing prejudice. Studies from the USA have found that teachers of colour are more likely to have higher expectations of students of colour. Studies also found less absences and less disciplinary issues when students of colour were taught by teachers of colour. Most importantly, racially diverse teachers can play a key role in challenging stereotypes about racial minorities among the wider community. In short, everybody benefits from a diversified teacher workforce. 

However, our current highly homogenised workforce doesn’t allow for these benefits to be realised. While the few teachers that we have from minoritised and racialised backgrounds bring much needed diversity to the workforce, they can become victims of racism themselves. They regularly fend off criticism about everything from their accents to their dress, skin colour, religion or beliefs. Their pedagogies and knowledge of curriculum are often subject of criticism, whereas for their white anglo colleagues, nuances in teaching practices are accepted as part of individual difference in the profession. 

There’s sadly a lack of information about cultural diversity among teachers. Country of birth is a crude measure of diversity, and AITSL admits that it currently doesn’t have more detailed information.

Examining the experiences of teachers from different cultural groups, especially with regards to their intentions to remain or leave the profession, will become available in the ATWD in future, and will provide insight into our understanding of cultural safety in schools for students and teachers of different cultural groups. (ATWD report, 2021, p. 18)

However, we also need a far greater understanding of the contributions CALD teachers can make to school communities, and the circumstances that contribute to schools being the kinds of places where diverse teachers – and diverse students – can thrive.

Welcoming teachers from overseas can do much more than address our teacher shortage. While there does need to be some briefing and orientation into Australian teachers’ legal responsibilities, our curriculum and expectations of teachers, we can find ourselves enriched by a workforce that is more representative of our multicultural, multilingual population and our globally-oriented curriculum. More than just a solution to the teacher shortage: A diverse teaching workforce would add value to Australian schools.

Dr Rachael Jacobs is a lecturer in Creative Arts Education at Western Sydney University and a former secondary teacher (Dance, Drama and Music) and primary Arts specialist. Her research interests include assessment in the arts, language acquisition through the arts and decolonised approaches to embodied learning. 

Dr Rachael Dwyer is a lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy in the School of Education and Tertiary Access, University of the Sunshine Coast. She is also the president of the Australian Society for Music Education (ASME), Queensland Chapter.

Why is there so much talk about teachers right now? Because we are afraid of them

The federal minister for education Jason Clare convened a roundtable to solve the teacher shortage on the eve of the new government’s Job Summit. Items on the agenda? It wasn’t hard to go past working conditions, status, and a growing, chronic teacher shortage as the impetus for history-making industrial action and considerable media coverage.

Concerns about teachers’ working conditions have themselves arisen out of a context in which teacher quality, figures of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teacher, the fear of indoctrinating teachers, have been increasingly constructed as ‘policy problems’ to be addressed. ‘The teacher’, it seems, is becoming one of the most contested figures in contemporary education policy debates.

We have recently edited a Special Issue of the journal Education Policy Analysis Archives in which the collected papers reflect on the current positioning of teachers across a range of international policy contexts. This journal, unlike the majority of academic journals, is run by a university and is entirely open access, which means you can read the full issue. You can also watch a video introduction to the issue. 

Look at Australia, for example

In our introduction to the issue, we use Australia as an example of a country in which responsibility has been placed on teachers to ‘fix’ perceived educational crises, often through policy reform that requires teachers to be ‘better’ trained, more professional, more accountable and more standardised. Here, the past fifteen years of education policy has featured: the introduction of standardised census testing of students via the National Assessment Programme, the results of which are made public via the My School website; the introduction of national teaching standards and accreditation requirements; and repeated inquiries into initial teacher education, with the introduction of program standards and, more recently, mandated teacher performance assessments.

Why are teachers so central to education policy?

Given all this policy change, we think it’s reasonable to claim that teachers are the targets of much political and popular consternation. But what is it about teachers that makes them such a matter of attention and concern, and how does the current political climate contribute to these (often unrealistic) expectations?

According to Wodak, populism has an “appeal to the ‘common man/woman’ as opposed to the elites”. She has argued that in populist regimes, ‘difference’ is denied and the ‘common’ is valorised, creating “a demos which exists above and beyond the divides and diversities of social class and religion, gender and generation”.

We argue that it is possible to view schooling (and teaching) as a logical site of public commentary because of the common experience amongst most populations. Indeed, it is often suggested that everyone knows what it is like to be a teacher because everyone has gone to school. As Lortie put it, there is an ‘apprenticeship of observation’ in school education that means everyone, regardless of whether they become a teacher or not, forms ideas about the work of teaching simply because of their ongoing interactions with teachers throughout a significant portion of their lives. In terms of populist tendencies, this widespread experience and presumed knowledge about how schools should operate, positions teachers as a common ground upon which critique can be aimed.

At the same time, teachers increasingly bear the burden for the economic, social and political wellbeing of the countries within which they teach. As the global economy becomes understood as essentially knowledge-based, the need to track and compare student achievement within and across nation-states has taken on a broad prominence typified by, for instance, the regular Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests run by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Indeed, teachers are an increasing point of focus for the OECD, which now also runs the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) examining teachers’ work and working conditions. This, we argue, reflects a revived and rearticulated emphasis on the teacher.

The teacher as an object of fear

Yet despite this apparent importance, teaching does not often become an object of respect, but rather of fear, emblematic of growing national and international anxieties around knowledge, success and the moral character of the next generation. This puts the figure of the teacher in an uncomfortable position. Paradoxically, teaching is known to all (“anyone could do it!”), yet also unknowable (as a university-based, complex and contested form of expertise). Teachers’ success is supposedly important for global competition, but teaching is not necessarily viewed as worthy of professional status and fair working conditions. Within this context, ongoing attempts to control, standardise and responsibilise teaching and teachers becomes a rational, even urgent pursuit. So much so that the resulting hyper-focus on teachers-as-solution has created what Wodak calls a “fear ‘market’”, where teachers become the target of an expanding “cottage industry” of commercial products (e.g., professional development materials, data-tracking platforms, etc.).

