NT schools face 2024 school year with teacher shortage

Schools in the Northern Territory are urgently trying to fill 143 teaching vacancies across 153 schools, before school starts on 30 January.

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Schools in the Northern Territory are urgently trying to fill 143 teaching vacancies across 153 schools, with the start of the new school year less than two weeks away on 30 January.

In January 2023, NT schools had 36 school vacancies.

But when NT Education Minister Mark Monaghan addressed concerns on Friday last week, he tried to put a more positive spin on the shortage, saying the recruitment process among teachers usually “bottlenecks” over the January break.

“This is the most active period for recruitment,” Mr Monaghan said. “Most teachers actually make a decision about their future over the January break.”

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He said he had no concerns about getting enough teachers in front of kids in 2024 – describing the process to fill the roles as a “day-by-day proposition”.

“We already have 33 people going through the process to come into that number,” he said.

“Tomorrow, you may not have that number… it changes very rapidly at this time of year.”

At the start of Term one, when Mr Monaghan said he will welcome the new teachers into the Territory, “that’s where I’ll expect to have a very good indication about how successful we are in that (recruitment) space”.

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The NT Education Minister did admit to holding reservations about the situation going forward.

“Consistency of educators in communities is a really important thing,” he said.

Education Union says vacancy spike is unsurprising

Australian Education Union NT president Michelle Ayres describes the large number of vacant teaching roles in the Territory’s schools as concerning – but not surprising.

Many of the vacancies, she says, actually signal positive growth in the region, with an increase of around 100 teaching jobs available in Central Australia due to a recent $40 million finding injection designed to improve educational opportunities for students in some of the NT”s most remote schools.

Ms Ayres said many of the vacancies likely came from an increase of about 100 Central Australian teaching jobs thanks to a $40m funding injection to the region.

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Definition of remote schools compromises NT efforts to attract teachers

To help attract teachers to the Territory, a $3500 retention bonus comes into effect in 2024 in an effort to entice and hold onto high-quality educators.

Ms Ayres expressed frustration that other states seemed more successful at attracting staff to their “remote’ schools – a situation which is deepening the teacher shortage in the Territory. Currently, regional hubs like Bendigo in Victoria also offering bonuses to attract teaching staff – despite being home to a population of more than 100,000 people in a location less than 160 kilometres from Melbourne.

“If we’re not able to compete with their attraction and retention (because) our salaries have slipped down – they’re really more middle of the range – and aren’t at … the top level that they used to be, (then) we’re obviously going to be struggling to attract teachers to the Territory,” Ms Ayres said.

The flow-on effect of the teacher shortage in the NT is a worrying attrition rate that continues to climb. In addition to the obvious links the shortage has to teacher burnout and workload overwhelm, the lack of teaching staff also contributes to school safety issues if behavioural issues among students rise, without the qualified and experienced teachers to offer the support students in remote schools need.

‘Aim higher, be braver’ – but with better working conditions

The 2023 launch of the Federal Government’s Be That Teacher campaign aimed to address these issues, with the face of the NT’s share in the $1m recruitment drive for teachers drawing on the Territory’s unique charm to help lure teachers to the region’s regional and remote schools.

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Leanyer School teacher Joseph Collinson said, as part of the campaign’s promotion, that the opportunity to see “a lot of different nationalities and cultures in particular” was a bonus of teaching in the NT.

“Being an Aboriginal male coming in, and now I get to teach other Aboriginal students from different communities and coming in, local areas as well,” he said. “It’s so rewarding, you get to see them grow not just academically but socially, emotionally.”

To celebrate the campaign’s launch last November, Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said he hoped the campaign would change the way people think of educators.

“While we don’t remember much from when we were little, most of us can remember that teacher who helped us to aim higher, be braver and work harder,” he said.

“The campaign is designed to encourage more Australians to want to be that teacher.”

But with Ms Ayres saying that teachers were now forced to do “more and more” to fill gaps in the workforce and keep kids engaged, she suggested the shortage crisis might be less about actual numbers and more about the need to provide better conditions for educators.

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“I think there’s heaps of teachers in Australia, they’re just not teaching,” Ms Ayres said. “They’ve walked away from the profession because it’s bad.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live