NSW Teacher Shortage Inquiry

IEU speaks up for members

The union strongly supported members at the Parliamentary Inquiry into Teacher Shortages and Educational Outcomes in NSW over two days in the first week of February.

The wide-ranging NSW Inquiry left no stone unturned, with terms of reference including current and projected teacher shortages and student enrolments, out-of-field teaching, merged classes and minimal supervision, incentive programs to address regional shortages, temporary and casual teachers, student health and wellbeing and the impact of shortages on educational outcomes.

“If anyone doesn’t believe the teacher shortage is genuine, they only need to spend half a day in this inquiry to understand its widespread impact,” said IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam, who addressed the Inquiry in August 2022.

Convened by NSW Upper House Portfolio Committee No 3 – Education and chaired by One Nation Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) Mark Latham, the committee comprises Nationals MLC Wes Fang, Labor MLCs Courtney Houssos and Anthony D’Adam, Greens MLC Abigail Boyd, and Liberal MLCs Aileen MacDonald and Scott Farlow. The committee is due to report on 25 February.

Free and frank exchange

“The IEU is here in the hope of developing a better shared understanding about the direct correlation between the NSW salary cap and workload intensification and the recruitment and retention issues which underpin the teacher shortage crisis we are experiencing,” said IEU Assistant Secretary Veronica Yewdall, who attended the Inquiry on 1 February at Camden Civic Centre.

“In south-west Sydney, we are aware of senior secondary colleges with severe difficulties in staffing for this year. We also have primary schools where there are no casuals available, which has an impact on literacy support and other programs.”

Yewdall, who was a primary school teacher for over 30 years, also raised the impact of education consultants and “initiative churn”, citing the example of a new mathematics program that could involve a total rewrite of the school’s current program, including staff meetings, extensive teacher training and subsequent reporting.

“I’m speaking from personal experience here,” she said. “Such a program was discredited, resulting in a new consultant and a total rewrite again of the program.”

Yewdall challenged Mr Latham’s accusation that in opposing performance pay for teachers, the IEU was “levelling down”.

“I’d like to say, Mr Latham, the premise on which you’re basing that is false,” Yewdall said. “All schools strive for excellence with the resources they have. At the moment, resourcing doesn’t just come down to money, it comes down to allowing teachers to do their job and doing something about the workload intensification. Workload intensification is what causes levelling down. It is far more responsible for a perceived decline in outcomes than anything else. Workload intensification and the loss of agency of teachers to do what is best for their students has had a catastrophic effect on outcomes.”

Yewdall also spoke about the impact of out-of-field teaching. “It’s one of the contributing factors to high teacher dissatisfaction and difficulties with retention,” she said. “We have such a large, dedicated, committed and professional workforce that we are struggling to retain, and one of the frustrations revolves around the fact that they are not able to provide the education to the students that they entered the profession to provide.”

Going above and beyond

On Thursday 2 February, IEU Assistant Secretary David Towson took up the baton, addressing the Inquiry at Rydges Hotel, Baulkham Hills, in north-west Sydney.

Teacher shortages were first cab off the rank. “The Diocese of Parramatta, they’re advertising 58 jobs on their website – that was three days ago, the first day of school. It’s much more than usual,” said Towson, who was a secondary school teacher for 17 years.

I did a quick search on Seek last night. I typed in ‘teacher’ and selected the region ‘Parramatta & Western Suburbs Sydney’. There were 20 pages with 398 jobs being advertised. Now, again, this is the first week of the school year. That might not be unusual towards the end of term three or the middle of term four, but it is not normal at the beginning of a school year.”

Many of these jobs were in early childhood education centres, he added, emphasising this is also a critical part of the overall approach to education.

Towson said he’d recently spoken to a principal who said his role over the Christmas break had been one of “constant recruitment”. Ms Houssos asked about the impact of this pressure.

“It means schools are unable to provide support for beginning teachers – they don’t have the resources to do so,” Towson said.

“Similarly, the provision of professional development is being hampered. So these beginning teachers are not being supported into the profession and we’re at risk of failing them and losing them.”

Towson challenged Nationals MP Wes Fang’s allegation that teachers and support staff had become “inflexible”.

“Our members are extraordinarily flexible in answering student needs,” Towson said. “They’re not resistant to change – the changing nature of jobs has happened everywhere – they’re doing it every day, going above and beyond.”

Monica Crouch