Private Members Statement - Teacher shortage crisis

28 June, 2021
Private Members Statement - Teacher shortage crisis Image

Tonight I will read part of a letter I received from Denis Harvey, a research agronomist, father, and proud and loyal Narrabri local who is angry and experiencing despair. It reads:

My name is Denis Harvey and I am no-one important. My wife Carmel and I and our 4 children live at Narrabri in North Western NSW.

We are desperately trying to raise the awareness of the chronic teacher shortage that is affecting our local high school. We keep hitting brick wall after brick wall.

Narrabri High School has been operating with at least 5-6 teacher vacancies for many months now and the reality of this is that our kids now have to regularly endure "minimal supervision" lessons. This is where they are told to go into the quadrangle or school hall where a staff member just monitors them. No lessons are taught—nothing. They basically just sit there—for hours on end sometimes. A conservative estimate from teachers at the school is that this has occurred for 250 hours of lessons this term alone.

My daughter in year 7 is having up to 2-3 lessons a day where they simply are not being taught. I also have a son in year 10 and a daughter in year 11. In some cases the older classes are left unattended as they "can look after themselves".

The existing staff are at breaking point, they are good people. They barely have time to teach, which means they have even less time to deal with discipline issues so it is a race to the bottom and the whole system is collapsing in on itself.

I am trying not to sound too dramatic or exaggerate—but it is so hard to suppress this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness.

We just want to educate our children locally without having to send them away to boarding school and the NSW education department is currently not providing that.

Let us consider that: The NSW Department of Education is not providing kids in New South Wales with an education. That issue is not isolated to Narrabri, nor is it isolated to the city or the country. The entire State is afflicted by a teacher shortage crisis. In answers to questions in the other place, the education Minister blamed the recent walkouts by teachers from schools right across New South Wales, including in Gilgandra, Broken Hill, Gunnedah, Armidale, Orange, Taree and Concorde, on the NSW Teachers Federation as it agitates ahead of negotiations for a new award. In my opinion that is an offensive dismissal of the teacher shortage that has been allowed to occur by successive governments.

This year marks a milestone in the Department of Education and the teaching profession in New South Wales, and it is not one that the department should be proud of: It is 17 years since the work of teachers was subject to an in-depth analysis. We did not have smart phones back then. Most classrooms still had chalkboards. Kids were given a floppy disk to save their work and every week there were lessons on using computers. The world has undergone a digital revolution and so has teaching. We are in a vastly different society and a vastly different teaching environment. In 17 years education policy has been chopped and changed and added to and amended so many times that to attempt to get your head around it is an education challenge of its own. All of those policy changes have come with increased requirements for teachers: more reporting, more paperwork, more planning and administrative burdens.

More and more things have been rammed into the curriculum. As it has been described by one person, "Schools have become the solvers of all society's ills with lessons on road safety, water safety, healthy eating, bushfire safety, anxiety, depression, bullying, sexuality, gender identity, pet safety and drug awareness in addition to the basic education fundamentals of reading, writing and mathematics." Then add to that the scrutiny placed on teachers from the Department of Education, parents, various standards organisations and the court of public opinion. One teacher stated:

We are all about collecting data and evidence and ticking boxes. Our focus is on paperwork rather than the kids' educational needs. We spend an hour on paperwork for an hour lesson.

In 2020 the NSW Teachers Federation commissioned an independent inquiry into the state of the teaching profession in New South Wales known as the Gallop inquiry, which made six key recommendations to the Government. Those recommendations are conscious of budgetary implications, they are evidence based and, most importantly, they are supported by teaching staff—not departmental boffins who have never taught a day in their lives. My recommendation to the Government is read the Gallop inquiry and implement the recommendations. One thing should always ring true when talking about education: Our kids deserve a quality education. They deserve to be able to go to school and be taught by a suitably qualified teacher and attain an education that will set them up for li

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