Our teachers can adapt and change; they are a resilient group of people. In fact, 90% of teachers report that they experience a sense of fulfillment and gratification from their work.1 But we all know expectations on teachers, pressures on schools, and workforce shortages are taking a toll.

So, what is the solution? How do we ensure teaching is a profession that can attract and retain passionate candidates? It is a national problem, and something all states and territories are working to resolve together. 

On 12 August, I was privileged to join Australia's 9 education ministers, 10 teachers and school leaders, and several other leaders and experts from across the education sector at a Teacher Workforce Roundtable. At the Roundtable, we heard directly from teachers about the challenges they're facing. Their stories at times were confronting and touched on issues of workload, working conditions, and professional status. 

As a former teacher and principal, I know first-hand how dedicated teachers are, and that they often work above and beyond their paid working hours. Teaching is a complex craft that requires adaptability to accommodate changing conditions on any given day, at any given time. Teacher expertise, in fact, is the greatest in-school influence on outcomes for our learners, which is why we need to ensure we have quality teachers in front of our students in every classroom, every day. 

Complementing this is the importance that astute school leadership plays: a diverse and complex role that includes guiding teacher growth and career path planning, whether it be through a teaching expertise pathway, or school leadership and management. 

These rightly remain key goals for Australia’s education employers, and critically, have been raised by AITSL with the Productivity Commission in their review of the National School Reform Agreement. 

Attracting new candidates to teaching through initial teacher education is very important – but retaining our existing workforce is critical in preventing teacher shortages. To achieve this, we must address the issue of unsustainable workloads and ensure teaching expertise is valued – and appropriately rewarded.

Following the Teacher Workforce Roundtable, ministers released a Communique indicating they have agreed to the development of a National Teacher Workforce Action Plan. The federal Minister for Education, the Hon Jason Clare MP, has advised that input from teachers across Australia will help shape the Action Plan, to be developed over the coming months. AITSL will no doubt play an important role in this too. 

I am passionate about ensuring that Australia has a teaching workforce that is highly respected and valued by students, parents and the broader community. Respect for teachers and their work is inherently based on professional status. 

Key to elevating the status of the profession is providing opportunities for teachers to be appropriately recognised for their expertise. This is something that AITSL is passionate about and has advocated for action on for many years. Initiatives like the national certification of Highly Accomplished and Lead teachers are important because we know it benefits students and helps teachers progress their career, all while retaining our most expert teachers in the classroom. This must be a central tenet of future reforms.

We are also looking at ways to support pre-service teachers to work in schools as paraprofessionals while completing their initial teacher education, providing an additional resource for existing teachers to reduce their administrative burden, freeing them up to do the most critical part of their role – teaching. 

Our background paper on teacher workforce strategy, Teaching Futures, outlines a conceptual framework for a national teacher labour market model, which could build on the contributions that the Commonwealth, state and territory governments have made to the Australian Teacher Workforce Data initiative over recent years. This won’t be a quick fix, but by analysing both supply and demand, we will know the extent of the problem we are facing and can ensure fit-for-purpose solutions. 

Australia needs to take comprehensive action now to ensure that our current teachers can thrive, that we attract and prepare high-quality teacher candidates, and that new teachers are deployed where they're needed most – with the necessary induction support. We need to ensure teachers are given opportunities for ongoing development and recognise teaching expertise, and ultimately, we need to retain our teachers in the profession long-term. 

We are up for the challenge and look forward to continuing to work with our stakeholders to ensure Australia’s students continue to have access to the high-quality teachers they deserve.  

1 OECD 2020, Results from TALIS 2018: Volume II – Country Note (Australia), https://www.oecd.org/education/talis/TALIS2018_CN_AUS_Vol_II.pdf