It’s time to destabilise global narratives of teachers

The papers in our Special Issue explore teachers’ work across contexts including the United States, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific. The journal in which the issue has been published is based at Arizona State University, meaning that the inclusion of studies from places like Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands may make somewhat unfamiliar reading for many subscribers. This was intentional.

In Australia, education policy is often developed and analysed in reference to what Lingard has termed our common ‘reference societies’ of the US and UK. As researchers and authors, we are routinely asked to make our work ‘relevant’ by situating it in relation to such dominant international reform contexts. But what would happen if this demand was reversed? Should research emanating from dominant contexts instead be required to make itself relevant to more diverse, local spaces, and what analytical possibilities might this open up? Possibly, what is needed is to reimagine teachers and schooling in ways that are less limited by the systems and structures that have led us to this point. Perhaps it is time for teachers and those who research them to truly warrant their positioning as an object of fear, by destabilising the taken-for-granted terms under which they work.


From left: Meghan Stacey is senior lecturer in the UNSW School of Education, researching in the fields of the sociology of education and education policy. Taking a particular interest in teachers, her research considers how teachers’ work is framed by policy, as well as the effects of such policy for those who work with, within and against it. Mihajla Gavin is a senior lecturer at UTS Business School. Her PhD, completed in 2019, examined how teacher trade unions have responded to neoliberal education reform. Her current research focuses on the restructuring of teachers’ work and conditions of work, worker voice, and women and employment relations. Jessica Gerrard is an associate professor at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Jessica researches the changing formations, and lived experiences, of social inequalities in relation to education, activism, work and unemployment. She works across the disciplines of sociology, history and policy studies with an interest in critical methodologies and theories. Anna Hogan is senior research fellow in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership at the Queensland University of Technology. Her research focuses on education privatisation and commercialisation. She currently works on a number of research projects, including investigating philanthropy in Australian public schooling, the privatisation of global school provision, and the intensification of teachers’ work. Jessica Holloway is senior research and ARC DECRA Fellow at the Australian Catholic University. Her research draws on political theory and policy sociology to investigate: (1) how metrics, data and digital tools produce new conditions, practices and subjectivities, especially as this relates to teachers and schools, and (2) how teachers and schools are positioned to respond to the evolving and emerging needs of their communities.

Why that one tweet went viral (and what we must do now to fix “teacher shortages”)

I almost never post on Twitter. Sometimes I like other people’s posts, but I’ve been a reluctant Twitter user. However, last week I posted this statement: There is no ‘teacher shortage’. There are thousands of qualified experienced teachers who are no longer teaching. There’s a shortage of respect and proper compensation for teachers allowing them to actually teach. In fact, as full disclosure, I paraphrased this from something posted by Professor Kara Mitchell Viesca | College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with whom I’ve worked. By the time I woke up in the morning, the tweet had gone viral. It’s been liked more 229.5K times, shared 44.2K times and commented on 1,937 times.

Nearly all these comments were posted by teachers or ex-teachers who emphatically agree that a change is needed in how we frame “teacher shortages”. These comments were from all around the world, mainly from the US but also from Australia, Canada, the UK and elsewhere. I haven’t yet sifted through all the comments, which keep on coming.

Overwhelmingly, these teachers (or ex-teachers) perceive the discourse of “teacher shortages” as misguided and even hurtful. As they point out, there are thousands and thousands of well-prepared, passionate, skilled, knowledgeable teachers. Comments on the original post recount how much they put into their teaching,  how well qualified they are yet how little they felt valued. The constant criticism of teachers is something Nicole Mockler has written about recently, in her review of media representations of teachers.

Those who posted explained how much they loved the kids in their classrooms, created and taught creative, content-rich lessons. Many said they had been fully planning to teach for the rest of their lives. In other words, there was never a ‘shortage’ of good teachers who might have stayed had it not been so hard. They grieve their loss of career. Many say they didn’t really want to leave teaching, but as widely reported, they could just no longer teach how they wanted to – nor in some cases could they maintain their mental and physical health under current conditions. Teachers talked about the pressures of only ever receiving impermanent contracts, of endless reporting, of unreasonable workloads dominated by non-teaching tasks, of being on the receiving end of constant teacher-blaming. They also wrote about the de-professionalisation of teaching and their loss of autonomy.

Some mentioned other reasons for leaving, such as poor student behaviour but by far the majority of comments simply responded ‘truth’ or ‘yessss’ or ‘agree’. The sadness on the part of teachers who no longer feel they can remain teaching is palpable from these responses.

Some teachers who have left the profession have found a way around those pressures by taking advantage of government schemes, both in Australia and elsewhere that are designed to address teacher shortages but may have created a different set of problems. For instance, in Victoria significant funding has been allocated through the Tutor Learning Initiative https://www.vic.gov.au/tutor-learning-initiative-2022-information-for-prospective-tutors which employs part-time tutors in schools to ‘catch up’ students who are academically behind since the pandemic. One unintended consequence was that exhausted and often very experienced teachers took the opportunity to take well-paid tutoring jobs that relieved them of the parts of teaching they liked least, such as duties that could be carried out by administrative staff. Again, the ‘resignation’ from teaching cannot be perceived as a ‘teacher shortage’ but as a kind of redistribution of talent. Good or ‘quality’ teachers have chosen to move sideways (in fact downwards, taking less pay and security but with less stress) to stay in schools.

