Hayley Dureau never planned on becoming a teacher. At high school, she wanted to be a doctor.
“One of my teachers at high school said to me ‘Hayley, you’d be a good teacher’. I remember feeling almost offended,” she said.
But when her ATAR score fell just below the cut-off for medicine, Hayley started a degree in biomedical science. She hated it.
Soon after, she switched to teaching.
This year the Australian Mathematical and Sciences Institute named her the outstanding teacher of the year.
“I’m so glad I fell into it because it’s the most rewarding job in the whole world,” she said.
Victoria doesn’t just need more teachers like Ms Dureau — it needs more teachers to match the 90,000 extra students enrolling in Victorian schools over the next four years.
But just as the state’s student population is exploding, the number of school leavers applying for teaching courses is falling, and the requirements for getting into a teaching degree are growing.
At the same time, more than a quarter of teachers in the job are leaving while still aged in their 20s and 30s.
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Teacher shortages ‘likely’
The Victorian Education Department predicts the rate of teachers graduating should match the rate of student growth over the next four years.
But it also says that in secondary schools in particular, margins are so tight shortages are possible.
“We need in excess of 1,300 teachers a year to cope with that growth,” Meredith Peace, who heads the Australian Education Union (AEU) in Victoria, said.
“That’s certainly what the research is showing. And we expect that growth to continue beyond that four-year period.”
Ross White from the Good Education Media said it is not only possible there could be a teacher shortage in Victoria — it’s likely.
“We’re not producing very many more teachers,” he said.
Laurence Ingvarson wrote in a 2016 paper for the Australian Council of Education Research that “Victoria has a recruitment problem, much more than a selection problem”.
Back then, the Victorian Government was running advertising campaigns to recruit police. Now, it’s doing the same for teachers.
But at the same time, the Labor Government has made it harder to become one.
From next year, high school graduates will need an ATAR of 70 to get into a Victorian teaching degree.
Compare that to 2016, when a quarter of students who started a teaching course had an ATAR of less than 60.
Victoria University — which produced 500 teacher graduates this year — predicts the change will cut its intake by up to 20 per cent.
It will have an even bigger impact on some other universities, which have been admitting people to teaching degrees with ATARs in the 20s and 30s — well below passing grades.
Ms Peace said some higher education institutions had been treating teaching courses — which are far cheaper to run than other degrees — as a cash cow.
“It’s an income stream for universities,” she said.
“There’s not enough rigour around entry standards and not enough rigour around what is being taught in those courses.”
Teachers need to come out ‘work ready’
Bentleigh West Primary School principal Steven Capp said he has seen it first-hand in graduate teachers.
“They’ve gone through four years of training, and we have to put a lot of extra training in to make sure they are ready to teach,” he said.
“We’re finding there’s very little knowledge about reading instruction or numeracy instruction that’s ready for on the ground.
“I think there needs to be a lot more consistency between what schools think is ‘work ready’, and what universities think ‘work ready’ is.”
Then, there’s the job itself.
Most people know you don’t go into teaching for the money — and the old myth of teachers knocking off at 3:30pm and taking all school holidays has been busted.
“We hear talk about the massive workload, and the stress the job can deliver, so I think that does put some young people off,” Ms Peace said.
One possible solution is to recruit people who are older, and who have already started a career.
Ellen O’Brien worked as a midwife for two years before she switched to teaching.
“During high school I was a very creative person as well as an academic person,” she said.
“I found when I was working as a midwife, I wasn’t using my creativity as much. You kind of have to do what the doctors say.
“So teaching, as I started thinking about it, I thought I could really use my creativity in a better way. And have a little bit more autonomy in the workplace as well.”
She said she’s better for not having gone straight into teaching from high school.
“It’s good to bring some more maturity and life experience,” she said.
“I know that when I finished high school and went straight into a full-time degree, looking back on it now I probably wasn’t quite ready for that.
“And teaching is something that you really do need to bring a lot of resilience to.”
It also means those coming into teaching from other degrees can get around the new, higher ATAR requirement for school leavers.
Ms Peace has concerns about that.
“We don’t want to see someone come into another degree with a lower ATAR, and then be automatically allowed to transfer across at some stage,” she said.
Meg Sampson, who switched to teaching after completing a music degree, says ATAR results aren’t the be-all and end-all.
“It doesn’t mean that person wouldn’t be a good teacher,” she said.
But Education Minister James Merlino stamped on the idea in August.
In a letter to universities, he wrote:
“I will be extremely disappointed if indeed some universities are attempting to circumvent the minimum ATAR standards. I trust this will not be the case, however if changes need to be made, we will make them through regulation.”
A new class of master teacher
The bigger challenge is to attract more teachers like Ms Dureau, who excel at school and don’t consider teaching as a career.
In 2015, just 26 per cent of students applying to study secondary teaching had an ATAR of 80 or above.
Raising the status and pay of good teachers would help attract high-achieving students, said the Grattan Institute’s Julie Sonnemann, who suggests creating a new class of master teacher.
“They would be responsible for teaching in a specific area, for example maths or science, in both primary and secondary. And to really drive teaching in that particular subject across that school, and across a cluster of schools.”
Ms Dureau likes the idea, and she hopes more of her high-performing students will follow her lead into a job she loves.
“That’s the sort of teacher we want. A highly skilled, highly trained passionate person,” she said.
|Labor policy||Coalition policy|
As of November 9, 2018
As of November 9, 2018
This story was produced in collaboration with ABC News and is one of a five-part special series focusing on key education issues in the lead up to the Victorian election.
This story originally appeared on ABC News – Victoria faces teacher shortage as student numbers surge