Without action NSW could run out of teachers

NSW is at risk of running out of teachers within five years due to chronic shortages, plummeting graduate numbers, rising enrolments and an ageing workforce, according to confidential government documents.

The Department of Education documents, reported on today, reveal for the first time the true extent of the staffing crisis with a warning in June last year: “If we don’t address supply gaps now, we will run out of teachers in the next 5 years.”

The situation has only got worse since then with a briefing to the Education Minister Sarah Mitchell in July this year warning: “NSW is facing a large and growing shortage of teachers – such as STEM, inclusive education, in rural and regional areas, secondary and where there has been significant population growth.”

NSWTF President Angelo Gavrielatos said the alarming findings, combined with a recent report that NSW could run out of classrooms by 2023, showed the need for immediate government action.

He said the documents made clear that teachers pay had been falling in comparison with other professions and that was a barrier to recruiting high achieving students.

“This will be a test of the new premier’s commitment to our children and our teachers,” he said.

“These documents show the government has been fully aware of the worsening staffing crisis and has betrayed teachers, parents, principals and students by repeatedly denying the seriousness of the problems instead of addressing them.

“Their own advice is clear that the decline in the salaries of teachers compared to other professions is limiting the attractiveness of the profession.

“We have to fix the shortages and make teaching the dream job for high achieving young people and we can’t do that with uncompetitive wages and unsustainable workloads.”

The department warned in June 2020 of a shortfall of 2,425 teachers in 2025 due to rising enrolments, an ageing workforce and decreasing supply of graduates. It said student outcomes could not be improved “without having a sufficient supply of high quality teachers available where and when they are needed”.

“At a time of rising enrolments, the lack of graduates is a major concern with a 29% decrease in the number of students beginning a teacher education course between 2014 and 2019. This is expected to worsen,” Mr Gavrielatos said.

“In addition, 28% of teachers will reach retirement age by 2024.”

Mr Gavrielatos said while the department’s reports were alarming, they appeared to be still underestimating the number of teachers required.

Research based on the department’s own enrolment forecasts show between 11,000 and 13,700 additional teachers will be needed by 2031, an increase of between 20% and 25% on 2020 levels.

“Nobody should be in any doubt how serious this is for our children and teachers and the future quality of education in NSW,” Mr Gavrielatos said.

“Big problems require big solutions and it’s time for the government to finally acknowledge the seriousness of the situation and to work with the profession to address it.

“We have been waiting 10 years for a 10 year workforce plan from this government and they have produced nothing that reflects the scale of the crisis we are facing or the solutions required.

“A credible workforce plan must include action on two of the biggest factors leading to teacher shortages: uncompetitive wages and unsustainable workloads.

“Every year teachers have been asked to do more but every year their pay has fallen in comparison with other professions.”

The industrial award that determines the salaries and conditions of teachers expires in December. In line with the recommendations of the independent Gallop inquiry, teachers and principals are seeking a salary increase of between 5 to 7.5 per cent a year and an increase in preparation time of 2 hours a week.

The impact of teacher shortages is clear in Government figures that show classes are being combined and students only given minimal supervision on hundreds of occasions in city and country schools due to a lack of teachers.