Casual shortages: Impact on schools intensifies

Understanding and addressing a rapidly growing lack of teachers is a top IEU priority, writes NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam.

The IEU has surveyed NSW/ACT country and regional Catholic dioceses to confirm what members know: casual and staffing shortages are consuming time, complicating day-to-day daily organisation in schools and interrupting teaching and learning.

The union is currently surveying Metropolitans diocese for feedback.

The solutions are complex and varied.

These teacher shortages, however, did not come out of the blue. The problem of teacher supply is well known.

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) has been working since 2016 on a linked, longitudinal data set bringing together initial teacher education, the teaching workforce and individual teacher experiences.

AITSL released a report entitled ‘Teaching futures: A national teacher workforce strategy for Australia’. Predictably, this report shows that strong growth in teacher numbers is required. The conundrum is the decline in the number of teaching graduates.

IEU members can readily explain why the number of graduates in the supply chain is lagging.

Complex and demanding workloads

Over an eight-year period, the IEU conducted a case before the full bench of the Fair Work Commission. The case centred on remuneration levels for those teachers (largely in early childhood centres) who were being paid under the Modern Award.

At the top of the scale, the Modern Award provides for an annual salary of about $72,000. The Fair Work Commission’s decision – not yet implemented – was to increase the top step rate to about $80,000, with additional allowances on top.

Of particular interest was the Fair Work Commission’s unequivocal acceptance that the role and nature of a teacher’s work has changed dramatically over the past two decades.

The Full Bench found that change in the work value of teachers since 1996 occurred in four main areas:

  • Additional training requirements for entry into the profession.
  • Increased professional accountability associated with registration requirements, standardised testing and greatly increased expectations concerning reporting and being accessible to parents and families.
  • Greater complexity of work resulting from a shift to outcomes-based education and differentiated teaching, with associated requirements for greater documentation and analysis of individual educational progress.
  • Teaching and caring for a more diverse student population including, in particular, additional needs children.

The Full Bench’s detailed findings in relation to the four main areas of work value change include that:

The effect of introducing standardised testing in schools has been to make publicly transparent the outcomes at individual schools and thereby expose the teachers of the tested students to a degree of scrutiny and pressure to improve performance that did not exist before 1996.

Of particular interest was the Fair Work Commission’s unequivocal acceptance that the role and nature of a teacher’s work has changed dramatically over the past two decades.

There has been a significant enlargement in the scope of parental interaction with teachers, mainly because of their accessibility via email and other online modes of communication, and a concomitant addition to the degree of accountability on the part of teachers to parents.

From 1996 to date, there has been a major shift in the focus of education towards outcomes-based curricula that are less focused on delivering prescribed content and more focused on setting broad benchmarks of student achievement that are observable and assessable, and this has required a differentiated teaching method focused on the learning of the individual.

There has been a substantial increase in the need to obtain data concerning student performance from testing, to analyse this data, and to adjust teaching programs on the basis of this analysis, as a means to achieve prescribed outcomes. This requires a degree of sophistication and precision in the delivery of teaching to meet individual students’ needs that was not previously required.

The work of teachers has become more demanding and requires greater skill and responsibility because teachers are required to respond to a more diverse student population and provide a more individualised approach to teaching, particularly in relation to the “mainstreaming” of children with additional needs.

It’s time for the NSW Government to value this work beyond the 1.5% salary cap it has imposed. Overwhelmingly, IEU members enjoy negotiated industrial agreements offering salaries well above the Modern Award, but the increases achieved in the IEU’s long-running case in the Commission provide a platform for serious consideration by employers.

Catholic Schools NSW has developed a position paper, ‘Strategic Workforce Review’, with the intent of attracting and retaining quality teachers across the system. The CSNSW project will examine the nature of the workforce, including qualifications, age and gender, and those teaching outside their area of expertise.

Problem that needs solving

It’s unreasonable for beginning teachers not to have a stable, reliable job. Permanency is part of the solution.

Various dioceses are appointing permanent, onsite casuals to schools, or a cluster of schools, then developing agreed protocols for these casuals to move into permanent roles as vacancies arise.

Offering ongoing permanency to those considering retiring but willing to work as an onsite casual for an agreed number of days is another temporary fix.

What is happening in schools?

Where do we start? Splitting classes, combining classes, placing various classes in the school hall constitute ongoing breaches. The situation is eroding RFF, erasing PD, executive staff are forgoing release time, specialist staff are covering classes, support staff and teacher education students are being deployed. It’s unsustainable.

Big picture levers

Decreasing HECS would be a good start: from 2022 a teaching degree costs some $120,000.

The Federal Government could also ensure that practicum/interim placements are better supported, with teacher time release to be factored in. This would replace the current model of frenetic mentoring before and after school and during lunch breaks.

Anecdotally, the union understands many teacher education students leave after one or two practicums. At the core of this are two key issues:

  • additional release time is needed to undertake the complex role of being a classroom teacher and meeting manifold expectations
  • develop salary scales that are not artificially constrained by the NSW Government and reflect the verifiable changes in the role of a teacher.

  • Next steps

    Members in schools impacted by staffing shortages have recently been in contact with their relevant diocesan director demanding a change in approach.

    IEU Reps and principals in the Archdioceses of Sydney, Broken Bay and Parramatta recently received the IEU’s staffing survey that we conducted earlier this year in country and regional dioceses. We anticipate that casual shortages, in tandem with temporary and permanent vacancies, will emerge as a substantial issue.

    We urge members to complete the survey so we can see the full picture.