Government’s great deceit … (and we have the proof)

There is often a gap between what governments say and what they know.

Rarely is that gap more clearly exposed than by revelations contained in internal NSW Department of Education documents.

Publicly, the NSW Government has been adamant there is no staffing crisis in schools.

Without skipping a beat, the Education Minister Sarah Mitchell says that having more than 1000 vacant permanent teaching positions from Bondi to Broken Hill isn’t something she is overly concerned about.

Even acknowledging teacher shortages now appears taboo, with the preferred phrase “teacher supply challenges”.

But behind the closed doors it has been a very different story.

In a series of reports and briefings over the past two years, the Department has painted a picture of a worsening staffing crisis.

The elements of what is, essentially, a perfect storm for schools are all present: chronic teacher shortages, an ageing workforce, rapidly rising enrolments, and plummeting graduate numbers.

The Department’s briefing in June last year warned: “We cannot improve student outcomes without having a sufficient supply of high-quality teachers available where and when they are needed. If we don’t address supply gaps now, we will run out of teachers in the next five years.”

It’s that serious, and cuts to the very core of the More Than Thanks campaign.

We know that the only way to address the dire situation the public school system is facing is to reduce workload and increase wages to make the profession attractive to potential teachers.

Because of the shortages, one in five teachers in secondary school settings must teach outside their area of qualifications and the number is higher in the bush.

The Department commissioned, and never published, research that shows students do better in the HSC when their teacher is qualified in the subject area.

So much for being concerned about student outcomes.

The Government’s deception would be easier to accept if it had been working to develop viable solutions to the crisis.

Sadly, that isn’t the case.

The search, via expensive consultants, has been focused on finding the most attractive sounding initiatives, such as recruiting 500 STEM teachers from around the world and getting people from other careers to drop everything and become a teacher.

At a time of worldwide teacher shortages and with teachers here having a longer working year than those in almost every major country, there is no evidence to show overseas recruitment will work.

The Department of Education’s documents also make it clear that uncompetitive salaries are a barrier for career changers and young people deciding what to study at university.

A departmental briefing document from August last year states: “On average, teacher pay has been falling relative to pay in other professions since the late 1980s and this makes it a less attractive profession for high achieving students.”

This Government knows improving salaries and working conditions is needed to retain teachers.It would also send a powerful message to young people that they will be better rewarded for the tremendous efforts and sacrifice required to be a teacher today.

But the biggest defender of the Government’s 2.5 per cent a year wages cap, Dominic Perrottet, is now Premier.

At a time when we can least afford teacher shortages, the way the new Premier handles this issue will tell us much about his commitment to our teachers and our students.

If you don’t care about teacher shortages, you don’t care about student outcomes.