If you’re looking for long-term trends in education in Australia, that will strongly influence decisions that schools, TAFEs and universities take on their future strategy, then one strong driver of behaviour for leaders (at an institution and state level) is going to be the availability of teaching staff.

According to the Clarius Skills Index:

  Three major employment sectors will face substantial skills gaps as Australia’s ageing workforce heads for retirement, according to the latest Clarius Skills Index…for every 107 teachers who retire, there will only be 73 to replace them if the wider population’s qualifications remain unchanged over the next decade-and-a-half.  

So as the average age of the teacher profession increases (with a large group who are now close to retirement), there aren’t going to be enough young teachers coming into the classroom to replace them. According to the ABS, there were 286,000 teaching staff in Australian schools in 2010*, and other research suggests up to a third are close to retirement*.

Australian teaching staff:student ratios

Over the last decade, the number of students per teacher has declined, leading the potential for smaller class sizes, and more specialist teaching in smaller groups. The chart below, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, shows the trend for 'Student to Teaching Staff’ ratios since 2000.

Graph: Full-time Equivalent (FTE) STUDENT TO TEACHING STAFF RATIOS, by affiliation - 2000 to 2010

At the same time, the number of students in private schools has increased by 21% compared with an only 1% increase in students attending government schools. The proportion of students in private schools is now 34%, or more than 1 in 3, up 4% since 2000*.

What happens next?

In other countries facing this problem, there have been two key focus strategies.

  • Increase the number of people entering teaching (which has turned out to be quite tricky in many cases)
  • Develop new models of learning that rely less on low student:teacher ratios

Australia is no different to these countries. But the critical difference is that over the next few years we are going to see an increase in the devolution of power to school Principals - including more responsibility for hiring their own staff. That’s going to be quite a challenge to take on at a time when there’s going to be more competition for teachers due to a shortage.

Enter the role of ICT in the classroom?

If you are considering developing an education technology for the future, this trend probably means that there will be much more demand for learner-centric support, rather than teacher-centric (eg with less teachers, are we going to see less demand for teaching led from the front of the class with interactive whiteboards, and more demand for interactive study resources for learners to use individually?).