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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Tamsin Rose

Teacher vacancies hit 2,000 across NSW as some schools record 14 unfilled roles

Children in a classroom
Twenty schools accounted for almost 8% of all teacher vacancies across NSW. Photograph: Chris Bull/Alamy

The number of permanent teacher vacancies in New South Wales surged past 2,000 in July, with some schools looking for more than a dozen new staff amid an ongoing stoush between the union and the government over pay and conditions.

Department of Education figures from July, which were contained in a briefing to the state’s education minister, Sarah Mitchell, and seen by Guardian Australia, revealed two schools had up to 14 full-time-equivalent roles vacant.

Twenty schools accounted for almost 8% of all teacher vacancies across the state at the time. More than 60% of schools had at least one slot unfilled, more than 15% had at least two vacancies and more than 2% had more than five.

However, Mitchell said picking a “random point in time to delineate vacancy rates” does not show the reality of any workforce.

“The NSW public education system has a stable staff vacancy rate of around 3%, which is very low for a system of our size,” Mitchell said.

“The latest data shows that 7 out of 10 public schools have no vacancies, or only one.”

One of the schools with the highest vacancy rate across the state is Merryland’s Holroyd high school, which serves students with intellectual disabilities, autism and those who have just arrived from overseas and require intensive language support.

The principal, Kylie Adams, struggles to staff her classes, with seven fewer teachers than she should have.

“[Classes of] kids with intellectual disabilities and autism are merged,” she said. “Students and teachers are struggling not through any fault of their own.”

Adams said knowing more than 500 students under her care were not getting the best education the state could offer them due to understaffing was “breaking my spirit”.

Two more teachers recently announced they were leaving her school, and Adams said she could see why.

“It’s disempowering, it’s frustrating,” she said. “When a staff member tells me they are applying for a job elsewhere, I have nothing to say, but it’s gut-wrenching.”

Adams said the extra challenges during the Covid pandemic had caused some teachers to leave the profession early and others to move into the private system.

The NSW Teacher Supply Strategy showed in June 2021 there were 995 permanent vacancies across the state. Thirteen months later, it had surged past 2,000, amid repeated warnings from the Teachers Federation that staff would leave if they were not offered better pay and conditions.

Union members will on Wednesday rally outside the Industrial Relations Commission as the government attempts to push through a new three-year award. The president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Angelo Gavrielatos, said the government offer represented a real wages cut that would drive more people from the profession.

“You can’t fix the teacher shortage problem without fixing the wages and workload problem,” Gavrielatos said.

“Right now we have a crisis in our classrooms. Kids are missing out in public and private schools because of the shortages and teachers are burning out.”

Last week, the premier announced teachers would be given extra time off from face-to-face teaching to support the rollout of the new curriculum.

“For high school teachers, this additional time will mean that they will now have the equivalent of almost one full day every week for lesson planning,” Dominic Perrottet said.

Guardian Australia last week revealed a shortage of school counsellors across the state meant students were going without disability assessments and early interventions.

Department of Education figures revealed there was one counsellor for every 650 students in August, not accounting for staff on uncovered leave – meaning the reality was far worse – despite a recommendation for at least one school counsellor for every 500 students.

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