Anna* has been a casual teacher since graduating in 2014. “I thought I might have a permanent job by now, but some weeks I don’t get the call to work.”
She’s one of a growing number of graduate and returning teachers finding it difficult to secure the required teaching hours needed for accreditation with the Board of Studies, Teaching & Educational Standards NSW (BOSTES).
In February, BOSTES revealed that 521 trainee teachers in the past year had failed national accreditation, citing insufficient work required to meet the 160 to 180 work days within a three to five year period. Those teachers are then ineligible to teach without starting a new degree.
A teaching job shortage could be to blame. Of the 83,000 teachers currently employed on a full-time basis in NSW there are half as many casual, temporary and part-time teachers. More teachers are graduating each year, too ever since the Federal Government removed the cap on places in tertiary education. Last year, there were 2,897 new graduates compared to the three or four hundred new government teaching jobs advertised annually.
For some, like Karen*, who undertook an additional year of study in primary teaching “to give myself more options”, pre-school teaching is the more likely prospect when she graduates next year with a Bachelor of Early Childhood and Primary Education from Macquarie University. “There’s lots of work in early childhood,” she says. “I don’t know if I want to work in a casual role in primary teaching just to get my foot in the door. I like my job security.”
“There are a tiny handful of permanent teaching jobs advertised (on the state system) each week,” says Jane*, a casual Kindergarten to year 12 school teacher who relocated to Sydney five years ago, “it’s intimidating to even apply for them with so many casuals out there vying for a permanent position.”
She counts herself lucky to have readily found casual work through her network, a role that suits her life right now, but concedes that being on call can be stressful. “You’re on this never-ending cycle of ‘will the phone ring, won’t it?’ and you can’t plan your week while you’re on call. I think, if you’re a teacher using casual teaching as a stepping stone, it can be demoralising over time.”
While a casual workforce benefits schools by providing a ready workforce without the financial commitment to leave entitlements and professional development, the same can’t be said for casual teachers who can end up feeling devalued and stressed.
The education sector in Australia is ranked the second highest for mental stress claims and, according to Teachers Health Fund CEO, Brad Joyce, the demand for mental health services for young teachers aged 24-29 years has doubled in the past five years.
In November last year, Joyce established the Teachers Health Foundation “to help us better understand the specific challenges teachers face as well as identify potential solutions,” and awarded the Hunter Institute of Mental Health in Newcastle a $50,000 grant. The findings of this research, relating to how relationships and peer support can positively impact early career teachers’ wellbeing, resilience and retention, will be released in November this year.
In the meantime, new staffing agreements introduced by the NSW Department of Education earlier this year now give principals the power to hire temporary teaching staff on contracts of up to three years instead of one. Professional development is on the radar, too, with a range of online professional development opportunities available to all teachers via the Schoolbizportal. In August, the NSW Department of Education also recommended that part time and temporary teachers be given access to paid mandatory training on non-contracted school development days and that casual teachers attending school development days be paid.
* Names have been changed.