teacher workforce

The way teachers work must change now. The Scott report doesn’t even try to fix the real challenge

There is a collective sigh of frustration from education academics when initial teacher education (ITE) is yet again the subject of review, with a series of recommendations that promise to transform not only ITE, but the teaching profession. Apparently the problems with the teaching profession are entirely the result of the failures of ITE. 

It is also crucial to consider these most recent recommendations in context – they are  the most recent in what has been a decade of ITE reform. 

Released on July 7 and titled Strong Beginnings: Report of the Teacher Education Expert Panel, this review has 14 recommendations across four domains, reflecting the earlier discussion paper: strengthening ITE programs to deliver confident, effective beginning teachers (which is mostly about embedding core content); strengthening the link between performance and funding of ITE programs (which is mostly about reporting and data); improving the quality of practical experiences in teaching; and improving access to postgraduate ITE for mid-career entrants.   

The opening sentence in the executive summary, “[T]he importance of great teachers cannot be overstated”, is uncontestable – thank you – we agree.  The closing paragraph provides the rationale and context for the recommendations that follow, acknowledging the “major reforms” progressed under Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG, 2014) and noting “but there is still more to do”.  

Warning bells – tinkering with ITE will not be a panacea for the workforce shortage challenges facing the sector, with ITE a small part of the much more complex landscape, and with a long lead time to take effect.  

I read the report and recommendations from the informed and insider position as a Dean of Education, Chair of the Queensland Council of Deans of Education, program accreditation panellist and chairperson; for the duration of the time we collectively traversed the intense period rolling-out the reforms of TEMAG. 

It was indeed major – and very costly – reform.  Only recently, around the nation, have those reforms been fully implemented.  And we even have a few graduates who have journeyed through these new programs. It is important to acknowledge their added length combined with the time it takes to complete the programs – for many enrolled part-time due to the tough economic environment that demands they work alongside their study. 

We have only a few years of graduates from these TEMAGed programs so we don’t yet know the impact of the major reforms.  Hence, the value and impact of the TEMAG initiatives are not yet known in terms of the profession and workforce – in fact there is a gap in research about many aspects of ITE, a point clearly made in the report. 

The recommendations thus are appended to a significantly revamped ITE sector that has not had the benefit of resources to research and review the effects of major reform

The big shifts resulting from TEMAG include: additional non-academic requirements for entry to ITE; the Literary and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education (LANTITE); program standards; and demonstrating classroom readiness through the Teaching Performance Assessment (TPA), as a final hurdle, alongside mandatory volumes of learning and consistent professional experience time allocation. Some of these reforms are dubious in terms of adding quality and value and the cost benefit analysis for ITE, but none has been contested in the report recommendations. That’s a missed opportunity.   

There are some recommendations in the report that could be silver linings. Acknowledging the need for additional funding to research ITE and resourcing this deficit, and the intention to consider TPAs comparatively, are standouts for me. This makes sense as the focus should be on the readiness and novice expertise of ITE graduates about to enter the workforce, taking into account the learning and value that comes from their ITE program.  

Other glimmers of hope among the recommendations include: establishing a separate authority for oversight and achieving national consistency (contentious, but important); greater visibility of mentor teachers; and the importance of investing in professional experience by all members of the profession, which is a key aspect of program retention and identity development for ITE students. The mechanics for activating these innovations however, is lacking, so these might more properly be regarded as potential positives. The current demands on the ITE sector to meet accreditation requirements are significant, so adding to that does mean additional workload for tertiary educators, hence it is refreshing to see funding for transition and funding for the establishment of leadership institutions.  This is happening at a time when the number of tertiary experts in education is also depleted consequential to universities tightening their belts, so a reasonable implementation timeline will be crucial.

Less convincing is the need to specify core content. The question of what is core has been narrowed to four areas that appear, frankly, to be incontestable and likely already to feature in ITE programs in the country. It will be the necessary changes to standards that will take the time and the task of making visible the core content for compliance assurances, and the relative volume of learning and level of prescription that is yet to be defined that will undoubtedly cause consternation for the implementation of the core content recommendations. And the question of what is to be removed from programs is already sounding around the nation – adding more means something has to go. The loss of agility and likelihood of sameness is thus concerning, cookie cutter education programs seem to be the antithesis of what we need to ensure we attract and graduate a diverse teacher workforce.

