Fixes needed to reach state’s education goal

A state goal of “leading the nation in education” will become unreachable unless we address the chronic shortfalls impacting Tasmania’s government schools and student learning conditions.

The past two years has seen educator workload increase at a rate of knots without adequate resourcing to match, and now many Tasmanian teachers are questioning their futures in a profession that they stay in for the students.

Newly minted education minister Tanya Plibersek was right in blasting outgoing Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s election concession speech for not acknowledging our frontline workers, including teachers, who have been key in propelling our economy in recent years.

Without the ongoing hard work of all school staff over the past two years, we’d be in a much worse situation than we are now.

As workloads and staff absence rates – as many as 100 per week in some schools – have climbed, it seems outlandish that nothing has been done to address the mounting pressures in our public schools.

The Government’s COVID in Schools plan, while welcome, does little to tackle the underlying issues our education system is facing.

Tasmanian schools are at breaking point, with teacher burnout the rifest it’s ever been, so now is the time for action.

The 2017 pledge from now Premier Jeremy Rockliff to make Tasmania a leader in education won’t come to fruition magically, real investment is needed.

The election of a new Federal Government brings with it opportunity to address some shortfalls, but first our State Government needs to get serious about the state of our schools.

Our students’ learning conditions cannot be overlooked.  Any public-school teacher could share with you a horror story their school has endured this week – that might be a relief coordinator making 28 phone calls to fill a staff absence, before eventually collapsing a class.

The problems need addressing now before things get worse.

We’ve seen in Victoria in recent weeks a shift to online learning to soften the blow of increased teacher unavailability.

In NSW this week, education staff without adequate training are being “conscripted” to fill Covid-related vacancies at schools to plug holes in a broader crisis.

The fact is, our schools are grossly underfunded, some as many as $3m per year, as found out in the Gonski Review some years ago.

Resources are low, teacher numbers are nowhere near what they should be, meanwhile state private schools are receiving four times the amount of government funding.

Tasmania’s teacher crisis is real, with very few relief teachers available to cover the burnout our contracted educators are dealing with day in, day out.

Our new Federal Government’s pre-election pitch to parents involved topping up funding to under-funded public schools in the 2023 school funding agreement, butit is an aspiration and not a promise.

Teachers, parents and schools need certainty.

Before the 2019 election Labor promised $14bn over 10 years for public education, but the Party has not recommitted to the policy. 

Federal Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has said Labor will “work with every state and territory to get every school on a pathway to reaching its fair funding level”.

The question is, will our State Government work with its Federal counterpart to lift the learning for our students?

Tasmania’s Education Minister Roger Jaensch was this month quoted in the Examiner saying “Tasmanian students deserve their fair share of funding”. So, will he do all in his power to ensure that happens?

Thursday’s State Budget is a huge opportunity for our State to deliver an education plan needed to lift learning for all students.

It cannot repeat the horror of the Liberal Party’s Federal budget earlier this year which saw $33.7m cut from Tasmanian public schools.

Minister Ferguson’s maiden Budget presents a choice for the new State Treasurer – stand up for Tasmanian students and families or continue to put politics first and follow Federal cuts.

Staff shortages and improving student learning, including reduced class sizes, and more support for new educators must feature firmly when the Budget is delivered on Thursday.

We need an immediate increase in professional support staff such as school psychologists and social workers to meet the ever-growing needs of our students.

We cannot one day lead the nation in education if we continue failing our students today.

  • David Genford, AEU Tasmania President