When talking about teacher shortages, don’t forget those who teach English as an additional language

Burned-out teachers in Australian primary and secondary schools are quitting en masse, as the majority of teachers surveyed reflect on it.

There are similar fears about Australian early childhood educators. However, there is another group of teachers to consider in the teacher shortage crisis: teachers of English as an additional language.

This group has been one of the hardest hit education sectors during the pandemic. When former prime minister Scott Morrison told international students to go home if they couldn’t support themselves, many did.

With migration to Australia on hold, no new students have arrived. Almost all of the workforce in English language schools, TAFE and university language centers were left unemployed.

But even before COVID, the pool of teachers specializing in English as an additional language was shrinking due to attrition, retirements and dwindling training opportunities. Why is this a problem and how can we fix it?

Ignore a group of keys

Australia has over 600,000 students learning English as an additional language in public and Catholic schools.

Learner diversity includes refugees and migrants in Australia and Indigenous learners.

The teaching of English as an additional language is increasingly a state responsibility.
Dan Peled/AAP

Over the past two decades, the federal government has given the responsibility for teaching English as an additional language to the states and territories. This has resulted in a reduction or removal of support for learning English. Gonski’s recent funding reforms have not seen concrete improvements.

Learners in this group have effectively been sidelined from education priorities and reforms. They weren’t even mentioned as an equity cohort in the 2019 Mparntwe (Alice Springs) education statement.

Once heralded as a world leader in teaching English as an additional language – with a history dating back to the 1950s – this teaching expertise in Australia has been lost. Supports have also been lost, including targeted education programs to teach students from indigenous, migrant and refugee backgrounds.

The borders are reopening

As pandemic restrictions have been lifted, international students are starting to return. At the same time, a significant number of refugees re-entered the community, which boosted student enrollment in schools.

Thus, the teaching of English as an additional language is again in high demand.

Read more: Greater diversity can help solve the twin problems of early childhood staff shortages and missing families

But schools find it difficult to employ teachers of English as an additional language (along with other teachers). The Victoria Department of Education has launched new initiatives to address the critical shortage of teachers. Under these new guidelines, final-year education students can be employed as part-time specialists in English as an additional language, if they have completed at least one honors subject.

To qualify to teach English as an additional language in Australian schools, teachers must have expertise in a range of areas, including English language, second language acquisition and teaching in different social contexts. and cultural.

What needs to change

The Australian Council of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Associations has proposed a series of measures to improve the quality of teaching English as an additional language in Australia.

In his recently published roadmap, he warns that Australia’s education system is failing both students and teachers. Its main proposals include:

  • restore adequate needs-based funding. At present, the charge for per pupil support does not cover the cost of a single day of English teaching at current teacher salary rates.
  • reintroducing bilingual programs to support Australia’s multilingual Indigenous student population
  • update program resources to provide comprehensive planning guidance and best practice examples on how to support English as an additional language in the program.

Significantly, the roadmap recommends that the teaching of English as an additional language be compulsory in initial teaching qualifications. This would mean that all teachers have the skills to meet the needs of students whose first language is not English.

It can help all students

Being able to speak, read and write English is key to success in education, employment and full participation in Australian society. While those learning English as an additional language can develop social communication skills fairly quickly, their academic language skills may not develop sufficiently without specific ongoing instruction.

Read more: New education minister Jason Clare can solve the teacher shortage crisis – but not with Labor’s election plan

This orientation actually benefits all students. Research shows that teaching that responds to individual language levels and different language needs in different subjects improves learning for all students.

If Australia is to reclaim its reputation as a world-class education provider, we need to strengthen the resources, skills and commitment to teaching English as an additional language.

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