On Monday, the Federal Government announced that students commencing teaching degrees in 2024 can now register for scholarships worth up to $40,000 in a bid to incentivise more people to take up a career in teaching.
The government’s $160m Commonwealth Teaching Scholarships Program delivers on Action 2 under the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan to help attract high quality candidates into the teaching profession and to help address teacher workforce shortages.
The program includes a ‘commitment to teach’ requirement, which means recipients must be willing to commit to teach for four years (undergraduate) and two years (postgraduate) in government-run schools or early learning settings.
The 5,000 scholarships will be available for new teaching students studying from 2024 and will be targeted at high-achieving school leavers, mid-career professionals, First Nations peoples, people with disability, people from whom English is an additional language or dialect and individuals from rural, regional and remote locations or from low socio-economic backgrounds.
Scholarships of $40,000 each will be available for undergraduate teaching students over four years and $20,000 for postgraduate students over two years.
“Teachers do one of the most important jobs in the world, but we don’t have enough of them,” Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare said on Monday. “I want more young people to leap out of high school and want to become a teacher, rather than a lawyer or a banker.”
Minister Clare said tying scholarships to a commitment to teach is “an old school idea” that will help tackle today’s teacher workforce challenges.
“They will help 5,000 of the best and brightest teaching students to complete their studies and begin changing lives in the schools who need it most,” he said.
“This is one part of our plan to tackle the teacher workforce shortage and builds on our reforms to teacher training, extra uni places for teaching and the Be that teacher campaign to elevate the profession.”
However, the Catholic and Independent school sectors say that if the government wants to address critical shortages facing the nations schools, the Commonwealth scholarships should be available to all sectors.
National Catholic Education Executive Director Jacinta Collins said the program “will skew recruitment of teachers to public schools when there is a need across Catholic and other non-government schools.”
“There are critical teacher shortages in every sector, particularly in rural, regional, and remote areas.”
Catholic principals ‘unable to compete with incentives’
Collins said the Federal Government has a responsibility to remain sector-neutral in addressing national teacher workforce challenges.
“There is a long-established recognition of school choice by successive governments that ensures support for all schools according to need,” she said.
“While government schools are yet to reach 100 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard, the Commonwealth government is now meeting its full share of needs-based funding for all schools.”
Collins added that many state and territory governments are already incentivizing the recruitment of teachers through bursaries and scholarships for their government schools
“Our principals are telling us that they are unable to compete with the incentives being offered in the public sector,” she said.
“To favour one sector over another creates an uneven playing field and makes it extremely difficult for Catholic and other low-fee schools to attract teachers.”
Collins said parents, who meet almost 25% of the SRS for Catholic schools, will “carry the burden.”
“In some remote areas, the Catholic school is the only school catering to students.”
Scholarships ‘favour one sector over another’
Independent Schools Australia CEO, Graham Catt wants the government to review the decision to exclude teachers who find employment in non-government schools around the country, pointing out that nearly one third of schools in Australia are non-government schools.
“The intent of the bursaries is to help address the critical teacher shortages across Australia, and those shortages exist in every school sector,” Catt said.
“Excluding graduate teachers who go on to work at a non-government school favours one sector over another, instead of supporting all students and schools according to need.”
Catt said Independent schools serve some of the most disadvantaged families and communities in Australia, and are “crying out for more teachers”.
“In many communities, an Independent school is the only real educational option for families,” he said. Examples include Majority Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander schools, remote, special, and special assistance schools,” Catt said.
“Limiting the scholarship program only to government schools limits the opportunity to develop teachers that will assist in meeting high levels of need in schools that serve highly educationally disadvantaged students.”
The office of Federal Education Minister Jason Clare has been contacted for comment.