Schools VGSA: building better working lives

Before COVID-19 turned things upside-down for schools, more than 250 AEU sub-branches had made submissions to the log of claims for the next Schools Agreement. With the deadline extended to May 8, the union has ultimately received almost 300 submissions – a great achievement amid the rapid implementation of remote learning and general constraints on communication.

The log of claims process is one of the most important means of collective action by union members. Given the VGSA determines the salaries and working conditions for school staff, we always seek to engage as many members as possible in the process. Despite COVID-19, we remain on track to commence negotiations for a new agreement later this year. The current Victorian Government Schools Agreement 2017 (VGSA2017) expires in April 2021.

Most school sub-branches are seeking smaller class sizes, with varied recommendations on maximum numbers, accompanied by a reduction in face-to-face teaching hours.

Sub-branch submissions have revealed that schools members are aligned on many issues, notably teacher workload and face-to-face teaching hours; class sizes; professional practice days; and pay and conditions for education support (ES) staff. Wages, classification structures, staffing arrangements, allowances, salary packaging and consultation also attracted a significant number of comments.

Most school sub-branches are seeking smaller class sizes, with varied recommendations on maximum numbers, accompanied by a reduction in face-to-face teaching hours. Some suggest reduced teaching hours could be supported with funding for specialist teachers in areas such as ICT, coding and drama, or additional hours of LOTE, PE or art.

Some submissions would like to see a broader definition of face-to-face teaching – for example, encompassing sporting and other extracurricular activities. Also, special consideration for the increased workload required for particular types of classes, such as EAL and VCE. Others make particular mention of the load on special school teachers, who need to prepare resources, liaise with multidisciplinary teams and conduct extensive individualised planning for every student.

Most sub-branches have stated that fewer contact hours would allow for proper planning, preparation, assessment and other administrative duties, assisting in the application of the 30+8 hours workload model. Some suggest specific reconfigurations of the 30+8, to meet the increased expectations of joint planning and continuous reporting of individual goals for students.

An increase in the number of Professional Practice Days (PPDs) was a common theme, for both teacher-led activities such as report-writing, and for teamwork and planning. Some emphasise the importance of the ‘discretionary, voluntary effort’ of teachers undertaking PPDs to be genuinely voluntary, determined by the individual employee. Others would like to see PPDs have a clear budget line in the SRP, tied to teacher numbers not enrolments.

Other suggested amendments were standard payments or time-in-lieu provisions for teachers and ES attending camps, excursions and events outside of normal working hours. Several sub-branches are advocating for remuneration for additional roles such as PLT leading or coordinator roles. The options of general overtime payments, and recognising a longer school day, were also raised by some.

Equitable distribution of yard duty; the length and frequency of scheduled staff meetings; and attendance clauses, including the matter of paid lunch breaks, all attracted frequent comment. Sub-branches also offered a broad range of amendments regarding leave clauses, including increased paternity leave.

Occupational health and safety clauses attracted a significant response, with a focus on occupational violence, especially in special schools and in disadvantaged communities.

Many sub-branches are calling for additional funding to allow schools to employ expert teachers, or to ensure that every school has a school nurse, social worker and psychologist. Some are also keen to see strategies that would make it easier for teachers to move between schools, allowing them to seek new challenges and professional growth.

Occupational health and safety clauses attracted a significant response, with a focus on occupational violence, especially in special schools and in disadvantaged communities. Some sub-branches would like better systems of training and reporting for the safety of students and employees, including formal OHS consultation procedures, the regular provision of eduSafe reports, and more hours provided to health and safety representatives to undertake their role.

The pay and working conditions of ES is a strong focus in submissions, with many sub-branches pushing for improved wages or salary ranges that better reflect the nature of ES work, in part to recognise that many work closely with high-risk students. Other concerns related to ES job security; leave accrual; redeployment entitlements; paid lunch breaks; and the recognition of experience, not just prior employment.

Mentoring for graduates is frequently mentioned – for example, the suggestion that first-year teaching loads be reduced by 20% in a graduate’s first year and 10% in their second, with mentors to be given a reduction of one hour per week in face-to-face teaching.

Regions will now consider the proposals put forward by sub-branches and endorse those that they want to go forward to the AEU Joint Primary and Secondary Sector Council meeting. The council has authorised Branch Executive to monitor any impact the coronavirus might have on the agreement process and, if necessary, to determine a revised timeline.

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