Transcript

The future teaching shortage

Lorraine LingLorraine Ling
l.ling@latrobe.edu.au

Audio

You can also listen to the interview (MP3 12.44MB).

iTunes

Visit this channel at La Trobe on iTunesU.

Matt Smith:

Welcome to the La Trobe University podcast. I would be your host, Matt Smith, and I'm here today with Professor Lorraine Ling. She's the Dean of the Faculty of Education and this is your second podcast. Welcome, Lorraine.

Lorraine Ling:

Yeah. Thank you, Matt.

Matt Smith:

May I just say to everyone that your first podcast was the fifth most popular podcast for 2009 and it has had nearly 5,000 listeners since August. So…

Lorraine Ling:

My goodness!

Matt Smith:

…keep the fake round of applause sustained there for a bit, quite an achievement. Congratulations.

Lorraine Ling:

Thank you.

Matt Smith:

Now, I've come to talk to you today because there was a recent newspaper article in The Age. And I've got a printout of it here from ABC News so it's been going around in a few places saying that the state of Victoria here in Australia will face a shortage of teacher graduates.

It says an Education Department report has found that the state will face a shortfall of almost 300 graduates a year in 2012. But the report also found that the global financial crisis could lead to more enrolments in teaching courses. The Education Minister Bronwyn Pike says the government already plans to lure us teachers back to the classroom to cope with projected shortfalls.

Lorraine, do you think the findings in this report are accurate? Are we going to experience those sort of shortfalls in Victoria?

Lorraine Ling:

Yes, Matt, it does appear that they are accurate. This is the 2008 teacher supply and demand report. And these are known to be based on very sound data collection and their projections are usually pretty right, we find.

So what they have found is that we're going to need 3,300 teachers each year and that we're going to be producing about 3,000, so that gives, as you said, a 300 shortfall in new teaching graduates.

So this is going to be a situation that is going to be felt in both primary and secondary schools, it would appear.

Matt Smith:

It's covering both primary and secondary?

Lorraine Ling:

It is covering both areas. There are particular areas in the secondary that are more affected than others of course. We always get maths and science being affected. LOTE are affected. That's Languages Other Than English.

We're finding even Humanities are likely to suffer some shortfalls as well, which is not the usual area that we find suffer shortfalls.

Matt Smith:

Their reports project this far ahead of time so there is time to counteract any problems such as this.

Lorraine Ling:

That's a hope, that things can be done both in teacher education programs so that we can focus on the method areas which are most in need. But the government itself, of course, puts all kinds of other strategies into place to try to overcome this projected shortage.

Matt Smith:

Did the report make any recommendations?

Lorraine Ling:

Well, the report has said that already the Victorian government is putting into place many programs. One of them is a maths and science scholarship program. We know there's a shortage in maths and science teachers. And this offers a scholarship to high-performing final year undergraduates or recent graduates in the area of mathematics and science.

And it brings them in so they can undertake teacher education studies. And it was introduced in 2008. And the aim of that is to really increase the number of graduates going out with maths and science.

A second program that the Victorian state government has is a refresher training program. And that offers professional development courses to teachers who are returning to the classrooms after several years, perhaps raising a family or out doing something else.

And if they want to come back to teaching, this program gives them a refresher course to try to increase the supply and try to attract people back into teaching.

Another one is the career change program. This is a program whereby people who want to go into teaching, who have been in other careers, can gain scholarships in order to take on a teaching qualification.

Likewise, there's a student practicum scheme so that if a student in our course wants to go to a 'hard to staff' school in a rural region a long way from home, they can apply for scholarships which gives them travel, 'living away from home,' and all kinds of other support mechanisms so that they can go to these 'harder to staff' schools.

And of course, there are all kinds of other things that are starting to come into play now, where they're talking about performance pay for teachers who are 'hard to staff' areas or for teachers who are in method areas which are difficult to find staff for.

So the government's kind of doing a lot of things to try to boost the number of teacher graduates.

Matt Smith:

The solid numbers for the report would just be based on students that are enrolled in teaching now, isn't it?

Lorraine Ling:

Each year, of course, every teacher education course sets targets for next year. And so based on the trend of those targets, the Education Department and the government can do its supply and demand projections. One of the issues, of course, is the new course at Melbourne, the Melbourne model, because as you're aware, Melbourne University has gone into a different model of producing graduates.

It has very few undergraduate programs now, much more generalist undergraduate programs. So if you're going to a profession such as teaching, you then have to do a fourth and fifth year, whereby you do your professional qualifications.

So you might do a basic arts degree and then if you're wanting to become a teacher, you would do years Four and Five and you would graduate with a Master of Teaching.

Now, this means that they're not producing the numbers of graduates that Melbourne was producing when I had a straight four-year undergraduate program to produce teachers. So that's one of the reasons for the shortfall, but not the only on by a long way.

Matt Smith:

So that is how the government is addressing it? But is there also a risk of that there's going to be too much poaching from other job streams as a result?

