For everyone From your president: Urgent action required

AEU Victoria president Meredith Peace

The Victorian government must make bold moves to address current staff shortages across the education sector and to build a sustainable and supported public education workforce.

With less than 100 days until the state election, the AEU is calling for bold action from the state government to urgently address staffing shortages across our sectors. Every Victorian has the right to access high-quality, well-resourced public education – and a fully qualified workforce is the cornerstone of this provision. Government must develop medium and long-term plans for building a supported and sustainable education workforce.

A recent AEU survey showed that 90% of school principals are now ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ that they will not be able to staff all classes for the 2023 school year. The early childhood sector needs at least 11,000 additional teachers and educators over the next decade. And with skills in high demand across a broad range of industries, the government must provide greater investment in our public TAFEs, so they can attract and retain expert teachers.

The AEU has launched a Ten-Year Plan for Staffing in Public Education with our recommended strategies for attraction and retention across public schools, TAFEs and kindergartens. Central to this plan is the need for government to address unsustainable workloads, insecure employment, and the status of the profession – much of which will require greater investment.

This was the focus of my address to the AEU Annual Conference on 31 July, which was attended by Premier Daniel Andrews, the new Minister for Education Natalie Hutchins, and the Greens spokesperson for education Sam Hibbins. Unsurprisingly, Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy failed to respond to our invitation.

Ten years on from the Gonski review, we are still waiting on the promised funding of at least 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) – the federal government’s own funding benchmark. By contrast, students in Catholic and independent schools are already at or exceeding 100% of the SRS. This gross inequality is clearly unacceptable.

For too long, preschool funding in Australia has lagged behind other OECD countries. Victoria is leading the nation in an attempt to lift this ratio with free provision of three and four-year-old kinder – however, there is more to be done.

Politicians have an obligation to promote the value of the profession.

Our TAFE institutes, still recovering from decades of neglect, must be funded to meet the true costs of quality provision and to improve support services so that students get the help and advice they need to complete their courses. Government also needs to provide better support for new TAFE teachers transitioning from their respective industries.

This chronic underfunding of our public sector has led to exhausted and overworked staff, unreasonable class sizes, unmanageable workloads, and insufficient educational and welfare support for students. Surveys show that too many teachers and educators are contemplating leaving the profession – and the most common reasons cited are excessive workloads and unnecessary and unrealistic administration and accountability burdens that do not positively support student learning.

Up front, the AEU is calling for a retention bonus for existing staff in kindergartens, schools and TAFE – as an incentive to remain in the system, and in recognition of the high levels of stress and workload caused by COVID and other illnesses, on top of the usual demands.

We are also urging the government to create several thousand bonded Victorian studentships, with a special focus on meeting the demand in rural, regional and hard-to-staff areas. This would offer financial assistance for education students to help them meet living costs; provide job security for graduates; and guarantee a stream of employees for the department. These moves must sit alongside ongoing efforts across all sectors to improve salaries, reduce teacher workloads, strengthen job security, and provide greater support for those in the early years of their education careers.

The AEU has been among the many voices warning of impending teacher shortages for many years. The former Morrison government let our communities down through its failure to lead a co-ordinated national approach to address the attraction and retention of education staff, its chronic underfunding of the public system, and its calculated efforts to denigrate the profession.

Current state and federal governments have a unique opportunity to turn this situation around. Politicians across the political spectrum have an obligation to plan effectively, to invest in the workforce, and to promote the value of the profession. Without this, quality provision for all Victorian students is at risk.

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