Radical fix for Australian teacher shortages: Employ anyone with a degree

I did this over 30 years ago. I wanted to do High School teaching but had at the time "only" an M.A. -- no Diploma of Education. The New South Wales Department of Education gave me the heave-ho but a small regional Catholic school (at Merrylands) gave me a job teaching economics and geography.

Although the school served a very working-class area, my students got outstanding results in their final High School examinations (the Higher School Certificate, which serves as the university entrance examination)

Lawyers, engineers and IT experts would be parachuted into classrooms to address crippling staff shortages under radical reforms that include pay rises of up to 40 per cent for the very best teachers.

The federal government’s Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership has laid out a blueprint for fixing the teacher shortage by recruiting university-educated workers to earn while they learn on the job to teach school students.

The plan includes a six to 12-month “paid internship’’ for career-changers to earn cash while upgrading their credentials with a two-year masters degree in education.

The reform recommendations from AITSL – the nation’s official agency for education quality – will be the focus of an emergency workforce summit with federal Education Minister Jason Clare and his state and territory counterparts next week.

AITSL also wants to improve the quality of university training for teachers.

Mr Clare said ministers would “pick the brains’’ of individual teachers and principals invited to the meeting. “We’ve got a teacher shortage right across the country at the moment,’’ he told federal parliament on Monday.

“There are more kids going to school now than ever before … but there are fewer people going on to university to study teaching.’’

Mr Clare said the number of teachers in training had dropped 16 per cent over the past decade.

“More and more teachers are leaving the profession early, either because they feel burnt out, worn out, or for other reasons’’ he said.

Mr Clare said the federal government was offering bursaries worth up to $40,000 for the “best and brightest’’ school leavers to enrol in a teaching degree.

He said the government’s High Achievers Teachers program would encourage more mid-career professionals to switch to the classroom.

AITSL chief executive Mark Grant said the nation’s top teachers – recognised as “highly accomplished’’ or “lead” teachers – are now being paid up to 10 per cent more than other teachers.

But he said lead teachers overseas were paid up to 40 per cent more than their colleagues, to prevent them quitting the profession for higher-paying jobs in other fields.

Translated to Australia, a 40 per cent pay rise would involve a $50,000 bonus to boost teacher salaries above $175,000. “The biggest influence on student learning is the quality of teaching,’’ Mr Grant told The Australian.

AITSL will propose the higher pay for lead teachers at the ministerial roundtable, which will also include teacher unions as well as Catholic and private school organisations.

The AITSL proposal – including a plan to fast-track other professionals into classroom teaching – is based on its submission to the Productivity Commission’s review of the National School Reform Agreement.

“There is evidence that increasing the level of pay for high-level positions would make the profession more attractive than more expensive generalised pay rises,’’ the submission states.

“Australia is facing a critical shortage of teachers due to a number of factors including growing school enrolments, a drop in the number of individuals enrolled in teaching degrees, an ageing workforce and a percentage of teachers leaving the profession to embark on different careers each year.

“Clear action is needed to ensure that a career in teaching is an attractive one.’’

AITSL notes that only 1025 teachers – or 0.3 per cent of the workforce – have been certified as lead teachers.

Education Minister Jason Clare says he doesn’t want Australia to be a country where life opportunities “depend on…
It recommends that states and territories create more “master teacher’’ roles, modelled on Singapore’s high-performing education system.

“These teachers would retain a significant classroom teaching load, but also be responsible for coaching other teachers to improve practice, supervising pre-service and beginning teachers, and leading initiatives to improve pedagogy within and across schools,’’ it states.

“Their pay should recognise their expertise and reward them for taking leadership roles in the system.’’

AITSL recommends that professionals such as engineers, scientists, lawyers, accountants and IT workers be allowed to work in schools for six to 12 months in paid internships, as part of their two-year master’s degree in education.

“The implementation of paid internships or residencies encourages high-quality candidates to complete an ITE (teaching) qualification, reducing the financial disincentives of undertaking study, including a lack of income,’’ it states.

“At the same time, internships increase the time spent in the classroom prior to full-time employment.

“Structured time spent in the classroom supports the pre-service teachers’ skill development in curriculum delivery and critical skills including classroom management and student engagement.’’

AITSL also wants to set up a national board to review university degrees for student teachers, to ensure “quality and consistency’’ of teacher training.

The AITSL blueprint for reform coincides with action from the NSW government to cut red tape for teachers in the nation’s biggest schooling system.

An extra 200 administrative staff will be sent into schools in term four to relieve teachers of some of the paperwork that principals warn is causing burnout.

NSW will also release high-quality, sequenced curriculum resources to help teachers plan for lessons.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the biggest tax on teachers’ time was sourcing or producing high-quality teaching resources.

“We want to ease that workload by providing online access to universally available learning curriculum materials they can draw from to free up lesson planning time each week,’’ Mr Perrottet said.

The Australian Primary Principals Association criticised the new national curriculum last week, declaring it was “impossible to teach’’.

The Australian Education Union has also blasted the curriculum, describing teachers’ workload as “excessive, unsustainable and unrealistic’’.

It says the two-year review of the curriculum, which had 20 per cent of its content cut in April, had failed to “declutter’’ the teaching document.

“Feedback from Queensland, which is the only jurisdiction to implement the Australian curriculum in full, suggests that the changes have not succeeded in this aim,’’ the AEU states in its submission to the Productivity Commission.

“The AEU has had numerous reports from teachers in Queensland that they are concerned about the workload implications of implementing the identified curriculum changes, and that there has been very little reduction of the cluttered curriculum, which is unlikely to improve student outcomes’’.


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