“It is time for bold and urgent action”: State schools feel the pressure

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By Max Davies

THE Australian Education Union, AEU, has called on the State Government to fix the teacher shortage crisis being experienced in the state’s public schools.

In an open letter addressed to Premier Daniel Andrews, the AEU called for retention payments to be provided to existing staff, cost of living allowances to be paid to those undertaking teacher training, and an increase in funding to directly support new teachers.

The letter comes as teacher and staff vacancies advertised on the Department of Education’s vacancies website have reached a record high – peaking at more than 2350 available jobs last month.

There are several vacancies at various schools across the region.

AEU Victorian Branch president Meredith Peace said the State Government had chosen not to take significant steps to address the shortages despite early warnings.

“Public teachers, principals and education support staff can no longer be expected to continue to spread themselves so thinly,” she said.

“It is time for bold and urgent action from the State Government to ensure Victoria has a stable supply of teachers, principals and support in the public school system now and well into the future.”

The State Government has outlined three main initiatives to help encourage teachers back into public school classrooms: implementing the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan; following through with the Schools Enterprise Bargaining Agreement; and launching the Teacher Recruitment Initiative.

The National Teacher Workforce Action Plan was designed to increase the number of people choosing to become teachers and ensure existing teachers remain in the profession.

The plan identifies and focuses on five priority areas – improving teacher supply; strengthening initial teacher education; keeping the teachers we have; elevating the profession; and better understanding future teacher workforce needs.

The Schools Enterprise Bargaining Agreement reduces the maximum face-to-face teaching required of teachers while the Teacher Recruitment Initiative is designed to streamline recruitment processes and reduce the time it takes for schools to match and fill vacancies.

A Department of Education spokesperson said the initiative’s launch would help alleviate some workforce pressures currently faced by the state’s education system.

“Our schools in north central Victoria are experiencing some workforce pressures – but schools continue to provide their full services to their communities,” they said.

“The number of teachers in Victoria has grown at twice the national average and that’s no accident – we’re delivering a range of initiatives that have grown our workforce by 5000 extra teachers between 2020 and 2022.”

The Victorian Institute of Teaching has reported the number of registered teachers has increased over the past few years, from 136,470 at the end of 2020, 138,340 in 2021 and 141,454 last year.

More than 1000 teachers have signalled an intention to return to the government system and the Department of Education is working to assist teachers back into the classroom by now offering scholarships for the cost of teaching degrees.

The scholarships will be available to all students who enrol in secondary school teaching degrees in 2024 and 2025 and will match HELP fees – $18,000 for a four-year undergraduate program or $9000 for two years of postgraduate study.

Minister for Education Natalie Hutchins also announced on August 22 that all specialist visiting teachers would be retained and be brought into the Disability Inclusion program as Disability Inclusion Visiting Teachers.

Students who currently receive support from the visiting teachers program will continue to get the same extra assistance from the $1.6 billion Disability Inclusion reforms, in line with feedback received on the importance of visiting staff.

“We’ve listened to families, carers and teachers, and have heard about the value that our Visiting Teachers provide for children with disabilities across the state,” Ms Hutchins said.

“The Disability Inclusion Visiting Teachers will mean a more cohesive and consistent approach across the state, ensuring our schools have access to a wider range of targeted supports that build on the individual strengths of each student.”