Welcome to the

20
22

State of the Sector Report.

This, our third State of the Sector report, unpacks the perspectives of over

0
  • Australian principals
  • Teachers
  • School leaders

This is a research initiative of the PeopleBench team.

PeopleBench would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the country on which we are privileged to live and work.

In the spirit of reconciliation, we recognise that sovereignty of these lands was never ceded. We pay our respect to elders past, present, and emerging and extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Welcome.

Welcome to the PeopleBench State of the Sector Report. This report summarises the results of a survey that was conducted in May and June 2022, and was designed to gather the perspectives of Australian educators about the challenges and opportunities they face in the school workforce.

A timely workforce barometer.

This report arrives at perhaps the most turbulent moment in living memory for the Australian K/P–12 Education sector. 

In the OECD countries, almost 80% of the cost of running the average school is spent on its workforce.

Battling a combination of both acute and chronic workforce crises, decision-makers in the sector must make this investment stretch even further than in previous decades as they strive to create environments that are conducive to positive learning and social outcomes for their students. 

It’s not easy. The humans doing this work are extraordinary, but they’re struggling (Phillips & Cain, 2020).

The PeopleBench State of the Sector report acts as an important barometer in these times, reflecting the areas that school leaders and governing bodies are focussed on in order to mitigate and manage a significant portfolio of workforce risks.

It also offers insight into the areas of greatest hope and optimism for the future. Key opportunities exist in the silver linings of COVID-19 disruption—in the possibilities to leverage technology and flexible ways of working to make schools contemporary and inspiring workplaces, places to build nourishing careers, as well as places of student growth.

Our wish is that this year’s State of the Sector report inspires you to think about how you can identify, prepare for, and respond to the workforce-related risks and opportunities within your sphere of influence. We hope the insights in this report confirm or challenge your hunches and catalyse your actions to ensure that the schools you are involved in:

  1. Know how they’re travelling when it comes to the key workforce issues facing the sector today, and 
  2. Have a plan for continuing to shape and support their school workforces for the future.


The results in this report are aggregated at the national level. If you’d like to know more about using our research to support your decision-making at a school, association or system level, please get in touch.

This report reflects the responses of

0 Principals
0 Other School Leaders
0 Middle Leaders
0 Teachers
0 Business/HR Managers

across Australia.

 

While this represents a small slice of the Australian K/P–12 school landscape—there are over 9,600 schools in the country—it is reasonably representative of the population in terms of school sector (the split of Government, Catholic, and Independent schools), school type (Primary, Secondary, and Combined Years), school size, and geography.

Section one.

Sector Sentiment.

Sentiment /ˈsɛntɪm(ə)nt/ noun a view or opinion that is held or expressed.

Globally, the Education workforce is in crisis. The supply of qualified teachers, after a long period of decline in many countries, is completely unsustainable for our current—let alone future—needs (See & Gorad, 2020). In 2022, the sector’s drawn-out battle with COVID-19 disruption has compounded staff wellbeing risks that were already critical. 

Forget living in ‘uncertain times’; these are harrowing times for many in the sector.   

In this section, we seek to understand how these circumstances are affecting how leaders and teachers experience their work now, and how they expect that to shift over the coming years.

Section one. graph 1.1.

In one word, how do you feel about your role in the school workforce today?

To get a quick gauge of educator sentiment, we asked respondents to sum up how they felt about their current role in one word.

The responses to this question speak to what it feels like to work in a school in 2022, arguably the most challenging year in living memory in Australian schools.

When coded into positive (e.g., Valued; Important), negative (e.g., Overworked/pressured, Distressed), and neutral (e.g., Adequate) sentiment categories, the 2022 data shows that a slight majority of our respondents felt negatively about their roles.

A sizable minority reported positively-tinged themes about their work (e.g. Valued/important; Energised/engaged).

Section one. graph 1.2.

In one word, how do you feel about your role in the school workforce today?

Previous iterations of this survey illustrated how experiences and perceptions of work in schools can vary considerably depending on the kind of job you’re performing. In 2019 and 2021, Principals, HR/Business professionals, and Other Senior School Leaders were much more likely than Teachers and Middle Leaders to use optimistic language to describe their roles.   

In 2022, the gap between these two cohorts has widened: sentiment has grown more negative among Teachers and Middle Leaders, and more positive among Principals, HR/Business professionals, and Other Senior School Leaders.

Section one. graph 1.3.

In one word, how do you feel about your school’s workforce overall today?

Broadening our focus, we also asked respondents to sum up how they felt about their school’s workforce as a whole in one word.

The words chosen here reflected similar themes and patterns to the previous question, though the balance tipped in favour of optimism, with a majority of responses reflecting positive sentiment (e.g. Optimistic for the future; Energised/engaged).

A sizeable minority reported negative sentiment, with the most commonly used words centred around themes of workload and exhaustion.

Section one. graph 1.4.

In one word, how do you feel about your school’s workforce overall today?

Switching focus from each individual respondent’s job to the state of their school’s workforce overall resulted in a curiously different pattern of results.

Unlike in the previous question, participants in the 2022 survey, regardless of their role, were more likely to report positive sentiment about their workforce than those who responded in 2021. 

