Regional teacher shortage will lead to greater disparity among students, psychologists warn


The return to face-to-face learning after two years of lockdown has not ended the chaos in classrooms across the country, with fears teacher shortages could push even more students through between the cracks.

Psychologists warn that shortages of school staff, especially in rural, regional and remote areas, will cause vulnerable students to fall far behind, leading to greater disparity among students along the way.

“There is a group of students who have more vulnerabilities, so it could be a learning disability, trauma in the family space or it could be retention issues,” the Australian’s president said. Psychological Society, Tamara Cavenett, at the ABC.

“And the biggest problem is that it creates this disparity between those who are more vulnerable and those who are not.”

Vulnerable students will be left behind, say psychologists.(ABC News: Elise Pianegonda)

Regional teacher shortages are not new due to an aging workforce and a lack of young people entering the profession.

But supply issues have been exacerbated by COVID and a particularly virulent flu season. Schools would normally employ substitute teachers to fill in the gaps, but, as Wodonga Senior Secondary College principal Vern Hilditch explained, they have also been hard to find.

Australian Education Union President Corenna Haythorpe called the situation a “major crisis”.

“Two weeks ago I was told by a South Australia regional manager that 18 of 32 staff were absent due to COVID or flu,” she said.

A smiling woman with blond hair tied back and wearing glasses.
Ms. Cavenett says struggling students in the regions have limited access to mental health resources.(Provided)

Ms Cavenett said any disruption to routine and structure in classrooms would have greater consequences in the regions as mental health services were harder to access.

She said those living in regional and rural areas would suffer worse impacts than students in cities.

“It is undoubtedly problematic for those [regional] children,” she said.

Schools are trying a myriad of options to resolve the crisis

Schools and education departments have tried all sorts of options to deal with the situation, including collapsing classrooms, airlifting staff from cities and sending students home to study unsupervised. .

A woman stands with her hands clasped in front of her and a calm expression on her face
AEU President Corenna Haythorpe said the shortage of teachers in rural and regional areas is a “major crisis”.(Provided)

At Trinity College, Albury in New South Wales, students in Years 8-10 spend one day a week studying at home without teacher supervision.

Principal Tony Sheumack said the temporary measure was designed so students could prepare for upcoming assessments.

“Our families have taken it incredibly well.

“Given previous years’ home learning, this is seen as a very, very minor adjustment to our program. We hope it’s only for this fortnight.”

Another option schools have is to hire college students — who are not yet registered as teachers — to take classes. Last year, the Queensland College of Teachers approved 363 applications from schools to hire student teachers.

In the first four months of this year, there were already 341 approvals and 80% of these came from outside the metropolitan area.

But Mr Hilditch said the education sector needed to consider longer-term solutions. In Wodonga, in northern Victoria, he tries to manage days when 45% of his staff are sick or forced to stay at home.

The exterior of a school building with a sign reading Wodonga Senior Secondary College.
Wodonga College Principal Vern Hilditch says the way schools teach is unlikely to revert to pre-COVID methods.(Provided )

“We have to get people to accept that we have to offer programs to some degree that are mixed.

“You have to look at how you structure the students’ week. And you can’t be in a situation where the students show up in a school where the teachers are overwhelmed, there are very few there and they just go through the motions of child care rather than education.


Comments are closed.