Investment in student wellbeing

Enabling Equity: Education Quarterly, Issue 6 2023

Figures released in February show student wellbeing has hit a new low and underlines the extent of the classroom crisis in NSW schools.

Department of Education data revealed the lowest scores of student wellbeing since the wellbeing metric was first reported in 2015. Just 62 per cent of high school students and 83 per cent of primary school students reported a positive sense of belonging and an expectation of success in 2022.

These scores were well below the targets of 69 per cent and 91 per cent set by the Perrottet government for that year.

The results came a day after a national Black Dog Institute study warned teacher wellbeing was so poor that 50 per cent of teachers were considering leaving in the next 12 months.

Disruptions to student learning brought on by the statewide staffing crisis are affecting student wellbeing and teacher workload. Unfilled teacher vacancies and shortages of casual teachers have resulted in merged and minimally supervised classes. As a consequence, significant disruption to student learning has led to a reported increase in challenging behaviours as students struggle to cope with the resulting instability in their learning environments.

Inadequate and inconsistent systemic support to address the complexities of these circumstances has compounded the issues and left schools at a loss as to how to address them and maintain safe working and effective learning environments.

With the pandemic and the spate of natural disasters we have seen in the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the number of students needing the support of school counsellors. There are also far more students with complex, highlevel needs who require intensive and sustained support.

In March, the NSW Labor Government announced a significant investment in the provision of school counsellors to address the shortfall in support for students in the form of $75 million to recruit additional school counsellors. This announcement was an important first step toward reaching the ratio of one school counsellor to every 500 students recommended by the Vinson Inquiry in 2002 and two NSW Legislative Council inquiries in 2010 and 2017.

In 2018, the NSW Coalition government supported a parliamentary inquiry’s recommendations for a minimum ratio of one school counsellor per 500 students but that ratio has never been achieved. There were 75 vacant counsellor positions in November of 2022 and more than 300 schools have less than two hours a week of counselling support.

The commitment to employ additional school counsellors is a vital step towards ensuring that students who need help can get it. These positions will change lives for the better and help achieve the 1:500 ratio that the previous government supported but never delivered. Federation looks forward to productive discussions and negotiations with the new government on how this is to be achieved.