Schools Government must act now to fix shortages

  • By Justin Mullaly
  • This article was published more than 1 year ago.
  • 21 Mar 2023

Staffing shortages across our schools are taking a toll on AEU members, even in schools with enough teachers to go around.

If you believe the newly renamed Department of Education (DE), we should be concerned mainly about those schools where there are not enough teachers and ES to cover the usual program, but that overlooks the effect of the staffing shortage across the board.

It is without question that those schools with serious staffing shortages need urgent, ongoing support from the department. But it is also the case that too many other schools barely have enough employees to successfully run their programs. AEU sub-branch representatives and principal class members have put workarounds in place to manage the shortage pressures, but these efforts are not sustainable, and the impact is causing existing school employees to move out of the public system or leave the profession altogether.

Without bold investment in new and existing school employees, the chronic staffing shortage will be with us for a long time to come.

In July last year, AEU members at the union’s annual branch conference called on Premier Andrews to be bold in addressing the shortage issue. His response was that he would consider the AEU’s Ten-Year Plan for Staffing in Public Education. To be fair, his government and the department have taken some effective steps to address the issues. But unless more action is taken urgently it will be a case of too little, too late.

Decisive government action must include delivering an immediate retention payment to existing school employees, as well as measures through the May state budget to ensure better support for pre-service teachers and those in their early years of teaching, plus further workload reductions for all.

Without bold investment in new and existing school employees, the chronic staffing shortage and its widespread effects will be with us for a long time to come.

AEU members have and will always act in the best interests of their students and the broader school community, often to the detriment of their own health and wellbeing. It is not tolerable that staff shortages have led to:

  • principals and assistant principals teaching classes

  • teachers being taken from their main programs (e.g. specialists, MYLN, TLI) and deployed to cover other classes

  • teachers and ES allocated extra yard duties and other tasks

  • an increase in class sizes

  • members asked to work beyond the limits set out in the agreement.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Members are telling us that these additional demands are not sustainable. If continued, the current situation will result in more people leaving the profession due to burnout and unmanageable workloads, more requests for time fraction reductions, and increased instances of staff taking sick leave, long service leave, and leave without pay.

All of this adds to the serious, pre-existing challenges of maintaining high-quality programs for students, and a well-resourced and respected workforce – not to mention equity in public education.

It is time for significant action, not marginal interventions.

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