Internal documents reveal funding for a COVID catch-up program has been cut by the NSW Government with schools instructed to find ways to make up the difference, including by denying support to other students with high needs.
The Department of Education told principals the COVID Intensive Learning Support Program (ILSP) was getting results but they will only receive “a scaled down” 2023 semester one funding allocation.
Schools are reporting their allocations are less than half what they received in 2022 for the small-group tuition program designed to assist students who fell behind during periods of remote learning.
NSW Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos said principals were told to find the money to run the program for the full year, including by diverting targeted funding for students with disability, Aboriginal students and those from low SES backgrounds.
“Cutting funding for this program and forcing schools to make up the difference by depriving other high-needs students of support is unconscionable,” Mr Gavrielatos said.
“Intervention programs like this are critically important but they need to be fully funded and integrated into what schools do on a permanent basis.
“The Perrottet Government is already underfunding NSW public schools, which would receive an additional $2 billion a year if they were funded at the Schooling Resource Standard. That is the government-mandated minimum amount that is required to meet the needs of all students
“Teacher shortages also mean a fraction of the children identified as needing assistance under the COVID ILSP have received it so far.
“You can’t simply announce an add-on program like this and hope schools will be able to miraculously find the teachers and make it work for a couple of years and then start stripping away the funding.
“What we need is a government prepared to invest in the teaching profession so there is the permanent capacity across the public school system to deliver intensive support for students who need it.
“That means addressing the unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive salaries that are turning people off teaching and causing more and more teachers to leave the profession.”
The NSW Government initially estimated the COVID ILSP program would assist 290,000 children in 2021. But the Department of Education’s own evaluation found there were “approximately 115,243 students who received tutoring support in 2021”.
Principals and teachers from across NSW have told the union that the program has been constantly interrupted or only partially implemented due to the teacher shortages.
One teacher told a parliamentary inquiry in June that the program had only run on two days this year at her Sydney school due to the teacher shortages.
Schools have resorted to using student teachers, teachers’ aides or allied health professionals with less than 70 per cent of those delivering the program qualified teachers.
Despite the problems, schools have also been told they cannot use unspent 2022 COVID ILSP funds in 2023.