Schools Reality bites: the serious impact of workforce shortages

  • 21 Apr 2024
AEU leadership and principals are speaking out on the serious impact of workforce shortages, burnout, and a lack of funding. Photo Sam Danby

AEU leadership and principals gathered at State Parliament on 21 March to speak out about the impact of staff shortages, escalating workloads, and a chronic lack of funding. Around 50 AEU principal class representatives met with 30 Labor MPs before holding a press conference on Parliament House steps, describing the unmanageable workloads for teachers and ES in public schools. They called on the Victorian government to provide full funding and other urgent measures to stem the burnout among their staff and enable schools to meet the needs of students.

The principals, who met with education minister Ben Carroll and treasurer Tim Pallas among others, were passionate in their plea for better funding and greater awareness of the challenges that school leaders and staff currently face.

“We have a system that is really struggling because of the lack of resources that our governments are providing.”

Meredith Peace

Across the board, principals highlighted the desperate need for greater access to allied health support, tutoring, and other ways of reducing the workload burden for principals, teachers and ES. They also recounted the difficulty of filling vacancies, and the need for incentives to retain existing staff, who are forced to go above and beyond day after day.

Travis Eddy, principal at Kennington Primary in Bendigo, described the dramatic dip in applications for jobs at his school. “Our recruitment numbers have gone from, five years ago, pre-COVID, 100 applicants for teacher jobs down to two,” Travis said, adding: “The shortfall in staff has just gone from worse to worse.”

The action coincided with the release of the Victorian government’s Teacher Supply and Demand Report 2022, which shows that demand for teachers across the early childhood and school sectors will outstrip supply every year to 2028, by which time there will be an estimated shortfall of 5,036 teachers.

“I have wonderful teachers, but a lot of their workload isn’t teaching. They’re brilliant teachers and that’s a waste.”

Linda Maxwell

Keilor Downs College principal Linda Maxwell highlighted the link between shortages and funding. “In my school, if we got 100% of the SRS it would be a $3.2 million difference. Think what I could do [with that extra funding]! I have disengaged kids who could do with an alternate program. I have Year 12s where I could provide tutoring. I could have more and more wraparound services, wellbeing and learning support.”

With full funding, Linda would also hire more administration staff and relieve the burden on teachers. “I have wonderful teachers, but a lot of their workload isn’t teaching. They’re brilliant teachers and that’s a waste. If I had more money, I could bring in admin staff and take some prep work off [them]. So, at just my school alone – the difference that would make!”

AEU Victoria president Meredith Peace told the media: “We need the state and federal governments to step up and increase their funding to public schools in this country, and in particular to Victoria. It’s leaving our schools without the resources they need.”

With proper funding, schools could have smaller class sizes, more allied health specialists, help for children with additional learning needs, and more support staff for kids with disability, with challenging behaviours, or learning needs.

“We have a system that is really struggling because of the lack of resources that our governments are providing,” Meredith said. “We want a funding agreement that delivers 100% of funding to our public schools. We’ve waited more than a decade for this and we’re not going to wait any longer.”

Two private schools in Victoria together spent more in the decade 2012–2021 than the amount invested across the entire Tasmanian public school system.

The action comes after several recent studies have exposed the staggering resource divide between public and private schools across Australia. A new report, Ending the Capital Funding Divide in Australia’s Schools, found that, in 2021, five private schools spent more on capital works ($175.6 million) than more than half of all public schools in Australia combined ($175.4 million).

Two schools in Victoria, Haileybury College and Caulfield Grammar, together spent more in the decade 2012–2021 than the amount invested across the entire Tasmanian public school system over the same period. Despite all the evidence showing a direct link between school infrastructure and student outcomes, the federal government still provides no ongoing capital works funding to public schools.

AEU members have come out in force this year in support of the For Every Child schools funding campaign. A week of action in March saw thousands of members take part in activities, calling on the federal government to provide 100% of the schooling resource standard to public schools as a matter of urgency.

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