Schools Andrews must make bold moves to address teacher shortage crisis

The question that the Andrews government must answer is: where are the teachers going to come from? With 90% of AEU principals reporting that they are “concerned” or “very concerned” that they will not have enough teachers for the beginning of the 2023 school year, government action over the next four months will be crucial.

The usual ‘wait and see’ approach of the department will not cut it. Nor will tinkering around the edges on teacher attraction and retention. With too many AEU members burnt out or on the brink, not having teachers to cover all classes is a disaster waiting to happen. On day one of Term 1 next year, the prospect of Victoria’s education minister having to explain to parents and carers why their child does not have a teacher is a real one – and blaming the effects of the pandemic, while relevant, will only appear mealy-mouthed.

That is why the actions taken by the state government in the next four months matter, and why they must be bold. Keeping teachers already employed in public schools is a must. At year’s end, we cannot afford an increase in those leaving the profession early – indeed, we must see this trend reversed. Right now, the government should provide incentive payments to all existing public school staff to help retain them in the system. It is not a cure-all, but would be an important gesture of respect and of valuing our profession.

With shortages now affecting schools from Kew to Kerang, it’s time for bold, immediate action. Is government up to it?

The department should offer secure ongoing employment to fixed-term employees, and place those who are ‘in excess’. Offers of permanent employment should be matched by financial support for schools to manage their budgets and staffing profiles. The conservative approach to budgets and workforce management, leading to high levels of short-term contracts, needs to be muted.

Final-year education students must be offered a secure job with the department immediately to avoid early career teachers slipping through the net. While some capacity for local selection of the most suitable teacher is reasonable, this should play second fiddle to the fundamental need to have new teachers centrally employed.

Fifty years ago, our schools faced a teacher shortage. A key solution from that time needs to be reprised. Government must boost the number of capable and suitable student teachers through studentships bonded to the public system for at least three years after graduation. Thousands of studentships over the coming years – offering guaranteed jobs and a weekly allowance to cover cost of living expenses while studying – will contribute to elevating the status of the profession. Further payments could also help cover the cost of university tuition fees, with additional incentives for those who work in regional, rural or hard-to-staff schools.

Over decades, governments have done little to address teacher shortages in the bush, in lower socioeconomic areas, and for hard-to-staff subjects. With shortages now affecting schools from Kew to Kerang, it’s time for bold, immediate action. Is government up to it?

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    As we gear up for a state election, the AEU is focused on holding the Andrews government to account when it comes to fair funding for public education and a plan for addressing staff shortages that respects and values the profession. Read more in our Term 3, 2022 edition of AEU News.

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