Hard-working Tasmanian teachers starved of acknowledgement

TASMANIAN teachers and school staff are less than impressed with a government determined to spin figures and claim credit for student retention rates.

Not only are the selective figures used by the government misleading, claiming credit overlooks our hardworking teachers and school staff who go over and above every day to keep students engaged in learning.

Any credit should rightfully go to them.

Just as perplexing was the Mercury [Editorial 22/02/2021] giving the government a pat on the back for its “good job with this policy”, even after new figures confirm retention numbers (fulltime and part-time) in Tasmania holding at around 80 percent since the Liberals formed government in 2014.

In fact, our public colleges have been performing above the national average for many years when it comes to retention and it is below average retention in non-government schools that brings our statewide figures down.

Spruiking a spurious improvement in student retention rates was an especially interesting boast by the Government amid new ABS figures showing a drop in Year 11-12 student retention rates, as pointed out by Tasmanian economist Saul Eslake.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

It is all a distraction really from what the government does not want you to know: the school funding agreement signed by our state and federal Liberal governments guarantees that our public schools will remain underfunded.

The problem could not be clearer:

The federal government sets a Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) based on the resources that a school needs to meet their students’ needs.

The state-federal school funding agreement leaves every public school behind this minimum standard right through to 2027, possibly longer.

The federal government has capped their public-school funding contribution at 20 percent of their needs (the SRS). The Tasmanian Government has agreed to meet only 75 percent of the funding required, so every school is left five percent short.

The Tasmanian Government will not even achieve that 75 percent commitment until 2027, so the shortfall is worse than that for students today and for the next six years.

Five percent is a big chunk of every school’s budget. It could mean extra teachers to reduce class sizes or deliver specialist classes like science, maths, languages, art, music, drama or technology.

Five percent is additional education support personnel for students who most need it or administration staff to relieve the bureaucratic burden from teachers.

Five percent is why every teacher continues to spend an average of over $500 every year out of their own pockets on basic supplies for their students.

The shortfall is worse than five percent – an accounting trick counts a further four percent of state government funding that never reaches a school budget to be included in their contribution.

That is around $1.2 BILLION short of what governments know our schools and students need right out to 2027.

A billion is a big number, impossible for us to grasp really. It is around $6 million missing, on average, from each Tasmanian public school.

Some schools are bigger, some smaller, so of course this number varies, but that is a lot of teachers, support staff, school psychologists, speech therapists, basic materials and learning needs.

The commitment to fund the extension to years 11 and 12 in all Tasmanian government high schools will be welcomed by most schools, especially in rural, remote, and regional areas where colleges are out of reach. But we must not lose sight of where education resourcing is most needed.

Retention begins long before Year 10.

It is our early years educators who have the most influence. They help students form a lifelong relationship to learning and the statistics confirm that investment in these early years drives success in later years.

We should be focusing on getting all educators and their students the resources they need, rather than government policy that does not tell the full story.

The government program to extend all high schools beyond Year 10 shows that when there is a political commitment, money can be found. It is time to find that money and commitment for every public school and every student, from early years to completion.

Educators are smarter than government spin and know substance when they see it: every school, and every student in every year, deserve the resources for a quality education and our governments are selling them short.

Words: Brian Wightman, AEU Tasmanian Branch state manager