4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2003  
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Contents >> Education and training >> Education and work: School teachers

Education and work: School teachers

Between 1982 and 2002, the student/teacher ratio in primary schools declined from 20.8 to 16.9 students per teacher.

Teachers play a key role in equipping children with the skills and knowledge they will need to participate fully in working and social life. In Australia, school education is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 and 15 years (or 16 years in some states and territories). During the 1980s and 1990s, several factors contributed to an increasing demand for teachers. These included the trend for greater numbers of students to participate in school education beyond the minimum leaving age, and a commitment to achieving smaller class sizes, especially in primary schools, by state and territory governments.

While the number of school teachers relative to students increased over the 1990s, an ageing teaching workforce with many teachers nearing retirement has implications for how effectively the demand for school teachers can be met in the future. The supply of teachers is currently broadly in balance with the demand across Australia; however recruitment difficulties are being experienced in parts of rural and regional Australia, and in certain subject matter areas such as mathematics and science.1

Teachers in schools
The data in this article are drawn largely from the National Schools Statistics Collection (NSSC). The NSSC is an annual census of schools in Australia and is published in Schools, Australia (ABS cat. no. 4221.0).

The NSSC uses full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers in Australian schools as a measure of the total level of teaching staff resources. The FTE of a full-time staff member is equal to 1.0. The calculation of FTE for part-time staff is generally based on the proportion of time worked compared with full-time staff performing similar duties. However some states and territories base FTE calculations on wages, resource allocations or student/teacher numbers instead of time. All measures are broadly comparable.

Student/teacher ratios are calculated by dividing the number of full-time students by the number of FTE teachers. The ratio is not intended to provide a measure of class size.

Number of teachers
Over the 1980s and 1990s, governments sought to increase the number of teaching resources allocated per student, particularly in primary schools. Consistent with this, between 1982 and 2002, the total number of teachers in Australian schools increased by 34% to 255,100. In full-time equivalent terms, there were 225,400 teachers in 2002, an increase of 24% from 181,500 in 1982. This was greater than the increase in the number of full-time school students, which increased by 10% over the same period.

Student/teacher ratio(c)
Student/teacher ratio(c)


(a) Full-time equivalent.
(b) In 1982, special school teachers were identified separately and it is not possible to attribute them to either primary or secondary level.
(c) Number of full-time equivalent teachers per full-time student.

Source: Schools, Australia (ABS cat. no. 4221.0).

The increased numbers of full-time equivalent teachers relative to students was more marked for primary school teachers than for secondary school teachers. Over the 20 years to 2002, the full-time equivalent number of primary teachers increased by 30% to 114,400 while the full-time equivalent number of secondary teachers increased by 27% to 110,900. At the same time the student/teacher ratio in primary schools decreased from 20.8 to 16.9 students per teacher and the ratio for secondary schools decreased from 13.1 to 12.4 students per teacher. In addition to changes in government policy, the increase in the number of teachers in secondary schools is also linked to rapid growth in the number of students staying on at school beyond the minimum leaving age towards the end of the 20th century. Between 1982 and 2002, apparent retention rates, from Year 7/8 to Year 12, increased from 36% to 75%.

In the 20 years to 2002, the non-government school system experienced much faster growth than the public education system. Over this period, the number of full-time equivalent teachers in non-government schools increased by 84%, while the number in government schools rose by 8%. The rise in the number of full-time equivalent teachers in non-government schools can be attributed to a 47% rise in the number of students in non-government schools between 1982 and 2002. In comparison, the number of government school students fell slightly over the same period. In 2002, the proportion of full-time equivalent teachers in non-government schools was 32%, up from 22% in 1982. This change was more pronounced at the secondary school level, where 37% of full-time equivalent secondary teachers were in non-government schools in 2002, compared with 24% in 1982.

Change between 1982 and 2002



(a) Full-time equivalent.
(b) Includes Anglican and Other.

Source: Schools, Australia (ABS cat. no. 4221.0).

Of those full-time equivalent teachers in non-government schools in 2002, 58% were in Catholic schools, with the other 42% in Independent schools (including Anglican schools). However, the number of full-time equivalent teachers in Independent schools experienced the strongest growth between 1982 and 2002 (by 169%) while in Catholic schools the number increased by 50% over the same period.

Non-government schools also experienced the greatest decreases in student/teacher ratios at both the primary and secondary levels, with the number of students per teacher falling from 22.0 to 17.3 at the primary school level, and from 14.9 to 12.3 at the secondary school level. In government schools, the number of primary school students per teacher fell from 20.5 in 1982 to 16.7 in 2002, while in secondary schools, the number of students per teacher decreased slightly from 12.5 to 12.4.

Who teaches?
With fewer young people entering the teaching profession, concern has been raised about teacher shortages in coming years. In the 15 years to 2001, the age profile of teachers became older, with the median age of the teacher population rising from 34 years to 43 years over the period. In 2001, around one-quarter (28%) of all teachers were aged less than 35 years, a decrease from around half (51%) in 1986. Over the same period, the number of teachers aged 45 years and over increased from 17% to 44%.

Graph - Age distribution of teachers(a)

(a) Comprises full-time, part-time and temporary teachers including those not working in schools.

Source: ABS 1986 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.

Graph - Female/male ratios of school teachers(a)

(a) Full-time equivalent.

Source: Schools, Australia (ABS cat. no. 4221.0).

