SUBJECTS: Education Ministers Meeting; teacher shortage
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Today is a really important day. Today we’ll get teachers and principals and other education experts together to talk about the teacher shortage right across the country. There aren’t many jobs in Australia that are more important than being a teacher and we don’t have enough of them. There is a shortage that we’ve seen right across the country. It is not just because of the COVID or the flu. It’s bigger than that.
More and more kids are going to school than ever before. That’s a great thing. We’ve seen an increase of about 10 per cent in the last few years in terms of student numbers, but at the same time we’ve seen a drop of about 16 per cent in the number of young people going to uni to become a teacher.
So the sorts of things we want to talk about today: How do we encourage more young people to want to become a teacher? How do we build the respect and reputation of this extraordinarily important profession? How do we prepare more young people who are training to be a teacher to get ready for the classroom? That involves things like improving the prac experience, internships, mentoring, induction, preparation for managing disruptive classrooms. How do we keep the teachers we’ve got? Because we’ve got to do two things: we’ve got to increase supply, but we’ve also got to improve retention. A big part of the conversation today will be about that. In particular, teacher workload, giving teachers more time to teach.
The other thing I just want to stress before we take questions is that this is not just a conversation with Ministers talking with Ministers. If we’re going to fix this, then we have to think about new solutions, new ideas. We also need to talk to the teachers themselves. What today is about is listening to teachers and listening to principals and other education experts about what they think are the things we should be doing to help to tackle this really important issue.
Happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: I think a number of senior teachers would probably say, Minister, that the workload is so excessive and is becoming worse and worse. They’re working 6.30 ‘til 6.30 or 7.00 every night. I don’t know if you’d find a senior teacher out there that would encourage people to come into a career given how excessive the workload is. What can the Federal Government do to help alleviate that pressure? Would that encourage more teachers?
CLARE: You didn’t mention the weekend and teachers will tell you they’re working on the weekend as well. Often, you’ll find that a whole family are teachers. It runs in the family. They love the job because they know they change the world. You do change individual lives and together you can change the lives of thousands and thousands of people in this job. I talked in a speech I made in answer to a question in Parliament last week about Cathy Fry, the teacher who taught me when I was a little kid at Cabramatta Public School. She’s been there for 40 years. Just think about how many lives she’s helped shape and change, how many people she’s inspired in of all that time. But talk to teachers and workload is a big issue. The idea that they start at 9 and finish at 3 is rubbish. It’s not true. Whether it’s the admin side of it, or the paperwork you’ve got to fill out for an excursion, for example, or lesson planning, all the preparation needed to get ready to teach, it takes time, and it can burn people out.
New South Wales have got some good ideas on the table around that. I remember a long time ago when I was working with police, police were making the same argument to me about the work that they do in a police station that didn’t require an authorised officer to do it and how by employing other non-authorised police officers in a police station, you can free police officers to do their job on the street. The same argument is true here. What can we do to employ other people in a school to free teachers up to give them more time to teach? New South Wales to their credit have got this on the table. They’ve got some things that they’re implementing. There are other states doing this as well. I want to hear from teachers as well about it today.
JOURNALIST: We’ve seen a lot of meetings like this in years gone by. How confident are you that you can actually get outcomes, rather than everyone just laying out the same problems over and over?
CLARE: I’m pretty confident. The first thing I did when I got the job was go around the country to talk to all of the Ministers. They all mentioned this. They said it’s a problem. And they’re not sitting back doing nothing. That’s not the way to look at this. They’ve already got plans in place to try to tackle this. You can’t do it on your own, though. It needs the Federal Government and State and Territory Governments working together. The Federal Government plays a big role in funding the universities and training people to become teachers. States play a big role with salary and working conditions because they’re the employers of most of the teachers. Together, through the things that we do and the things that we say, we can help to build the reputation and the status of teachers as well. At the end of the day, it takes political will and I think the will is there. We wouldn’t be doing this, we wouldn’t be bringing teachers together to talk to us unless there was a genuine desire to make change here. Because if we don’t, it’s our kids that will suffer.
JOURNALIST: On numbers, that 4,100 shortfall, how much do you think you can actually reduce that figure by? Can you put a figure on it?
CLARE: I’m not going to arbitrarily put a figure on it. I just make the point that we’ve got to look at series of different measures that are going to make a difference. There’s not one single thing that if you say, “okay if I do that, that’s going to turn it around”. But by a series of measures, building the status of the profession, raising the reputation of the profession we can make a difference. If more of us talk about how important being a teacher is, encourage more people to think about it as the first thing they want to do when they finish school, if we can improve the way universities operate, we can make a big difference as well.
So, let me give you one example of that. About 50 per cent of people who start teaching finish a teaching degree. About 70 per cent of people who start a uni degree generally finish that university degree. If we were able to turn that 50 per cent into 60 per cent, then suddenly you’d have a lot more teachers in our schools. We want to look at how we use the Commonwealth Supported Places, the Federal Government funding, to allocate it to universities that are doing exceptionally well at training students to become teachers and getting those higher completion rates, but also it's about making sure that when somebody becomes a teacher, that they stay there.
There’s two things there. If we’ve got lots and lots of teachers leaving after one or two or three years, then there’s something wrong. That is sometimes bad induction, not enough mentoring support for young teachers by more senior teachers in the school or advice and assistance with classroom management. We can do a better job there. Also, we need to think about what are we going to do to help some of our most experienced teachers to stay in the classroom? And you’ve seen the conversation that has taken place over the last few weeks around pay and conditions. States are doing some good thinking around that. I want to hear more about it today.
JOURNALIST: So if you won’t put a figure on it, is it realistic that you can reduce that 4,100 in a year, two years?
CLARE: I’m not playing numbers here. What I’m looking for is ideas to encourage more people to become teachers and get the great teachers we’ve already got to stay in our classrooms, changing lives.