Diversifying the teaching workforce key to addressing issues in education

Image of a teacher in a classroom
The report includes evidence-based approaches to recruit teachers from four currently underrepresented groups

Attracting people from diverse backgrounds to the teaching profession can address ongoing staffing issues and improve student outcomes, a new report shows.

The report, from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne, outlines pathways for attracting and retaining teachers from minority groups, as a vital part of bolstering the education workforce.

The report includes evidence-based approaches to recruit teachers from four currently underrepresented groups in the Australian teaching workforce: Indigenous people, those from rural and remote areas, people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, and people with disability.

Strategies include mentoring and scholarship support, teacher residency programs, bridging programs between VET training and university, and targeted financial support for those from minority groups.

Lead author Associate Professor Suzanne Rice from the University of Melbourne said the report highlighted the lack of policy to attract and retain teachers from minority groups.

“Australia’s teacher workforce does not currently reflect the diversity of the Australian population,” Associate Professor Rice said.

“Current initiatives to attract teachers mostly focus on supply gaps, with only a small number of initiatives focused on increasing diversity.”

Currently in Australia only 6% of teachers report a disability, only 17% were born overseas, and less than 2% identify as Indigenous.

Associate Professor Rice said that being taught by teachers from minority groups had powerful results for the learning outcomes of students.

“Teachers from minority groups can act as role models for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, encouraging them to aim higher and achieve their potential,” Associate Professor Rice said.

“These teachers often have a better understanding of cultural issues and are more adept at building bridges to minority groups in local communities.”

Associate Professor Rice said schools in rural and disadvantaged areas are often the ones who struggle most to fill teaching positions, and students from these groups tend to have lower levels of attainment.

“This challenge is even worse during a school staffing crisis like the one we currently face,” Associate Professor Rice said.

“However, we found teachers from minority groups are more likely to stay in hard-to-staff schools and build powerful connections with the community – connections which really matter for both teachers and students.”

The report reveals that teachers who grew up in disadvantaged areas are also more likely to teach and stay in disadvantaged schools, and teachers from rural areas are more likely to teach and remain in rural schools.

“Policymakers must recognise that teacher workforce diversity is a key component in improving the quality of schools and is a vital solution to a system in crisis,” Associate Professor Rice said.

Key strategies to attract and retain teachers from diverse backgrounds:

  • Grow-your-own programs - provide financial and mentoring support to people already working in school education support or administration roles, so they can become fully qualified teachers.
  • 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.
  • Targeted scholarships for teacher trainees - Scholarships can help meet the costs of studying to become a teacher and can be targeted to minority groups.
  • 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.
  • School context and culture – foster school environments where school leadership, parents and students recognise that staff diversity strengthens the school and ensure the structures and cultures in the workplace cater for this diversity.