Fix workload and salaries to keep teachers teaching


20 December 2023

In short:

  • The recruitment campaign to attract more teachers to the profession is not enough to overcome the workforce crisis.
  • Education completions are declining and teachers are leaving the profession before retirement.
  • Workload and salary are major drivers of the teacher exodus.

The national recruitment campaign to encourage more people to choose teaching, Be That Teacher, is a welcome move by federal, state and territory governments.

But it is not enough.

AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe says that teaching is the greatest profession of all and positive recruitment campaigns are important in order to attract more people to the profession: “But nobody should think this is the answer to a recruitment and retention crisis that has been decades in the making.”

Haythorpe says nine out of 10 public school principals across the nation reported teacher shortages this year and the number one issue driving people from the profession is unsustainable workloads.

Fewer teachers, more students

The federal government is predicting that demand for secondary teachers will exceed the supply of new graduate teachers by around 4100 between 2021 and 2025, which reflects strong student enrolment growth.

But, with declining initial teacher education enrolments, fewer new teachers graduating and an ageing teacher workforce retention problem, the teaching workforce supply issue must be an immediate government priority, says Haythorpe.

A new report by senior researcher Barbara Preston, which examines the responses given by the 384,807 school teachers in the 2021 Census, indicates that attracting new teachers is only part of the problem. Keeping teachers in the profession is equally important.

The Australian School Teaching Workforce report, which was commissioned by the AEU, found that initial teacher education completions declined by 15 per cent between 2011 and 2020 compared with the nursing profession, where completions increased by 75 per cent during the same period.

This follows a decade in which the increase in initial teacher education completions was just 33 per cent, compared with the pre-registration nurse and midwifery increase of 81 per cent.

“Given the similarities between the professions, teacher shortages in the 2020s are unsurprising,” the report says.

Of those new graduates, the profession loses a significant number in the first five years of work (up to 50 per cent according to some studies) and, of those who stay longer, many leave before retirement age.

A 2022 Monash University study of almost 5500 teachers found that only 27 per cent planned to stay in the profession until retirement.

Workload and salaries

The Monash study found workload and respect to be major issues for those surveyed and additional pressures included:

  • complexity of the learning, behaviour and social needs of children and young people
  • an increasing burden of administration and data collection tasks
  • limited support from school and system leadership
  • an overloaded curriculum.

Teachers work much longer hours than workers in comparable professions with a similar level of qualifications, the Preston report says.

Teachers with the highest qualification in a specialist subject also work much longer hours than those in other jobs with the same specialist subject qualification as their highest qualification.

For example, around 45 per cent of maths teachers work more than 45 hours per week compared with 25 per cent of those with a similar maths qualification working outside the teaching profession.

Salaries are another major driver of the exodus of teachers from the profession.

The Preston report finds the incomes of public school teachers are on average lower than their counterparts in the private sector, especially in the peak career age range 45 to 49.

Public school classroom teachers begin their careers earning less, on average, than accountants, information and communications technology (ICT) professionals, engineering professionals and solicitors, and the gap increases with age. Meanwhile, the estimated average annual salaries of public school principals are substantially lower than those of private school principals as well as managers in the finance, ICT and engineering sectors.

The AEU’s For Every Child campaign blueprint points out that the quality of education is at risk unless workloads are reduced and additional time is provided for teaching and learning. The campaign calls for: cuts to admin and compliance work, more time for lesson planning, extra system-wide support to help students with higher needs, a focus on wellbeing for teachers and principals, reduced class sizes, more education support personnel in classrooms and access to specialist staff, and consultation with teachers about any proposed policies or reforms.

Addressing unsustainable workloads, better salaries and working conditions are critical steps that must be taken by all governments, says Haythorpe.

“Indeed, the PM can lead this campaign by honouring his government’s commitment to end the underfunding of public schools.

“That is the first step to ensure that the teaching profession has the tools and resources needed to provide high-quality education for all while being respected with appropriate salary and conditions of work.”

This article was originally published in the Australian Educator, Summer 2023