Still, the gap between respondents largely focused on the classroom—Teachers and Middle Leaders—and their counterparts in senior leadership and HR/Business support grew wider in 2022, with the latter cohort much more likely to report positive sentiment toward their workforce.

Section one. graph 1.5.

In one word, how do you feel about your school’s workforce overall today?

Explore data for different roles below.

Section one. graph 1.6.

Workforce sentiment in geographic context.

Many of the challenges receiving heightened public attention now (e.g. teacher supply shortages) are more acute in isolated parts of the country.

To explore how these challenges translate into workforce sentiment, we broke responses to the two previous questions into three categories: Major cities (schools in state and territory capitals); Inner regional (schools within a few hours’ drive of a major city); and Outer regional and remote (schools many hours’ drive from a major city) 

Respondents from Outer regional and remote locations were most likely to report negative sentiment toward their roles, followed by those in Inner regional locations.

Respondents from Outer regional and beyond locations also showed the greatest difference in sentiment between the two questions: less than a third reported positive sentiment about their role, but over half reported positive sentiment about their school’s workforce overall.

Section one. graph 1.7.

Reflections on the school workforce. ​

To explore sentiment in more detail, we asked respondents to rate their agreement with three statements about the school workforce today, and in three years’ time. The statements addressed how excited respondents felt about their school workforce; how confident they felt in their school’s ability to execute its vision; and how well-prepared the school was to deal with future challenges.

 

As in previous State of the Sector surveys, responses to these questions revealed stark differences by role type, with Principals and HR & Business professionals most likely to report feeling excited, confident, and well-prepared.

Teachers and Middle Leaders were less likely to feel excited, confident and well-prepared when thinking about the workforce in three years’ time relative to the workforce today.

In other cohorts, the proportion of respondents who agreed with these statements tended to stay relatively consistent; for HR and Business managers it increased.

Section one. graph 1.7. continued

Reflections on the school workforce.

Explore data for different roles below.

Section one. graph 1.8.

Workforce reflections in geographic context.

Grouping respondents into geographic categories revealed some differences between these categories, but these were not consistent.

Respondents from major cities were more likely to report feeling excited about their school’s workforce both now and three years into the future than their regional and remote counterparts. The same pattern held for the statement “I feel that we’re well-prepared to deal with the challenges that may arise”—but the differences between geographic categories were less pronounced.

Explore data for different geographies below.

Section one. Sector Sentiment.

Key Takeaways.

Across Teaching and Middle Leadership roles, there has been a decline in positive sentiment, relative to our 2021 survey results; a difficult 12 months seems to have taken a toll on the mindset of those in classrooms.

 

As in previous surveys, results told a tale of two workforces: those whose roles are focused on whole-of-school leadership and advisory work, and those who are focused on delivering teaching and learning. The difference between these cohorts is stark: Principals and their Senior Leadership colleagues were much more likely to think positively about their roles and the school’s workforce overall than those staff in Middle Leader and Teacher roles.

Our data speaks to the challenges of working in geographically-isolated schools: respondents based outside major cities were less likely to describe their role, their school’s workforce, or its preparedness to deal with future challenges in optimistic terms. We know from other research that teacher shortages and teachers teaching out of field are already far more prevalent in these areas (Cuervo & Acquaro, 2018; Sharplin, 2014).

Section two.

Workforce Culture.

Culture /ˈkʌltʃə/ noun the shared assumptions, beliefs, and behavioural norms that determine how work gets done in organisations.

In many organisations, culture is ethereal: observed, but seldom measured. We struggle to define it, yet we feel its impact daily.

In schools, culture is often spoken about as a critical factor in attracting and retaining staff, but until we can articulate what our culture is really like, we’ll struggle to make it what we want it to be. 

This section explores respondents’ perceptions of culture in action, and what they’d like to see change in their school’s workforce culture.

Section two. graph 2.1.

In one word, how would you describe your school's workforce culture overall?

Participants were asked to use one word to describe their school’s culture; these words were then grouped by sentiment and themes.

While a majority of respondents described their school’s workforce culture in positive terms, this pattern did not play out the same for different role types.

The most common theme was Collaborative/cohesive: almost a quarter of respondents used words like these to describe their school’s culture. The next most prevalent theme related to optimism for the future, followed by references to an Energised/engaged culture.

Negative-toned descriptions of workforce culture were more fragmented; the three most common themes (Overworked/pressured; Hierarchical/traditional; Distressed) accounting for less than 14% of total responses each.

Section two. graph 2.2.

In one word, how would you describe your school's workforce culture overall?

Explore data for different roles below.

Section two. graph 2.3.

Describe a situation that exemplifies the workforce culture of your school.

When we asked participants to describe a situation that exemplified their school’s workforce culture in action, we observed some variability in responses by role type. While Teachers, Middle Leaders, HR/Business professionals, and Other Senior School Leaders were most likely to cite examples of staff going ‘Above and beyond’ to serve students or their school community, Principals were more likely to cite an example of staff working together cooperatively or cohesively (consistent with the words they used to describe the culture).

Other examples often referenced service-oriented or kind and caring behaviour. Among HR/Business staff and Other Senior Leaders, a notable minority provided an example that spoke to change hesitance/resistance in their school. These examples were less likely to be cited by respondents in other roles.

