Home | Industry+Reform | Education expert weighs in on solving Australia’s teacher shortages
Founder and Managing Director of EduInfluencers Rochelle Borton. Picture: Supplied.

Education expert weighs in on solving Australia’s teacher shortages

An increasing number of public school teachers in NSW are leaving classrooms, with new data show showing resignations in having doubled across the state over the past two years.

More than 1854 permanent teachers in NSW quit last year, according to state education department data, an increase from the 929 reported in 2020. 

Additional AITSL data released in March showed that a lack of job recognition and heavy workloads were the driving factors causing educators to leave schools. 

According to education expert and founder and managing director of EduInfluencers, Rochelle Borton, governments must increase salaries and adjust workload expectations in order to attract more people into classrooms. 

"While having a hundred per cent of the RSS funding will help, it won't solve our problem; we don't have the teachers to put inside our classrooms," Ms Borton told Education Review.

"We still have to address this idea of attracting new people to teach.

"The issue is that it's a vicious circle; if teachers had that time to plan, review and manage student learning, it would improve student outcomes, which would help improve the profession's perception and attract more people."

Ms Borton joined Education Review to discuss what governments can do to address the teacher shortage crisis. 

What are the key education priorities governments must tackle in 2023?

RB: We need to acknowledge that there is a teacher shortage worldwide, and Australia is no different.

Governments need to address teacher salaries and workload as priorities.

There are thousands of casual vacancies nationwide, with our biggest jurisdictions being the most impacted.

We haven't made a clear distinction between administrative tasks and teaching and learning tasks. That distinction needs to be made for teachers to see a difference.

Many teachers are overwhelmed by the compliant nature of being an educator, and if we want them to excel at teaching, we need to give them time to perfect that craft.

We need to think about workload and how we balance things for teachers to ensure they can teach.

The government also need to find a way to attract more permanent teachers in the profession, and how we will keep them long-term without dropping our standards.

You are working alongside schools. To what extent are the current teacher shortages affecting people nationwide? 

At the coalface, I see well-being issues and, pressure issues, stress problems because the workload is unsustainable but the crisis has a massive impact on students.

We're not talking about people that don't wanna work hard or that only work from nine till three, teachers are doing 12-plus hour days and still can't maintain the workload.

Due to the uncompetitive salary no longer in line with degree qualifications, teachers and school leaders leave the profession and work in alternative roles. Whether teachers go for private or public enterprise, they move into other services, getting more money and better conditions.

There's a lot of compliance and data collection that's now required that's reducing teaching time.

Of course, we want teachers to assess and use formative assessment techniques, but we don't want it at the expense of rich learning experiences.

All of these lead to a mismatch between community, parental and departments' unrealistic systemic expectations; what they believe is possible on paper is not practically possible in a classroom or a school setting.

Recent data shows that heavy workloads are one of the most common issues causing teachers to leave the profession. How can we address this? 

Teachers have too many administration requirements, and we could remove some workloads by giving clerical support.

We need to consider this constant rollout of the new curriculum and syllabus.

In some jurisdictions, particularly New South Wales, we've seen a rollout of two syllabus and curriculums, and more are about to come in the state and nationwide.

And then, before you know it, there is a new syllabus again - the constant change is just not helpful.

We can also take a step in aligning compliance tasks with accreditation requirements.

We want our teachers to be accredited, but we want that exercise to be something other than a tick box. We want it to be a genuine learning experience where people seek feedback, grow, and develop as lifelong learners.

We also need to consider increasing time for teachers to plan, review and manage student learning, and with a teacher shortage, it's nearly impossible to provide teachers extra time to do those things.

We know that heavy workloads are impacting teachers' well-being and mental health. What strategies can teachers implement to cope better and manage this?

I struggle with this question because it implies that teachers can do something about the workload, but unfortunately, most of us work in systems and have no control over the sheer volume.

However, school leaders and teachers need to take care of themselves, and they can set consistent plans for work to moderate that life balance and ensure that most things are being done.

They also need to understand which strategies they can use to manage the workload, what can be delegated, what's critical and what perhaps we don't need to respond to immediately. 

Teachers need to acknowledge what their self-care looks like and work on what they can cope with in terms of managing load.

For me, it also comes back to considering how they might use their time to plan, review, and manage student learning, what kinds of things they might be able to put in place, and how they might be able to collaborate to reduce that planning time - Principals will need to think outside the box about how they can facilitate that.

And then we also need to think about funding. How can we fund schools to be resourced for the students they have on-site?

The government aims to achieve a hundred per cent funding for public schools. Is this going to help with the shortages?

I would like to think it would, but it still does not solve our problem; we don't have the teachers to put inside our classrooms.

At the moment, schools have to be creative to respond to the needs of students; they have to come up with new ideas rather than being supported by the government.

You see schools collapsing classes or delivering content in hub classrooms where they'll pull large groups of students together and have a combination of teachers working.

While having a hundred per cent of funding will help, we still have to address this idea of attracting new people to teach.

Lack of job recognition has been cited as a major reason for teachers' quitting. How can we improve public perceptions of teaching?

I love the idea of recognition, and I think we need to acknowledge the years of service our teachers gave and their significant contributions to society and families.

It's rare to hear stories about how teachers' contributions created a life-changing experience for a particular student or family. And occasionally, when we hear those stories, it certainly keeps us in education.

But I think, as jurisdictions, we could acknowledge service.

Unfortunately, teachers are often not seen as people with a profession or a career. It's considered not something held in high esteem, which needs to change in terms of community.

It's not just about money, but it's about recognising that people make choices to teach because they want to impact young people's lives and create generations of lifelong learners.

If teachers had that time to plan, review and manage student learning, it would improve student outcomes and improving student outcomes will improve the profession's perception.

So it's all a bit of a catch-22, right? If they had the time to excel at their craft, then our outcomes would probably be better, and teachers would be held in higher esteem, but they can't do their job the very best that we need them to because we're impacting their ability to prepare, prepare and plan for that.

What else can the government do to resolve the teacher shortage crisis? What should be the first step?

We need full SRS funding for schools, and it needs to consider funding inequities.

We need to consider that there are particular students in particular socioeconomic areas and specific challenges that require more support and funding because education in this country should be more than just afforded to people living in affluent areas or by those who can afford independent schools.

Children's needs are differentiated, and funding needs to be determined too.

There's also a lot of curriculum clutter; the government could sort that out immediately.

Additionally, the next generation of school leaders is getting younger and younger. Because of the teacher shortage, we are moving people into school leadership more quickly than we previously would have.

I'm not saying they're incapable, but they've had less time in education and fewer experiences. We have to think about empowering them in different ways.

They're excellent, and they bring new and fresh thinking, they can adapt, and they're very agile, but we still need to consider how we empower them because they're going to be leaders for a much more extended period than what we saw our baby boomer generation be leaders.

We need to support these new leaders to help them stay in the profession longer.

Unfortunately, we don't have the psychology and counselling support to manage student and teacher well-being.

So far, we have not done a good job supporting the profession when we ask them to help young people who are often in crisis.

It isn't uncommon to hear stories from our schools of violence or aggressive behaviour from students and parents. While those things shouldn't be tolerated in any profession, we expect that our teachers deal with that if that comes up.

We limit their ability to send those children home or put other measures in place for them to be supported to consider and reflect on their behaviour because our community doesn't necessarily value what teachers do every day.

Tackling these first will be needed to solve the teacher shortage crisis.

Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]

One comment

  1. so true

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *