Remember when we collectively breathed a sigh of relief at the end of 2020 as schools, early childhood centres and TAFEs returned to face-to-face learning? Little did we know then that we would be facing yet another year of COVID-related disruption.
It’s easy to lose sight of the wins when you’re in the thick of things, but as December comes round, it’s important to take the time to reflect on the year that was. Most of all, this edition of AEU News is all about celebrating you – our members – and your extraordinary achievements, made even more extraordinary under such trying circumstances.
AEU members once again showed a level of resilience, dedication and resourcefulness to be admired.
This year, AEU members once again dug deep and showed a level of resilience, dedication and resourcefulness to be admired. Time and again, you have demonstrated your ability to adapt where required, find the humour when needed, and express a deep concern for your students and the broader education community. More than ever, this community has witnessed the level of professionalism that educators bring to their jobs, confirming what we already knew – that our members are among Australia’s most highly valuable essential workers.
However, we are also aware that long periods of remote learning and frequent disruptions to the delivery of educational programs across our sectors – along with the ongoing worry about COVID-19 transmission in the community – have tested the capacities of Victoria’s staff and students. AEU members have reported drastically increased workloads and higher levels of work-related stress.
There is also credible evidence that remote learning has disproportionately affected disadvantaged students – and we know that most of these students are educated and supported by our members working in the public education sector.
While the short-term investment through the Tutor Learning Initiative and the provision of additional technology in schools has been important, the AEU is continuing to lobby the government for further resources to address the impact of COVID on students. We also need to ensure that schools, TAFEs and preschools have the increased capacity to manage any future disruptions.
While 2021 has presented many challenges, we can expect next year to bring its own trials. Among other things, we will be preparing for both a state and a federal election in 2022. Elections provide an opportunity to elect members of parliament and political parties willing to make positive commitments to public education. We know that education is always among the top issues affecting how Australians vote.
Victoria cannot claim to be the Education State while its per-student funding rate for government schools remains the lowest in Australia and its funding per hour of VET delivery sits below every other state or territory.
The AEU recently made its submission to the 2022–2023 state budget. Our key asks of the Andrews government align with the issues we will be campaigning on in the lead up to the Victorian election, due to be held in November.
Since being elected in 2014, the Andrews government has pledged to make Victoria the ‘Education State’. This is commendable – and notable improvements have been made, especially when compared to the policies of previous state governments.
In particular, we have applauded the introduction of universal preschool for both three and four-year-olds, the removal of fees for a number of TAFE qualifications through the Free TAFE initiative, and increased school funding as part of the bilateral agreement with the Commonwealth. The provision of additional mental health support in schools has also been welcome, as has the record level of capital investment for upgrades and new school buildings across the state.
However, Victoria cannot claim to be the Education State while its per-student funding rate for government schools remains the lowest in Australia and its funding per hour of VET delivery sits below every other state or territory. Victorian students should not be missing out on the programs and support they need, and our members should not be forced to compensate for this lack of funding through excessive workloads.
The need for our state government to address this funding gap for Victoria’s students will be the focus of our campaigning in the lead up to next year’s state election. The AEU will be calling on all political parties – in both the federal and state elections – to commit to greater investment in our public education system, so Victoria can truly claim to be the Education State.
I hope you can find the time to rest and recover after what has been another very intense year. Most of all, I hope you get the chance to reconnect with loved ones over the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you have any work-related concerns, as always, your union is here for you.