Musings on Initial Teacher Education provoked by a Twitter conversation (Part 5)

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”
– Attributed to Jacques Barzun

This most recent series of articles has been interesting to write, as it has required a significant amount of reflection on a range of areas that ordinarily would not receive a significant amount of conscious thought. The conversations that have emerged from this series of articles has also been intriguing and thought provoking. This was, according to the set of emerging themes I included in my original article, set to be the final article in this series.It is quite likely that a further article will emerge as a result of the conversations that have transpired as a result. This article will be examining the potential employment opportunities that are available in comparison to the number of graduates each year, and the number of active teachers not currently employed permanently.

In 2014 there was a series of articles in the print and broadcast media that indicated that there is currently a glut of available teachers in comparison to available positions, such as this article and this article. This is in conflict with articles from a range of other sources that indicate there is a shortage of teachers, such as this article. Further reading indicates that the truth is somewhere in between, with a glut of primary trained teachers and a shortage of secondary teachers in specific Key Learning Areas (KLAs), as indicated in this article.

The general consensus, based on reading these articles and similar sources, appears to be that the initial teacher education (ITE) programs are graduating between five and eight thousand new teachers annually. The Daily Telegraph, in July 2014 cited research conducted by BOSTES which found that at least one third of the NSW DEC approved employment list, who are unable to gain permanent employment within four to five years, desist in their search, either remaining in the casual or temporary workforce, or leave the teaching profession. It has been my experience as well that a range of classroom teacher positions are held by teachers on temporary contracts, such as single or two year contracts.

Another article indicate that the shortage of teachers is actually occurring in secondary education in science, mathematics and languages. There is no apparent research that examines the reason for the disparity in training and opportunity, why pre-service teachers (PSTs) seemingly gravitate to the primary education sector as opposed to the secondary sector, and I would suggest that these questions be examined as they would yield valuable results that would guide future ITE course capacities.

The Herald indicated last year that there were around forty-four thousand teachers in NSW employed on a casual basis, and that only around half of the sixteen thousand graduate teachers from the 2013 cohort had secured permanent employment four months later. These figures, as a graduate teacher, are disturbing and concerning.

I do not know what the situation in this area is across the rest of Australia, however here in NSW, looking through the weekly jobs listing would uphold the position that there is a shortage of teachers in specific KLAs in the secondary education sector. Each week, there appear to be a significant number of mathematics, science and language classroom teacher positions advertised each week, with a large number of them being in rural or remote NSW.

The NSW Department of Education and Communities (NSW DEC) is not ignorant of this situation, with a range of incentives being offered in an attempt to attract teachers to these remote and rural schools. Incentives may include rent assistance, subsidies, additional professional development release, additional leave entitlements, climatic entitles and isolation from goods and services allowances. Personally, I would happily secure a permanent position in a remote or rural location if not for the fact that my better half currently has a permanent position in her industry, with an excellent employer and colleagues. Accordingly, and with regard to a desire to have family support available while we raise our own family, we have made the choice not to relocate at this point.

In regards to the demand and supply imbalance, I believe that there are a number of options for approaching it. The first and obvious option would be to reduce the number of places in primary ITE programs. In conjunction with this, I have heard suggestions that the HECS debt for the secondary subjects suffering from shortages should be negated with the caveat that graduates are required to be employed for three to five years before the HECS debt is removed, and the HECS debt suspended in the intervening period. The lecture from my EDUC2103 Schooling, Identity and Societies, Keith Crawford, spoke about a solution that the English Government took in regards to a similar problem.

Keith indicated that when faced with young teachers leaving the profession due to their inability to progress within their career through promotions due to the number of positions filled by older teachers and administrators who were still some years from retirement age. The approach taken was such that a significant number of these senior teachers were offered early retirement packages. This had the impact of creating a number of vacancies, which allowed those suitably qualified to progress through the promotion chain. I could only imagine the cost of this program, however, it would have some significant effects, both positive and negative.

Positively, it would create a number of vacancies requiring to be filled, which would of course create vacancies further down the chain as teachers, assistant principals and principals all progressed. It should have (I am unaware if it did or not) create a culture of change as those progressing through due to the new vacancies would hopefully come through with new ideas and a willingness to embrace change and pedagogical and technological advances, particularly in the areas of twenty-first century learning.

Negatively, it would result in a significant loss of knowledge and experience, which would need to be addressed. This could be achieved through options including mentoring, a stepped handover period for each level of responsibility, and a potential short-term shortage of teachers at the bottom of the pyramid.

I cannot see the Australian government adopting such an approach, due to the significant cost up front for such a program.That said, I believe that a mixture of the two approaches I have discussed, both the removal of HECS debt for specific shortages, and the voluntary retirement program adopted by the English government would have a very significant impact in regards to reducing the number of classroom teacher positions held by temporary appointments, improving the number of permanently employed teachers.

As always, thank you for reading. I would very much like to hear from anyone who has a suggestion for how this issue can be appropriately addressed. It is not a simple situation, and I think that changes need to be made to the entire system.

2 thoughts on “Musings on Initial Teacher Education provoked by a Twitter conversation (Part 5)

  1. Hi Brendan,

    The over supply of teachers is not new. It’s been a problem for many, many years, it took me 5 years to secure a permanent position after graduating many years ago, and I was one of the lucky ones. Many of my fellow graduates took up to ten years to find work, and many left teaching as a result. I really do empathise with the difficulties faced by those looking to find a permanent job when there are so few jobs and so many applicants, but I’m not sure that people are entitled to a teaching job simply because they have a qualification or why more experienced teachers should step aside and retire early to create room.

    The idea that older, more experienced school leaders should be given incentives to retire to make room for younger people to progress through their career path seems rather ageist and devalues their work. Why shouldn’t people be able to work in roles for as long as they are able? It’s also a myth that more experienced teachers are not in tune with C21 learning or technology. Many of the visionary leaders I know in this area are in that ‘older’ age bracket.

    I’m also not sure that limiting places at university is the right approach.

    One thing I would like to see is a widening of the types of opportunities available for teachers. Our career paths are very narrow, yet we have extraordinary skill sets. Many lawyers and engineers don’t find work in law or engineering, but their skills are recognised and transferrable across a range of professions. It would be good for teachers to have their skills recognised and to learn how they can apply their skills in a range of non-school based contexts as well.

    I’m not sure what the answer is, and I know it’s very tough being in that situation. I also believe that the good teachers will find work eventually, so hang in there. I’m sure the right opportunity for you will come along soon.


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