Government must turn learning disruption denial into action on student catch-up

The Australian Education Union says increased teacher and staff absences in schools show the Rockliff Government is in denial about the scale of disruption to student learning this year.

“If the State Government can’t even acknowledge the scale of the disruption caused in schools, how can families and teachers have any confidence in their ability to address the impact on student learning and ensure Term 2 is safer and fully staffed?” said AEU Tasmania State Manager Brian Wightman.

“Schools are really struggling to cope, student learning is suffering and our Government seems to be turning a blind eye.”

The Rockliff Government’s Term 2 COVID schools plan largely mirrors the Term 1 plan which has seen record COVID case numbers and absences for staff and students.

The AEU’s ongoing schools data collection shows staff absences continue to disrupt student learning with a new high of 112 staff absences recorded at a single school in Week 9 of Term 1.

Several public schools reported more than 50 staff absences in the final two weeks of Term 1, with a statewide average of over 20 per week.

Mr Wightman said the State Government was trying its best to paint a rosy picture about the state of conditions in Tasmania’s public schools.

“You know the rock has fallen off the cliff when teachers with 20-plus years’ experience are reporting conditions as the worst they’ve ever seen,” he said. “We have schools saying they simply can’t cope, and teachers resigning due to the impact of COVID-19.”

“Education Minister Roger Jaensch has refused to provide the full picture on staff absences, ignoring absences from close contacts, sickness other than COVID, non-teaching staff who need to be replaced, symptomatic staff and all other reasons.”

“Students have a lot of learning to catch up on, but the catch up required by the Government is even greater. There’s still no plan to make classrooms COVID-safe in winter that would improve classroom ventilation and reduce the disruption we saw in Term 1.”

Mr Wightman said the Rockliff Government needed to act immediately, pointing to the Victorian Government-adopted $250 million ‘Tutor Learning Initiative’ designed to recruit 4,100 teaching professionals to provide dedicated and individualised support for on-site student learning catch-up.

“One thing is certain – maintaining student learning in widespread disruption requires additional resources and serious commitment from the Rockliff Government – we are yet to see either,” he said. “Teachers, principals and school staff went into the Term 1 break exhausted and worried Term 2 will be more of the same. We have a new Premier and new Education Minister, it’s time we see a new approach of genuine listening, transparency and action.”