In fact, there is no lack of research on why teachers leave. There have been numerous teacher attrition and retention studies over a great many years. Except for pandemic related workforce issues (sickness and lockdowns) we’ve been warned for a long time that we needed a teacher workforce renewal strategy, not just because of an ageing workforce but because of the increasing accountabilities and pressures on teachers. These issues are widely reported, not just by other researchers, but in recent reports such as the  Grattan Institute report Making Time for Great Teaching.

Along with Amy McPherson, Bruce Burnett and Danielle Armour, our recent review of twenty years of government, ITE and private initiatives to attract and retain a teaching workforce conservatively found 147 government, ITE or partnered initiatives that have been trialled over the past twenty years. One recommendation is that understanding the retention of teachers at key ‘walking point’ moments would assist policymakers in designing longer-term, more impactful interventions to attract teachers towards hard-to-staff schools (especially when they are considering leaving the profession).

This review of the many initiatives that have already been funded and implemented is just one research project repeating what seems to be clear. Incentives may attract people including career-changers, to teaching, but it’s a whole of system issue. The problem isn’t Initial Teacher Education on its own, which has been graduating very good (sometimes great) teachers for many, many years. The problem isn’t a lack of smart, passionate, and committed people who want to be teachers. But the well may go dry – we can’t keep looking elsewhere for teachers if we aren’t able to keep them in the profession. There’s little question that this is a crisis. We do need teachers in front of students; and there is no doubt teaching workforce issues are urgent. But sending teachers our there more quickly or prescribing curriculum to ‘help them manage their time’ is a misunderstanding of what’s going on.  And by the way, school leaders agree. There were many comments from Principals as well.

I want to make it clear that I had not expected this post to go viral. I have been coordinating social justice teacher education programs such as the Nexus alternative pathway into teaching for a very long time . I see amazing schools and dedicated teachers ever day who are doing remarkable things under difficult circumstances. I am ‘for’ teachers and schools.

If 229.5K isn’t evidence enough of how teachers are feeling I’m not sure what is. I’m also very reluctant to focus only on “teacher grief”. Let’s also tap into the stories of teachers who remain in schools, especially now. Let’s find out what their working lives are like. Their lived experience will tell us how close they are to walking, why they stay, what keeps them going. Nobody knows how to find solutions better than those most affected.

On August 8, the Minister for Education Jason Clare published the Teacher Workforce Shortages Paper in advance of the Teacher Workforce Roundtable to tackle the national teacher workforce shortage

Maybe we should stop using the term teacher shortages.

We have a teacher workforce issue without a doubt. We need more teachers urgently. But some of us are nervous about recruiting new teachers at the same time as we are sorting out their workplace conditions.

Jo Lampert is Professor of Social Inclusion and Teacher Education at La Trobe University. She has led alternative pathways into teaching in hard-to-staff schools for over 15 years, most recently as Director of the Commonwealth and State supported Nexus M. Teach in Victoria, a social justice, employment-based pathway whereby preservice teachers work as Education Support Staff prior to gaining employment as paraprofessionals (Nexus). She tweets at @jolampert.

Desperate and despondent: the truth about the way we treat immigrant teachers

In the battle to fix teacher shortages, much is made of recruiting teachers internationally. Three researchers reveal what happens when non-native English speaking immigrant teachers try to join the local workforce.

As Australia faces a serious shortage of teachers, how do we treat teachers who come to Australia as non-native speakers?

Non-native English speaking immigrant teachers (NNESITs) comprise around 10 % of teaching workforce in Australia today but we know little about their professional experiences impacting their professional selves. 

Early results of a large-scale study of 16 such teachers, analysing the narratives of their professional experiences across sectors, reveal this: they are treated unequally and inequitably from pre-migration up until they access their profession in Australia. 

Some take years to secure jobs.

Their experiences of marginalisation and differentiation repeatedly challenged them to claim their professional identity before and after migration to Australia. This continued in varied forms within their professional contexts and beyond. 

The key unique challenges involved are meeting requirements of the English language multiple times, getting their experiences and teaching qualifications fully recognised, and in some cases accepted even after their qualifications were recognised and upgraded to those of local equivalents.Then, despite meeting all eligibility criteria, these teachers still don’t get work. 

These challenges impacted them differently at material, social, cultural, emotional, and psychological levels. Even after accessing the profession, they were constantly judged by their non-native status, non-native English language uses, and their ethnicities.This leads them to feel like an imposter

Some did experience assistance in developing their professional identity but in our research we are focusing on the data of how the constitution of the professional identity of these teachers in Australia was challenged throughout the stages of migration and settlement, and how that impacted their professional identity. 

Before and after migration, these immigrant teachers (NNESITs) faced many professional challenges because of their cultural differences. Their professional status drastically dropped from a very high professional and social status to the one of the lowest. For instance, they had to meet English language requirements multiple times, such as for the purposes of immigration and for teacher registration. This also involves the change of requirements while applying for or renewing visas and applying for migration and  teacher registration.

For example, a high school teacher, Laura said, for migration, she “took the IELTS test (one of the many requirements for a Secondary Teacher) four times. … applied for reassessment of the result of the fourth take”. She had to spend around three months of her salary to pay for the fees for IELTS tests and review. 

The English language requirements stipulated by for NNESITs by VIT (Victorian Institute of Teacher) and AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) are both linguistically and racially discriminatory because the requirements do not apply for native English-speaking teachers (NESTs) from BANA (Britain and the Australasian and North American nations). 

Despite meeting all criteria, including gaining Australian qualification/s, getting an English language teaching teaching job was a monumental hurdle for them. Despite the English language and English language teaching being similar around the globe, it took months to years to access the profession before and/or after meeting the country-specific criteria. Most of them had no choice but to work in discriminatory cash-in hand, and/or low paid unskilled sectors: hospitality, cleaning services, children’s and aged care services, call centres, taxi industry and community services.

