Staffing, student growth and class sizes
Various academic and evidence based research has demonstrated that student outcomes are linked to the amount of individual classroom attention a child receives. It is generally accepted that the more individual attention a student receives, the better chance they have at achieving their best results.
WA public school enrolments across the state continue to see regular growth. Over a decade, the WA public school sector has seen 59,253 more students enrolled in WA public schools, a growth of 23 per cent in student numbers. In contrast, non-government schools have only seen 15,614 more enrolments over the same period, or 11.6 per cent growth.
Despite this growth in enrolments, and an additional 29 new public schools over the past decade, there have only been 2,856 more teachers, 209 more head of departments (HODs)/head of learning areas (HOLAs)/program coordinators (PCs) and 174 more deputy principals employed between 2011 and 2020.
And by 2023, another 18 public schools are scheduled to open.
The combination of successive budget cuts, increasing school enrolments and changes to the schools funding model has seen class sizes reaching full capacity. The 2020 Report on Government Services highlights WA public schools in 2018 as having the highest ratio of students to teachers in Australia – 14.4 (Productivity Commission 2020). This is compared to NT public schools, which have the lowest student- teacher ratio in the country, at 12.4 (Productivity Commission 2020).
The lack of specialist teachers across the system continues to be felt across the state. This means an inability to provide vital support to teachers and school communities. Even in those schools lucky enough to have a degree of specialist support, without sufficient additional time allocated, the potential gains from such specialised help are not realised.
While the most recent loss of specialised support has been the Level 3 Classroom Teacher time component, there has been a significant loss of system support to teachers through the loss of specialist teachers such as Getting It Right Literacy (GIRL) and Getting It Right Numeracy (GIRN) specialist teachers.
With the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic and the periods of time students have been disengaged from education, as well as additional pressures students may be experiencing due to disrupted home lives/reduced family income, many schools require additional support to ensure that each child is fully re-engaged in education. This includes specialist teaching staff and school psychologist time.
In addition to the return of Level 3 Classroom Teacher time, the SSTUWA believes it is crucial to invest in literacy and numeracy specialists to support a variety of students at varying educational needs. Prior to the 2013 education budget cuts, schools had funds to be able to provide GIRL and GIRN specialist teachers.
The SSTUWA seeks an increase in teaching and support staff to lower class sizes and decrease teacher-student ratios.
The SSTUWA seeks to ensure that funding increases in each state budget will:
- Properly meet the increase in student growth.
Take into account the greater increase in student share being experienced in public schools in comparison to the private sector.
The SSTUWA seeks to ensure that there is an adequate number of teaching staff so that the student-teacher ratio in WA public schools can be reduced to at least 12.4.
The SSTUWA seeks a commitment to the provision of additional teachers for specialist support in literacy and numeracy.
The SSTUWA seeks the reinstatement of the 0.1 time allocation for every Level 3 Classroom Teacher.
The SSTUWA seeks an increase of 100 FTE in the number of school psychologists.
The status of teaching
The gradual decline in the status of the teaching profession over the last three decades is reflective of a number of factors.
One of these has been the willingness of universities to accept entrants to the teaching profession with very basic ATAR scores – as low as 30 in some institutions! While the SSTUWA is cognisant of the risks of making assumptions as to potential teaching capacity based on ATAR scores alone, the fact remains that with such low ATAR entry requirements, one of the consequences has been to contribute to a fall in the status of the profession.
Australian Education Union (AEU)/SSTUWA policy is to support the establishment of a minimum ATAR score of 70 for entry into Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses in any Australian university.
The Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education (LANTITE) students that is currently taken at the end of a university teaching course is flawed for a number of reasons:
- It fails to serve as a tool for improvement.
- By conducting this test at the end of an individual’s ITE course it leads to the accrual of a HECS debt with uncertain prospects of being able to enter the profession at the conclusion of the course.
- It allows the university to attract government funding for students with reduced prospects of success.
The AEU/SSTUWA believes that it is far more beneficial to ensure that minimum entrance standards are in place prior to commencing ITE, with a rigorous support system to ensure that beginning teachers are successful in their early years of teaching.
While the SSTUWA acknowledges that there may be exceptional circumstances for alternate pathways into ITE, such as illness, these should be the exception and not the norm. It is not clear how many students entered WA teaching courses with ATARs below 70.
The SSTUWA seeks a commitment from the state government to support a minimum ATAR entrance score of 70 into Initial Teacher Education courses.
The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers, school leaders and TAFE lecturers in our public system is shamefully low because of the inactions of the Barnett Government. In 2020, there are 26,688 students who have identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
Successful engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the teaching profession is essential to educational success for children/ young people, their families and communities.
Clear pathways and partnerships to enhance the attraction, retention and success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in pre-service teacher education, setting them on course for various careers within the public school system, requires systemic actions.
The inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the leadership of initiatives and projects is crucial and currently the Department of Education – with its cultural responsive leadership and a real desire to increase the number of Aboriginal educators and leaders within the public school system – is in a unique position to make this happen.
