Short versus long-term solutions to the teaching shortage crisis

Following the roundtable meeting on August 12 between the federal Education Minister Jason Clare and his state and territory counterparts, a national action plan will be drawn up by December. School News takes a look at some of the solutions being proposed.

State and federal education ministers plus unions, principals, teachers, and representatives from state, Catholic and independent schools met earlier this month to discuss the ongoing teacher shortage crisis. It was agreed that a national action plan would be developed by December with the dual focus of attracting more people to the profession plus strategies to retain those already in the sector.

As reported earlier by School News, many schools are already working independently to mitigate the problem, such as the regional Teaching Hubs model being offered by Alphacrucis University College, which sends teaching students into the classroom within months instead of years, and matches students with school-based mentors.

Anna Plant, Teacher Training School Coordinator for the Christian Education Ministries (CEM), says CEM has eleven school campuses across the country which are feeling the challenge of teacher shortages, especially in the casual teacher space. “We are planning for the future shortfall that is predicted. We plan to mitigate the trend demonstrated by research, which points to the early departure of new graduates in the teaching profession, through adopting the Initial Teacher Training Model (TTM) that embeds trainee teachers in the art and practice of teaching from the beginning of their degree. [It gives them] experience of the challenges teachers face and can build the skill set required to thrive post study.”

Another long-term solution, already long-discussed, is improving the salaries of mid-level teachers. Federal Education Minister Jason Clare told ABC Radio National “After 10 years, if you’re looking for a pay rise you either have to leave the classroom to become an assistant principal or you leave teaching altogether. So we’re losing some of these great teachers.”

Boosting numbers of graduates

Focussing on strategies to keep teachers in the classroom is one long-term strategy. Another is increasing the number of students starting – and graduating with – teaching degrees.

Mr Clare reported that there had been a reduction of young people going into teacher training by 16% and of those who start a teaching degree, only 50% will graduate, compared to a 70% graduation rate for other degrees.

Therefore new sources of trainees need to be found.

One aspect of the Teaching Hub method is sourcing future teachers from within the local community. As a result, their experience in the classroom while training is indicative of what their post-graduate experience will be like, making them more prepared, realistic and classroom ready.

Cheryl Lacey is a leading agitator for rational change in school education and has been advocating the clinical model of teacher training as one of many options to solve the teacher shortage crisis. “We should go back to that model. It works because it’s an apprentice model, they are guaranteed employment, they work in the area they will be employed so they – and the school – know they will fit.”

Carmen Nash, recruitment and liaison coordinator at Catholic Education Wilcannia-Forbes (CEWF) has also seen the very real benefit of the Teaching Hub model: “We are delighted to be able to provide pathways and access to tertiary education that would otherwise be unavailable for many people in our remote and regional communities. The majority of our 2022 cohort of trainee teachers are mid-career individuals with families. They are enthusiastic, passionate and extremely capable individuals with a desire to remain in their communities upon the completion of their degree, thereby addressing the issue of teacher retention. These trainee teachers are receiving four years of system-based professional learning, on top of a rigorous tertiary level academic education.”

Shorter term solutions

The Teaching Hub model is a good solution, reports Lacey, and it received a lot of support at the August meeting, but it’s a long-term solution to the problem, not a short-term one.

NSW State Education Minister Sarah Mitchell suggested the federal government fast-track visas for trained international teachers to fill gaps in high-demand subjects.

A short-term solution Lacey proposes is to introduce retirees from other occupations, such as law, engineering and accounting and train them up as teachers, similar to nursing where graduates of other degrees could do short courses to become qualified as nurses. “They’d already have a four-year degree minimum, and they’d need a bridging degree but they’d have the maturity and availability,” Lacey says.

Another solution Lacey proposes is that the sector “goes back to non-negotiable curriculum in core areas and schools then offer specialised subjects based on their teaching specialists and resources.” Many teachers feel that too many of them are being forced to teach outside their specialist area, a factor that leads to exhaustion and disillusionment. In the post-COVID world, Lacey says, remote learning for specialist subjects is a real option, as is having specialist teachers employed as independent contractors who are able to move around between schools.”

Principal Nick Johnstone from Bishop Druitt College works at mitigating the steadily reducing number of applicants for positions at his school in a number of ways. “Regional and rural areas are certainly hardest hit on this issue,” he says. “The college actively supports staff to retain to support areas of need, ie retraining primary staff to become qualified secondary mathematics teachers. We are also investigating teacher housing options due to increased costs and housing shortages in our area.” Johnstone also works with other NSW Independent School principals to design innovative, evidence-based solutions to support the recruitment, development and mentoring of new teachers under the auspice of the ‘Growing and Nurturing Educators’ group.

This week School News spoke with one of the committee members tasked with developing the National Action Plan, President of the Australian Secondary Principals’ Association, Andrew Pierpoint. He said the group has been tasked with five main priority areas and they will be developing a range of solutions. “There will be three baskets – medium-term goals of 3-5 years, longer term goals of more than five years and immediate: what we can do now?” But he always warned: “There is no magic wand. If there was, someone would have already done it.”

School News will report this interview in more depth in coming weeks as we continue to cover the topic.


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Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a freelance writer and the author of "Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed our World", now available in all good bookstores.

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