The Great Lesson: Is a Mass Teacher Resignation Inevitable Without Intervention?

An overhaul is needed or there will be consequences.
The teachers are leaving, what needs to be done?

Our K-12 education system is in urgent need of direct interventions that will support the workforce that keeps it running.

So, as the election race gets underway, we’re imploring all our politicians to stop the short-term cycle and invest in a long-term approach that targets the foundational workforce strategy and culture of our education system.

You see, while the $25.3 billion funding for schools in 2022 is at an all-time high, the focus falls short on how we’re attracting and retaining teachers.

Without teachers, we don’t have an education system. No high-tech classroom can replace a skilled workforce charged with educating our children.

However, we ought to be alarmed about reports of teacher shortages and forecasts predicting future shortages in the tens of thousands.

PeopleBench’s most recent State of the Sector report found that workforce shortages had moved from the fifth most pressing challenge, to the second in 2021 and is anticipated by industry leaders to hit number one workplace priority by 2024 (1).

Firstly, the demand for teachers caused by student enrolment growth is outpacing the supply of new teachers (1.4% versus 0.6%, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) (2).

More alarming still, however, is the rate at which teachers are exiting the sector, compounded by the stress and hardship of Covid, the fallout of which we have likely not yet truly experienced.

In fact, research from AITSL in 2021 suggests one-in-four teachers will leave the profession ahead of retirement with more than half of those planning to do so in under ten years (3).

Why? Workload and the ability to cope with the escalating demands of the job. Data tells us that nine-in-ten teachers planning to leave the industry cited reasons related to this (4). This sentiment carried through our own State of the Sector report as well, with the most common themes centring around exhaustion, overwhelm and busyness.

If we’re going to retain and attract teachers, we need to take action. And that’s going to take more than a pay rise.

It’s going to require dedicated allies who are committed to tackling the underlying challenges of workforce strategy and culture in the education sector.

We need immediate and strategic action that addresses the increasing challenges of teacher wellbeing and resilience. Engage our teachers in the redesign of their roles. Listen and learn.

Allow the insight of the industry to shape jobs of the future, and better reflect major service delivery changes such as the rise in online and hybrid learning.

We need as much focus on benchmarking and managing risks of work intensification and burnout as we place on student performance and outcomes. After all, you can’t have the latter without the former.

It’s a longer term play: a strategic plan that focuses on the complete hire-to-retire lifecycle in schools. One that leverages data to inform where finite effort and budgets should be spent, and focuses on workforce improvement initiatives that have a positive impact on student outcomes.

Our teachers deserve great workplaces. And this will be for the good of student outcomes and sustainable delivery of schooling now and well into the future.