The answer to teacher shortages

This is an edited version of an article that was originally published in the November 2010 print edition of Teacher.

Research suggests we have too many and too few teachers, but where we do have real shortages we need both to retain locally trained teachers and attract them from overseas. Danielle Roddick reports.

So often we hear of a dilemma that faces Australian schools – that there are just not enough experienced teachers to go around. Why, then, are so many overseas-trained teachers finding it difficult to get a full-time job in this country?

Associate Professor Carol Reid from the University of Western Sydney (UWS) says there is a teacher shortage in Australia, but the problem is not as widespread as we are led to believe.

‘Many overseas-trained teachers are encouraged to move to Australia, and do so in the belief that our country is in desperate need of teachers and that their skills will be in high demand,’ says Reid, who is based in the Centre for Educational Research and the School of Education at UWS. ‘It’s only when they arrive in Australia that they realise that permanent teaching positions in most Australian states are very scarce, and that any job shortages are geographic or discipline based.’

Reid says Australia’s teacher shortages are confined to the disciplines of science, technology, mathematics and some languages; regional areas of Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales; and south-western and western Sydney. Reid was the lead researcher on a three year collaborative research project with Professor Jock Collins at the University of Technology, Sydney and Professor Michael Singh of the UWS Centre for Educational Research. The project, entitled ‘Globalisation and Teacher Movements Into and Out of Multicultural Australia,’ was funded by the Australian Research Council and involved a survey of 272 migrant teachers living in Australia.

The aim of the research was to understand the global movements of teachers, including the circumstances in which they migrate to Australia. The results indicated that 30 per cent of the migrant teachers surveyed were dissatisfied with their experience of migrating to Australia, and 40 per cent had experienced significant periods of unemployment since their arrival.

‘Overall, the majority of immigrant teachers are satisfied personally and professionally about their experiences migrating to Australia,’ says Reid. ‘In all states, however, a substantial minority were dissatisfied with the lack of support in schools and the fact that their teaching, skills and experience were not recognised and rewarded adequately.’

Reid says migrants bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience that can enrich the cultural fabric of our towns and cities, and contribute to a more outward looking and inclusive Australia. ‘Just as migrants were essential to the growth of our country in the last century, skilled migrants are again needed to fill labour shortages, especially in regional and rural Australia,’ she says. ‘If we are to take advantage of the skills of migrants – and use them to fill the teacher shortages that do exist in Australia – certain changes need to be made in order to make the immigration process more effective and user-friendly.’

The final ‘Globalisation and Teacher Movements’ research report provides detailed recommendations for such changes, including:

  • increasing the transparency of migration policies and processes, and improving communication with migrants to ensure they understand the realities of working in Australia
  • streamlining the teacher registration, recruitment and induction processes throughout all states and territories to improve teacher mobility
  • increasing opportunities for migrant teachers to secure permanent teaching positions
  • formally recognising and rewarding overseas teaching, skills and experiences in terms of income and opportunities, and
  • providing personalised connections and support to address any problems that the migrant teacher may encounter across all areas of their personal and professional lives, particularly in their first six months in Australia.

According to Reid, though, the answer to Australia’s teacher problems doesn’t rest solely with migrant teachers but also with teachers trained on home soil.

‘The “Globalisation and Teacher Movements” research project aimed to identify the key factors that explain how and why overseas teachers come to Australia – but it also explored the reasons why Australian teachers leave to teach overseas,’ she says.

‘There are approximately 438,060 teachers in Australia – 75.1 per cent of which are Australian citizens. The research found that Australia loses significant numbers of our home-grown teachers to overseas countries. In the period from July 2001 to July 2005, Australia lost 5,819 trained teachers to the United Kingdom alone.’ We need to focus on retaining the teachers who are trained here, as much as attracting those that are trained overseas, Reid says.

The final ‘Globalisation and Teacher Movements’ research report also provides detailed recommendations to achieve such an aim, including:

  • a review of the pay scales for teachers in Australia
  • increased remuneration or reward for the professional development, knowledge and continued service of teachers in Australia, and
  • formal recognition and reward of the teaching, skills and experiences that teachers have acquired while overseas

Industry partners in the ‘Globalisation and Teacher Movements’ research project were: New South Wales Department of Education and Training; NSW Teachers Federation; South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services; Australian Education Union SA; Western Australian Department of Education; and WA Department of Training and Workforce Development.

This is an edited version of an article that was originally published in the November 2010 print edition of Teacher. The author biography remains unchanged and may not be accurate at this point in time.