Raphael reminisced,

“I wanted a job. It didn’t matter what job I did. So I went and applied for a job as a train conductor … my first job in Melbourne. I’ve never found it hard to get a job, but I was willing to do some very, very low paid work. … I was a taxi driver for 10 years.”

A highly revered teacher from India, Mahati, landed a job in a Sri Lankan grocery that still haunts her like a nightmare, “cooking, cleaning, packing, selling, etc – the worst time of my life!”

Frida felt utterly despondent and “discouraged” finding herself unemployed after having been employed full time in the Philippines and internationally “since graduating from university”.

Failure to show Australian job experiences led Mandy to determine “I would apply for any kind of job [to] create income …”.

Jasha almost gave up and thought “I would never find a stable and interesting job”.

The impact of working in professionally unrelated and exploitative industries, the teachers’ professional identity was negatively impacted, their self-esteem and professional spirit were greatly diminished. 

Some were not called for job interviews until they had Australian qualifications and volunteer teaching experience, and some were repeatedly rejected after they were interviewed. Even after upgrading her teaching qualification at a renowned university in Melbourne, another high school teacher, Jigna, could not set her foot in a high school. 

“I started shortly as a casual relief teacher. … I got an interview for a teaching position at a public school in Cranbourne. I was unsuccessful on the grounds of lack of experience. Then again, I was interviewed telephonically by SERCO, but could not be successful on the grounds of lack of Australian experience. I took up employment as a Coordinator for an after-school Program (OSHC) with Camp Australia. It utilised my VIT licence and got me into a school. However, it was far from a teaching career.”

Now a TAFE teacher, Jasha believes “some schools even today are looking for ‘native speakers’ only”. She had a job interview for “TESOL training to international students” but shortly after the interview finished she received an email: “Unfortunately, the position has been filled.”

Some of our participants, despite being qualified and/or experienced high school and primary school teachers, chose to be employed in TAFE, community and ELICOS (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students) sectors because they did not wish to be unemployed.

Immigrant teachers face many challenges to reconstitute their professional identity in Australia. If Australia wants to utilise immigrant teachers to address the current teacher shortage, then it must address institutional and micro socio-cultural and professional barriers to entry. To accept NNESITs’ cultural professional repertoire as assets rather than deficit is the first step. Customised transition programs such as mentorship  and ongoing support within and beyond professional contexts are also essential to transition and develop them further in new interculturally enriched processional context. It is both ethical and ecological to recognise and fully include NNESITs as legitimate teachers within Australian teaching sectors. It is suggested to engage in intercultural dialogue productively and to listen and be open to those who appear to be culturally and professionally different and be responsible to them. 

When immigrant teachers no longer suffer the discrimination and marginalisation due to their cultural, linguistic and racial difference, they are then assured of equal rights and empowered to freely negotiate their professional identity. 

Nashid Nigar teaches Master of TESOL and Master of Education programs at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. She is a PhD candidate at Monash University, investigating immigrant teachers’ professional identity in Australia. Amongst her study interests are teacher professional identity and theories, career development, academic literacy, curriculum development, and English language teaching and learning in intercultural contexts. 

Alex Kostogriz is a Professor in Languages and TESOL Education at the Faculty of Education, Monash University. Alex’s current research projects focus on the professional practice and ethics of language teachers, teacher education and experiences of beginning teachers.

Mahtab Janfada is a Lecturer in Language and Literacy department at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, She coordinates subjects in the Master of TESOL/Additional Languages and Master of Education programs. Mahtab’s research captures Critical and Dialogic philosophy and pedagogy, and Academic Literacy in the plurilingual context of education.

Here’s what a brave new minister for education could do right away to fix the horrific teacher shortage

The new Federal Minister for Education Jason Clare announced last Friday he would convene a Teacher Workforce Roundtable focussed on tackling the nationwide teacher shortage, to be held on August 12. The roundtable will include principals, teachers and education experts.

The critical shortage of teachers is a crisis of our own making. 

We knew the teaching workforce was ageing a long time ago and we knew we would reach a point where we would have so many teachers retiring that we would need to increase the number entering to make up the gap. 

Too many pundits are blaming the stress of the pandemic – but this is not the consequence of COVID. It is a failure of workforce planning by successive governments and now we all have to take some responsibility for – and find new ways – of working together to address the problem.

First, let me say that the ministers, both Federal and State, must urgently address the disparity between state schools and private schools in the recruitment process.

As head of the University of Sydney School of Education and Social Work, I observe closely what happens to students in their final year who are able to apply for Conditional accreditation, and to teach up to a recommended 0.6 of a full time teacher’s load. Some of my colleagues have wisely pointed out the risks of mixing work and study, and the potential to hasten burnout.  

The final year, with its long placement (internship), and opportunities for well-managed Conditional accreditation, is also a great opportunity for schools to assess a student teacher’s capacity and whether they are likely to fit within the school culture. 

Independent schools use this as a kind of probation period, and some provide scholarships to students in the final year of their teaching degrees AND, if they work out well,  guarantee them permanent, secure jobs. That’s not something public school principals are able to do. I hear from so many public school principals who say they would love to be able to offer similar incentives.

Instead, the majority of young students eager to stay in the public system have to work years as casuals before they can get a permanent secure job. We have outstanding student teachers who are committed to the public system but the public system is not committed to them.

Why is the public system so hamstrung? Our students, not just at Sydney University but across the nation, should be snapped up and looked after, instead of being abandoned to such a casual approach.

