Vaccination blitz targets final-year school students and staff
Final-year secondary students, their teachers, exam supervisors and assessors were granted access to priority times lots during a “vaccination blitz” commencing in early September.
With second doses of all vaccines then separated by six weeks, willing parties could be fully vaccinated prior to end of year exams. While at press time, mandatory vaccinations had not been put in place for Victorian schools, Premier Dan Andrews said if there was a “safety imperative” mandatory vaccinations would be put in place.
The IEU VicTas is a strong advocate of vaccination for education staff, saying, “We will be safest from COVID-19 where students, staff and other members of the school community are vaccinated to the fullest extent possible”. However, the union said it would expect “appropriate consultation” with the IEU from schools that chose to mandate vaccinations. Such employers would have to:
- have exhausted efforts to encourage staff to be vaccinated
- consult with the union, health and safety reps, and employees
- permit exceptions for genuine and compelling medical reasons and where access to a recommended/appropriate vaccine is not reasonably available
- ensure that there was no unlawful discrimination against people with a protected attribute.
Union calls out risk of rejecting teacher voices
The IEU VicTas Branch was disappointed that its submissions to the Review of Education Regulation were not incorporated by the Tasmanian Government’s Education Review Bill. Enacted in its draft form, the Bill would greatly reduce teacher representation on the Office of Education Registrar, the Office of Tasmanian Assessment, Standards and Certification, and the Teachers Registration Board Tasmania.
In its submission to the Review, the IEU said: “The formal involvement of appropriately qualified and experienced education practitioners on the governance bodies of the regulatory authorities and offices ensures the relevance, practicability, and quality engagement necessary for effective regulation. The IEU is opposed to any lessening of the current representative governance arrangements.”
IEU VicTas General Secretary Deb James said removing teacher voices from the regulatory bodies, particularly from the Teachers Registration Board, was a “serious disenfranchisement” of teachers.
The Education Regulation Advisory Council will be constituted only “of representatives of the three sector authorities”. But the IEU submitted that Board and committee members should still be nominated by major stakeholder bodies. “The IEU believes that the Council will have an important role in providing direct advice to the Minister. However, the non-inclusion of the other key education stakeholders such as the education unions on the new Advisory Council, together with the cessation of representation of the various Boards, has the effect of specifically disregarding the teaching profession and presents a significant risk of the provision of narrow advice that represents only the sector authorities’ interests and views.”
Improper use of fixed-term contracts
IEU-QNT continues our campaign to reduce insecure work in the non-government education sector, by taking on improper use of fixed-term contracts in the Queensland Catholic sector.
In the last round of collective bargaining, members not only won important protections for continuing positions and limits on the use of fixed-term contracts, but an employer obligation to conduct annual reviews on fixed-term contracts.
The provision requires an annual employer review of all contracts to check that all fixed-term contracts are genuine and identify those positions that instead should be made continuing.
The new provisions mean more teacher and school officer members have successfully converted from rolling fixed-term contracts to ongoing employment. Members in other sectors are also pushing for similar provisions in their collective agreements to help address insecure work.
These limitations on the use of fixed-term contracts members have recently achieved are just one example of how our union makes a difference.
We will continue to monitor the ongoing issue of insecure work across all schools and sectors, to ensure employers are not abusing fixed-term contracts so members can enjoy financial security and peace of mind with ongoing employment.
Voices heard at Teacher Registration Board
Union representation on the Northern Territory Teacher Registration Board (TRB) is helping to ensure the voices of members are heard about their professional concerns.
IEU-QNT Branch Executive member and teacher Louise Lenzo, who represents our union on the NT TRB, said a current focus of the Board was how to help teachers better manage their compulsory Professional Development (PD) and reflection logs.
“The TRB has acknowledged there was a need for additional PD, information and resources for teachers to assist them in meeting PD requirements and maintaining their logs, after receiving an influx of queries and concerns from teachers,” Louise said.
Creation of instructional videos has been identified as a potential way to provide teachers with advice on PD, whilst reducing the administrative burden on TRB staff.
The idea of these videos was raised in response to calls from members for clearer guidelines regarding exactly what should be included in PD logs and reflections, such as the content and level of detail required.
Louise reported the Board is also considering whether the current approach of five-year audit cycles is optimal, or whether the requirement for teachers to submit 20 hours of PD evidence per year would be better.
School ventilation guidelines are crucial
Good ventilation in classrooms is a vital tool in the fight against COVID-19, along with mask wearing, social distancing, rapid antigen testing and, of course, vaccination.
The IEU Executive has called on NSW Health to develop guidelines concerning ventilation and air filtration to make the re-opening of schools as safe as possible for staff and students. The union has also written to employers asking them to act on this before the return to schools.
Viruses such as COVID-19 are spread by air droplets when infectious people cough or sneeze. They can stay in a room’s air for up to eight minutes. When opening windows isn’t possible, air purifiers and carbon dioxide sensors, which indicate when the air is becoming stale, are also important.
University of NSW air pollution expert Donna Green wrote in The Conversation that for $50 million all Australian schools could be provided with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) purifiers, which can minimise the risk of COVID spread, as well as mitigate health risks from bushfire smoke. While this may sound like a big investment, it pales in comparison with the cost of lockdowns ($220 million a day in Sydney).
Pre-service teachers must register
All pre-service teachers undertaking professional experience placement in ACT schools are legally required to be registered on the ACT Teacher Quality Institute (TQI) Pre-service Teacher Register. There is no cost to register.
Amendments to the TQI Act were passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly in August 2019 to enable this change.
TQI reports that collaboration between universities, schools and pre-service teachers ensured a smooth introduction of the register. Since its inception in January 2020, more than 1500 pre-service teachers have registered.
Being on the register allows pre-service teachers access to information about approved professional learning programs.
As the system grows, pre-service teachers should be able to enter details of their professional experience placements. TQI will then be able to collect information about the schools and sectors involved in providing teacher professional experience placements.
TQI will also be able to collect anonymous information that can be shared for workforce planning purposes including the number of:
- pre-service teachers undertaking professional experiencein a particular year
- schools providing professional experience placements
- pre-service teachers undertaking their professional experience at particular schools
- pre-service teachers undertaking their professional experience in, for example, a science specialisation, and
- the destination of graduating students and their initial teaching experiences.
Online learning leaves some students behind
A coalition of education and charitable organisations, including the IEU, concerned about growing inequality in classrooms propelled by digital exclusion, has written to the Minister for Education in South Australia.
“Inequality in Australian education is increasing,” wrote education experts Amy Graham and Professor Pasi Sahlberg in The Conversation. “School education, according to the OECD and UNICEF, is not treating Australian children fairly.”
The shift to online learning was thrust upon schools by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Now the Delta variant is affecting younger students as well.
The need to learn from home for disadvantaged students is problematic for various reasons, including:
- low-income families may not have internet access or digital devices suitable to connect to their school learning portal
- loss of employment (during lockdowns and/or ongoing employment) may prevent families from affording the required digital devices and internet access
- the home environment may not be conducive to learning – be that through the impact of resident family members/friends, domestic violence or other domestic issues that impede the student.
Community libraries may offer some access for students; however, this may not be available to a student without appropriate care, assistance or transport.
The IEU is calling upon the SA Government to urgently develop a plan that will provide the resources and devices for these students. We hope action will be taken to ensure no student falls behind.