Plea for Brits to go Down Under

Subjects dropped as staffing crisis bites, reports Geoff Maslen.


British teachers have been urged to go to Australia to help overcome a growing shortage of staff in state and private schools.

Andrew Blair, president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association, said British teachers prepared to look beyond the cities and work in remote regions of Western Australia and the Northern Territory could virtually "write their own ticket" in terms of salaries and conditions.

Secondary schools across Australia are being forced to drop subjects from the curriculum or use staff without appropriate training because of the worsening teacher shortage, Mr Blair said. The average age of Australian teachers is now 49 and, as thousands near retirement age, the situation is reaching a crisis point.

A survey of secondary school principals by the ASPA has found that about a quarter of the nation's high schools have had to abandon foreign language courses because of the shortfall of trained teachers.

Many other subjects are being taught by teachers without relevant expertise or qualifications, particularly health and physical education subjects.

Principals are being forced to drop subjects from the timetable because of a lack of new teachers to take the place of those retiring.

The two strategies most frequently used by principals unable to find a qualified teacher are "culling" the subject from the curriculum or using a teacher without subject expertise.

Mr Blair said the wave of retirements was made worse by the fact that a new generation of teachers was entering the profession with short-term career intentions.

"They see teaching as a transitory and portable occupation and many remain in the classroom for only three to five years," he said.

The Australian Education Union estimates that almost a third of graduates from university education faculties leave their jobs in schools within five years. The union said the growing shortfall was being exacerbated as thousands of Australian teachers left the country to work in Britain, Canada and America. Recruiting agents were offering free air fares and guarantees of well-paid jobs to persuade teachers to move.

A recent report by the federal education department suggested that up to 80,000 teachers could be lost from primary and secondary schools within 10 years. More than one in four teachers will be eligible to retire after 2007.

Mr Blair said UK teachers interested in working in Australia should consider positions in schools outside the capital cities, so they could experience what the country was really like.

Mr Blair said applications to be registered as a teacher should be made to the state Institutes of Teaching, which have responsibility for ensuring teachers are qualified and of good character.

Once registered, teachers can apply directly to schools that have vacancies, as more state schools now hire their own staff, as do independent schools and many Catholic schools.

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