Travel time

How Taree teachers gained ground

This requirement creates inequities of access and costs for both teachers and distant schools.

When staff in a Catholic high school were faced with a four-hour round trip to undertake regular PD, their Chapter’s collective action with the IEU led to a positive outcome.

It can be hard enough finding time for your professional development (PD), but having to drive for more than two hours for it takes it to a whole new level.

The Catholic Diocese of Maitland/Newcastle covers a broad geographic sweep taking in Dungog, Forster, Tuncurry, Muswellbrook and Taree. IEU members at St Clare’s Catholic High School in Taree found they were required to travel to Newcastle, two hours away, to attend PD and Secondary Key Learning Area Network (SKLAN) meetings. While members recognised the benefits of meeting in person, they were concerned about the distances and the requirement to attend every meeting.

During 2020, the pandemic meant teachers could join the SKLAN meetings from school via Zoom, leaving them available to students during the day. But come 2021, the meetings resumed in person, so Taree staff again had to travel two hours to Newcastle and two hours back – a poor use of their precious time.

There is also an equity issue here. Teachers from schools located in or near Newcastle did not have this imposition to travel. It also meant the Taree teachers would often be last to arrive, so they struggled to find parking, adding to the stress.

Moreover, driving home late after a full day’s work presents a work health and safety issue. While accommodation in Newcastle was available, St Clare’s had to bear the cost, draining the PD budget. Schools closer to Newcastle did not face this expense, and the Taree teachers were uncomfortable using their school’s limited budget in this way.

So the St Clare’s High School Taree IEU Chapter held a meeting and passed a motion asking to meet with the school’s administration and representatives from the Catholic Schools Office (CSO) to discuss these issues.

“This requirement [to attend in person] is not only inefficient, but raises significant WHS issues, forcing participants to spend four hours travelling to and from Newcastle and creates inequities of access and costs for both teachers and distant schools,” the motion said.

“The Chapter believes that the skills and knowledge acquired in 2020 allow teachers to meaningfully participate in SKLAN meetings and PD electronically, online. The time and costs saved can be better used servicing the students in their care.”

Soon after, IEU members from St Clare’s, together with Organiser Carlo Rendina, met with CSO representatives to voice the Chapter’s concerns. As a result, the CSO agreed to:

  • Facilitate parking spaces for those travelling two hours or more.
  • Make SKLAN meetings voluntary, and to provide at least one per year online.
  • The CSO would cover accommodation costs, relieving pressure on the school’s budget.
  • The CSO would facilitate some regional meetings to reduce travel time.

The CSO also invited suggestions about how to translate some of the face-to-face elements of the sessions to an online format without sacrificing quality.

The St Clare’s Chapter and the union are pleased to have achieved this result. The union is always here to help with concerns at your school – we’re only ever an email or phone call away.

Carlo Rendina
Monica Crouch