We need to value the contributions of those who have committed to a career in education. Instead, there is a chorus of critics. The immediate previous federal minister for education Stuart Robert attacked public school teachers as duds without a shred of evidence. While it is pleasing to note that the new minister has a vastly different approach, the general attitude of politicans and pundits is poor. As my colleague Nicole Mockler has written elsewhere, there is a lot of focus on “teacher quality” but none on system quality. Poor performance is blamed on “teachers themselves, rather than to the system in which they practise”.

As Mockler says: “It has been used to justify tighter controls on who enters teaching, denigrate teachers and evade difficult questions of equity and funding.”

For a moment, at the height of lockdown, I thought that changed. The work of teachers was valued, particularly by parents trying to teach their children at home. Suddenly everyone understood how hard it was to teach just one or two children. Imagine 30 in a classroom at once.

But that momentary shift in attitude appears to have disappeared and there has been a return to denigrating the profession, those who enter teaching, and those who teach teachers. This has an influence on recruitment and an impact on young people’s choices. Why would you join a profession that is so lacking in value and respect. 

We also need to do a much better job looking after and retaining the teachers we have. Almost two-thirds (59%) of teachers surveyed from New South Wales, the Northern Territory and South Australia indicated that they either intended to leave the profession before they retire, or were unsure if they would stay until retirement. If we think the problem is bad now, imagine what it will be like if those teachers do leave.

Public education must be made more attractive to our graduates but also to the teachers who are already in our public schools. It is difficult to maintain a steady flow into the public school system for the reasons I’ve outlined above – but even teachers early in their careers are deterred by the lack of security and flexibility. The incentives to work in regional, rural or remote areas are not enough to attract and keep teachers. Many of our graduates want to make a difference but they also need to be able to look after themselves and their families. Without any prospect of a permanent position, other systems and occupations become too attractive, especially when they offer higher starting and award rates, and more opportunities for earlier progression to higher rates of pay. This is especially so in the current tight labour market.

This is what poor workforce planning looks like.

It is not the time to shake up initial teacher education because it is not the problem causing a shortage in teachers, and we must not risk undermining the quality of these programs or of the graduates they produce.

We can have confidence in initial teacher education in this country. It is in very good shape. There is too much focus on the intake into teacher education. The fact is that, in NSW for example, school leavers wanting to enter an education degree must have three band fives in their HSC (including English) or equivalent – and those who don’t must do well in the first year of university studies before they are admitted. 

We can also have confidence in the quality of our graduates because of the standards they have to meet to become accredited. But what we must do is mentor our new graduates. Give them additional time for preparation, to continue to learn the craft of teaching. Don’t just throw them into the deep end and expect them to swim, because the job of teaching is complex and difficult and without proper support they are likely to not thrive, and may not survive.

It is great that new federal education minister, Jason Clare, has called a meeting of his state counterparts and other key stakeholders because to solve the teacher shortage, we must all  work together and be solution-focussed. The Labor Party has committed to new ‘universities accord’. What better challenge to meet first through this collaborative approach than bringing all stakeholders together to fix the teaching workforce crisis?  

This can’t just be another opportunity to continue unhelpful criticism of teachers or of young people who choose to be teachers or of initial teacher education. We must stop criticising people who are committed to teaching.

But there is something which can be done immediately in schools to help address the crisis. We can employ many more paraprofessionals, who can undertake the tasks that teachers currently do that don’t require a teaching qualification. Relieving teachers of these time-consuming administrative tasks is likely to assist in retaining our existing teachers.

There is also something that can be done in funding arrangements. State health systems receive large amounts of Commonwealth funding for teaching, training and research activities which occur in public hospital services. NSW alone gets $750m this year and the Commonwealth hands over $2billion nationally for it. This funding is provided to state health systems in recognition of the critical importance of education, training and research to the ongoing quality and sustainability of our health system nationally. This kind of funding is not available to school systems. 

Pay our teachers better. Improve their conditions. Invest in training and research in our public, catholic and independent school systems to improve quality and a pipeline of skilled graduates to renew our ageing teaching workforce. Teachers are striking because their pay and conditions are not adequate for the work they do. Entice back the teachers who have left by easing the burden of accreditation. Drop so many of the barriers we have.

The deans of education across Australian universities are wanting to work in cooperation with systems and with ministers. We are keen to do our bit by continuing to produce high quality graduates who will help to fill the teaching shortage.

The views expressed here in this blog are those of the author alone and are not made on behalf of or are intended to represent the views of the University of Sydney.

Debra Hayes is professor of education and equity, and head of the University of Sydney School of Education and Social Work.  Her most recent book (with Ruth Lupton) is Great Mistakes in Education Policy: How to avoid them in the Future (Policy Press, 2021). She tweets at @DrDebHayes.

It’s one thing to extend preschool. But where is the supply of the remarkable teachers we need?

Rachael Hedger on early childhood reform: implications for our children, the sector, and the economy.

This week, Victoria and New South Wales jointly announced a universal preschool year for all 4-year-old children, offering 30-hours of fully subsided ‘pre-prep’ or ‘pre-kindergarten’. Victoria plans to implement this change from 2025 whilst NSW will begin from 2030.

This announcement demonstrates a significant investment in families and young children, improving workforce participation for mothers, and therefore providing a substantial boost to the economy.

The news is music to the ears of the Early Childhood sector who have advocated for the importance of early learning for decades. The Thrive by Five Campaign, part of the Minderoo Foundation, have advocated for equal and early access to early learning to politicians and the government for some time now. Whilst parents may have concerns about putting their child into an Early Years setting for 5-days per week, at this stage, the opportunity is optional. As the people who know their child best, parents have agency here as to whether they take up the offer, considering what will work best for them within their own family dynamic.

Whilst it’s great to have Commonwealth and State level government support, this initiative is not without its complexities.

A key consideration in these early stages is whether these States have the infrastructure needed to uphold this promise. As it stands, there will be considerable issues in rural and remote areas, with 44% of regional families and 85% of remote families living in a ‘childcare desert’.