Importantly, refinements in ITE do not solve the problem of workforce shortages in classrooms today.  

There is extensive research that points to the need for a major shift in the way we do schooling today.  The way teachers work also needs to change.  This is crucial for the necessary transformation that is needed to reset school education to reflect the needs of contemporary society.  The TEEP recommendations work within our current system and can be considered as an incremental step in the bigger challenge of transforming our schooling sector and the teachers entering it.

Professor Donna Pendergast is the Director of Engagement in the Arts, Education and Law Group and former Dean and Head of the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University. Her research expertise is education transformation and efficacy.

Nightmare so far away: the truth about why teachers can’t live where they work

School systems are struggling to find enough teachers to cover classes. Projections indicate that in New South Wales alone there is a need for an additional 13,000 teachers in the next decade to meet student demand. This growth is mainly centred around Greater Sydney. Significantly, much of the growth is in areas not traditionally thought of as hard-to-staff. With such growth comes pressure on housing and concurrently with the teacher shortage, NSW (as with much of Australia) is grappling with a housing affordability crisis

What becomes of a school system – and individual schools – if teachers cannot afford to live near, or even within commuting distance of their workplace?

In a recently paper published in the Australian Educational Researcher, I show how 90.8 percent of teaching positions in New South Wales, representing more than 50,000 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) positions, are located in Local Government Areas (LGA) where the median rent and house sales price is severely unaffordable on a top-of-the-scale teacher salary.

The effects are felt most strongly by early career teachers. Using official quarterly sales and rental reports, there are 675 schools or 22,703 FTE teaching positions located in LGAs where the median rent for a one-bedroom place is unaffordable for new graduate teachers. Attracting new members into the profession when housing – even one-bedroom places – are unaffordable is a tough sell.

Not limited to new graduates, there are 70 schools or 2,059 FTE teaching positions located in LGAs where even a top-of-the-scale teacher (non-promotional position) cannot afford a one-bedroom dwelling. The most unaffordable LGAs are Bayside, Canada Bay, Sydney, and Waverley – all located in the inner circle of Greater Sydney (see Figures 5-8 of the paper).

And when it comes to house sales prices, forget about it. Median prices for both strata and non-strata properties are well in excess of the 3:1 ratio of cost to annual salary (ranging up to greater than 11:1). The attached figure displays an updated snapshot of the median non-strata sales price by LGA as a multiple of the top-of-the-scale teacher salary. Put simply, for a single teacher income household, or even a two teacher income household, the median sales price up and down the eastern seaboard is unaffordable. This has major implications for the health of the school system.

Substantial attention has been granted to the idea of the 15 minute city in recent times. While commute times in Australian cities are comparable to similar sized cities elsewhere, for many the daily commute is more likely to be 30 or even 60 minutes in cities like Sydney. In most cases, this is simply because it is too expensive to live any closer to work – but takes a toll on those commuting.

The impact of housing affordability on the teacher shortage has not received too much attention in public debate within Australia. Understandably, issues of workload, behaviour, conditions, salaries, and initial teacher education have dominated the headlines. This has allowed the issue of housing affordability to expand without pressure to intervene.

Housing affordability issues are most likely to impact schools that have traditionally been seen as desirable locations. Schools that have in the past, not had difficulties recruiting and retaining staff. But if nothing changes, they will simply be unaffordable and inaccessible for all but those already living in the area. This is what makes the intersection of housing affordability and the teacher shortage an urgent and timely matter. At the same time, it is a messy policy area. There is no simple fix, and arguably the time for action was 10+ years ago. However, not acting now just amplifies the problem.

The issue is of course not limited to teachers. It is felt by all essential workers. The Government’s shared equity scheme was a step in the right direction. So too is the investment of Aware Super in essential worker developments. These are consistent with interventions overseas where districts and local authorities build housing developments and incentivise educators. But piecemeal policy approaches will not address the issue at scale.   

No one government department or organisational body has ultimate responsibility for housing essential workers, but we all have a stake in it. Work underway at the Gonski Institute is hoping to raise the profile of the issue and engage governments, policy makers, industry representatives, and educators in developing viable options. This initial paper in AER is the first step of many.

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.