Schools How much louder do we need to be?

  • By Rachel Power
  • This article was published more than 7 months ago.
  • 4 Oct 2023
AEU leadership and branch councillors rally on Parliament House steps, calling for government action on workforce shortages. Photo: Sam Danby

With too many school staff at breaking point, and students facing ongoing disruption, the AEU is demanding that government takes immediate action to alleviate the teacher shortage crisis.

On 16 August, the AEU ran a full-page open letter to Premier Andrews in both The Age and the Herald Sun, demanding that the Victorian government take bold and urgent action to address workforce shortages. “Right now, there is a teacher shortage crisis in our schools,” it reads. “Teachers are teaching double size classes. Teacher workload is off the charts. Principals are teaching classes. Schools can’t find CRTs to fill classes. Students without teachers are being sent home. Schools are not receiving any applicants for vacant roles. … How much louder do you need us to be? We can’t afford to lose any more teachers and we must attract new teachers to our classrooms.”

AEU branch councillors followed up this action on 8 September, rallying on Parliament House steps where they spoke to waiting media before marching to Treasury Place, sending a clear message to Premier Andrews that they expect his government to act now to alleviate the shortages.

The AEU warned the government well over 12 months ago that a crisis would be inevitable without urgent measures to tackle the problem. Among our key recommendations were retention payments for existing staff; paid placements for student teachers; and a cost-of-living allowance for pre-service teachers who commit to working in a public school.

AEU Victoria president Meredith Peace has also been writing to state Labor MPs every day since mid-August with a tally of advertised vacancies in Victorian public schools, driving home the “intolerable” impact on staff and students.

“These staggering figures mean unfair additions to AEU members’ already unsustainable workloads, and students not getting the education they deserve.”

Meredith Peace

“Your government has not systematically and comprehensively addressed the shortage crisis and must act now,” she has written. “Teachers, principals, and education support staff are exhausted. The workloads caused by teacher shortages are unsustainable and many are leaving the profession – exacerbating the problems. The number of new teachers coming through our universities is declining, and almost 50% who start a teaching qualification do not complete it, largely due to cost-of-living pressures.”

Meredith has told MPs that school staff are now routinely asked to breach the conditions in the Victorian Government Schools Agreement to “prop up a system in crisis”. Just some of these breaches include teachers taking classes with student numbers well over agreed limits, teaching subjects they are not trained to deliver, forgoing mandated planning and preparation times, and having ES supervise students without a qualified teacher present.

Many staff feel compelled to work despite being unwell, while others have been subjected to unsafe behaviour by students not coping with disrupted learning environments. Some principals have been forced to offer ‘special payments’ out of their school budgets just to hold onto staff in their schools.

The AEU has also been sharing the daily tally of school job vacancies on its social media channels, prompting an outpour of anger towards the government in comments. The tally opened at 1,855 advertised vacancies on 10 August, rising rapidly to 2,650 (and growing) just over a week later – with an acknowledgement that those figures are merely the tip of the iceberg, with many schools no longer bothering to advertise jobs due to a lack of applications.

“These staggering figures mean unfair additions to AEU members’ already unsustainable workloads, and students not getting the education they deserve,” Meredith Peace has told the media. “Premier Andrews has compared teacher shortages with the shortages being experienced by ‘other businesses’ around the state. We don’t appreciate such glib responses from the Premier when we’re dealing with something as important as the education of Victoria’s students.”

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