Shortages force teachers to take classes outside areas of expertise

Teacher shortages in NSW are so bad that vacant positions are taking months to fill and growing numbers of teachers are required to teach outside their area of expertise, internal government documents show.

NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said the Department of Education’s reports said acute shortages meant over 100,000 secondary students were taught by teachers who were teaching outside their subject area.

The reports also show the government commissioned, and then buried, research that shows students do better in the HSC when they are taught by teachers who are fully qualified in the subject area.

A Department of Education strategy document warned in January last year of “critical supply gaps”, with only half the subject-qualified teachers needed in special education. The average time to fill vacant positions ranged from 3.6 to 4.1 months, with rural vacancies the worst.

A total of 76% of year 7-10 students had been taught maths by out of field teachers for at least a year.

In June 2020 the department said: “NSW public schools have a high proportion of out-of-field teachers which impacts on student outcomes. Out of field teachers account for 15% of total teachers and 14% of secondary school teachers, 18% of maths teachers, 12% of science teachers and 35% of special education teachers.” There was also high rates of out of field teaching reported in English, Geography and History.

In rural and remote areas the rates were far higher, with the out of area teaching of year 7-10 maths 42% higher in the rural south west and rural north districts than in metropolitan schools. In the rural south west the rate of out of area teaching of year 7-10 English was 57% higher than in metropolitan schools.

In November 2020 the department warned the government could by 2025 be 2,000 teachers short of the number necessary to meet the needs of students.

Mr Gavrielatos said the government had spent many years trying to paper over the shortages by requiring secondary teachers to deliver subjects that they did not have a university qualification in.

“This is unsustainable and not what children deserve,” he said. “It impacts on children and it impacts on teachers through the additional stress and workload they face on a day to day basis.

“Its not just the subjects such as maths and science and it is not just in rural and remote areas. It is across the board.

“These documents show the government knows only too well the dire impact of teacher shortages and yet instead of fixing the problems, it has tried to cover them up.

“As the department said in 2019: ‘Insufficient teacher supply is a critical risk to improved student outcomes, both now and in the future.’

What is also clear from the department’s research is that the salaries of teachers have been falling compared to other professions since the 1980s and that is having a direct impact on the attractiveness of the profession.

“At a time when university graduate numbers are plummeting by nearly 30% and student enrolments are rising fast the government must accept its 2.5% wage cap, along with excessive teacher workloads, is severely limiting the attractiveness of teaching.

“The evidence is clear that lifting salaries will improve the retention of teachers and make the profession more attractive to high achievers.”