We acknowledge the work of the Department of Education, particularly in relation to the Aboriginal Aspirant Leadership Program, the AIEO on Country teaching course through Curtin University and support of the Follow the Dream cadetship.
However, despite these initiatives and the development and introduction of the Aboriginal Cultural Standards Framework to support Aboriginal students, more needs to be done to support current and future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers, school leaders and TAFE lecturers, and attract more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the profession.
The SSTUWA seeks a commitment to a continued focus on improving:
- Specific mentoring programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people wishing to become teachers, school leaders and TAFE lecturers.
- Attraction, recruitment and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers, school leaders and TAFE lecturers to the public school system.
The SSTUWA seeks a fully-funded strategy to encourage culturally responsive leadership and develop concrete actions to support the implementation of the Aboriginal Cultural Standards Framework.
Attraction and retention
In its 2017 state election position paper, the SSTUWA made the following observations about attraction and retention of staff in rural areas:
Attracting quality teachers, school leaders and other staff to schools in rural and remote areas has been an ongoing challenge over many years. Due to geographic, job quality or perceived disadvantages, remote schools are not seen as an attractive employment option for the majority of education staff. State government should be highlighting the qualities of rural employment, ensuring that rural schools are attractive worksites and providing the right incentives to retain experienced staff. The attraction and retention of school leaders in regional locations also continues to be an issue. In many cases, there is a lack of leadership and support for new school leaders in remote schools. Professional development and coaching for new school leaders is not resourced sufficiently, and often leaves leaders to face situations without experience or support.
There are several impediments, either real or perceived, which contribute to a lack of enthusiasm from education staff to take up positions in regional areas. The current, very limited, staff transfer system offers little incentive or reward for regional school placement and makes transfers back to metropolitan schools challenging. This is a major impediment to attracting experienced teachers to regional schools.
Support for regional schools continues to be an issue. The closure of district office level support has had a significant impact on the level of support available for regional schools, including curriculum support, professional development, student services, operations management, professionally consultancy, etc. It is recognised that for rural areas the networks model is not suited because of geographic challenges. In particular, SSTUWA members note the lack of relief teacher availability in regional schools.
Additionally, funding for maintenance in ageing schools and access to tradesmen in rural locations continues to be a challenge.
Government Regional Officer Housing (GROH) standards have declined significantly over the last decade. Housing and rent assistance, particularly in regional locations in the Pilbara and Kimberley, does not adequately cover rental and living costs. The sale of the GROH portfolio and its assets, as flagged in the 2015 state budget, will further limit affordable housing options. If GROH is privatised, the service will be forced to cut costs in order to ensure a profit, which will further reduce standards. (SSTUWA 2017)
The SSTUWA reiterates its position on providing appropriate, affordable, clean and regularly maintained accommodation in regional and remote communities for teachers and school leaders.
While there have been some small improvements as a result of the most recent General Agreement negotiations, the basic problems identified in 2017 remain.
The SSTUWA seeks broader policy that aims to attract and retain quality staff in rural schools including:
- Housing and allowances in country locations.
- Addressing selection process issues in both being appointed to rural areas and returning to the metropolitan area.
- Attracting experienced teachers.
- Ensuring rural worksites are of high quality.
The SSTUWA calls for the following specific policy changes in regard to regional schools and teachers:
- Greater flexibility in the staff transfer system to guarantee a pathway of return from regional to metropolitan school placement and the capacity to maintain permanency on return.
- Recognition amongst metropolitan merit selection panel chairs of the complexities and subsequent skill sets of country-based teachers and leaders.
- Positive affirmation professional learning.
- Recognition that leadership should be assessed primarily on skill set and endeavours more so than accomplishments over time.
- A review of the Regional Transfer System application process.
- Permanency offered to all regional teaching appointments.
- Reversal of funding cuts and sale of GROH, and adequate rent allowances for regional teachers that are increased at the rate of the consumer price index (CPI) annually.
- A review of the Tenant Rent Setting Framework Policy, specifically in regards to the calculation of GROH rents based on Perth median rental prices, age of the house, quality of the house, distance from major centres and capped increases.
- Increased spending on GROH maintenance to ensure a targeted program of improvements.
- Expansion of the five days of additional sick/carers leave, currently included in the CTP and RTS, to all regional locations.
- An extension of the period for which air conditioning allowances are payable.
- An increase in the air conditioning allowance.
- Introduction of funded mentor positions for new teachers appointed to regional locations.
- The reinstatement of district office level support to increase access for regional teachers to support services.
- Expansion of the relief teacher flying squad to ensure access to relief teachers in regional schools.
- Increased funding for regional school maintenance and greater access to tradespersons in regional areas.
- Parity in allowances for school psychologists in regional areas.
- That the Department of Education investigate the feasibility of salary packaging options, including mortgages, for employees in regional areas.
The SSTUWA calls for:
- A continuation of the freeze of the 2017 GROH rent increases for teachers and school leaders and a commitment that there will be no further increases for the term of this state government.