Schools, The President writes
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Facta Non Verba
Indulge me for a moment as I meander down memory lane. My life-long commitment to social justice and the transformative power of public education was forged in the classrooms of Punchbowl Boys High School where a bunch of inspiring teachers taught me many decades ago.
Another thing that has stayed with me is the school’s motto, Facta Non Verba: Deeds, not words. It’s a yardstick I’ve used many times since to assess all kinds of announcements, particularly those made by politicians over the years.
Recently, I’ve had cause to do so again.
In April, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said: “We want our teachers to be paid the best.”
Are you starting to get my drift?
In July, the Queensland Government announced an offer that will give that state’s teachers a pay rise of 11 per cent and potentially a further 9 per cent as a “cost of living adjustment” over the next three years. Queensland teachers will be the highest paid in the country. We don’t even come second. In fact, we are currently way down the pack in third last.
So, back to the teacher shortage impacting thousands of students and teachers every day across NSW. As has been often stated, the Government’s own internal briefings conclude “the demands and expectations on teachers are increasing, while the current rewards ... are not providing enough incentive” to attract and retain the teachers we need, resulting in the most serious teacher shortage in our lifetime. And, as has been often said, if you know the cause of a problem, by definition, you know the solution.
In unprecedented fashion, the Perrottet Government continues to deny and conceal the severity of the problem. In response to Questions on Notice in Parliament, the Government and its Department instructed schools to manipulate data in an attempt to suppress the total number of instances where classes are split, merged or minimally supervised.
Apart from attempting to mislead Parliament, they are actively seeking to mislead parents. To top it off, they are now seriously suggesting they don’t have the relevant data, even though it has already been collected from schools.
Another form of denial is the repeated attempt by the Government to divert attention from the underlying causes of the shortages, suggesting the disruption in our schools is due to COVID and winter illnesses.
Let me be clear, COVID and the flu are just making a bad situation worse. The teacher shortage has been 10 years in the making. It is the result of deliberate failed government policies and it’s getting worse. This is evidenced by parliamentary documents that reveal there were 1657 full-time teacher vacancies on 10 June; 67 per cent higher than the same time last year.
While the teacher shortage affecting our schools today is unprecedented, of even greater concern is what our schools will look like in three, five and 10 years’ time should the Government not take urgent action.
The teaching workforce is ageing, and the Government’s own research shows a 30 per cent drop in enrolments in initial teacher education (ITE) between 2014 and 2019. In 2019, ITE program commencements dropped by 19 per cent from 2017 levels. Compounding the problem is the fact that the number of ITE completions for 2019 is at the lowest point in 14 years. One report notes drops in completions were “particularly noticeable in NSW”.
As for retention rates? Seven out of 10 teachers say they are reconsidering their future in the profession because of the workload. If this is not addressed, teacher burn-out threatens to dramatically increase the exodus.
The depth of this potential crisis is borne out by the numbers. In a recent opinion piece by the Education Minister, Sarah Mitchell conceded that an additional 3800 teachers will be required by 2027. The picture at the end of the decade is even more frightening: an additional 15,000-plus teachers will be needed across NSW.
No amount of tinkering or slick advertising can deal with the structural issue of uncompetitive pay and unsustainable workloads, which have brought us to this point.
The Government’s $125 million Teacher Supply Strategy did not deliver a single teacher in nine months. The tiny numbers of “fast-track this or fast-track that” will not be a drop in the ocean. As for lowering qualifications and rushing people into teaching, research shows this to be poor policy because, apart from lowering educational standards, program costs associated with such policy settings are extremely high and retention rates tend to be extremely low.
YOUR RESPONSE TO THIS WORKFORCE CRISIS HAS BEEN AS EXEMPLARY AS IT HAS BEEN INSPIRING
The first 24-hour strike in a decade was conducted on 7 December 2021. Even more members turned out at strikes held on 4 May this year and on 30 June, the first joint strike in more than 20 years with members of the Independent Education Union NSW/ACT Branch.
Your actions underlined the commitment and determination of the profession to secure the changes to salaries and workloads necessary to secure the future of the profession and ensure the provision of public education across NSW is of the highest quality.
Regrettably, noting the intransigence of the Perrottet Government, we must maintain and indeed intensify our efforts to maximise political pressure on the Government to achieve the change we need
To that end, a political strategy along with a paid advertising campaign will be rolled out this term.
A MESSAGE TO THE PREMIER
Premier Perrottet, the time for deeds not words is now. Every child deserves a qualified teacher for every lesson, every day. It is their right and an essential part of the Government’s obligation to provide public education of the highest quality in every community.
Premier, a failure to act risks failing a generation of students and teachers.
Premier, a failure to act on your part will leave us with no alternative but to act again!
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