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Taking stock of the teacher workforce

22 October 2014

Paul Weldon and Glenn Rowley discuss the findings of the latest Staff in Australia’s Schools survey and the implications for future workforce planning.

In 2013, more than 17 000 teachers, principals and deputy principals working in Australian schools took part in the Staff in Australia’s Schools (SiAS) survey by providing information about their background and qualifications, their work and career intentions, and staffing issues. Commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Education, it was the third iteration of the national teacher workforce survey following surveys in 2007 and 2010. The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) has conducted all three surveys, under the guidance of an advisory committee of stakeholder groups.

The results of the 2013 survey were published in two reports completed in June 2014. Final survey responses were received from 5213 primary teachers, 10 349 secondary teachers, 765 primary leaders and 874 secondary leaders from a representative sample of schools. While the number of responding teachers and leaders across Australia is a substantial sample, the data enable estimates rather than provide a full census of the entire teaching workforce.

Collecting new workforce data is important for supporting ongoing teacher workforce planning, such as in assessing current teacher shortages, future career intentions and current teacher labour markets. In addition to ACER’s analyses, the de-identified data collected through SiAS are deposited in the Australian Data Archive for use by other analysts.

Table 1: Snapshot of results (2010-2013)

 

Primary Teachers

Secondary Teachers

Primary Leaders

Secondary Leaders

Average age

2013: 44 years

2010: 42 years

2013: 45 years

2010: 45 years

2013: 51 years

2010: 50 years

2013: 52 years

2010: 50 years

Proportion of females

2013: 81%

2010: 81%

2013: 58%

2010: 57%

2013: 66%

2010: 59%

2013: 48%

2010: 41%

Average salary

2013: $77,200

2010: $71,200

2013: $84,400

2010: $76,800

2013: $123,400*

2010: $108,600*

*Principals only

2013: $150,400*

2010: $132,500*

*Principals only

Average workload – all school-related activities (hours per week)

2013: 48 hours

2010: 46 hours

2013: 48 hours

2010: 46 hours

2013: 56 hours

2010: 56 hours

2013: 59 hours

2010: 59 hours

Average workload – face-to-face teaching (hours per week)

2013: 24 hours

2010: 23 hours

2013: 20 hours

2010: 19 hours

2013: 5 hours

2010: 6 hours

2013: 5 hours

2010: 4 hours

Average number of days spent in professional learning over the past year

2013: 10 days

2010:  9 days

2013: 8 days

2010: 8 days

2013: 14 days

2010: 15 days

2013: 12 days

2010: 13 days

Average length of time at current school

2013: 8 years

2010: 7 years

2013: 9 years

2010: 8 years

2013: 8 years

2010: 7 years

2013: 9 years

2010: 8 years

Demographics

The age distribution of the teacher workforce provides important information for planning. The proportion of primary teachers aged over 50 has grown from 27 per cent in 2010 to 32 per cent in 2013, while the proportion of secondary teachers aged over 50 years remains high at 36 per cent. For primary school leaders, the proportion aged over 55 changed from 51 per cent 2010 to 61 per cent in 2013. For secondary school leaders, the proportion aged over 55 changed from 53 per cent 2010 to 58 per cent in 2013. These trends suggest that large numbers of teachers will need to be recruited in the next few years to replace teachers who retire, and to service projected growth in student numbers.

Teachers in remote schools are younger on average than teachers in metropolitan schools, by around six years at primary level and three years at secondary level. Teachers and school leaders in low socioeconomic status (SES) schools tend be younger on average than teachers in medium and high SES schools.

Only around one per cent of teachers and leaders identified as being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) origin, below the three per cent proportion for the Australian population as a whole.

Teaching conditions

While full-time employment is the most common type of employment for both primary (73 per cent) and secondary teachers (81 per cent), the proportions have fallen since 2010 by four percentage points among primary teachers and two percentage points for secondary teachers.

The proportion of teachers employed on a permanent basis is much the same as in 2010 and remains high, with about 22 per cent of primary teachers and 15 per cent of secondary teachers working in fixed-term, contract or casual positions. The notable exception is among teachers aged 25 or younger, less than half of whom are in permanent positions. Lower proportions of leaders are employed on a permanent basis than are teachers: about 67 per cent at primary level and 70 per cent at secondary level.

The 2013 survey was the first of the SiAS surveys in which generalist primary teachers were asked to indicate the number of students enrolled in their class. Class sizes of 20 or fewer students account for about 18 per cent of generalist classes, while 42 per cent of classes have 21-25 students, 37 per cent have 26-30 students and three per cent have more than 30. In secondary schools, average class sizes in most subject areas range from 19-23 students in Years 7-10 and 13-18 students in Years 11-12.

Secondary teachers were asked for the first time to indicate the number and year level of classes taught. Teachers typically teach four classes,  averaging a little more than two at Years 7-10 and a little less than two at Years 11-12. The majority of teachers teach subjects across Years 7-12, but about 29 per cent only teach subjects in Years 7-10, and 10 per cent only teach subjects in Years 11-12.

