More Aboriginal Teachers in NSW – How did we do it?

I had the pleasure during the latter part of my public service career to lead the team which recruited staff for NSW public schools.

During that time we had many achievements of which I am proud, the foremost of which was to significantly increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in permanent teaching positions in NSW public schools.

NAIDOC Week is an ideal time for reflecting on how this was achieved.

In the four years from 2000 to 2003, the NSW Department of Education appointed an average of 25 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers each year.

In the eleven year period from 2004 to 2014, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers appointed to permanent teaching positions increased consistently, contributing to an average number of appointments per year of just over 80.


As with many recruitment strategies, this was not due to one single initiative. It was the result of a series of strategies intended to encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into pre-service teacher education programs, support them through those programs and to streamline the appointment process for them.

Pre-service teacher education scholarships were re-introduced in 2002, with around 150 offered in the first year. These were available to all prospective teachers. In the 2006 round of scholarships, up to 30 of the scholarships were quarantined for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The number of scholarships available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have increased since 2006 to up to 80 in the current round.

However, scholarships alone were not the answer. Identifying prospective teachers, promoting teaching to them as an exciting career option and mentoring them through their studies and their early years of teaching were also essential.

The Join Our Mob promotional recruitment campaign, a subsidiary of the successful Teach – And Make a Difference campaign, was integral to this, as was the dedicated team which implemented it.

Within the HR team, five positions were identified for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to work with prospective teachers, and to support them through their studies, through the employment application process and to support them as they entered the profession.

This small team worked closely with the Indigenous units within the universities, with the teacher education faculties, with the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group and with the NSW Teachers Federation. We were all in it together!

It was also essential that the team knew that they had the support of senior officers within the directorate, the Department and the Minister. This was crucial and the commitment was there over a sustained period.

Teachers are appointed to NSW public schools in accordance with the Agreement Between the NSW Department of Education and the NSW Teachers Federation on the Staffing of NSW Public Schools, the Staffing Agreement.

Through section 47 of the Teaching Service Act 1980, the Director-General (now Secretary) had the capacity to give priority for permanent appointment to teachers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. Through successive staffing agreements, this mechanism was enhanced, with the 2012 and the subsequent 2016 agreements providing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers to be considered for permanent employment at the first step of the appointment process.

This was a reflection of the joint commitment given to the employment of Aboriginal teachers by the Department and the Teachers Federation.

Leadership initiatives targeted at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers contributed to a significant number of these teachers progressing to promotions and leadership positions, and provided a substantial base of potential mentors across NSW public schools working with new teachers and aspiring executives.

The More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teacher Initiative (MATSITI) allowed the NSW team to work with acknowledged Indigenous academics, including the MATSITI Director, Professor Peter Buckskin, and his colleagues from the University of South Australia. It also provided an opportunity for New South Wales to share successful strategies with other Australian education jurisdictions and to capitalise on their successes.

While the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in NSW public schools continues to increase, the proportion of all teachers, at around 2.5 percent is well below the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at over 5 percent.

There is still much to do …

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