Schools Adaptive leadership and staffing shortages

PCA members are managing the most difficult staffing challenges since the 1990s. Low applicant numbers, non-appointments, cancelled interviews and complex structural workarounds are now commonplace. To make matters worse, staff are leaving the profession citing burnout, while overfunded private schools routinely poach our teachers, disrupting student learning, and forcing school leaders and teachers to adapt timetables and class groupings. 

AEU members and leaders are campaigning for system-level responses to this staffing crisis. We have called for major policy commitments, including centrally funded retention payments, studentships, and better resources to support graduate teachers. Our meetings with federal and state politicians have been constructive – but, so far, no government announcements suggest a solution in sight. 

PCA members are therefore deploying adaptive leadership approaches and changing their practices regarding staff recruitment and retention. Instead of advertising short-term contract positions, many principals are advertising for ongoing staff, given the risk of excess is lower than the risk of having no teachers in front of students on 30 January next year. Some are allocating local retention payments to reward continuing staff members, while others are contacting DET and the AEU for information about teachers who are in excess at inner-city schools, where student numbers are generally in decline.

Arguably, the most effective actions PCA members have taken are attempts to minimise workload-related burnout – the number one reason teachers are leaving our profession. Approaches (some more expensive than others) include employing more classroom ES support; faithfully implementing the 30+8 clause to ensure teachers have uninterrupted planning and assessment time; allocating additional professional practice days; and pausing non-urgent data collection and DET initiatives. 

Managing the work related to recruitment and retention is more exhausting than ever. Our campaign to educate governments about this crisis must continue until every school has the staff it needs.

This crisis highlights what is most important in our schools: staff who can focus on student learning and wellbeing, and use their expertise to provide students with the best chance of success. DET initiatives such as HITS, FISO, EBPs, GPAs, VATL, PLCs, NAPLAN and the VTLM will come and go. Hopefully, our staff won’t disappear in the meantime.

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