Career paths

Asked to indicate at what stage of life they had made the decision to become a teacher – a new question in SiAS 2013 – 63 per cent of primary teachers and 46 per cent of secondary teachers indicated that they were still at school when they made that decision. Over one-fifth of secondary teachers and one-sixth of primary teachers made the decision to become a teacher while in other employment .

The 2013 survey reveals that the proportions of both primary and secondary teachers who have been in the same school for more than five years have increased while the proportions who have been in the same school for three years or fewer have dropped since 2010.

In 2013, five per cent of primary teachers and eight per cent of secondary teachers indicated that they intend to leave teaching permanently prior to retirement (down from seven per cent and 10 per cent respectively in 2010). As in 2010, approximately one third of respondents remained uncertain whether they would leave teaching prior to retirement, suggesting that career intentions are somewhat fluid, and difficult to predict with certainty.

Job satisfaction

Overall, 89 per cent of primary teachers indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their job in 2013, compared to 88 per cent in 2010. The corresponding rate for secondary teachers (85 per cent) was slightly lower than for primary teachers, but little different to the level for secondary teachers in 2010 (86 per cent).

As in 2010, the aspect of the job that teachers found most satisfying was their working relationships with colleagues (94 per cent for primary teachers and 92 per cent for secondary teachers). Primary teachers were least satisfied with feedback on performance (30 per cent were satisfied or very satisfied), while secondary teachers were least satisfied with the rewards available for superior performance (37 per cent were satisfied or very satisfied).

Just under 90 per cent of primary school leaders and 92 per cent of secondary leaders are satisfied or very satisfied with their job – two to three percentage points less than in 2010. The lowest level of satisfaction reported by leaders was in regard to the balance between working time and private life. Just 48 per cent of secondary leaders and 55 per cent of primary leaders reported being either satisfied or very satisfied with this aspect of the job; however, this was around six percentage points higher than in SiAS 2010. Leaders’ satisfaction with the staffing resources at their school also rose by over five percentage points since 2010, while secondary leaders’ satisfaction with their working relationships with parents/guardians fell by five percentage points.

Attracting and retaining teachers

Despite the relatively low numbers of principals reporting unfilled vacancies in individual curriculum areas, some still report difficulties in suitably filling staff vacancies across all areas of the curriculum. About four per cent of primary principals and eight per cent of secondary principals reported major difficulty in suitably filling staff vacancies during the past 12 months, and a further 17 per cent of primary principals and 27 per cent of secondary principals reported a moderate difficulty in recruiting staff.

As was the case in 2010, secondary principals report that the most common strategies to deal with staff shortages are to require teachers to teach outside their field of expertise, combine classes across year levels or recruit teachers on short-term contracts. These strategies are also commonly used by primary school principals, although to a lesser extent.

One possible strategy for dealing with teacher shortages at the secondary level may lie in the finding that smaller proportions of secondary teachers have received training in teaching methodology in individual curriculum areas than have studied the subject at tertiary level. For example, while 16 per cent of secondary teachers report some tertiary study in Computing, only 8 per cent indicate that they have been trained in teaching methodology in Computing. This suggests that it may be possible to improve the capacity of teachers to teach in shortage areas by encouraging more teachers who have undertaken tertiary study in those areas also to complete training in teaching methodology in those areas.

...it may be possible to improve the capacity of teachers to teach in shortage areas by encouraging more teachers who have undertaken tertiary study in those areas also to complete training in teaching methodology in those areas.

Primary principals were more inclined than secondary principals to see current salary structures – typically an incremental scale based on years of experience – as effective or very effective in attracting teachers (42 per cent compared to 29 per cent) and in retaining teachers (40 per cent compared to 27 per cent). This may reflect the fact that the qualifications held by many secondary teachers are more readily marketable in other fields than those held by primary teachers. Most respondents offered a generally negative appraisal of the effectiveness of current salary structures. Principals rated extra pay based on higher qualifications or successful completion of professional learning activities second and third respectively as effective or very effective in attracting or retaining teachers, with extra pay based on gains in students’ learning rated least likely to be effective.

SiAS 2013 reports a wealth of detail about the people who make up Australia's teaching workforce – their background and qualifications, the work they do, their satisfaction with their work, and their aspirations and intentions. Combined with the two previous reports in 2007 and 2010, it provides a fascinating portrait of a vital and changing profession. Readers wishing to learn more are invited to explore the details in the full report.

Further information:
Read the main report < https://docs.education.gov.au/node/36279 >

Read the Profiles of Teachers in Selected Curriculum Areas report < https://docs.education.gov.au/node/36281 >

RD

About the author

Dr Glenn Rowley is a former Principal Research Fellow in ACER's Teaching and Learning research program.
 

More [rd] articles by Glenn Rowley

View selected works of Glenn Rowley

RD

About the author

Dr Paul Weldon is a former Senior Research Fellow in ACER's Teaching and Learning research program.

More [rd] articles by Paul Weldon

View selected works of Paul Weldon

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