Our teaching workforce presently fails to mirror the rich diversity of our Australian community, contributing to the well-known teacher shortage issue in Australia. More alarmingly, this gap disproportionately affects our most disadvantaged students. Increasing the diversity of Australia’s teaching workforce hasn’t been a policy priority and it’s time for a rethink.
People of many backgrounds, nationalities and abilities contribute to the rich diversity of our Australian community. Diversity broadens our perspectives and strengthens us as a nation, allowing us to draw on complementary knowledge, experiences and insights. However, this diversity is not well-reflected in our current teacher workforce. There is now research indicating that a more diverse workforce has the capacity to support our students’ achievement and engage effectively with local communities. Policymakers and researchers internationally have begun to explore how we might broaden the group of those who enter teaching, and how best to support them in their teaching careers to aid their retention and their contribution.
This report outlines findings from an international scan of literature on initiatives that support the attraction and retention of four groups underrepresented among those in teaching or entering initial teacher education:
- Indigenous people
- People from low socio-economic backgrounds
- People from rural and remote locations
- People with disability
The report identifies a range of options used by policymakers, with varying degrees of evidence for their effectiveness. Grow-your-own programs, which have long been used in the United States to increase the number of Black students entering teaching, have sound evidence of effectiveness, particularly when designed and managed in collaboration with local communities and the minority groups targeted. High school academies, housing support, and alignment of vocational and university offerings were among the other policy options identified.
Attracting a more diverse workforce into teaching will only be effective if schools and systems value the contributions of diverse staff and support their needs. Actions that schools and systems can undertake to include and support the retention of staff from minority groups more effectively are also canvassed in the report.
At a national level, better data collection on the teacher workforce, and a sustained research effort to understand what works to attract and retain a diverse workforce in Australia will be important in securing future teachers. The report concludes with a call for all those involved in school education to recognise that teacher workforce diversity is a key component of the quality of schools and school systems that underlies their capacity to work effectively with all communities.
- A more diverse teacher workforce is likely to improve outcomes for students from minority groups.
- Groups currently underrepresented in the Australian teaching workforce include Indigenous people, those from rural and remote areas, people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, and people with disability.
- Current Australian initiatives to attract teachers mostly focus on supply gaps, with only a small number of initiatives focused on increasing diversity.
- Evidence shows there are initiatives that can increase the diversity of the teaching workforce. These include well-structured grow-your-own programs, housing support, and high school academies.
- If we want to retain these teachers, actions to attract a more diverse teaching workforce need to be accompanied by actions to build support for teachers from minority groups at school and system levels.
- There is a need for more fine-grained data collection on the Australian teaching workforce, together with much more research that considers how to build a teaching workforce representing the Australian community.
What works to attract and retain a diverse teacher workforce?
Our research looked at initiatives that have been used to increase teacher workforce diversity.
School context and culture
Encouraging a person from a minority group into teaching won’t help if the structures and cultures in the workplace don’t support them and cater for diversity. School leadership, parents and students need to recognise that staff diversity strengthens the school, and support minority staff appropriately. This includes:
- Well-designed induction programs
- Culturally-responsive mentoring and support networks
- Targeted pathways to leadership positions
- Workplace accommodations (particularly for people with disability)
- Ensuring workplaces are inclusive and culturally safe
These programs provide financial and mentoring support to people already working in school education support or administration roles, so they can become fully qualified teachers.
By recruiting people with existing community connections and a demonstrated interest in educating young people, these programs tend to produce teachers who stay in the communities they come from, and understand the cultural knowledge held by those communities.
Teacher residency programs
Teacher residency programs bring candidates into schools from the beginning of their training, where they are closely mentored by experienced teachers. Candidates teach actively from the start while completing their teaching qualification.
These programs are usually focused on increasing the supply of teachers, rather than increasing diversity. But since they allow people to earn an income and train at the same time, they can remove barriers, such as the costs of full-time study, for those from minority groups.
Targeted scholarships for teacher trainees
Scholarships can help meet the costs of studying to become a teacher, and have been used for decades, although mostly without an emphasis on teacher diversity.
Australian departments of education offer scholarships targeted to Indigenous secondary and university students who want to become teachers, or who are in teacher training. We know that these scholarships do work to support people into teaching and could be targeted to other minority groups as well.
Building bridges between VET and teacher training
VET courses can be easier and cheaper to access than university courses. For some students they feel like less of a cultural and financial “leap” than going to university.
Building pathways between VET and teacher education courses can help diversify the teaching workforce. Victoria University and Charles Darwin University offer good examples in Australia.