In addition, there has been much debate in recent years about the need to have both female and male teachers in schools. The issues surrounding the gender balance of teachers have been highlighted in recent years by both government and other commentators.2, 3 The majority of school teachers are women, and the proportion of female teachers increased steadily over the 20 years to 2002. In full-time equivalent terms, there were 2.1 female teachers for every male teacher in 2002, up from 1.4 in 1982. The female/male ratio was most pronounced at the primary school level where there were 3.8 female teachers for every male teacher in 2002, increasing from 2.4 in 1982. The gender balance was more equal at the secondary school level, with 1.2 female teachers for every male teacher in 2002, up from 0.8 in 1982.
Further, the population of male teachers is slightly older than that of female teachers. In 2001, there was a greater proportion of male teachers aged 45 years and over (49%) than female teachers in this age group (42%). Almost one-third (30%) of female teachers were aged less than 35 years in 2001, compared with 24% of male teachers.

Where do they teach?
The distribution of teachers across Australia largely mirrors the distribution of the total population (see Australian Social Trends 2003, Population characteristics and remoteness). In 2001, 63% of all teachers were teaching in Major Cities, with most of the remainder teaching in Inner and Outer Regional Areas (34%).

Of all primary level teachers, 3% were teaching in Remote or Very Remote Areas, compared with 2% of all secondary teachers. This difference reflects the migration of older students from these areas to Regional Areas or Major Cities (see Australian Social Trends 2003, Youth migration within Australia).

In 2001, 75% of the teachers in Remote and Very Remote areas were female, compared with 72% of teachers in Major Cities and 69% of teachers in Inner and Outer Regional areas.

Major Cities
Inner Regional
Outer Regional
Very Remote


(a) Comprises full-time, part-time and temporary teachers and those not working in schools who worked in the week prior to census night.
(b) Includes persons in Migratory category.

Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.

Remoteness Areas
This article uses the ABS Remoteness classification to examine the characteristics of school teachers in the six Remoteness Areas. Remoteness is calculated using the road distance to different sized urban centres, where the population size is considered to govern the range and type of services available. The six Remoteness Areas are: Major Cities of Australia; Inner Regional Australia; Outer Regional Australia; Remote Australia; Very Remote Australia and Migratory. The Remoteness Area names used in this article are abbreviated versions of these official names with ‘Australia’ omitted. For further information see Statistical Geography: Volume 1 - Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), 2001 (ABS cat. no. 1216.0).

Teacher qualifications
In addition to changes in the demographic characteristics of teachers, the nature of the teaching profession has changed in a number of ways. While the overall number of people graduating from university increased over the decade to 2001, the number of people completing a university qualification in the field of teacher education decreased by 13% (to 19,400 in 2001). Three-quarters of people who completed university courses in 2001 in the field of teacher education were women. Similar patterns occur in the number of people commencing and continuing study in teacher education courses. In 2002, there were 72,400 people studying a university course in the field of teacher education, including 30,900 people who commenced in 2002. Almost three-quarters of these students were women.4

However, there are many people with teaching qualifications who are not employed as teachers or in associated occupations. In 2002, almost 18% of people aged 15-64 years with a teaching qualification were not in the labour force. Almost 82% of people with teaching qualifications were employed, with only a small proportion being unemployed. Of those who were employed in 2002, over one-third (35%) were employed in occupations other than teaching or teaching-related occupations.

Working as a teacher
Changes in the wages and working conditions of teachers over time can impact on the number of people choosing to enter the teaching profession. In 1999, 81% of teachers (excluding temporary - relief and casual - teachers) were employed on a permanent full-time basis, and 10% on a permanent part-time basis. The remainder were employed under fixed term contracts. While most teachers were employed on a permanent basis, female teachers were almost twice as likely as male teachers to be employed on contract (14% and 8% respectively).5

Graph - Average weekly ordinary time earnings of full-time adult non-managerial employees: selected occupations

Source: ABS Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours.

Over the 15 years to 2000, the average weekly ordinary time earnings of full-time adult non-managerial secondary teachers increased by 76% to $918, while for primary teachers earnings increased by 75% to $875 in 2000. In comparison, the average weekly ordinary time earnings of all full-time adult non-managerial Professionals increased by 86% in this period (to $954).

In the week prior to census night 2001, 35% of Australian teachers had worked between 40 and 49 hours, and 19% had worked more than 50 hours. Male teachers tended to work longer hours than female teachers, with 25% reporting that they worked 50 hours or more in the preceding week, compared with 17% of female teachers.

1 Conference of Education Systems Chief Executive Officers National Teacher Supply and Demand Working Party 2001, Demand and Supply of Primary and Secondary School Teachers in Australia, <www.curriculum.edu.au/mceetya/ public/pub326.htm>, accessed 13 May 2003.
2 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Training 2002, Boys: Getting it Right - Report on the inquiry into the education of boys, the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
3 Buckingham, J. 2002, ‘Getting it Right Some of the Time - An Appraisal of the Report on the Inquiry into the Education of Boys’, Issue Analysis, no. 27, pp. 1-4.
4 Department of Education, Science and Training 2003, Higher Education Statistics Collection.
5 Dempster, N., Sim, C., Beere, D. and Logan, L. 2000, Teachers in Australian Schools 1999: The Fourth National Study, Centre for Leadership and Management in Education, Faculty of Education, Griffith University.

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