Section two. graph 2.4.

How well does your school’s workforce culture align with its vision?

Explore data for different roles below.

Section two. graph 2.5.

How well does your school’s workforce culture align with your own values?

Explore data for different roles below.

Section two. Workforce Culture.

Key Takeaways.

Despite considerable negative sentiment towards respondents’ own roles and the school workforce (per Section 1), perceptions of school workforce culture were more likely to be positive than negative for most cohorts of respondents.

Culture was most often described—somewhat paradoxically—using terms such as collaborative, cohesive, optimistic for the future, energised and engaged. Consistent with these descriptions, respondents’ examples of culture in action often referred to staff going ‘above and beyond’ to serve students, their peers, or the school community, or instances of collaboration and cooperation 

Still, large differences existed between different respondents’ perceptions of culture: the more senior the respondent’s role, the more likely they were to describe the culture positively. While it was not possible to conduct direct comparisons between leaders and teachers within the same school, our findings may speak to a potential disconnect between some leaders’ optimistic ambitions for the school culture and the way culture is truly experienced ‘on the ground’

Ratings of the alignment between the school’s culture and the individual employee’s values also spoke to this potential disconnect: Teachers were much less likely to report a high degree of alignment. This is a significant risk to school workforces: employees are more likely to leave jobs/careers/locations that don’t align with their values or satisfy their desire for purpose; COVID-19 has heightened this trend in some industries

Section three.

Strategic Priorities.

Strategy /ˈstra-tə-jē/ noun a plan, method, or series of manoeuvres for obtaining a specific goal or result.

Schools are complex, multifaceted enterprises with a diverse array of stakeholders and scope of impact in the community that most private sector companies could only dream of. 

School leaders are stewards of considerable financial and physical assets; human resources; and the wellbeing and learning of our future generations of citizens.

This complexity and scope of impact makes it all the more important for leaders to plan—carefully and deliberately—for their school’s medium- and long-term future. 

In this section, learn more about how school leaders use strategic planning to focus their attention and resources.

Section three. graph 3.1.

Ranking school strategies from most important to least important.

In the 2021 State of the Sector survey, we asked Principals and Other Senior Leaders to rank the importance of different types of strategy in their school. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority identified Teaching & Learning Strategy as the top priority (see left side of the chart).

Workforce Strategy was the next most likely to be ranked as top priority across all school types; this is consistent with the fact that the vast bulk of a school’s expenditure goes towards its people. 

When we asked this question in the 2022 survey (see right side of the chart), this order of priority remained, but the gap between Teaching & Learning and Workforce strategies had narrowed considerably.

Section three. graph 3.2.

Top strategic priorities by school type.

In the school strategy stakes, it is unequivocally a two-horse race. This pattern was prevalent across all school types, though the gap between these two strategies was narrowest among Combined Years (e.g. K-12) schools where Teaching & Learning Strategy outscored Workforce Strategy by just 7.5%. That Combined Years schools often feature the largest workforces may contribute to the perceived importance of Workforce Strategy in these schools.

Section three. graph 3.3.

Top strategic priorities by sector.

The two-horse race dynamic also played out across all school sectors. The rising perceived importance of Workforce Strategy in the 2022 data was most striking among Independent school respondents. In the 2021 survey, Independent school leaders were more likely to rank Finance & Funding and Infrastructure Master Planning above Workforce Strategy; in 2022, Workforce Strategy was cited by almost a third of Independent school leaders as the most important strategy. 

Section three. Strategic Priorities.

Key Takeaways.

Consideration of the most important strategic planning process in schools is a two-horse race and the margin is narrowing. Workforce Strategy was considered a distant second to Teaching & Learning Strategy in our 2021 survey, but has gained considerable ground: it was cited as the most important strategy by over a third of leaders in this year‘s survey

This margin is especially narrow in Combined Years schools and Catholic systemic schools. The margin is greatest in Primary schools and Government schools, where perceived latitude to effect workforce change is likely the lowest. Still, in this year’s data, Workforce Strategy has dramatically increased in prominence in these schools. 

Section four.

Workforce Challenges.

Challenge \ ˈcha-lənj \ noun a stimulating task or problem.

The national conversation about the workforce challenges facing our K/P–12 Education sector has grown louder and more public throughout the COVID-19 period.

Indeed, during our lengthy periods of lockdown and remote learning and working, many parents gained a deeper appreciation for the teaching profession and exactly how much work goes into designing and managing learning for Australia’s young people.

This increased visibility has not translated into widespread change, however, and with the advent of ‘living with’ COVID-19 nationwide, schools across the country have experienced arguably the most disrupted year of teaching and learning in living memory, as leaders grapple to solve acute illness-induced staffing shortages on short notice, in addition to the chronic teacher shortage gripping most of the globe.

This section explores which challenges are most front-of-mind for educators in 2022, how these have shifted since the inaugural State of the Sector survey in 2019, and how they’re expected to shift in the future.  

Section four. graph 4.1.

Workforce supply and capability challenges over time.

