Peter Rundle: McGowan government must tackle teacher exodus

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As the third term draws to a close, it’s worth reflecting on the difficult school year so far.

Overworked teachers. Understaffed schools. Increase in violence.

Our education system is in shambles and the failure of the McGowan Labor government to deliver schools in Western Australia over the past five years is to blame.

A recent report by the Productivity Commission, which reviewed the National Accord on School Reform, laid bare the problems our state’s schools face every day.

One of the concerning statistics that emerges from the report is that they only spend 40% of their time in class. The remaining 60% is devoted to administrative tasks. This is nothing new for teachers.

Teachers surveyed said the main reason they leave the profession is workload, with the report indicating that longer working hours for teachers reduce the quality of teaching.

No one will dispute the quality of our teachers, who are responsible for educating the next generation of West Australians, is the highest priority.

When the Productivity Commission recommended reducing teachers’ workloads and paying more attention to student welfare, you’d think the government of the day would listen.

Unfortunately, the McGowan Labor government has kept its head in the sand. This report follows a series of headlines that constitute a damning indictment of our education system.

It is truly shocking to be short of nearly 700 employees in our public education sector and a shortage of this magnitude could have been predicted and should have been avoided by the McGowan Labor government.

At this level, the system is unsustainable.

It is vital that our teachers are happy, sufficiently supported in their role, well remunerated and enjoy their vocation. The positive impact on students by valued teachers is immeasurable and lasts a lifetime. Sadly, that’s not happening in some of our classrooms, with exhausted teachers torn in multiple directions as they juggle a growing list of responsibilities.

Burned-out teachers cannot give their best to their students.

Having to spend their time allocated to administration doing relief work because there are no relief teachers to call. They have to double the number of their classes because a teacher cannot be replaced and have to make up lessons at the last minute for students who cannot get to school.

The lack of surety in their roles has taken its toll.

Head teachers have been left in the difficult position of dealing with Ministry of Education directives, burnt-out teachers, angry parents and disciplinary issues with pupils.

They must also be the CEO of the school, the financial director, the office manager, the director of human resources, the pastoral manager and the chief negotiator, to name a few.

I fear that the burden of many problems in schools is being unfairly relegated to principals, who find themselves in the position of being asked to come up with ideas to reduce teachers’ workloads and let the Department know what ‘they could be .

A number of teachers and principals have contacted me with their own experiences of how they have been left to their own devices to deal with the issues facing our schools.

School staff should not feel alone and it is the responsibility of the Department, the Minister for Education and the whole of the McGowan Labor Government to provide appropriate support and solutions to meet the growing list of problems.

The issues affecting schools in WA are statewide, but they are magnified in regional and remote areas. Finding a suitable house for the principal and new teachers is impossible in some towns.

Government housing and private rentals are rare – they cannot be found anywhere.

I hear a lot of criticism from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education. It’s always someone or something else’s fault. To blame the pandemic for the current workforce crisis or compare us to other states is to ignore the McGowan Labor government’s string of failures since its election in 2017.

With 25 percent of graduates leaving the classroom after five years, the education environment must change. This massive exodus of teachers is not sustainable.

As schools begin to look to the fourth quarter of 2022, the government must focus on valuing and respecting our teachers, to give them a reason to stay in the classroom.

Peter Rundle is the Shadow Minister for Education and Training.

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