As education workforce strategists, PeopleBench recognise the future contribution of all 28 proposed actions within the six priority areas. In addition, we would argue there are significantly more strategic collaborative efforts required in order to achieve transformational, sustainable change that the Australian education workforce—and the students that they serve—deserve. Below we summarise our feedback against each of the priority areas:
Elevating the profession & Improving teacher supply.
The reputation of education as a sector to work in is ultimately informed by the experience that its current and former workforce has had in its employ. We would argue that the teaching profession will be elevated as an outcome of addressing the experience gap that exists between education and other sectors in areas such as work flexibility, remuneration and rewards, respectful workplace cultures, and support for career and professional development aspirations. To close the experience gap, the sector will need to substantially invest in introducing the organisational improvement processes and practices that are largely absent in schools and school systems across the country.
Like professional reputation, teacher supply is an outcome of investment in making the sector an attractive place to work. While we applaud the focus on improving teacher supply, we would argue that while employee experience in schools fails to match contemporary employee expectations, turnover will exceed supply interventions and the benefit of supply-focused actions will be undermined. The risk of overinvestment of public funds into attraction strategies when the likely outcome is a continued crisis in retention remains a concern for those of us working to improve the sector’s workforce efficacy and impact over time.
Strengthening initial teacher education.
In most industries, the evolution of job design within iterative organisational design processes is a hallmark of their capacity to attract and retain staff as the sector evolves to meet the needs of the communities they serve.
In education, we have seen a gradual and regulation driven “accidental” redesign of the role of teacher over time. As a result, we continue to face the risk that universities are preparing graduates for a job that no longer exists.
In many parts of the country, the role of teacher has increasingly started to mirror roles in allied health. A fresh look is required at the types of jobs required in schools before determining appropriate skill and training pathways. While we continue to educate Education undergraduates for a job that is substantially different to the “real” job in many schools, we will continue to lose them after we train and recruit them.
Maximising the time to teach.
While we welcome the actions proposed under this priority, we would also highlight that in order to be impactful at scale, they will need to be enabled by an uplift in the sector’s capability in process and job redesign, and change management if they are to be implemented broadly. Significant uplift in leader capability, alongside a new openness to consider the de-construction—or reconstruction—of the role of teacher—and the emergence of new roles that support more innovative models of schooling delivery in the future—will be essential to sustainably resourcing the sector into the future. Process improvements intended to maximise the time to teach will require examining how tasks are distributed differently across role types in the future in addition to the creation of new and different types of jobs in schools.
Better understanding future teacher workforce needs.
We are encouraged by the focus on data as an input to workforce strategy and policy-making. However, we recognise that even with data available, significant capability uplift in data science, strategic human resources, and the translation of data into changed practice needs to occur in order for the return on investment in workforce data sets and solutions to occur. Like many data sets, the value and impact will come from the sector’s capacity to interrogate, derive insight, and progress changed practice as a result of this data existing.
PeopleBench has developed a world-first innovation intended to solve exactly this problem and across our advisory and technology solution we have worked with ~7% of Australian K-12 schools to start to solve this problem. We are now working with the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and public schools in the United States of America to make progress in this specific domain of K-12 workforce strategy.
Better career pathways to support and retain teachers in the profession.
Finally, we recognise that across all industries, employee attitudes now dictate that we must plan for higher levels of turnover than we have experienced in the past, on an ongoing basis. As a result, we would actively challenge the idea of aiming to retain teachers in the profession for their whole careers. If the macro trends impacting all industries apply, we must design for an education future where people may choose to contribute as an educator only for a while, or at the same time as they are pursuing other professional opportunities. In the future, we will need to celebrate staff moving in and out of the sector if we are to compete with other industries. We look forward to iterations of the National Action Plan that reflect a contemporary consideration of these issues as they relate to the sustainability of schooling into the future too.