In the 2019 survey we asked Principals to identify their top five workforce challenges. In 2021 and 2022, we took a slightly different approach, asking participants to rank challenges from most important to least important a) today, and b) in three years’ time.

While not a direct apples-to-apples comparison, the results suggest a drastic reordering of importance between 2019 and 2022: Supply of suitable teachers and Attraction and recruitment of new staff shot up the rankings in 2021 and have risen again to become the the top two challenges in 2022, followed by Teacher capability.

Please note: Categories with the lowest response are not shown on the chart.

Section four. graph 4.2.

Greatest workforce challenges by school type.

When it comes to workforce challenges, our data shows a much more uniform picture in 2022 than previously: Supply of suitable teachers was listed as the top challenge by respondents of all school types; it was also expected to remain the top challenge in 2025.

Attraction and recruitment and Teacher capability featured as either 2nd or 3rd across all school types, though they were joined near the top of the rankings by Culture (a new addition to this question for 2022).

Retention of staff featured prominently in Secondary schools (ranked as the top challenge by 9% of respondents) but not primary or combined schools. 

Relative to other schools, Primary school respondents were much more likely to identify Managing poor performance as a top challenge.

Section four. graph 4.3.

Greatest Teacher supply challenge by school type.

To dig deeper into the supply crisis, we asked respondents to identify the particular types of roles for which the supply was shortest.

Secondary school leaders cited Maths teachers as the most acute supply challenge in their context, followed by Senior Secondary and Vocational Education teachers.

In Primary schools, Middle years (year 3–6) teachers were most likely to provide the greatest supply challenge, consistent with our 2021 survey findings.

In the 2021 survey, Maths, Physical Sciences, and Senior Secondary roles posed the greatest teacher supply challenge in Combined schools. This year, Maths teachers were the most-cited challenge.

Section four. graph 4.4.

Greatest Non-Teacher supply challenge by school type.

For Non-Teaching roles, supply challenges were more consistent across school types, with Teaching Support roles the most likely to be identified as the top challenge. 

In a shift since the 2021 survey, Business Support roles were the second most-cited challenge in both Combined and Primary schools, and the third most-cited in Secondary schools. Student Support roles, which were in the top three challenges in the 2021 survey, have slipped down the rankings in both combined and secondary schools; they remain the third most-cited supply challenge in primary schools.

Relative to the 2021 survey, respondents this year were generally less likely to cite the supply of Senior Leaders as their top challenge, though it remained a considerable concern for Combined Years school respondents in particular.

Section four. graph 4.5.

Greatest workforce challenges by sector.

Comparing workforce challenges by sector again revealed a higher degree of consistency at the top of the list in 2022 than 2021: Supply of suitable teachers was the top challenge for respondents from Catholic, Government and Independent schools alike, though it was most prominent among Government school respondents.

Concerningly, a higher proportion of respondents expected teacher supply to be the top challenge in three years than they did in 2022.

Attraction and recruitment of staff featured in the top 5 for all schools, while Improving staff resilience, and Culture were prominent for Independent and Catholic schools, but not Government schools.

Please note: Categories with the lowest response are not shown on the chart.

Section four. graph 4.6.

Greatest workforce challenges by geography.

The geographic breakdown showed that Supply was the most-cited challenge for city, regional and remote schools alike, and was expected to grow in prominence by 2025. Attraction and recruitment of new staff was second in all categories but was most prominent in the Outer regional and remote category.

Section four. Workforce Challenges.

Key Takeaways.

The teacher supply and attraction crisis looms large in leaders’ minds when asked to reflect on their greatest workforce challenges; these issues have increased in prominence with each successive State of the Sector survey since our first in 2019, and they’re not expected to improve over the next three years. This crisis transcends sector and school type: leaders of all stripes identified these as the top two workforce challenges facing their school today, and expected them to become more prominent challenges in the future

Specifically, supply of Maths teachers is considered the most acute issue in Combined Years and Secondary schools, while Middle Years teachers posed the greatest supply challenge in Primary schools. Teaching support roles were consistently identified as the greatest supply challenge among the non-teacher roles in schools.

Workforce culture was consistently regarded as a top-5 issue, indicating a level of appreciation for its importance in schools.

Despite very high rates of turnover in some cohorts (e.g., early career teachers quitting the profession), staff retention did not feature prominently among the top challenges for most leaders. This in itself is a risk: if leaders do not pay sufficient attention to the retention of quality staff, improvements in workforce supply will only yield short-term benefits.

That workforce capability has slipped in the rankings could speak to a related risk: when so much attention is dedicated to finding the next recruit, leaders may lose focus on investing in the development of current staff. Meaningfully building capability can improve the quality of student outcomes, which in turn makes it easier to attract staff in the future.

Section five.

The HR Function in Schools.

Human Resources \ ˈhyü-mən ˈrē-ˌsȯrses \ noun the team or department in an organisation that seeks to achieve competitive advantage through the recruitment, development, and deployment of a highly committed and capable workforce, using an array of cultural, structural, and personnel management techniques.

While still maturing and lagging other sectors, Human Resources (HR) in the Education sector has been aided in many ways by the public attention on workforce issues in schools throughout the pandemic era. As the HR function in education matures there is scope for HR to become more strategic rather than operational.   

