Schools Workload in focus for next agreement

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The start of Term 4 saw a $244 million investment in the teaching workforce by the state Labor government. The package includes incentives to attract teachers to hard-to-staff schools, support for learning specialists and additional executive principals. It also offers financial support to attract new entrants into teaching, including VET, and funding for teachers teaching out of field in maths and science to gain additional qualifications.

The AEU has continued to call on the Andrews government to further invest in the workforce since the last agreement, which saw the introduction of professional practice days, learning specialists, and subsequently support for principal health and wellbeing. It is abundantly clear that excessive workloads – preventing teachers from focusing on the work central to their classrooms; principals from leading change in teaching and learning; and ES staff from being able to complete their required work in their paid hours – is having an ongoing impact on the quality of work we do in our profession and on the health and wellbeing of staff.

Simply, more needs to be done to address the underlying causes of the many issues we confront as we strive to provide high-quality education to our students. Central to that is time and respect for the profession.

Educators are struggling to respond to the educational and emotional needs of students in an environment where funding models are contributing to greater inequity.

The findings of our mental health survey demonstrated a growing awareness of the deteriorating mental health of our students and colleagues. This is reflected in the number of staff currently on sick leave or on Workcover, with too many not able to return to work in the short term.

Our survey also confirmed the ongoing pressure and relentless focus on NAPLAN and the negative impact of full cohort standardised testing on teaching and learning. Educators are struggling to respond to the educational and emotional needs of students in an environment where funding models are contributing to greater inequity between schools and in the education system generally.

It all points to the highly complex nature of our work and the fact that educators are completing far too many hours of unpaid overtime simply to get the job done. We will continue to lobby government for further investment to meet these varied challenges, through the annual state budget process. As we move closer to starting negotiations for our next schools agreement, this gives us a further opportunity to achieve change.

There will be many new teachers and support staff in our schools who have not been through an agreement negotiations process before. The Victorian Government Schools Agreement (VGSA) 2017 expires in April 2021, with negotiations for the next agreement to commence at least six months prior. While staff are employed by the Victorian government, enterprise agreements are struck under federal law, care of the Fair Work Act 2009.

The VGSA2017 covers the salaries, conditions and entitlements of all principals, teachers and support staff in public schools. The pay rise you recently received at the start of October was delivered as part of this agreement, negotiated between the AEU and the government.

We also negotiate for your conditions – from professional practice days to carer’s leave and everything in between.

The log of claims process is one of the most important union processes that members can participate in.

Without doubt, proposals about ways to alleviate workload will be central to the next log of claims. This will, of course, include a focus on face-to-face teaching, as one of the key components of the working week for teachers. Considerable work is underway with ES members regarding the ‘dimensions of work’ that describe their roles. The principal workload committee is continuing its work with DET, investigating ways to alleviate the volume of work required of school leaders.

However, it will be important for sub-branches to think laterally in addition to the more obvious claims we can make. The work of staff in our schools is complex and is affected by numerous factors. There will be no silver bullet to address these challenges, and proposals to alleviate workload will have to consider a range of mechanisms. And then, of course, there is a government to negotiate with!

The log of claims process is one of the most important union processes that members can participate in. Once the process gets underway in the new year, I would urge all members to get involved. We also need to encourage non-members to join the AEU and be part of achieving positive change, which will not only benefit staff but the students we work with and teach.

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