For everyone Staff shortages in education: AEU’s budget submission

The government must invest in measures now to avoid staff shortages becoming a self-perpetuating cycle into the future.

Staff shortages not only threaten the quality of education, but also contribute to excessive workloads that, in turn, increase staff attrition and make public education a less appealing sector for potential workers. There is an urgent need to ensure that staff shortages do not become a self-perpetuating dynamic into the future.

The AEU’s submission to the Victorian state budget for 2024–25 contains a range of policy recommendations aimed at improving the working lives of public education professionals. These include urgently needed initiatives to address severe staff shortages. The following is a summary of the impact for each sector.

More than three-quarters reported that the additional work required because of shortages was unsustainable.

Schools

Survey data collected in 2023 demonstrated that staff shortages were having a detrimental effect on both students and staff in schools.

In primary, more than 90% of respondents reported that staff shortages had increased grade splitting and/or combining classes.

In secondary, more than 60% of respondents indicated that staff shortages had led to a reduction in the range of programs or subjects offered at their schools.

A majority said that staff shortages were creating increased class sizes, and extra duties allocated to staff.

More than three-quarters of respondents reported that the additional work required because of shortages was unsustainable. Nearly 63% indicated that this additional work meant staff were more likely to leave the profession.

Survey data collected by the AEU Federal branch found that 45% of early career teachers in Victoria intended to leave public schools within the next 10 years – and the main reason given was excessive workloads.

State government data shows that the attrition rate for non-casual staff in Victorian government schools had already jumped from 6.5% in 2021 to 9.2% in 2022; for those aged 15 to 24 it was higher at 11.6%.

More than 82% of Victorian TAFE teachers reported a shortage of teachers in their area or department.

TAFE

Employee turnover data also shows a jump in separation rates for non-casual TAFE employees between 2021 and 2022, from 12.3% to 17.8%.

More than 82% of the Victorian TAFE teachers surveyed by the AEU Federal branch in late 2023 reported a shortage of teachers in their area or department. Of these, 88% indicated that shortages had led to increased workloads whilst more than two-thirds (67.7%) felt that excessive workloads were driving staff shortages, along with comparatively poor pay and conditions (66.9%).

The Victorian government’s VET Workforce Development Strategy has commenced a two-year consultation phase on growing the VET workforce, which does not help address the needs faced by TAFEs right now.

The AEU is pushing for improvements in the next TAFE teachers’ agreement that address workloads, salaries and conditions as a vital way to attract and retain staff.

As with schools and TAFEs, attraction and retention in the early childhood sector depend on decent working conditions and competitive remuneration.

Early childhood

The expansion of kindergarten access for Victorian children has seen the introduction of various government initiatives to bolster the supply of qualified staff. However, the sector still faces serious challenges. 

Nationally, there has been a four-fold increase in vacancy rates for early childhood teachers since 2020 and a doubling of vacancy rates for educators over the same period.

The state and federal governments have introduced initiatives to improve access to early childhood education qualifications, including fee-free TAFE courses. It is essential for these courses – along with mentorship for new graduates and opportunities for students undertaking placements – to be properly funded. 

Incentives to upgrade Certificate III educators to diploma qualifications under the Best Start, Best Life Workforce Strategy will be of little use without an associated increase in earnings. As with schools and TAFEs, attraction and retention depend on decent working conditions and competitive remuneration.

AEU’s plan for staffing

Whilst there have been various initiatives to address staff shortages in Victorian public education, they have tended to focus more on increasing potential teacher supply rather than measures to hold onto existing staff. A key recommendation in the AEU’s Ten-Year Plan for Staffing, presented to the state government last year, is the introduction of retention payments to address the high number of staff leaving the sector. 

Retention payments have been effectively introduced for Australian Defence Force personnel and for nurses in Victoria; they could be just as effectively used to help circumvent a self-perpetuating staff shortage in our public education system.


All the AEU’s policies, research papers, submissions, and branch council resolutions, including our state budget submission are here.

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