Consistent with growing public attention, more leaders in the sector are shifting their focus to the longer-term and bigger-picture future of the school workforce, and planning for the scenarios that may unfold in this uncertain future. 

This section addresses how the HR function in schools has kept pace with this shift, exploring the perceived strengths and gaps in capability and capacity to do this important work in schools. 

Section two. graph 5.1.

The strength of school HR functions.

When we asked participants to rate their school’s strength on a list of HR functions and activities from 0 (weakest) to 10 (strongest), scores were relatively modest across the board, as was the case in our 2021 findings. 

Compared to the 2021 findings, though, this year’s results showed a significant reshuffling of the top perceived strengths, with Workplace Health & Safety topping the list. The pandemic has placed both physical and mental health at risk, perhaps most acutely in the first semester of 2022 when large-scale staff absences due to COVID were common.

In 2021 the top strength was Supporting Diversity and Inclusion, which slipped to ninth place in 2022. Training and developing staff, which was at second place in 2021, has dropped to seventh.

Overall, the fact that all activities yielded an average rating of less than 7 out of 10 suggests that schools have much work ahead of them to develop, demonstrate, and communicate their capability and service quality so that staff understand their value.

Section two. graph 5.2.

HR Strengths by school type.

Examining respondents’ assessment of their school’s HR strengths by school type revealed some variability, though Workplace Health & Safety was the most highly rated strength across all types.

Managing industrial and employee relations was rated as a greater strength in Combined years schools than in secondary and primary schools, while Supporting diversity and inclusion and Training and developing staff were rated stronger in Secondary schools.

Section two. graph 5.3.

HR Strengths by sector.

In line with the school type pattern, Managing Workplace Health & Safety was seen as the consistent top strength across all three sectors.

Respondents from Independent schools rated several areas higher than their Government and Catholic school counterparts, including attracting and recruiting new staff, and Managing industrial and employee relations. In a systemic context, this work is generally supported by central HR teams, so it is unsurprising that Independent schools would perceive greater in-school strength in these areas.

Regardless of sector, though, results show significant room to develop strengths across most of these areas.

Section five. Strategic Priorities.

Key Takeaways.

Compared to the 2021 survey, this year’s results saw a significant reshuffling of perceived strengths in schools’ HR functions, though these strengths were modest across the board, suggesting there is still plenty of room for growth in this relatively nascent function.

Workplace Health & Safety was regarded as the top strength in the HR function across all school types and sectors; this is unsurprising given operational challenges of the ‘living with COVID’ era in Australian schools.

Managing employee/industrial relations, staff retention, and workplace climate and culture were often among the top five strengths.

Training and developing staff, previously rated second-strongest in 2021, was only the seventh-highest rated strength this year. This is a particular concern given the capability of the workforce was identified as a significant challenge in the previous section.

Section six.

Looking to the Future.

Forecast \ ˈfȯr-ˌkast \ noun to calculate or predict (some future event or condition) usually as a result of study and analysis of available pertinent data.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and the government and public response to it has shifted, so has its impact on the staffing of schools. In the early stages of the pandemic, operational disruption came in the form of local, state, and national lockdowns. In 2022, with lockdowns in the rearview mirror, schools now grapple with weeklong staff absences, sometimes in significant numbers, at short notice, as COVID-19 spreads freely through communities across the country.

This year has seen a national equalising of the COVID-19 experience in schools. While some jurisdictions experienced the disruption of protracted lockdowns in 2021, schools in all states and territories are now faced with the same COVID-induced operational and strategic challenges. It has not been easy; agility and rapid re-prioritisation are now non-negotiable skills for leaders and employees alike.

What does the future of the school workforce look like? In this section we explore the factors most likely to shape this future—for better or worse.

Section two. graph 6.1.

How has COVID-19 led you to think differently about the school workforce?

When we asked respondents how their thinking about the workforce has changed over this period, this need for an agile and adaptable approach came through clearly in the words they chose.

Interestingly, 11% percent of respondents noted that their thinking about the workforce had changed little—or not at all—as a result of COVID-19.

Section two. graph 6.2.

How has COVID-19 led you to think differently about the school workforce?

Breaking this data down by respondents’ role type revealed some insightful differences of perspective. Explore data for different roles below.

Section two. graph 6.3.

Positive and negative influences on the future school workforce.

To gauge the most important issues to watch and address, we asked respondents which factors they anticipated having the greatest negative and positive impact on the school workforce over the next three years. Their text responses were coded into themes; the results showed that there are two sides to many issues. Effective leadership, for example, was the most commonly-cited positive influence on the school workforce; but ineffective or poor leadership was noted as a potential negative influence by some respondents.

Similarly, the working conditions of teachers—especially their workload, compensation and recognition—were the most commonly-cited negative factor, but almost a quarter of respondents identified addressing these issues as a significant potential positive factor.

Section two. graph 6.4.

Positive and negative influences on the future school workforce.

Breaking this data down by respondents’ role type again revealed some insightful differences of perspective. Explore data for different roles below.

Section six. Looking to the future.

Key Takeaways.

Respondents’ reflections on how their thinking about the school workforce has changed due to COVID-19 consistently referenced a shift to more flexible and adaptable approaches to work, at both the individual and school-wide levels.

