Student teachers start early to meet the teacher shortage challenge head-on

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
With SA in the grip of a teacher shortage, young unqualified teachers are being given special permission to hit the classroom

‘Emma’ seems hesitant to admit her new job nerves but as one of hundreds of yet to be formally qualified South Australian teachers granted special permission to work in schools before they’ve completed their university degrees, she told EducationDaily the prospect was “a little daunting”.

But to deal with the current teacher shortage in the state, the Teachers’ Registration Board of South Australia (TRB) granted a swathe of exemptions in 2023 to enable student teachers like Emma to start work in schools, as school principals struggle to find experienced staff.

The granting of ‘special authority to teach’ (SAT) was app0roved for 384 cases and meant that student teachers in their second, third or fourth year of an education degree can commence work in a school as if they were already a registered teacher.

Where Emma started work – a rural school a few hundred kilometres from the SA capital of Adelaide – the need for additional teachers continues to be particularly urgent, with the impact of the teacher shortage made worse by the added challenge of encouraging new graduates and seasoned teachers to leave the city behind and take up a role in a country community.

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“I’m from the country – but not from that part of SA – so I’m used to living rurally. But because I’m now completing some of my studies online, that’s a bigger change to get used to, really,” Emma told EducationDaily.

Education minister explores teaching apprenticeship model

To help counter the bigger problem that young trainee teachers like Emma are stepping up to address, SA Education Minister Blair Boyer said that he is “open to” exploring a formal apprenticeship model to ease shortages and that extra support is provided to student teachers working in schools.

“Looking at an apprenticeship model for teachers is something I am open to as minister as we try to look at different ways to work through the national teacher shortage,” Mr Boyer said.

Mr Boyer said student teachers are provided with support such as a mentor and they are allowed release time to observe other teachers.

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For Emma, the experience has, so far, been a positive one, although she won’t commit to confirming how long she plans to stay. She says she knows other student teachers who have recently taken up country school postings who feel similarly.

Special approval rates are soaring

From 69 SAT approvals in 2019, the number of unqualified teaching students given permission to teach in SA schools soared to 470 cases in 2022.

Mr Boyer also noted that 73 per cent of students with a special authority to teach in 2023 are now employed with the Education Department.

SA Primary Principals Association president Tobias O’Connor said it was “far more commonplace now to have students who are in their third or fourth year of a university degree having responsibility for a class”.

“Prior to Covid it probably wasn’t that common,” he said.

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“There are an increasing number of them now and, for a little while, that’s probably going to continue to be the case.”

Mr O’Connor acknowledged that parents would probably prefer a qualified, experienced educator teaching their children but said it was “about trying to make the best of a bad situation”.

Community is grateful for added support

At her smaller rural school, Emma told EducationDaily she has not met any resistance from the broader community.

“Parents and students seem grateful to have more teachers here – even if we’re not formally qualified yet,” Emma says.

“But I have a friend at a school in Adelaide who says she’s heard of parents pushing back with the school about it. In a shortgage, what can you do? We’re fresh from studying and, in that way, our training might be more relevant than an older teacher – now we just need the practical experience.”

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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]