Fixing the shortage of teachers in New South Wales requires a serious policy response, not a fly-in fly-out (FIFO) gimmick, the teachers union says.
Using FIFO teachers in regional parts of the state is among a number of solutions being considered by the government to fill gaps caused by the high level of absenteeism due to COVID-19 and influenza.
Some of the initiatives already in place statewide include the use of final year students, retired and temporary teachers.
To date, teachers have taken more than 350,000 days of sick leave — up from 215,000 days during the same period in 2020, according to the education department.
Minister for Education and Early Learning, Sarah Mitchell, acknowledged the challenge faced by schools but said there was a "strong plan" to manage absences.
The situation is expected to worsen as flu cases increase in what NSW Health says is an early commencement to the influenza season this winter.
NSW Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos said the government had for the past 10 years failed to plan for the future, calling the FIFO plan a "band-aid" solution to a problem that went beyond remote parts of the state.
"Well, where are they going to find the teachers from? What schools, from what cities? We have a shortage," he said.
"It appears that this government is only capable of slogan after slogan or gimmick after gimmick.
"We have a crisis, a teacher shortage crisis that requires a serious policy response, a reset to tackle the underlying causes of this shortage, namely uncompetitive pay and crippling workloads."
NSW Deputy Secretary, School Operations and Performance, Murat Dizdar, said after an unprecedented two-and-a-half years, the sector wasn't out of the woods yet.
The decline in graduation rates from teaching courses, coupled with an increase in demand — especially in regional areas — meant all solutions had to be considered.
"Across New South Wales some 80 per cent of our public schools only have one or zero vacancy and don't have the profound staffing challenge that other parts of the state may have," he said.
"I think we shouldn't rule out the minister's suggestion that we should look at how we could fly-in and fly-out parts of the workforce.
"I know that in the health profession, for example, we've seen that model work quite successfully. So it's one that we should look at and consider alongside a broad range of solutions."
Since the beginning of the year, schools have had access to retired teachers to work on a short-term temporary basis or as casuals, with more than 500 taking up the call so far.
Corporate staff who have been accredited to teach and 2,600 final year students have also stepped in to plug the gaps along with casual and temporary staff.
However, Mr Gavrielatos said every day was a scramble.
"We are losing teachers every single day. Every single day hundreds of classes are being interrupted," he said.
In places like Armidale, the workload for teachers was "out of control" and the situation for students was a "disaster", according to President of the Armidale Teachers Association, Michael Sciffer.
"We've got senior classes without teachers, students in year 12 trying to teach themselves the content as they lead up to the HSC," he said.
"There's no learning. What learning is happening is minimal, it's poor quality. It's not preparing our kids for the future. It's undermining their right of access to education."
For Mr Sciffer, who is also a school counsellor, FIFO teachers weren't the answer. He said he would like the government to tackle the fundamental issue of making teaching more attractive.
"My colleagues are struggling with their mental health. They're in tears," he said.
"They're looking at their options regularly. More than half that I've spoken to regularly say they are actively pursuing other opportunities … you can get paid so much more in other professions."