Australia’s student-aged population is growing, and that means demand for additional teachers, classes and even new schools is on the rise. Paul Weldon reports.
The population of primary school students in Australia is rising, and will begin flowing through to secondary school from 2018. At the same time, the part-time employment of teachers is becoming more prevalent, while the proportion of male teachers in secondary school continues to decline.
These factors in combination indicate that after years of a teacher surplus, Australia will experience a growing demand for teachers as well as additional classrooms and even new schools in the next decade or so, according to The Teacher Workforce in Australia: Supply, demand and data issues report, published in March by the Centre for Education Policy and Practice at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).
The teacher workforce
The report notes that current teacher supply varies across Australia, with most states and territories still experiencing an oversupply of generalist primary teachers, particularly in some metropolitan regions. The secondary picture is more complex, with the sector experiencing both an oversupply and undersupply of teachers, varying by subject areas, state and regional and remote location.
The report indicates that the population boom that began in 2008 is beginning to increase demand for primary teachers. Calculated on the basis of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, New South Wales is projected to require teachers for the equivalent of 385 additional primary classes (of 24 students) each year until 2020. Victoria is likely to require teachers for 448 additional primary classes each year, Queensland for 443 classes and Western Australia for 351 classes.
The aim of The Teacher Workforce in Australia report is to assist school and system leaders to understand how many new teachers will be needed in the workforce in order to meet the needs of the growing student population, particularly in regional and remote locations, and in some specialist subjects.
The Australian Government no longer caps the maximum number of funded places in undergraduate initial teacher education courses, allowing course providers to enrol as few or as many undergraduates as they want, or can attract, and numbers have been rising in the last few years as a result. With the movement to two-year postgraduate teaching courses and potential changes to the cost of higher education flagged by the government, however, the future supply of teachers is profoundly uncertain.
Assuming the pool of initial teacher education undergraduates remains at current levels, primary schools may face a supply shortage in some locations, although the oversupply of generalist primary teachers is likely to continue in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. In secondary schools, it is likely that shortages in some subjects will become acute unless supply can be enhanced.
The report identifies a likely shortage of teachers of secondary physics, computing and IT, mathematics and chemistry. About 20 per cent of mathematics and physics teachers are currently teaching out-of-field, and out-of-field teaching in some subjects is likely to become more acute over the next 10 years if the projected rising demand is not addressed.
Key elements to ensuring an adequate supply of teachers include growth in the number of people completing initial teacher education courses, particularly in mathematics and the sciences, increasing the rate at which they enter a teaching career and increasing the rate at which they are retained in the early years of their teaching career.
Besides informing policy and planning decisions about current and projected workforce requirements, the report also indicates that more classes and even new schools will be required.
The increasing student-aged population will require additional classes in existing primary schools every year until at least 2025. This significant increase in numbers may require the construction of new schools in areas such as outer metropolitan growth corridors.
The report indicates that Catholic and independent schools, which account for one-quarter to one-third of all schools, may not have the infrastructure to maintain their current share of students and cope with the resulting high demand in the short to medium term. This may lead to a rise in the proportion of students entering government schools, at least in some areas.
The Teacher Workforce in Australia report identifies the need to recruit high-quality candidates into rigorous teacher education programs simply to maintain the quality of Australia’s school system. It also shows that higher education providers, school systems and schools need to work together to ensure the supply and retention of the high-quality teachers needed in order that Australian students can achieve strong outcomes. ■
Read the full report:
Download the ACER Centre for Education Policy and Practice report, The Teacher Workforce in Australia: Supply, demand and data issues.