Specialist teacher shortfall hurting regional areas: Principal

Regional areas were feeling the pinch of a statewide shortage of specialist teachers in maths, technology and the languages, highlighting the need for further incentives to attract and retain educators in the region. 

Bendigo Senior Secondary College principal Dale Pearce said while scholarships were already in place for some positions, young teachers in particular tended to leave regional areas for lifestyle reasons.

“It is worth exploring in some way to create further incentives for teachers to work in country areas because it’s certainly difficult to find them,” he said.

His comments come amid an independent federal government review into regional, rural and remote education, which will have a hearing in Bendigo in October. 

Local schools and universities have made submissions to the review headed by Flinders University professor John Halsey. 

La Trobe University, through its submission last week, suggested the federal government should explore the idea of a reduced HECS debt for teachers who study and then work in regional areas.

The university’s regional pro vice-chancellor Professor Richard Speed said on Tuesday the proposal would help address the growing gap in opportunity between rural and metropolitan students.

Mr Pearce, who has 25 years experience working in regional Victorian schools, said in the 1980s, the teacher training system was more heavily regulated, with the government acting as the trainer and supplier of staff.

Dale Pearce

Dale Pearce

“You were funded to do your training and you were then bound to work for the education department and work wherever they sent you,” he said.

Principal’s in the current government system would benefit from a little more flexibility when trying to attract teachers, Mr Pearce said. 

“Government schools can't target people (potential teachers) - non-government schools can,” he said.

“Everything has to be merit based but sometimes that might stifle initiative or ideas about how they might best attract teachers.

“Sometimes it would be good for us to have a bit more freedom.”

The federal government has a Teach for Australia Program (TFA), which selected applicants from a large pool to recruit high-achieving university graduates with degrees other than teaching, to become ‘Associates’, and gave them on-the-job training.

However the TFA was “not having a huge effect” in terms of retaining teachers in regional areas, Professor Speed said on Tuesday.

The education review hearing in Bendigo is on October 10 at the The Capital theatre.