As we head towards a state election amid a crisis in teacher shortages, AEU Victoria has launched a Ten-Year Plan, with recommendations for the state government to attract and retain staff across the public education sector.
Solving staff shortages
For years, the AEU has been among those warning of a looming crisis in teacher supply. Already high levels of workload stress have intensified during the pandemic, taking the system to breaking point.
The AEU has sought to alleviate the workload crisis for our members through improvements in enterprise agreements. However, statistics suggest that well over half of school teachers and 35% of early childhood education professionals still intend to leave the profession – and governments have failed to develop plans to attract and retain staff in the system.
A recent AEU survey showed that 90% of school principals are ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ that they will not be able to staff all classes for the 2023 school year, while the early childhood sector will need at least 11,000 additional teachers and educators over the next decade. To help meet this demand, the AEU is recommending:
> retention payments for all existing staff in schools, kindergartens and TAFE as incentives to keep them in the workforce, along with further workload reductions;
> government-funded studentships offering cost of living support for students undertaking initial teacher education (ITE), with secure ongoing employment upon graduation in rural, regional and hard-to-staff areas;
> the central employment of a significant pool of ITE graduates completing their studies this year, to ensure supply for 2023 and to provide certainty for new teachers.
Valuing the profession
There remains an ingrained lack of respect for the profession from politicians, policymakers and the media. All the while, significant growth in workload pressures for educators across our sectors is taking its toll. More than ever, exhausted staff with excessive workloads and large classes simply cannot deliver the quality and support their students need and deserve.
In our schools sector, education departments and bureaucrats are unhealthily focused on finding ways to measure teacher and school performance. Students are required to undergo standardised testing often unrelated to the broader work they are doing. That data is used to hold principals to account, with little regard to their school’s strategic plans to improve student achievement.
In our TAFEs, many teachers are experiencing dramatic and unsustainable increases in workloads as a result of staff shortages. This comes on top of ever-increasing casualisation in the sector, and the shaving of course hours – forcing teachers to provide the same level of education within fewer and fewer face-to-face hours, leading to high levels of stress.
Remote learning during 2020 and 2021 gave the community a deeper understanding of the dedication and professionalism of the public education workforce. However, COVID has also served to expose and deepen the inadequacies and inequities in our education system.
The AEU’s plan would see more support staff, enough time for staff planning and professional development, and the capacity to complete administrative tasks during working hours. Ultimately, it would mean staff feel valued and respected.
Fair funding for public education
The recent funding policies of our state and federal governments have failed to provide the level of investment needed to support the profession, and to adequately meet the increasingly complex needs of students.
Victoria’s ambitious agenda for early childhood education needs to be matched by equally ambitious investment in the sector’s workforce.
For public schools, governments have failed in their promise to provide at least 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard, meaning students in public schools are not receiving the minimum support set by the government’s own funding benchmark.
TAFE is still not funded to meet the full costs of course delivery, causing more than half of Victoria’s TAFEs to be in deficit.
This is unacceptable. For far too long, public education has been asked to do more with less. Victoria cannot claim to be the ‘Education State’ while ignoring the glaring inequities in current funding arrangements.
Every Victorian has the right to access a high-quality, well-funded education taught by qualified staff with adequate resources. The government must take bold action to urgently address teacher shortages and build the workforce, or face a disaster.