Australia’s disadvantaged children have a lot to gain from regular preschool attendance. AEDC data reveals that children in the poorest areas of Australia are three times more likely to demonstrate developmental vulnerability than children in wealthier areas. Universal access could help reduce this statistic. However, attendance alone is not enough to close the equity gap. These children need high-quality, accessible, play-based opportunities provided by knowledgeable and experienced educators.

Crucial to effective Early Childhood education is a rich, play-based program of teaching and learning. The first five years is when a child’s brain develops the most. These years are vital for setting the foundation for life-long learning and children’s ability to form meaningful relationships. It is through play that children engage and interact with the world around them developing creativity, imagination, problem solving, and social and emotional skills. To facilitate valuable play opportunities for children, they need educators who understand the theories that underpin effective play pedagogies. We need educators who are specially trained to support, guide and care for children successfully.

The most significant matter in implementing this reform will be the distinct lack of Early Childhood educators across the sector. Before the announcement on Wednesday, there were an estimated 6000 vacancies for educators in birth-5 settings, with a predicted 39,000 educators needed by 2023. The reform will be directly dependent on a strong Education and Care Workforce Strategy that recruits and retains Early Childhood educators. At present, the lower-than-average pay and conditions results in huge staff turnover as they leave the sector to look for more prosperous opportunities. This greatly impacts children’s learning as they cannot establish and build meaningful, positive relationships with a consistent caregiver.

Working with young children is a rewarding profession. To see children flourish and grow on a daily basis is a beautiful experience. Simultaneously, it is hard work. To care for young children’s needs involves feeding, cleaning and toileting, keeping them safe at all times. To educate young children involves observing, assessing and documenting their learning, preparing resources and the learning environment, and maintaining relationships with families. It involves engaging in play opportunities, extending children’s thinking through questioning and conversation, encouraging new language, and supporting children’s physical, social and emotional development. Few people understand the complexities of balancing the differing demands of this role. Childcare is often seen as only child-care, and this is perhaps why it is underrated and undervalued. An Education and Care Workforce Strategy would need to attract, retain, value and appropriately pay educators for the vital work that they do with young children.

Accompanying the announcement this week, there was mention of incentives to encourage the uptake of Early Childhood Education degrees. Some Eastern universities are looking to offer fast-tracked degrees ranging from 3-years to as little as 18-months. Many will provide up to a year of credit for Certificate III and Diploma qualified applicants, shortening their study time considerably. This approach questions the quality of the Early Childhood educators that we look to produce. If governments invest billions of dollars into the sector only to staff it with employees that have not been adequately educated, we defeat the purpose of what we’ve set out to achieve; quality education for our young children. Teaching is an art form. It takes time and commitment to understand how children learn, the theories that underpin practice, and experience in how to effectively educate Australia’s diverse children. Rushing educators through an Early Childhood education degree will not deliver quality outcomes and would be a disservice to our children.

The reform announcement this week is long overdue and should be celebrated. It is a guaranteed boost for the economy and offers more choice for working parents, but we should tread with caution from here. The biggest and best investment that we can make is in our youngest citizens. They are our future. Australia is beginning to put the economy where it belongs – in our children’s hands.

The main question now is if, or when, will the other States follow?

Rachael Hedger is a Lecturer in Early Childhood Education and Course Coordinator for the Early Childhood Initial Teacher Education degrees at Flinders University. She is undertaking a PhD (Deakin University) in which she explores on how arts-based practices can support children’s science learning. Her research interests focus on how drawing can be used as a vehicle for exploring science concepts, focussing on process and exploration. She is a supporter of learning through play pedagogies and encouraging pre-service teachers to be advocates for young children’s learning. 

‘My teacher sucks’: how teacher shortages shatter learning

This post won the 2021 EduResearch Matters Blog/Blogger of the Year Award, which recognises an outstanding contribution to public understanding and debate of educational issues. Congratulations Paul Laing. First published on September 30, 2021 and republished on December 20.

Teacher shortages in NSW exist. 

This is a surprise to long-term casual teachers who describe permanency as a unicorn. They compete for limited positions in certain locations, sectors and KLAs (Key Learning Areas). But still the teacher shortages exist. 

Having worked across a range of settings, metropolitan and regional, highly competitive selective environments, metropolitan disadvantaged schools and small rural schools, and in a range of roles, I’ve seen the view change distinctly from where you place your chair.

For school principals, teacher shortages are the bane of their lives. Creating a timetable to satisfy every student’s increasingly incontrovertible right to a personalised curriculum is compromised by the capacity to staff primary industries, visual design, French, Aboriginal Studies and so on. Principals all know that when teacher recruitment replies “there isn’t anyone” and they hang up the phone, that what they really mean is “you are on your own” because the kids don’t cease to exist just because recruitment can’t find a teacher. 

A lack of reliable centralised staffing means that every single principal knows that January will be running the recruitment gauntlet alone, whilst holding their breath that the new grads who accepted a position bright-eyed on graduation late last year haven’t been given a better offer. Leading the implementation of whole school programs such as wellbeing teams with complex case management of individual students whilst executing whole school improvement plans and expecting principals and teaching staff to play a pivotal role in instructional leadership, leading teachers in collaborative practice and managing small group intervention, is all compromised when you don’t have people to do the work. 

Principals then endure subsequent nonsensical conversations around NAPLAN results declining when there was a parade of different teachers through a child’s life, some with no experience in dealing with little Justin’s intergenerational trauma or Truc’s mental health challenges. They nod in compliance and then steel themselves to improve student outcomes. They are reminded once again that literacy and numeracy matter whilst politicians wave their sabres declaring war on inadequate results.

Students’ experiences of teacher shortages are not directly articulated, however manifest in their indirect experience of school.

