Education Union calls for urgent action on teacher shortage crisis

A chronic teacher shortage is gripping Tasmania and the Australian Education Union says the Department of Education’s response could make the problem worse.

Data projections show hundreds more teachers must be employed across Tasmania to keep pace with rising student enrolments. However, the number of students enrolling in university teaching courses is dropping dramatically, adding to concerns the crisis may worsen before it gets better.

Australian Education Union Tasmania President David Genford said the state government must immediately outline a plan to fix Tasmania’s teacher deficit and ensure the upcoming state budget provides funding for additional teachers, incentives and improved conditions.

“Our working conditions as teachers are the learning conditions of our students and teacher shortages, excessive workloads and undervaluing teachers directly affects the children we teach,” said David Genford.

“Every Tasmanian public school and every Tasmanian student is underfunded by nine percent and we’re really seeing the impact on students, teachers and support staff.”

“Public schools and colleges didn’t rate a mention in the Premier’s State of the State speech, but they are critical to our future and our economy – the state budget needs to prioritise students, public schools, colleges and teachers.”

The Department of Education has acknowledged the teacher shortage, admitting that schools are currently experiencing a significant shortage of qualified teachers to fill roles state-wide.

In response to the crisis, the Department of Education has added new restrictions to Leave Without Pay for staff, but there are concerns this policy could exasperate the situation.

“Teachers suffering from excessive workloads, sometimes a result of the teacher shortage, may recognise they are close to breaking point and need to take some leave. Denying them Leave Without Pay could be the thing that forces them onto workers compensation or pushes them out of the profession entirely.”

“We need more teachers and to achieve that we need to improve their conditions – not restrict leave for teachers who may desperately need it.”

University figures show teaching degree completion rates have fallen to around 33 per cent – down from 55 per cent 15 years ago. The number of university students commencing a teaching degree grew by just four per cent compared to 37 percent in all fields of study over this same period. The total number of teaching graduates declined five per cent, compared with a 40 per cent increase in completions across all fields of study from 2009 to 2019.

Mr Genford said Tasmania’s teacher shortage was linked to diminished teaching desirability because of increased workload stress and low pay conditions in Tasmanian schools.

“Our most recent AEU member surveys show teachers are reporting ever increasing workplace stress, burnout and mental strain linked to their job. COVID has made things even tougher.”

“Teaching is an incredibly rewarding job, but jobs shouldn’t hurt and if we want to get more of the right people into teaching we need to look after the people we have.”

Grattan Institute figures project Tasmanian student numbers will increase to 85,727 by 2026 – 2342 more students than ten years prior.

Based on expected student growth, a minimum of 168 new full time teachers will need to be employed by 2026, on top of replacing high numbers of retirements.

“The upcoming State Budget is a critical opportunity for the government to address this crisis in teaching – teachers have the solutions, it’s time for governments to listen,” said David Genford.

If every Tasmanian public school was funded to the minimum Schooling Resource Standard written into federal legislation, an additional 1,409 teachers could be employed – an average of seven and a half teachers for every school.