Schools Not enough action on shortages

  • By Justin Mullaly
  • This article was published more than 6 months ago.
  • 16 Nov 2023

What has the state government done to address teacher shortages? The short answer is: not enough. The slightly longer answer is: not enough, and not quickly enough. And the longer answer is: not enough for existing staff to stay, not enough and not quickly enough to support early career teachers, and – while scholarships for students enrolling in secondary teaching degrees are good – there is nothing for primary!

It is worth cataloguing the actions taken by the Victorian government and the Department of Education (DE) to tackle the shortages – many of which meet recommendations listed in the AEU’s Ten-Year Plan for Staffing. These include: 

  • Scholarships equal to the cost of HECS to study secondary teaching.

  • A reduction in teaching for some first-year teachers and their mentors expanding to 13 of 17 DE areas in 2025 (Career Start).

  • Incentives of $5,650 for eligible graduate teachers (Graduate Teacher Recruitment Initiative).

  • An easier and faster process to apply for a job (Teacher Recruitment Initiative).

  • Rural, regional and other targeted pre-service teacher placements funding for accommodation, travel, and meals (Pre-Service Teacher Placements).

  • ‘Fast-tracked’ Master of Teaching qualifications and employment-based initial teacher education (Teach Today and Teach Tomorrow).

  • Incentive payments to attract teachers to harder to staff schools and to support overseas teacher recruitment (Targeted Financial Incentives and Migrant Support Service).

  • A support service for teachers seeking to return to the workforce (Returning Teachers Support Service and Teacher Re-Engagement Initiative).

  • Specific support to schools facing chronic shortages (Central Workforce Support Service).

  • Funding for some rural and regional schools to attract Casual Relief Teachers (CRT Travel Fund).

  • An advertising campaign to attract people into teaching courses (Teach the Future) and to work in Victoria’s public schools.

Keeping existing staff in our schools is critical. When any business is facing a shortage of workers, it is hardly rocket-science to know that one of the most important steps to take is to shore up the existing workforce.

Without these actions, we can imagine how much worse the impact of workforce shortages would be – but that’s not saying much, given the chronic shortages we face across Victoria. It is time for retention payments for existing school staff. 

Retention payments for all staff

Keeping existing staff in our schools is critical. When any business is facing a shortage of workers, it is hardly rocket-science to know that one of the most important steps to take is to shore up the existing workforce.

Statewide, staff attrition rates are at alarming levels, teacher retention rates are going backwards, and it is adding considerably to the severity of the shortage situation.

Survey after survey of teachers shows that excessive workload is the number one reason they leave the profession, with issues like class sizes, salary, increased student need, more challenging student behaviours, and respect for the profession some of the additional factors. It is unsurprising that all these issues exist alongside government decisions to underfund our public schools. 

While the AEU negotiated important investment as part of the VGSA 2022 – the reduction in face-to-face teaching, extra student-free days for assessment and reporting, and professional practice day activities – the department must accompany this with other concrete and immediate workload reduction measures at both local and statewide levels. 

There are a range of tasks that teachers routinely do but should not have to do – and would not do if schools had enough funding for additional education support staff.

The department can and should step in by reducing assessment and reporting requirements, and find new ways to manage the explosion of administration caused by individual education plans and mandatory training modules.

However, even doing all of this would not get us to where we need to be. The department, as the employer, needs to go further and provide clear and reasonable limits on a range of administrative tasks, such as unnecessary documentation of curriculum, lesson plans, and scope and sequencing.

It needs to rein in the use of learning management systems such as Compass, which often don’t meet the needs of school staff and can instead add to their workloads. It is also vital for expectations about how and when staff respond to parent/carer communications to be reset, so that the time available to staff to complete their work is better respected.

There are a range of tasks that teachers routinely do but should not have to do – and would not do if schools had enough funding for additional education support staff. The modest goal of relieving teachers of paperwork related to camps and excursions is just one example of a task that could be alleviated if schools were properly resourced. Public schools must be funded to 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard.

The newly minted Premier Jacinta Allan and Education Minister Ben Carroll have an opportunity to properly address the shortage of teachers. A lack of action would only confirm that they think it is OK for children and young people not to have a permanent teacher. Our students and the staff who work with them deserve better than that.

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