Two western NSW teachers running for Labor in the upcoming election are speaking out on the state's education crisis. They say government policies leading to understaffed schools and a burned-out workforce are failing country kids.
Labor candidate for Dubbo, Josh Black, has seen the challenges teachers across the state are facing first-hand while teaching at local high schools in Dubbo.
"I'm very passionate about the education sector. I worked in the public system for 11 years, before leaving because I wanted to work at a 7 to 12 high school, and the staffing shortages are particularly bad in our region," he said.
"Everyone knows there's a massive teacher shortage out here. They know that their children are sitting out in the playground on minimal supervision learning nothing, for multiple periods a day."
Last year, Dubbo College's Delroy Campus was revealed as the second most difficult school in the state to staff, according to Department of Education figures.
According to the school's internal records, there were no teachers for more than 1,400 periods in Term 1 of 2022 at the school. In Term 2, there were more than 1,200 periods that could not be staffed at Delroy.
During these periods, students were placed on minimal supervision sessions on the school's back oval in groups which sometimes exceeded 200 students. Merged classes of up to 50 students were also commonplace.
And it's not just Dubbo College that's struggling. Joshua Roberts-Garnsey - who is running for the seat of Barwon - moved to Narrabri in 2021 to become a science teacher at Narrabri High School, which he says is also "in crisis".
"Teaching is a job that's integral to Australia, education is such an important component of society. You go into teaching with this idealism that education breaks the cycle of poverty and abuse," Mr Roberts-Garnsey said.
"But if we can't get teachers into classrooms, and challenge students, then all is going to be lost. We're letting kids down and we need to address it. It's a crisis."
He said the "excessive workload" piled onto new teachers often leads to burn out. Data shows one in nine early-career teachers in NSW left the profession within five years of commencing.
"You work over 60 hours a week teaching and preparing lessons, we're overburdened with admin workload and there's an increased casualisation of the workforce. It's a lot," he said.
"A lot of the workforce is being made up of new teachers - but then they're getting inundated with an excessive workload and, on top of that, they have to be working towards accreditations so they can get a pay rise."
Mr Roberts-Garnsey said students in struggling country schools "get used to" the high turnover of teachers in their classroom which can often result in behavioural issues and makes it a "more difficult experience" for new teachers coming in.
"Because teachers are leaving, kids can't get used to having certain teachers in the classroom," he said.
"It takes a couple of years for a teacher to really establish themselves at a school - and if teachers don't stick around for longer than that the kids just expect teachers to leave and so they put pressure on them.
"It's an endless negative cycle - it leads to anti-social behaviour and more suspensions which disadvantages kids and then leads to further teacher burnout."
Mr Black said, if elected to government after March 25, getting more teachers into the classroom and supporting them to stay in their roles would be a top priority for the Labor party.
"A couple of the important plans are converting 10,000 casual and temporary teachers to permanent positions. Why would someone move from Sydney - where the biggest population base is - out to a rural and regional area if they can't get a permanent position," he said.
"Also, cutting admin hours by five hours a week - the workload on teachers has gotten out of control pushing paperwork."
Also on the education agenda for Labor should they come out on top are policies to restrict the use of mobile phones in all NSW public schools and establishing a $400 million Education Future Fund and a permanent and ongoing Literacy and Numeracy tutoring program.
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