This flexibility factor aside, responses showed plenty of variability: many Principals reported an increased appreciation for the efforts of their staff, while Teachers identified the heightened phenomena of growing workloads, stress, and burnout risks in many of their responses.

Differences of perspective between role types were also apparent when respondents were asked to identify the greatest positive and negative influences on the future of the school workforce. Principals were most concerned about the negative implications of workforce supply over the next three years, while Teachers were most concerned about the impact of their working conditions, including workload, compensation, and recognition (Price & Weatherby, 2018).

For each of the potential negative influences on the workforce, however, our data also showed great opportunity; for example, effectively addressing working conditions was Teachers’ most commonly-cited potential positive influence on the workforce.

Section seven.

What now for leaders?

Most of the challenges facing the Education sector right now are not new: they’ve been front-of-mind for some time. Our findings in this year’s State of the Sector, however, suggest that even by these standards the past 12 months have been especially tough.

These challenges are urgent and global. It’s time to get serious, creative, and focused on action.

All signs point to doing more work with fewer staff.

The supply of teachers is dwindling—we simply don’t have enough of this valuable resource. In 2016, UNESCO predicted a 69M teacher shortfall against the needs of K/P–12 students globally by 2030.

To put this in context, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Economic Policy Institute had predicted a 400,000 teacher shortfall across America by 2024.

Today, in 2022, the impact of the pandemic has the current estimate at 1M teachers short across the USA alone. UNESCO’s 2016 prediction was conservative at best and made with no knowledge of the impending impact of COVID-19.

In Australia, each State and Territory is experiencing its own symptoms of the international teaching supply crunch. It has been felt first and hardest in areas that are geographically and socio-economically disadvantaged, and it is placing continuing stress and strain on the incredible staff we are fortunate enough to have in our schools today.

Enrolment of young people into Initial Teacher Education courses and postgraduate Teacher Education courses is at an all time low (and declining), media sentiment about teaching is consistently and persistently negative. Recruiting harder will not produce more teachers.

No wonder, then, that this year’s State of the Sector identified the “Supply of Suitable Teachers” followed by “Attraction and recruitment of new staff” as the top two workforce challenges facing Education leaders. They are anticipated to continue as the top challenges over the next three years. 

 

Today, States and systems are competing against one another on location incentives, branding, and recruitment campaigns, only to find a continuing “hole in the bucket” when it comes to retaining the precious resources they’ve been able to attract. Teachers at all career stages are leaving.

How do you do more with less? Do it differently.

This year’s survey highlights a key message for Education sector leaders—supply and attraction challenges exist for myriad reasons, including the fact that we have failed to design jobs and workplaces that people want to be in. This has to change, now.

As we contemplate the strengths of schools—in particular their ability to imagine what students of the future might need in order to thrive in an increasingly ambiguous, tech-enabled, possibility-filled world—we have neglected to adopt the organisational processes used by other sectors to make school workplaces exciting and possibility-filled places to turn up to every day.

Service model redesign, organisational redesign, role redesign, and process redesign are not things that system and school leaders have typically developed the lexicon or processes to do given their expertise is in education. Reluctance to explore or adopt these processes is evident sector-wide.

In the meantime, other sectors have focused on maturing strategy, redesign, and transformational change processes and leadership capability in each of these areas

—and have become an attractive alternative employment option for the scarce humans who might otherwise have become our teachers of the future as a result. School and System leaders can learn from and employ expertise from other sectors to make positive workforce changes for the future (Cameron & Grootenboer, 2018). 

Educators in schools have been clear (in this survey and elsewhere): they want less administration; more teaching time; more trust and autonomy; more flexibility (Buchanan, 2020b; Price & Weatherby, 2018). Governing bodies have also been clear: they want schools to provide more visibility; carry less risk; provide greater accountability; and more demonstrable impact. Both sets of expectations are possible concurrently, but new processes and skills will be required.

This year’s State of the Sector highlights that teacher role design is now out of step with other sectors and is antiquated as a contemporary career choice. Existing research suggests the most successful school systems in the world invest in the future (Schleicher, 2018). If we are to turn the supply or retention crises around, School and System leaders will need to get serious about redesigning the way schooling gets done, and what the role of Teacher will look like in the future (Zhao & Watterson, 2021).

People want positive, meaningful experiences of work. When we don’t provide these experiences, they leave.

Results from this year’s survey show that only 1 in 4 Teachers and Middle Leaders were positive about their role in the school workforce today, decreasing from 1 in 3 in 2021. When we provide people with an experience of work that leaves them feeling ‘Tired/Exhausted/Fatigued’, ‘Overworked/Pressured’, ‘Distressed’ ,’Discouraged’, ’Undervalued/Unimportant’, we know that experience needs overhauling.

We know from existing research that effective HR practices can support retention (Van Buren, Greenwood & Sheehan 2011). We also know from credible educational research that teacher turnover negatively impacts student outcomes (Darling Hammond, 2010).

Think of the sectors that now employ the adults who might otherwise have become (or remained) teachers. Many of these sectors have deliberately—not by accident—built a compelling Employee Value Proposition to create rewarding jobs and enjoyable workplaces. 