Lorraine Ling:

Well, I guess that's always a possibility but I mean, my major concern is that they're trained properly. As somebody who doesn't want to see quick fixes, I think there's always a danger that they'll look for a quick fix and that's where I'm critical as I've been published as being, in terms of the graduate teacher program whereby they would take high-performing graduates from any degree and give them a six-week crash course in teaching and then put them in 'hard to staff' schools often in disadvantaged areas, and give them support and mentoring.

But I don't believe that that's the way to bridge the gap. I think that's a very dubious way. It might be a quick win for the government. It might be a quick fix. But in terms of it being professionally sound and pedagogically sound, this is where I have some real criticisms of that particular scheme.

So I think we've got to be very careful that in this scramble to try to make up the 300 shortfall each year, we do things that aren't educationally and professionally robust and sound and defensible.

Matt Smith:

Are people looking to the educational institutes to try and correct this shortfall, to prop the numbers up?

Lorraine Ling:

Yes, we're certainly being encouraged to grow our teacher education numbers. In respect to that ourselves, we are bringing on two brand new undergraduate courses here and that would begin this 2011. One of them will be an undergraduate four-year program at the Bundoora campus. And this is a fairly major deviation from what the Bundoora campus and this faculty has normally done because it has been mostly one-year post-graduate pre-service courses.

This would be a four-year undergraduate pre-service course in outreach and community education. So it will train teachers particularly for disadvantaged areas, areas with low socioeconomic status students.

But it will, of course, train them for a more general context as well but we're focusing very much on the northern and western areas and regions of Melbourne.

And we're going to train teachers to be prep to 12 teachers. So they'll be primary and secondary trained. But as well as that, they will do a large part of their field work, not in classrooms but in community agencies for community education and outreach, perhaps drug rehabilitation or youth detention or things for disengaged youth, programs for disengaged youth and children who have left school and aren't at work and have that real problem of potentially falling through the cracks in society. So we think that that's an area that we can do something quite distinctive.

And the other one, there have been some places given by the government for early childhood education. And again, that's an area that traditionally we haven' been involved in. But as from 2011, there will be a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education operating mainly out of the Bendigo campus.

So I guess, you could say that those are two initiatives that this university is taking anyway within this faculty to try to increase the number of graduates at the undergraduate level in teacher education.

Matt Smith:

It's definitely increasing the opportunity but why do predictions of such a shortage exists anyway? What's happening out there in the workforce so that fewer people want to become teachers?

Lorraine Ling:

Well, there's a whole lot of things happening. The first thing is that there are more teachers taking leave of various forms than has previously been the case, for whatever reason. There are very high numbers of staff taking sick leave, long service leave, leave without pay, all kinds of leaves.

Now, we could extrapolate that there are reasons for that, that the profession of teaching is becoming more stressful perhaps as we find young people become disengaged, and that places demand on teachers to try to find ways to engage them or re-engage them. There is a very high level of staff leave at the moment. So that's one of the issues.

Another issue is we have a hugely aging workforce in teaching. And I mentioned that last time we spoke. The fact that we have an average age of around about 50 in Victoria, of people in teaching. So of course, they are going out and we need to be bringing in new people at the other end.

So there are those factors plus of course, as I mentioned, the fact that the Melbourne model means that there are that fewer people going into what was quite a large undergraduate program at one of Victoria's major universities for teacher training.

Matt Smith:

Is that model being adopted in other universities or is it just Melbourne University so far?

Lorraine Ling:

No, not in Australia at this point. It's a model that is reminiscent of the European model, the Bologna model. There may well be other universities that may follow suit in time but at the moment, the Melbourne model is very much just the Melbourne model in Victoria.

Matt Smith:

Is it safe to say that the predicted shortage isn't so much reflecting a loss in enrolments or a loss in students going through the teaching degree? It's more so an increased demand?

Lorraine Ling:

Yes, because in fact, every year there are many, many more applicants for teacher education places than there are places. So it's still highly demanded so it's a matter of creating more places, as it were, or creating new course, as I've just described we're doing. And of course, there are particular areas where the shortages are greater than others, the rural and regional and remote areas are always in difficulties. And there are growth corridors, as the teacher supply and demand report says in the state's north and far west.

But there are growth corridors in the Melbourne urban fringe where there are continually high levels of difficulty in recruiting staff at the level that's needed.

The other thing is there's been a mini Baby Boom in Victoria. And the class sizes are getting larger. And I was in a school last week up in Mildura and the teachers were very quick to agree that there is very much a mini Baby Boom at the moment. So we need more teachers than we would have three or four years ago.

Matt Smith:

Well, that's a good plug then, a good reason for anyone to become a teacher.

Lorraine Ling:

Absolutely, absolutely. The time is certainly right and the opportunities are great for teachers at the moment. And I think it's a fantastically exciting time to come into education because there are lots of new things happening. There are lots of innovations in teaching. And all teachers make a difference.

Matt Smith:

Professor Lorraine Ling, thank you for your time.

Lorraine Ling:

Thank you, Matt.