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Last Friday a school in Orange was forced to merge 15 classes into one; staff in "despair": Donato

Stock image.

By Peter Holmes

The staff shortage at one high school in Orange saw 15 classes merged into one last Friday, according to state MP Phil Donato, who has spoken about the "despair" felt by staff at the school.

In a speech to parliament last night Donato said that Canobolas Rural Technology High School was in "crisis", and that the government needed to increase incentives to attract and retain teachers, administrative staff and support staff.

Donato said that in 2021, 849 classes at the school were either "merged or uncovered", meaning students were left sharing a teacher with other classes, or being monitored by a staff member.

"As of today, there have been a staggering 798 uncovered or merged classes for 2022," Donato told the parliament. "Last Friday the school had 15 classes merged into one in their school hall.

"Sadly that is a frequent occurrence; that's just one school in hundreds in regional NSW experiencing significant teacher shortages and, worse, children going without critical education."

He told The Orange News Examiner on Thursday morning that his data had come from a local union delegate and teacher.

Donato said the number of students negatively impacted was "shocking".

Students in the hall last year. Facebook.

"A reasonable person would consider the teacher shortage at Canobolas High .. most certainly meets the definition of a crisis," he told parliament.

"I have met with some of the passionate and caring teachers and staff of Canobolas High who are in despair.

"The pleas of teachers and Teachers Federation representatives for help have landed on deaf ears."

He said there was also a "growing psychological crisis for teachers, administrative and support staff, who out of the goodness of their hearts and their dedication to their students and their profession, are taking on additional workloads and consequential stress to help students who are missing out on teacher-led education".

In his speech, Donato said that on March 2 this year during a committee education minister Sarah Mitchell "went on the record denying a teacher supply crisis".

"The parents of children who are losing out on their education would be be justifiably outraged," Donato said.

"Education is a fundamental right in a first world democratic nation but this government has been derelict.

"The teacher shortage at Canobolas High isn’t a suddenly emerging issue. I made the minister aware of this last year and made a reasonable suggestion … to attract teachers to the school."

Donato said that in May 2021 he asked Mitchell to consider permanently awarding Canobolas High "four points of benefit to attract and retain teachers". The government has a "benefit" scale that allows schools to offer teachers extra incentives.

Canobolas High currently has a benefit of one, Donato said, which "does nothing to attract teachers to fill vacancies".

"At that point in time there were 15 teacher vacancies, and the school had experienced a 50 percent turnover in teaching staff during the preceding two years," Donato said.

"In the minister’s response to my suggestions she wrote, and I quote: 'The government is currently reviewing the incentives used to attract and retain teachers to rural and remote parts of NSW. The aim of the rural and remote incentives review is to assess the effectiveness of the current scheme and provide recommendations for improvement'.”

Donato said that "given some teacher positions at the school still remain unfilled and the number of uncovered or merged classes is worsening, it is clear existing incentives are insufficient to attract and retain teachers to the school".


He said he recently asked the minister to "consider applying a six-point benefit to the school, which would be a real and meaningful incentive to attract teachers and support staff".

Six benefit point incentives could include an annual "retention" payment, a rental subsidy up to 70 percent, and a trial placement at the school before committing.

The MP said he feared "burn out" among teachers and support staff.

"Which is unfair on them, and their families. And we’ll see more teachers eventually leave the school or possibly even leave the profession altogether.

"When the minister said she’s incentivising it, it's just lip service."

He called on the government "to consider the welfare of overworked teachers and support staff and the students whose education is being neglected as a result of their inaction to address the chronic teacher shortage, which is now an education crisis".


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