“My teacher sucks” on the surface belies the reality that Mr Rawson was teaching Visual Arts after training in French, and was only teaching Visual Arts because he’s new to the school and was desperate for a job.

“School was crap today” doesn’t explain why Petra had to sit in the playground outside the Deputy Principal’s office for 3 periods because the Deputy Principal had been calling casual teachers since 6:00AM and got no hits that morning. “I can’t study what I want, it’s a crap school” doesn’t articulate that the curriculum on offer at a school is compromised by the staff capacity, and schools can choose to either staff a subject with an untrained, albeit well-intentioned, teacher who has never taught a course before, or to stick to the expertise of staff and limit curriculum choices.

Parents’ experiences of teacher shortages vary from the well-informed ally to the angry and oftentimes entitled Lord and Lady. “The teachers are so unreliable, we can never speak with them and they cancel meetings on the day” when Mrs Joseph couldn’t meet with Dang’s mother because she was given an extra teaching period that day. “The teachers just don’t know their stuff” as the physicist reviews Mr Daly’s attempt to teach Physics that was never covered in his Mathematics degree. “All Mary wanted to study was German and IT, and they can’t even provide that!” when the school is offering 32 elective classes by offering a combination of courses through TAFE, local school networks, Distance Education providers and the school staff.

Teachers’ experiences of teacher shortages are relentless and lived daily. When a school leader can’t find a casual teacher, it is the teacher who picks up the additional load. When students can’t be covered by a teacher colleague then the Deputy Principal will often supervise them, however supervision is not instruction, and when that supervision ends, the child will return to another teacher’s classroom later that day and it will be that teacher who has to tame them, inspire them and engage them again. A teacher may have time during the day to prepare for an afternoon lesson, however every teacher knows that when you need that time during the day, it will get consumed, often by an extra duty caused by a teacher shortage. The only way to prepare for that class then is out of hours. When the teacher wants to access that course on Inclusive Teaching, they can’t because the Deputy can’t release them from class. Luckily the course will be recorded, or made available out of hours so the teacher can access it on their quiet Saturday afternoon. A teacher is the one who must wrestle with new knowledge beyond their expertise, hating not being able to foster the students’ excitement as much as they can within their own field of expertise. This saps morale and increases workload. And when finally beaten down and weak, teachers resist taking sick leave because they know it will only exacerbate the challenges for their colleagues, and after all, it’s generally easier to come to school unwell than prepare work for a class that may or may not have a teacher, and the teacher has to get through the curriculum before the next assessment phase anyway.

For those who work outside of schools, teacher shortages still have an impact. A flexible workforce is critical to respond with agility to political imperatives such as promoting language programs when the wind blows from a diplomatic field such as the growth and decline of Korean. Similarly, promoting STEM in schools requires Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics teachers. It’s difficult to manage priority areas across a system without people on the ground.

The current requirement for a double dose vaccination for all school staff is more than a health direction for school struggling to staff their classes. A Public Health Order may have an indirect role on harder to staff schools as those who refuse to be vaccinated will leave the profession, and the vacancies generated by their departure will be filled by those from the harder to staff schools, just like we have seen with the COVID intensive learning support program.

A system that promotes every student, every teacher and every school improves, every year must prioritise learning. How can teachers and schools improve if they can’t access professional learning? How can schools continue to grow from year to year if the harder to staff schools churn through early career teachers annually, if they are lucky enough to recruit them in the first place. Over time we are seeing an increasing disadvantage between schools that struggle to find staff year after year, and those schools that have a large percentage of their staff who are highly experienced, expert teachers in schools that can continue to build on their shared vision and expertise year after year. How can a system effectively respond with system levers across such diverse contexts?

So, teacher shortages matter depending on where you put your chair. If you work outside schools, they are a strategic challenge, for a principal they impede whole school functions and strategic planning. Students experience teacher shortages through the “school sucks” lens and parents deride a school blind to the reasons driving the challenges they experience. Teachers feel the shortage, and it becomes a vicious spiral of fatigue, a vortex that saps their morale and erodes their working conditions. It would be lovely if those with their chairs placed outside schools could remember, or even knew, what it looks like to place your chair in the centre of the amphitheatre and to feel what teacher shortages mean, rather than to just ‘know’ what they mean. If they could, then perhaps addressing teacher shortages would become more urgent. The boat is sinking, and we cannot afford it to sink any more. We want schools to thrive, our principals to confidently enhance the strengths of everyone in their school to carve out the best possible future for all students. We want to guarantee a diverse, expert and motivated workforce in every local school. Without teachers in schools, we can’t.

Teacher shortages matter for all of us.

Paul Laing is a doctoral research student (EdD) at the University of New South Wales and he has a background teaching languages across a broad range of schools in NSW. He has worked as a classroom teacher, Head Teacher, Deputy Principal and Principal, as well as a Teacher Quality Advisor and Curriculum Advisor. His current research includes exploring the relationship between working memory span before and after instruction. He has a keen interest in cognitive load theory and the contribution of cognitive science to learning design.

The government must know how to fix the teacher shortage. Why won’t it act now?

Schools are struggling with major teacher shortages and the reason is clear.

Australia’s education system is missing one fundamental part – a national teacher recruitment and retention strategy. 

Every other country I have reviewed has one; here’s England’s, here is Bulgaria’s, Zimbabwe’s is recently announced.  I’m not emphasising this because we should copy other countries. There is a much stronger argument –  internationally the importance of the teaching profession is widely understood, with appropriately weighty policy attention.

Australia’s current Quality Initial Teacher Education Review will make a contribution in this regard and it has broadened terms of reference to include “attracting and selecting high-quality candidates into the teaching profession“. However, the scope does not include retaining teachers nor effective allocation of them to areas of need. This is an area of pressing need and one of the structural systemic failings of our education system.

