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ACDE: Preparing the future teacher workforce

As leading academics on a national steering committee for Australian Professional Experience (NADPE),* we are at the intersection of practice, where initial teacher education, early childhood education, teaching and school leadership overlap.

Over recent years, our work has been complicated by rapidly changing circumstances, (1) disrupted communities (2) and a multitude of reviews of initial teacher education. (3) These conditions continue to impact initial teacher education, as they do on other areas of our profession, (4) so there is more important work ahead of us. Getting this right will require our collective attention and action.

The national teacher workforce shortage is impacting Australian states and territories with significant implications for teachers and leaders at all career phases and within all systems

System, school and centre leaders are under pressure to recruit staff and manage teams whilst continuing to respond to increasing gaps left by staff illness, resignations and mobility. These are not new issues, but they have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for those living in rural and remote locations.5

A range of policies and practices were implemented to respond quickly to these national issues. Responses have included an expansion of pre-service teachers being employed on limited or conditional authority to teach. (6) This specific response has provided short-term solutions to teacher shortages but has also created unintended and problematic consequences for the profession.

Across Australia, there has been a rapid expansion of the employment of pre-service teachers with limited authority to teach (a special registration category allowing unregistered individuals to teach). This category of unregistered teachers has a different name in each Australian state and territory. In Queensland, it is known as a Permission to Teach, (7) whereas in South Australia, it is known as a Special Authority to Teach. (8) In Western Australia, it is called Limited Registration, (9) and in Tasmania, it is known as a Limited Authority to Teach. (10) 

To add complexity, each state and territory has different processes and rules around: the point at which a pre-service teacher can commence teaching with limited authority, ranging from before starting an initial teacher education program through to restrictions on only final-year pre-service teachers being eligible; the maximum time a pre-service teacher can remain on limited authority; and, differing input from universities in relation to the suitability of pre-service teachers offered limited authority to teach (from no involvement through to close involvement).

Around the nation, the number of pre-service teachers employed on limited authority is growing. For example, in 2022, over 600 Queensland pre-service teachers were granted Permission to Teach, which represents a substantial annual increase over recent years (from 178 in 2019, 211 in 2020 and 320 in 2021). (11)

In Western Australia, the number of teachers appointed on Limited Registration has been growing slowly over recent years (from 643 in 2019, 701 in 2020 and 765 in 2021) but has gained pace throughout the COVID-19 years. Similar trends are present in other states and territories.

The provision to employ unqualified people on limited authority to teach is available in all states and territories. It is a mechanism available to employers to address acute teacher shortages. (12) This mechanism differs from strategic initiatives aimed at fast-tracking pre-service teachers into the profession (for example, the Mid Career Transition to Teaching program (13) in NSW and Turn to Teaching Internship Program (14) in Qld) and from employment-based initial teacher education pathways (15) (for example, Teach for Australia (16) and the Nexus Program (17)).

These types of fast-track and employment-based programs regularly incorporate employment as a component of preparation for teaching. Consequently, they often rely on limited authority to teach as part of program implementation.

Pre-service teachers employed with limited authority to teach are regularly working in schools with a low socio-educational advantage index, (18) where the impact of staff mobility and attrition compounds the challenges of teaching student cohorts with complex and extensive needs. Accessing in-school support can be difficult for unqualified teachers within these sites because of the shortage and turnover of more experienced teachers. 

Furthermore, employment on limited authority to teach makes it difficult for these pre-service teachers to access formal support and professional learning targeting beginning teachers. Working as an unqualified teacher is difficult at the best of times, however, these conditions are particularly challenging without adequate support.

We are the first to acknowledge that employing pre-service teachers as unregistered teachers provides them with authentic teaching experiences. Over recent years, this practice has also mitigated some of the pandemic’s harshest impacts on school communities. This approach has been logical and sensible (leaders have sought to do everything in their power to prioritise and preserve their students’ health, wellbeing, and educational attainment).

In addition, these teaching experiences have also provided pre-service teachers with broad insights into their future teaching roles; however, the practice of employing large numbers of pre-service teachers on limited authority to teach has also exposed our inexperienced colleagues to roles and responsibilities they are not yet ready to manage.19

This, in turn, impacts pre-service teachers’ ability to prioritise their studies, seek assistance within their roles, maintain focus on completing their qualifications, and develop confidence and capacity before entering the profession as qualified and registered teachers.

This concern is echoed by teacher educators across the nation, who are reporting declines in the engagement and performance of some of their pre-service teachers employed on limited authority to teach.

These impacts are being observed within their university courses (educational theory and methods), during practical components (within Professional Experience placements), and within assessment of capstone teacher performance assessment (TPA) submissions. In some circumstances, this impacts pre-service teachers’ timely graduation and their intentions to enter and remain in the professionbeyond graduation.

An unintended consequence of this practice also extends to the delivery of initial teacher education. Employing more unqualified pre-service teachers has added to the difficulty for initial teacher education providers (universities) to secure adequate Professional Experience placements for pre-service teachers under the guidance of experienced and knowledgeable mentor teachers.

