Australia's ageing teacher workforce

A survey of teachers and principals of Year 7 to 10 students has revealed an ageing workforce in Australian schools, which researchers warn has significant implications for succession planning.

The Australian report from the second cycle of the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) found the number of teachers aged 50 and over is rising, while the number who are aged 30 or under is falling.

The average age of the Australian teacher is 43.4 years, compared to the TALIS average of 42.9 years, while the average age of the Australian principal is 53.2 years, similar to the TALIS average of 51.5 years. However, looking at results in age categories rather than the average reveals a problem.

The proportion of teachers aged 50 or above has increased from 32.7 per cent in 2008 to 37.1 per cent in 2013.

The report, Australian Teachers and the Learning Environment: An analysis of teacher response to TALIS 2013, has been prepared by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) for the Commonwealth Department of Education.

In 2008, 24 countries participated in TALIS, expanding to 34 OECD and OECD-partner countries and sub-national entities in 2013. The list includes England, Canada, Finland, Korea and Singapore.

'The TALIS data support the long-held notion that many countries, including Australia, are experiencing a considerably ageing teaching workforce,' the Australian report says.

'In terms of individual country comparisons, the proportion of Australia’s teachers who are 50 years and above is higher than all but five countries ... Italy, Estonia, Bulgaria, Latvia and Sweden.

'In terms of succession planning, it is also significant that the proportion of teachers entering the profession in the age groups below 30 has decreased since 2008. In 2008, 18.2 per cent of Australian teachers were below 30 years of age. In 2013, this figure has dropped to 15.7 per cent.'

Over 2000 teachers of Years 7 to 10 and 149 principals in 149 schools from the government, Catholic and independent sectors took part in the 2013 survey, which collected a range of data.

The snapshot also reveals only two thirds (62.2 per cent) say their teacher training program addressed subject content knowledge, and 64 per cent say it addressed pedagogical content knowledge - below the TALIS averages of 72.5 per cent and 69.6 per cent respectively.

However, Australia has one of the highest educated teacher workforces with virtually all teachers holding an undergraduate or postgraduate diploma or degree or above, compared to the TALIS average of 90.9 per cent.

In relation to teaching out of field, in Australia 8.7 per cent of foreign language teachers, 7.2 per cent of English teachers, 5.6 per cent of science teachers and 5.3 per cent of mathematics teachers have received no formal education or training in their subject area.

Across all subject domains, 7.4 per cent of Australian teachers report feeling 'not at all prepared' or 'somewhat prepared' with respect to subject content, and 9.4 per cent report feeling 'underprepared'.

Australian Teachers and the Learning Environment: An analysis of teacher response to TALIS 2013 is available from the Commonwealth Department of Education website.