Page 844 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 6 April 2022

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Due to nationwide staff shortages, long-term and systemic underfunding of public education by the federal government, and other systemic economic and social issues, teachers these days are expected to deliver an ever-intensive curriculum and undertake a variety of other demanding roles within our schools. These roles include, but are not limited to, administration and holistic student and family support. This was reiterated by Mr Judge, the Secretary of the AEU in his appearance at the Standing Committee’s inquiry into teaching quality. Mr Judge informed the committee that:

In the last couple of years, and particularly over this COVID period, what we have heard more and more, and louder and louder, is that public schools … are stepping in where our social welfare systems fail and attempting to provide social welfare support to parents and to students.

That has been particularly acute around those issues where there is insecure work and parents are unable to take the time off when their children do have a problem. That takes up huge amounts of time. Whenever our members find themselves having to assist with housing, arrange medical appointments, or whatever the welfare need may be, mental health care support is a common one as well, that takes up hours and hours of a day, or days and days of time for multiple staff …

It is a difficult one for our members because they know the impact that those disadvantages have on the ability of students to turn up and focus on their schoolwork. But they also know that it is not necessarily something that it should be their job to be fixing.

What Mr Judge’s evidence tells us is that systemic issues of insecure work and the woefully inadequate provision of social security and welfare systems in this country are bearing down on our local public schools. While these issues impact all schools in Canberra, there is no doubt that those schools most impacted by social and economic marginalisation face compounding challenges within their communities.

The ACT government has deployed a range of measures to increase the number of social supports in our schools. These include increasing the number of youth and social workers to take this burden off our teachers and help students and their families who are experiencing these intersecting difficulties. The ACT Greens strongly support this work and are committed to advocating for increased mental health and social supports in our schools. The work of differentiating teaching responsibilities from student and family welfare should be a part of the teacher shortage task force’s strategic considerations.

Given that the federal budget was handed down last week, it would be remiss of me not to mention the impact of ongoing underfunding of the public education system by the federal government. While this motion tries to hide the role of federal funding in producing the challenging systemic issues our schools are facing, it is undeniable that this is a budget that at best neglects the public system and at worst continues a direct attack upon it. The cuts to public schools’ funding from the 2021-22 budget add up to almost half a billion dollars over the next three years. In contrast, private schools are seeing an almost $2.5 billion increase over the same period. This comes at a time

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