Previously, experienced teachers were available in larger numbers to provide mentorship to pre-service teachers (to induct pre-service teachers into their worksites, to guide learning about teaching, and to provide the support needed to underpin productive transitions intothe profession).

Over the past two years, pre-service teachers have experienced disrupted, shortened, and irregular Professional Experience placements under less-than-ideal circumstances. (20) Now, these same pre-service teachers are working alongside their more experienced teachers and are attempting to balance the demands of full-time teaching appointments with full-time university study. Due to the immediacy and significance of these issues, the potential impact cannot be overlooked.

We feel the impact of the teaching shortage is being widely observed, however, the impact on the next generation of graduate teachers is a little harder to spot. We observe a pattern of practices and policy responses that are well-intentioned but ultimately focused on resolving short-term issues. Our collective concern is for the unintended consequences of these over the mid to long-term ranges.

We are concerned about the rate and extent of change within the teaching workforce, especially the extent to which our systems rely on unqualified teachers.

Under-prepared and unregistered teachers cannot be well supported within systems and sites grappling with the ongoing impact of workforce shortages and increasing complexity of teachers’ work. (21, 22) Nor can pre-service teachers be expected to perform as highly effective graduate teachers when they are drawing on disrupted university preparation, limited placement opportunities and extensive unsupervised teaching as an unregistered teacher.

Now is the time for us to be coming together to consider the next important steps we need to take to collectively prepare the next generation of teachers.

These observations emphasise the need for open dialogue and innovative policy responses that allow teachers, leaders, system administrators and universities to work collectively to co-construct partnerships for long-term vision and practices for initial teacher education23 that move beyond the current crisis.

We are calling for all stakeholders to work together and contribute to the discussion, so that the future of Australian initial teacher education is shaped by those best placed to make these decisions.

By Dr Chad Morrison, Murdoch University

Professor Susan Ledger, The University of Newcastle Australia

Associate Professor Jennifer Clifton, Queensland University of Technology

Dr Brendan Bentley, The University of Adelaide

*Australian Council of Deans of Education. (2023). NADPE.


1. Jin, M. (2022). Preservice teachers’ online teaching experiences during COVID-19. Early Childhood Education Journal.

2. White, I., & McSharry, M. (2021). Preservice teachers’ experiences of pandemic related school closures: anti-structure, liminality and communitas. Irish Educational Studies, 40(2), 319-327.

3. Department of Education, Skills and Employment. (2022). Next Steps: Report of the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review. Australian Government. 

4. Heffernan, A., Bright, D., Kim, M., Longmuir, F., & Magyar, B. (2022). I cannot sustain the workload and the emotional toll: Reasons behind Australian teachers’ intentions to leave the profession. Australian Journal of Education. 

5. Parliament of New South Wales. (2022). Teacher shortages in New South Wales. 

6. O’Flaherty, A. (2022, Jun 24). Sharp increase in Queensland teacher vacancies as non-teaching staff front classes to stay open. ABC News.

7. Queensland College of Teachers. (2023). Permission to teach.

8. Teachers Registration Board of South Australia. (2022). Special Authority. Teacher Registration. 

9. Teacher Registration Board of Western Australia. (2023). Limited registration. TRBWA.

10. Teacher Registration Board Tasmania. (2021-22). Limited authority to teach. Quality teachers, flourishing students.

11. O’Flaherty, A. (2021, Dec 9). Soaring numbers of university students, unregistered teachers fronting classrooms to plug shortages. ABC News. 

12. Department of Education Western Australia. (2022). Teaching opportunities for pre-service teachers.

13. Department of Education. (2023). Mid-Career Transition to Teaching Program. Education. NSW Government. 

14. Department of Education Queensland. (2022). Turn to Teaching Internship Program. Teach Queensland. 

15. State Government of Victoria. (2022). Fast track your education career with an accelerated learning program.

17. La Trobe University. (2023). Nexus Program.

18. Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2020). Guide to understanding the Index of Community Socio-educational Advantage (ICSEA). My School.

19. Stevenson, D. J., Neill, J. T., Ball, K., Smith, R., & Shores, M. C. (2022). How do preschool to Year 6 educators prevent and cope with occupational violence from students? Australian Journal of Education, 66(2), 154-170.  

20. VanLone, J., Pansé-Barone, C., & Long, K. (2022). Teacher preparation and the COVID-19 disruption: Understanding the impact and implications for novice teachers. International Journal of Educational Research Open, 3, 100120. 

21. Daliri-Ngametua, R., Hardy, I., & Creagh, S. (2022). Data, performativity and the erosion of trust in teachers. Cambridge Journal of Education, 52(3), 391-407. 

22. Flack, C. B., Walker, L., Bickerstaff, A., Earle, H., & Margetts, C. (2020). Educator perspectives on the impact of COVID-19 on teaching and learning in Australia and New Zealand. Pivot Professional Learning.

23. Ledger, S., and Vidovich, L. (2018). Australian Teacher Education Policy in Action: The Case of Pre-service Internships., Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 43(7), 11-29.

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