The New South Wales government program aimed at persuading professionals to become mathematics teachers attracted just six people last year, five of whom dropped out before their scholarships were completed.
As state public school teachers prepare for their first strike in nearly a decade on Tuesday, new figures cast doubt on the success of government attempts to tackle a teacher shortage in NSW without a significant wage increase.
In 2019, the state government announced the Teach.Maths NOW Scholarship to attract current undergraduate students and industry professionals with a background in pure or applied mathematics to become teachers.
But the program has struggled to attract and retain applicants. Although 160 placements were funded, the program was offered to only 53 people in its first two years. Now, new figures obtained by the Guardian show that the program also failed to retain many of the industry professionals who applied.
According to the government, only six industry professionals were among those accepted into the Teach.Maths NOW scholarship in 2020. Of those, all but one withdrew from the program “citing a number of reasons including changes in conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic. government said.
The government said it made substantive changes to the program, and in 2021, 13 of the 17 industry professionals who signed up for the grant remained, but the struggle to attract and retain teachers through teaching.
The NSW Department of Education has warned that a significant shortage of teachers – especially in subjects such as math and science – is affecting the quality of students’ learning. But the state government has rejected the teachers’ union’s claim that insufficient wages are decreasing enrollment in grades and increasing the number of teachers leaving the profession.
This paved the way for the first teachers’ strike in nearly a decade on Tuesday. Employees will defy a CIC order and be fired as part of a campaign for a 5% pay increase with an additional 2.5% to be recognized for experience.
The government offered a 2.5% wage increase in line with its long-standing cap on public servants’ wages and rejected the argument that ministry staff issues are wage-related.
“It is unfortunate but not surprising [NSW Teachers] The union continues to attack its recruitment strategy, informed by reliable research, which seeks to build a sustainable pool of quality teachers through various initiatives including wage increases and financial incentives, Education Minister Sarah Mitchell told the Guardian.
“At no time has the union been involved in any proactive conversations about how to improve staffing in hard-to-recruit regional areas.
“Saying that the only way to attract more people to teaching is to raise wages is deliberately ignoring the complexities of the modern profession and genuine independent research on the matter.”
As the wage row with the union escalated, the government last month released a strategy to provide teachers with $125 million as part of its attempt to tackle the problem without raising wages above the 2.5% cap.
But the Labor Party attacked the plan because of its ambiguity. The funding includes, among other things, a $5 million marketing strategy to attract educators, and a plan to attract 500 STEM teachers from other states and jurisdictions.
Other states, such as Western Australia, recently announced their own plans to hunt teachers from New South Wales.
Labor has taken advantage of government responses to supplemental budget estimates questions that show that half of the $125 million has yet to be allocated. According to the government, about $63 million from the fund is still “under revision as the scope and implementation of initiatives are defined.”
The responses also show that the government’s plan to hunt Stem teachers was based in part on “anecdotal evidence” that teachers from out of the states and beyond were “interested in returning home to NSW especially during the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Labour’s shadow education minister, Prue Car, has criticized the government’s attempts to tackle employment issues, saying teacher shortages are a “huge problem in NSW schools”.
“Half of the money promised to address teacher provision issues is not earmarked, and government grants are failing to attract the stem teachers that NSW needs,” she said.
“The NSW government needs to acknowledge the severity of the teacher shortage that NSW is facing and make the necessary investment to fix this.”
Mitchell said that full funding for the strategy has been allocated over the next four years and that “more details on the initiatives will be published as they are launched.”