How to entice young high achievers into teaching
Published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 April 2021
Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge wants Australia’s best and brightest to take on teaching. Good on him for aiming high – there could hardly be a more worthy goal – but to succeed he will have to reverse a damaging, decades-long trend of bright young Australians turning their backs on a career in teaching.
Demand from high achievers for teaching has steadily declined over the past 30 years. Strikingly, the number of top students wanting to become teachers fell by a third over the past decade – more than any other undergraduate field of study in Australia.
A Grattan Institute survey of almost 950 young high achievers in 2019 showed that better career paths and higher pay are key to encouraging them to choose teaching as their profession.
It showed high achievers worry about getting stuck in the one classroom. And they want pay rates that recognise teaching expertise rather than simply years of service.
Teacher salaries at the top need to be more competitive with other professions. A high achiever going into a career in law or engineering will earn many tens of thousands of dollars a year more by their mid-40s than if they went in to teaching.
This is not to suggest that high achievers are only concerned about themselves. Our research shows high achievers are highly motivated by a sense of altruism – but they believed they could make almost as much of a difference in other careers compared with teaching.
We would urge Minister Tudge’s new initial teacher education review, announced on Thursday, to recommend setting a national goal of doubling the proportion of high achievers who choose teaching over the next 10 years. Our 2019 report shows this is achievable if governments take these three steps.
First, offer $10,000 cash-in-hand scholarships to encourage high achievers to study teaching. Scholarships are one the most cost-effective ways to sway young high achievers.
Second, governments should launch a marketing campaign to “sell” teaching as a rewarding and challenging career. But the campaign can’t be rhetoric alone. There is no point attracting good candidates if they are not supported, challenged and satisfied once they start working in schools.
So the third part of the package requires state governments to significantly improve teacher career pathways, so that expertise is recognised and rewarded. We suggest creating new expert teacher roles, with extra time and extra responsibility to improve teaching across the school system, along with extra pay of up to $80,000 a year more than standard classroom teachers.
This reform package would not only help to attract more high achievers into teaching; it would ensure current teachers received better support and guidance.