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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Sarah Lansdown

ACT public schools missing more than 100 teachers as winter illnesses hit

Education Minister Yvette Berry said there were 4797 reports on occupational safety from public school staff since the beginning of the year. Picture by Karleen Minney

The ACT Education Directorate is struggling to fill more than 100 vacancies in the public school system as campuses have been hit with seasonal illnesses.

An ACT budget estimates hearing was told on Friday there were 111 vacant positions, made up of 78 temporary positions and 33 permanent jobs.

Education Directorate executive group manager business services David Matthews said schools were encouraged to have inbuilt relief so they could cover absences with their existing staff.

"The pressure is real and it's important to acknowledge that," Mr Matthews said.

He said every school was budgeted to have one teacher per every 13.3 students.

"We do have the best-funded schools in Australia. The question is the supply of staff and the availability of staff."

The directorate filled 251 teaching positions between January 1 and July 3 this year.

A new recruitment campaign starting on August 7 will focus on the benefits under the new public school teachers' enterprise agreement which will boost classroom teacher salaries to $100,000 after two years of service by 2025.

Australian Education Union ACT branch president Angela Burroughs said schools across all districts of Canberra were suffering from high levels of staff absences.

"We were aware of quite a number of schools facing a lot of staffing challenges last term, and ... there's nothing that would suggest that that's going to change in the immediate future," Ms Burroughs said.

Some schools have been changing their timetables, directing students to study independently and playing videos in class to deal with the day-to-day staffing challenges.

Ms Burroughs said the issues of staff safety, workloads and the shortage of teachers were interrelated.

Education Minister Yvette Berry told the estimates hearing that between January 1 and June 27 there were 4797 reports made in the occupational safety riskman program by 1488 staff members.

Ms Berry said there was an increase in reporting culture around occupational violence and also a heightened level of anxiety following the pandemic which had contributed to safety incidents.

A sustainable workload management committee will be formed with members drawn from the union, school leaders and directorate executives to find ways to cut down on unnecessary tasks performed by teachers and principals.

Ms Burroughs said there was a "deficit of trust" between staff and the directorate on workload issues. She said there could be scope for more functions to be centralised, as is the plan for school building support services.

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