Where others have made progress in this area, it’s involved considerable investment (of both finances and time) and plenty of change management work. It’s been hard, but dealing with the consequences of failing to act—as we’ve seen in this year’s survey—is harder.

For Education to catch up to these alternative sectors of employment would mean thinking critically about the whole hire-to-retire lifecycle of employees in schools, including:

  • How we find, recruit and on-board employees
  • How we provide meaningful career progression and inspire employees to learn and grow throughout  
  • How we support their wellbeing
  • How we create positive and engaging workplace cultures 
  • How we manage poor staff conduct and performance and consequent impact on others
  • How we provide respectful and flexible work arrangements that reflect the realities of life outside school.

 

There are no silver bullets here. Each of these elements will be critical to building schools that enjoy a sustainable supply of staff—and a sustainable capacity to deliver high quality educational experiences.

Hope lies in the opportunities we’ve not yet taken.

For each of the challenges the Education sector is facing, there are at least a handful of potential solutions leaders have yet to try at scale (for example, the four-day school week; Fay, 2019). As a sector, there is still much we can learn from what’s been effective in other industries, including those doing similarly complex, human centred and high-stakes work such as those in Health & Community Services. 

The fact that in this year’s survey over a third of leaders identified Workforce Strategy—an almost unheard-of concept in the sector just a few years ago—as the most important strategy in their school is evidence that there is significant appetite for change. This, in itself, is cause for hope. Translating this appetite into widespread uptake of Workforce Strategy as a process in schools will be a further significant step in the right direction.

Responding to complex problems requires a willingness to experiment with potential solutions; evidence to inform which solutions will work sustainably; and courage to admit when a solution is not the right one, pivot the approach, and move on.

Workforce Strategy is the glue that binds these elements. When leaders have their own strategy—unique to their context—to make their school a fantastic place to work from an employee experience perspective, which gives leaders the capacity to set goals, allocate budgets and effort, and experiment to find that works in a controlled way .

There is hope, too, in the fact that those who will shape the future of school workforces—Principals, Other Senior Leaders, and HR/Business professionals—are optimistic about their roles, their workforce, and its culture. In some cohorts, this has even increased since our previous survey, in spite of the difficult environment we’ve discussed.

The sustainability of school workforces will depend on how well these leaders can translate this optimism into action that makes a meaningful difference to those in classrooms.

In this context, leaders are called to:

  • Know their workforce. Use data (in the Sector we have plenty of it!) to understand, monitor, and manage workforce risks. Ask staff about their wellbeing and their experience of work and what changes would make a meaningful difference.
  • Rethink how learning can be delivered differently and plan for the likely scenarios we’ll encounter (e.g., using fewer teachers and/or fewer specialised teachers). Consider what each of these scenarios will mean for the types of roles schools will need and the mix of these roles.
  • Create an environment in which the culture and wellbeing of your workforce are working towards your goals, not against them. This starts with measuring these factors to establish a clear baseline against which to measure change and progress.
  • Invest now in developing a workforce strategy for the future of the workforce that aligns with these likely scenarios, identifies the school’s greatest workforce priorities, and plots a course of action to execute these priorities.
  • Get curious and analytical about the design of work. Teaching work is diverse and involves a broad mix of activities; consider which of these activities can be performed by non-specialist or non-teaching roles. Identify opportunities to reduce workload by using efficient processes, technology, and automation to better manage repetitive, standardisable chunks of work.
  • Get comfortable with innovation. Acknowledge that even within the constraints we currently have, there is still enormous scope to try new approaches to work in schools. Look outside the sector to learn what has succeeded elsewhere. 
  • Develop a practice of continuous experimentation. Use data to identify opportunities to do things differently and inform hypotheses about the likely best approach. Trial new initiatives, measure and evaluate progress, learn, adapt, and iterate. 
  • Build their knowledge of contemporary workforce development practices and share this knowledge with their peers and aspiring leaders. The school leaders of the future should have a strong understanding of what it means to lead a workforce before they ascend to these roles.   
  • Find opportunities to collaborate, rather than compete for talent. This will mean building partnerships with tertiary education providers, the private sector, and other schools.

PeopleBench exists to help leaders in the Education sector proactively address the challenges facing their workforces. Talk to us about how to make your school a great place to work, so it can be an even greater place to learn. To discuss the findings in this report, or if you have questions, please contact [email protected].

References.

Buchanan, J. (2020). Challenging the deprofessionalisation of teaching and teachers: Claiming and acclaiming the profession. Springer.

Cameron , V. S., & Grootenboer, P. (2018). Human Resource Management in education: Recruitment and selection of teachers. International Journal of Management and Applied Science, 4(2), 89–94.

Cuervo, H., & Acquaro, D. (2018). The problem with staffing rural schools. Learning & Teaching

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). Recruiting and retaining teachers: Turning around the race to the bottom in high-need schools. Journal of Curriculum and Instruction 4(1), 16–32.

Fay, P. D. (2019). The four-day school week: Teacher retention and recruitment, perceptions, and achievement. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Phillips, L., & Cain, M. (2020). ’Exhausted beyond measure’: What teachers are saying about COVID-19 and the disruption to education. The Conversation. 

