Leaders see path out of teacher crisis

Teaching and education leaders presented a strong vision for an end to teacher shortages in NSW and a more equitable and stronger future for public education during a special broadcast to parents and families across the state last night.

While the leaders from teacher, principal and parent bodies pulled no punches in underlining the challenges created by years of neglect and under-funding of the public system, as well as the intense teacher workloads and low salaries causing teacher shortages, they offered a clear path out of the multiple crises.

Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos also used the broadcast to announce the launch date for the More Than Thanks campaign – 16 September – as the union drives towards next term’s Award negotiations with a view to addressing the unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive salaries identified by the Gallop Inquiry.

“The Gallop Inquiry made it very clear, we need to improve the conditions of work, and improve pay in order to attract and retain teachers in the numbers required,” Mr Gavrielatos said.

“It’s not very frequent but from time to time we hear platitudes, if you like, from politicians, where they throw thanks at teachers. Well, thanks won’t cut it.

“It needs more than thanks if we’re going to turn this around. It needs more than thanks if we’re going to attract and retain teachers in the numbers required so that every child can have a qualified teacher in front of his or her classroom.”

That required number presently stands at 1000 unfilled vacancies state wide, with research revealing up to 12,000 teachers would be needed in the next 10 years as enrolments increase by more than 200,000 students.

Hosted by TV journalist Tracey Spicer AM, the broadcast included interviews with President of the Federation of P&C Associations Natalie Walker, President of NSW Secondary Principals’ Council Craig Petersen and President of the NSW Primary Principals’ Association Robyn Evans.

Ms Walker highlighted what parents and school communities are experiencing across NSW, calling the teacher shortage “truly not an acceptable state to be in”.

“It’s so disheartening when you see principals looking for expert or specifically trained teachers and they’re unable to find them for their school community,” Ms Walker said. “I know of many schools in the far west that have gone without certain permanent teaching positions for two to three years.

“The impact of teacher shortages ultimately means it’s our children that are missing out.”

Ms Walker’s message to the NSW Government: “We need to stop playing catch-up and we really need the NSW Government to be brave and just step up and be the forward thinkers and planners of our children’s future.

“An investment in high-quality teachers and resources in our schools is an investment in the future of our children and young people.”

Federation’s solution, Mr Gavrielatos said, was to ensure the terms and conditions of work for teachers – their workload and salary – are more attractive and the union will demand the same at the upcoming Award negotiations.

“Teachers’ salaries have declined dramatically over the course of the past 10 to 15 years,” he said. “At the peak of their career, teachers are earning significantly less than other professionals with similar qualifications.

“On top of that, the hours of work of teachers and principals continues grow and the intensity associated with it has grown as well.

“We have a massive problem ahead of us, and if we don’t change the settings … necessary to attract and retain teachers in the numbers required, I fear for the future of all students.”

Mr Petersen said the Department had resorted to “knee-jerk reactions with short-term aims” – such as fast-streaming principals and mid-career pathways – rather than a long-term plan to build and develop the teacher workforce.

“[That] may plug a short-term gap but we need a much better way of recognising the workload of teachers and principals, of remunerating them for the work they do, but also for raising the status of teaching in the community,” he said.

“We want to attract the best and brightest into teaching, we’ve got to make it an attractive job.”

High on the agenda were the pressures and challenges presented by COVID, however, Ms Evans said that issues of teacher burn-out and fatigue pre-dated the pandemic.

“This not a new thing,” Ms Evans said. “The administrative workload that teachers and principals have to cover off is debilitating.

“Great work happens in the classroom; the preparation for that great work sits outside the classroom. We need to reinforce a balance in the time allocated to do that preparation and that explicit collaboration with our colleagues that really drives learning.”