Study backs stronger support for early career teachers

Attracting and retaining teachers remains a major issue for Australia’s education sector, particularly as a high percentage of early career teachers leave the profession in their first few years.

Now, a new University of South Australia research project hopes to boost retention of early career teachers by investigating how improved induction programs can better support new teachers in the classroom.

Funded by a 2023 Australian Research Council Discovery grant of $371,000, the study will prioritise ‘precariously employed’ early career teachers – those on casual and short-term contracts – to effectively manage student classroom behaviour.

Sixty per cent of new teachers are employed on contracts of less than one year or as casual teachers and it can take years to secure long-term employment.

Chief investigator, UniSA’s Professor Anna Sullivan says the study will propose alternative policy and induction practices that better support the transition of insecure replacement teachers within the profession.

“In Australia, there is a focus on school-based induction programs, and while these may be very good, most early career teachers tend to be employed for short periods, so they miss out on a proper induction,” Professor Sullivan said.

“As a result, these new teachers may be left feeling unsupported, isolated, and lacking confidence in their abilities, increasing the likelihood of them leaving the profession.

“Learning how to manage student behaviour is one of the most important teaching skills, yet it’s also one of the top-ranked challenges faced by early career teachers, and something that could be better accommodated through a thorough and ongoing induction process.

“Finding ways to better support, guide and coach new teachers as they start their careers is imperative for Australia’s education sector.”

According to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, induction programs should be school-based and practice-focused to develop teaching skills. They should be embedded in daily practice, and delivered over two years.

“The Australian Guidelines for Teacher Induction emphasise mentoring embedded in daily practice, regular interactions with school leaders, as well as access to targeted professional learning, and extra time allocation for planning,” Professor Sullivan said.

“Yet most new teachers do not qualify for such induction programs because they’re employed on a casual or short contract.

“Therein lies the conundrum. Newly qualified teachers need a comprehensive induction program, yet their employment status doesn’t enable this.

“Our project aims to find ways to change this so that we can attract, retain and better support new teachers; we must address this issue if Australia is to build a healthier education system.”

Expected outcomes of this project include alternative policy and practice recommendations to support the transition of insecure replacement teachers within the profession.