(Private Member's Statement, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Schools, teachers, students and families with kids at school have been under enormous pressure during pandemic restrictions, with significant impacts on learning and student welfare. Recently I met with public school teachers and parents over Zoom, as they have been doing with classes for months. School communities are looking forward to getting back to classrooms and group activities, and to reuniting friends and classmates. The New South Wales Advocate for Children and Young People's consultation with young people identified seeing friends and getting back to school as key concerns. There is strong community support for a return to face-to-face learning as long as COVID transmission and classroom ventilation can be safely addressed. Teachers raised serious concerns about the changes to teachers' roles through increasing administration and reporting responsibilities and rapidly changing technologies, with a new curriculum from 2022 adding stress. Teachers need extra time allocation for administration and reporting.
Teachers told me that there is limited support and training for teachers to take on new roles and higher responsibilities, especially as assistant principals and teaching principals. Teachers need support and additional non-teaching time if they are to carry out these responsibilities. This situation is made worse when teachers' salaries have stagnated and compare badly with other industries with equivalent qualifications and skills. Experienced teachers' pay increments stop in their mid-thirties, at a time when other professionals are receiving greater financial reward for their expertise and experience. The Government's public sector pay caps must be removed and pay rates increased to retain experienced teachers, reward their know-how and attract young people to the industry.
Media reports have included education department data showing that there is a serious shortfall in teacher numbers across New South Wales. The teachers I spoke with confirmed this is a serious issue for inner‑city schools and we are already behind with teacher supply and retention. Education economist Adam Rorris estimates the public school system needs to recruit an additional 11,000 full-time teachers over the next 10 years to meet student enrolment growth. I was shocked to hear that there is no clear transition to permanency for teachers, with casual teachers stuck as casual without a career path. Teachers told me there are too few relief teachers, giving examples where there have been no relief teachers available for months at a time. Relying on a variety of casual staff limits continuity for students and puts extra strain on other teachers who must carry mixed classes. Students need continuity in learning and should not be left with a variety of relief teachers who are moved back and forth into different classes for long periods.
Teachers also told me about the serious lack of counselling resources. They reported no capacity for ongoing support for students who are struggling with serious psychological distress, exacerbated by the pandemic restrictions and anxiety. The Government must provide additional counselling positions and permanency to these positions to make sure students learn and progress. I heard teachers' passion and tangible care for their students' learning and welfare. The wider community now understands some of their expertise after struggling through home learning. The ongoing disparity between funding for public schools and students and private schools is a serious concern. Total government funding for private schools increased by more than six times that of public schools between 2009‑10 and 2018‑19. Funding per private school student increased by more than 22 per cent compared to only 2.4 per cent for public schools—nearly 10 times the increase for public schools. This is completely unfair and it seriously disadvantages students and our future.
Well-resourced schools and well‑trained, supported and experienced staff are more vital than ever with lockdowns risking students falling behind. We will need extra resources to help students catch up on learning and social development, to process the pandemic experience and to get back into routines and assessments when they return to school. This applies to all students, not just those dealing with the hurdles of HSC exams. Additional resources for schools to address the ongoing impacts of the pandemic should be seen as a key part of the recovery. Restarting schools needs an investment like any other industry.
I call on the Government to recognise the vital contribution of teachers to our community, economy and future. We need teachers who are properly compensated for their expertise and experience, with supported career paths and transitions to permanency, including for part‑time teachers. They need adequate non‑class time, and training and support for changing roles and increased reporting and administrative duties. Their students need adequate counsellor support, with dedicated positions to match the students who need extra help to learn and progress. After the pandemic experience, we know we need expert teachers. To get them, they need the recognition, training, support and compensation to match.