Price, H. E., & Weatherby, K. (2018). The global teaching profession: how treating teachers as knowledge workers improves the esteem of the teaching profession. School Effectiveness and School Improvement. 29(1), 113–149.

Schleicher, A. (2018). What makes high-performing school systems different (World Class). OECD Publishing

See, B. H., & Gorard, S. (2020). Why don’t we have enough teachers?: A reconsideration of the available evidence. Research papers in education 35(4): 416–442.

Sharplin, E.D. (2014). Reconceptualising out-of-field teaching: Experiences of rural teachers in Western Australia. Educational Research, 56(1), 97–110. 

Van Buren , H. J. III., Greenwood, M., & Sheehan, C. (2011). Strategic human resource management and the decline of employee focus. Human Resource Management Review 21(3), 209–219.

Zhao, Y., & Watterston, J. (2021). The changes we need: Education post COVID-19. Journal of Educational Change 22(1), 3–12.

Disclaimer.

The materials presented in this publication are provided by PeopleBench as an information source only. PeopleBench makes no statement, representation or warranty about the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of this publication, and any use of this publication is at the user’s own risk. PeopleBench disclaims all responsibility and all liability (including, without limitation, liability in negligence) for all expenses, losses, damages and costs anyone may incur as a result of reliance upon the information contained in this publication for any reason or as a result of the information being inaccurate, incomplete or unsuitable for any purpose.

Who is PeopleBench?

PeopleBench is an Education sector workforce improvement company. We build software tools and provide advisory services and research to help Education leaders make schools great places to work, so they can be great places to learn.  

The State of the Sector project forms part of our suite of research initiatives into what makes an effective and impactful school workforce.

We want to understand how leaders and policy-makers in the sector can use data to make smarter workforce decisions and build better school workforces.

If you’re interested in learning more about us or joining us on this quest, please visit

www.peoplebench.com.au

How to use this report.

This is a semi-interactive report. As you scroll down the page, you’ll be presented with the key finding from each section in the survey—just like in a conventional report. In some sections, you have the option to learn more about a particular topic from a different perspective. Hovering on some charts will reveal additional detail, including participant quotes. Once you’re done, you’ll return to the main body of the report. When you see the asterisk icon, you can dive deeper into the data by clicking on each section to expand.

Sample & Methodology

The State of the Sector survey was distributed to Australian School Leaders (Principals, other Senior Leaders, Middle Leaders), Teachers, and Business/HR Managers via direct email, social media, and industry media campaigns. As a recruitment incentive, an Apple Watch was offered to a randomly-selected participant.

A total of 521 participants responded to the survey in May–June 2022.

The survey included a total of 51 questions. Respondents were asked to nominate which of the above role types best described their current role; their response determined which questions they would complete. All questions were presented to Principals and Other Senior School Leaders; a subset of questions was presented to other respondents. 

Of the 521 total respondents, 20 were excluded from analysis because they completed only a small handful of questions, leaving a sample of 501 for analysis and reporting.

For most questions, responses were analysed in five ways: as a ‘whole sample’; separated by school type (Primary, Secondary, and Combined Years – e.g., K/P–12); separated by school sector (Government schools/Catholic schools/Independent schools); by geography (e.g. major cities; regional; remote) and by the five role types mentioned above.

Like all observational survey-based research, sampling bias may limit the generalisation of results. For example, participants may have completed the survey because they have front-of-mind concerns about the school workforce, because they’re familiar with/supportive of PeopleBench’s work, or because they have a special interest in human resources. The sample therefore may not fully reflect the breadth of perspectives in the Education sector. 

It is also important to note that this is not longitudinal research; we have not ‘followed’ the same cohort of respondents from year to year. Each year, our survey sample will be a little different, and this may explain some of the differences in results over time.

The charts below illustrate, for each statement, respondents’ level of agreement when thinking about the workforce today (left) and their sentiment in three years’ time (right). They show, for example, of the respondents who indicated agreement with the statement “When I think about the school workforce today, I feel excited”, how many also agreed with the statement “When I think about the school workforce three years from now, I feel excited.”

Workforce Resilience Tracker™.

The PeopleBench Workforce Resilience Tracker helps you measure, manage, and monitor how your people are travelling using a brief, psychometrically-validated assessment of resilience — sustainable wellbeing + sustainable performance — at work.

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Workforce Culture Tracker™.

Creating the workforce culture you want begins with properly understanding the culture you currently have. As our results show, it can be difficult to see how culture manifests ‘on the ground’. The PeopleBench Workforce Culture Tracker helps you measure, manage, and monitor how employees experience your culture; whether it’s fit-for-purpose; and where you should prioritise your efforts to change or maintain your culture.

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Workforce Strategy Builder™.

Most Education leaders understand the benefits of developing a Workforce Strategy, and an increasing proportion of governance bodies expect one. The PeopleBench Workforce Strategy BuilderTM helps you create an evidence-informed strategy document in hours, not weeks or months, removing the guesswork and significantly reducing the costs.

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PeopleBench Advisory.

Our results continue to show the workforce challenges facing schools are critical, and vary depending on school context. The PeopleBench team of school workforce experts can help you find the right solution for your context and build your best Education workforce.

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