It will not be addressed with piecemeal policy shots. 

Policy gaps

The fact that we don’t have a national strategy on this speaks volumes about how teachers are undervalued in Australia; and how few with political power recognise the foundational role teachers hold in our economy, social fabric and democracy. 

The difficulties arising from this neglect, and there are many,  include: the current crisis in recruitment of teachers (shockingly evident in NSW where every week another school has to  take action because they are so understaffed), shifts to a less secure workforce, declining academic standards in admission to teaching degree, deteriorating work conditions and workload.

We desperately need a teacher recruitment and retention strategy – as a tool to redress this neglect, provide due respect to teachers and contribute to broader systemic reforms to reverse the declines we are seeing in many educational indicators (and no, I don’t just mean PISA scores). Piecemeal initiatives here and there are not enough, and those initiatives sometimes appear to willfully neglect the evidence base for what works in attracting and retaining teachers.

NSW’s recent announcement to provide what amounts to a cash incentive to attract mid-career professionals over to teaching, with six months of coursework and a six-month paid internship is yet another example of foolish policy. 

This approach has already failed once, as demonstrated by the Commonwealth Government response to the Action now, classroom ready teachers report some years ago. 

Attracting, recruiting and retaining candidates to a profession is a complex, multifactorial and lengthy process that will not be solved with a single incentive. It needs coordinated, comprehensive strategic response, with a long-term plan and system wide reform. This is not the same as the National teacher Workforce Strategy which does not lay out a plan to adress problems, but suggests monitoring via the Australian Teacher Workforce Data project which is still not fully operational after more than a decade in development.

We need a strategic plan built on evidence.

What the evidence says

A systematic review published earlier this year by See, Morris, Gorard and El Soufi provides an up-to-date analysis of the relevant literature. As a systematic review, which excludes research that does not meet research quality benchmarks, it provides a quality-assured evidence base. What does it say?

I am guessing this will not be news to the teachers out there:

“The only approach that seems to work at all is the offer of monetary inducements, but there are caveats” (See, Morris, Gorard and El Soufi, 2021, p.2.)

The caveats include that monetary inducements work only in attracting those already interested in teaching. The monetary inducements must also be large enough to compensate for challenging work conditions – and provide some offset for teachers who could be attracted to better paying jobs. Reforming both working conditions and financial incentives is important to attract high quality candidates to the profession. The recent Gallop review Valuing the Teaching Profession made it clear current teacher salaries are not competitive with those of similarly qualified professions – addressing this would require a 10 to 15 percent rise in teacher salaries. 

The systematic review also suggests that financial incentives also work better for attracting young females to teaching. They are less likely to work on older and male teachers. It is unclear how they would work in attracting diverse candidates to work in diverse Australian schools. Importantly, the monetary incentives are also only temporary, with no residual benefit. Once the incentive is finished, its power is gone. However monetary inducements do also work in retaining teachers, especially in changing school contexts. Thus, effective policies are more likely those with incentives for entering initial teacher education, and satisfactory pay across the full career span with special incentives for those working in challenging schools.

The review found no evidence for locally recruiting and training teacher education programs intended to supply hard-to-staff schools. Nor that teachers trained via alternative routes are more likely to stay in teaching – why would we keep investing money there then? It also found no good evidence that “pathways” improve recruitment into programs, with only one program shown to be effective in that regard.

There were some, complex findings regarding the effect of professional support for all teachers and mentoring for beginning teachers. Such effects impact on working conditions and workload, which are important considerations.

Uniquely Australian

Australia faces some unique challenges in regard to teacher recruitment and retention. In the 2020 report The Profession At Risk I had the unsavory task of analysing Australia’s declining trends in Initial Teacher Education admission standards, and degree completion rates.There are clear and disturbing trends in ATAR scores, but limited transparency on standards overall. Despite more and more students entering teaching degrees, less than 60 per cent of education students complete their degree within six years. I argue that the poor transparency and low standard for entry in Australia, far below international benchmarks, may be contributing to ( not a result of) the dwindling esteem of the profession- adding a unique element to the Australian teacher recruitment landscape. 

Other analyses suggest Australia also has specific problems with allocation of our teaching workforce.The OECD report Effective Teacher Policies shows that, uniquely, Australian schools have more teachers, and better qualified and more experienced teachers, in advantaged schools than in disadvantaged schools. 

But we also have a notably low share of top performing students who go on to be teachers; and those students are also more likely to teach in advantaged schools. This stands in contrast to the majority of OECD country who allocate the most high achieving, qualified and experienced teachers to the most disadvantaged schools. This is another reason why we need a comprehensive and coordinated national strategy. 

Like waiting for Godot

Teacher recruitment and retention isn’t a new issue for Australia. There have been periodic crises and reviews over that last four decades. A review way back in 1986 suggested a more coordinated, and politically neutral approach was needed. Recommendations have rarely been acted upon. A 2014 Australian DFAT report Teacher Quality Evidence review, exploring suitable policies for international development recipient countries found   

“The systemic development of teacher quality is dependent, first and foremost, on effective teacher recruitment strategies…Supporting effective teacher workforce management by donors can and should include strategies and interventions to deploy teachers in hard–to-reach areas as well as supporting national governments to develop rewarding conditions of service for teachers, ensuring that they are adequately remunerated

If this is the advice we are providing for international aid programs a decade ago, why are we yet to address it for our own precious education system?

Rachel Wilson is associate professor at The Sydney School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. She has expertise in educational assessment, research methods and programme evaluation, with broad interests across educational evidence, policy and practice. She is interested in system-level reform and has been involved in designing, implementing and researching many university and school education reforms. Rachel is on Twitter @RachelWilson100