Teacher Aide Workforce in Australian Schools Grows by a Staggering 33.9%

Teacher aide supporting learningTeacher Aide employment growth exceeds all other occupations

One of our earlier blogs ‘From kitchen garden to the classroom – the paraprofessional in schools’, illustrated the role of teacher aides (TAs) and associated employment trends across Australian schools.

One year down the track I thought it timely to revisit this information, and you may be surprised to discover that, in the past 5 years, the Australian TA workforce has grown by a staggering 33.9%, which is 27% more than all other occupations.

There are more than 87,600 TAs employed in Australian schools. According to the 2015 Labour Force Survey by the Department of Employment, this trend will continue with over 105,000 TAs employed in Australian schools by 2020. That’s only 3 years away!

Snapshot of TA workforce

So what do we know about our TA workforce? Here’s a snapshot using current data from the Department of Employment:

Why do TAs stay and teachers leave?

The number of teachers who have left the profession in the last 5 years is increasing, yet the trend for TAs is the opposite. Many TAs choose this career, once their children start school, and stay long after their children have left, despite their low wages and opportunities to return to previous careers.

"I've been working as an aide in a primary school for 14 years"

"I’ve been an Integration Aide for 26 years"

"This is my 17th year at a local private school"

"I have been working as a Teacher Aide for 16 years"

(Snapshot of ATA members)

According to research, between 30-50 % of teachers leave the profession in the first five years. Some of the main reasons given are:

  • Emotional burnout
  • Additional needs of many students
  • Managing student behaviour
  • The curriculum, and achieving outcomes
  • The level of work and time pressures
  • Lack of support

TAs supporting the work of teachers: What is needed?

How can the education sector utilise our growing TA workforce to better meet some of the needs expressed by teachers, and retain more of our skilled teacher workforce?

It is helpful to look at the UK, where TAs make up about a quarter of the school workforce, and significant research has been done on the impact of TAs on student learning and teaching. The largest, and most in-depth study was the Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) project (2003-2008).

Disturbingly, the study revealed that the more assistance students received from TAs, the less academic progress they made. However, the findings clearly stated that these results were not the fault of TAs, rather it was that schools were not making the best use of their TA workforce.

It found that the decisions made by principals and school leaders about the preparation, deployment and practice of TAs in schools needed to change if schools wanted to maximise their potential.

The UK context is not necessarily the same as in Australia, however the data is a useful guide to effective TA practices that schools can use to the benefit of students.

What can we learn from the DISS study to improve the way schools employ TAs?

  • Preparation: Teachers benefit from professional development on how to manage and organise the work of TAs
  • Planning: Time must be allocated to enable planning, preparation and feedback between teachers and TAs
  • Practice: TAs benefit from professional development on how to effectively support student learning, as well as coaching and feedback from teachers.

In many Australian schools, there are some excellent TA practices happening that contribute positively to student learning and well-being, often due to the commitment of individual teachers and the dedication of support staff.

Unfortunately, much of the planning and preparation necessary for effective teaching and learning still takes place in the TAs own time.

When teachers and TAs are given the opportunity to work collaboratively, and planning, preparation and feedback are seen as core to effective TA practice, then the biggest benefit will be to the students.

Australian Teacher Aide (ATA) is passionate about helping schools make better use of their TA workforce and we believe that TAs have a significant role to play in the future of Australian education.

The start of the new school year is an excellent time to review the way your school employs TAs. Our free ATA School TA Workforce Survey will help you easily create a snapshot of your TA workforce.