Schools Time for bold moves

The Victorian government needs to urgently address the causes of current staff shortages and develop a bold plan to build a sustainable education workforce, now and into the future.

Urgent action is required to address teacher shortages across our education sector. With 90% of AEU principals reporting that they are ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ that they will not be able to staff all classes for the 2023 school year, the efforts of the state government need to be rapid, and bold.

This was the focus of my address to the AEU Annual Conference on 31 July, which was attended by Premier Daniel Andrews, the new Minister for Education Natalie Hutchins, and the Greens spokesperson for education Sam Hibbens. Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy did not respond to our invitation.

There, I presented the AEU’s Ten-Year Plan for Staffing in Public Education with our recommendations for attraction and retention across kindergartens, schools and TAFEs. Central to this plan is the need for government to address unsustainable workloads, insecure employment, and the status of the profession – much of which requires greater investment.  

Ten years ago, negotiations for new school funding agreements between state and federal governments got underway, underpinned by the recommendations of the Gonski review. Ten years later, the promised funding of at least 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) – the federal government’s own funding benchmark – has not been met.

This means a public school student now in Year 10 has not had the necessary resources invested in their education throughout the entirety of their schooling life. By contrast, students in independent schools have long been funded at 100% of the SRS, or more. This is unacceptable.

Chronic underfunding of our public sector has led to exhausted and overworked staff, unreasonable class sizes, unmanageable workloads, and insufficient educational and welfare support for students.

Chronic underfunding of our public sector has led to exhausted and overworked staff, unreasonable class sizes, unmanageable workloads, and insufficient educational and welfare support for students. Surveys show that more than half of teachers are considering leaving the profession – and the most common reasons cited are excessive workloads, and unnecessary and unrealistic administration and accountability burdens that do not positively support student learning. This has been backed up by a recent AEU survey of principals, which showed that 16.7% of job vacancies created were due to stress and 12.7% due to workload.

Predictions indicate that not enough new teachers are entering the profession to meet demand, with vacancy rates steadily increasing. More schools than ever are reporting difficulties in filling vacancies beyond the usually hard-to-staff learning areas and geographic locations.

Up front, the AEU is calling for a retention payment to be paid to existing staff in kindergartens, schools and TAFE as an incentive to remain in the system, and in recognition of the high levels of stress and workload caused by COVID-19 and other illnesses, on top of already intense demands. This must be in addition to ongoing efforts to reduce teacher workloads; a comprehensive plan for attracting and retaining education support staff and allied health professionals; and more support for graduates.

We are also urging government to create several thousand studentships bonded to the state system, with a special focus on rural, regional and hard-to-staff schools, offering financial assistance to help education students meet the costs of living, provide job security for new graduates, and guaranteeing a stream of employees for the department.

To address schools’ concerns about being short-staffed next year, DET should offer immediate ongoing employment to this year’s graduating initial teacher education students and enable schools to participate in a subsequent selection process to fill 2023 vacancies.

These are strategies that DET and the government could implement quickly to take the pressure off staff and schools. But long-term efforts are also needed to ensure supply meets the growing demand and to avoid the risk of minimalist teacher training courses that weaken quality. Incentives for teachers to take up leadership roles are also essential.

Current governments have a unique opportunity to turn this situation around. Politicians across the political spectrum have an obligation to plan effectively, to invest in the workforce, and to promote the value of the profession. Without this, quality provision for all students is at risk.

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    As we gear up for a state election, the AEU is focused on holding the Andrews government to account when it comes to fair funding for public education and a plan for addressing staff shortages that respects and values the profession. Read more in our Term 3, 2022 edition of AEU News.

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