The top Sydney public school offering $20,000 bonuses to lure teachers

One of the state’s top public schools is offering a $20,000 sign-on bonus in a bid to lure technology teachers, while more than 20 other schools are attempting to secure staff with bumper payments.

Killarney Heights High School, which regularly ranks in the top 20 comprehensive schools in the HSC, is advertising for two technology teachers with base salaries of up to $120,000, with sizeable bonuses offered on top of regular pay.

Killarney Heights High has a strong history of success in the HSC.Credit: Renee Nowytarger

The latest data shows 21 per cent of NSW teachers are taking classes outside their area of expertise, with chronic shortages biting across subjects such as design and technology, and mathematics.

At Knox Grammar, another school in Sydney’s north, principal Scott James said bonus offers indicated an ongoing resource race for teachers, with sectors in tough competition for staff.

“We are finding shortages across subjects including English and PDHPE, and private schools are not immune. That demand for physical education teachers doesn’t meet supply – that speaks volumes,” James said.

Education experts have previously raised concerns that private schools can scoop up top teaching graduates with higher pay and less casual work. Last month, the principal of independent girls school SCEGGS Darlinghurst, Jenny Allum, said, “top of the scale” teachers at her school were paid $135,000. 

Private schools offering higher pay and a reduced teaching load, when compared to public schools, is a key problem in attracting staff, NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president Craig Peterson said.

“While it is good the Department is supporting schools finding it difficult to attract teachers, the priority recruitment program shows there are particular difficulties attracting a range of staff.

“Part of the problem is a school’s location and the teacher not being able to afford to live there or commute there. If you can’t get staff to a school like Killarney Heights then what hope is there for schools in disadvantaged locations in western NSW and parts of south-west Sydney?” he said.

Mackellar Girls’ principal Christine del Gallo said her school was short two PDHPE teachers, and a scarcity of casual teachers meant it was increasingly difficult to fill vacancies at short notice.

“We’ve got to the stage where we are struggling to get teachers on the northern beaches, and often it’s just too expensive for young teachers to live there,” she said.

Killarney Heights High, which is recruiting for food and industrial technology teachers, is among 78 public schools in NSW that are receiving “priority recruitment support” this year, including financial incentives for hard-to-fill roles. The school can offer a $20,000 recruitment bonus and another $10,000 relocation payment after two previous attempts to fill the role were unsuccessful.

Last year the school, which is on northern side of Middle Harbour, was the top-ranked comprehensive school in HSC advanced English.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the priority recruitment program was being rolled out this year after a 2022 pilot program filled 80 per cent of vacancies across 50 selected schools.

‘We’ve got to the stage where we are struggling to get teachers on the northern beaches, and often it’s just too expensive for young teachers to live there.’

“There are a range of reasons why some schools can struggle with staffing, and we know that Technological and Applied Studies (TAS) is a particularly challenging area,” she said. “Our teacher supply strategy is targeted towards TAS and STEM teachers.”

Across NSW, schools offering the $20,000 teacher bonus payments include Chifley College Mount Druitt, Dubbo College Delroy Campus and South Campus, Murrumbidgee Regional High, Moree Public, Tamworth High and Tamworth High.

At Chifley College, the school is offering $20,000 sign-on bonus for a learning and support teacher, while maths teachers are being offered similar payments at Tamworth and Broken Hill High.

Last year, 38 positions across NSW schools were filled with a recruitment bonus attached.

The current NSW public school teacher vacancy rate is around three per cent, with just over 2000 vacancies. “This is incredibly low for a system of our size, and the filling of vacancies is core business for the Department of Education,” Mitchell said.

Mark Grant, the chief executive of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, said there is a mismatch between demand and supply for teaching, with universities unable to get a clear indication about the numbers of teachers needed by subject discipline.

“In 2018, between 34 and 46 per cent of design and technology teachers were teaching out of field. There are very few universities training technological and applied studies (TAS),” Grant said.

The subject covers areas such as agriculture, design and technology, and wood and metal work.

President of the NSW Teachers Federation Angelo Gavrielatos said advertising vacant teaching positions at a school in Manly, with a recruitment bonus, highlights the depth of the teacher shortage. “Teacher shortages are affecting students’ learning; and impacting their behaviour and attendance.”

With Nigel Gladstone

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