16 May 2023

Fed-up parents pulling the plug on public school system due to teacher and counsellor shortage

| Daniel Burdon
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protesting teachers and families

Teachers and their families marching during a 24-hour strike in June 2022. Photo: Chris Roe.

The dire staff shortage in the Riverina public education system extends to counsellors in one of Wagga Wagga’s largest schools, while some parents have chosen to move their children into private education due to the lack of staff.

One parent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said their child had been unable to access a school counsellor, and others had been forced to seek mental health support through the hospital system as a result of the lack of counsellors available.

It comes as bullying increased, the parent, and other sources, said, as the lack of teachers was hitting families harder in the past 12 months – a shortage that meant families were “suffering” and many had decided to send their children to private schools as a result.

READ ALSO NSW teacher shortage still crippling public schools across the Riverina

“We have already suffered a lot because of the shortage, and it’s not just teachers, but our child has missed out on sports excursions, there isn’t enough counsellors to support them, and bullying and body shaming are increasing,” the parent said.

“Often there is meant to be two school counsellors working, but mostly it’s only one. We know of classes that have been condensed from two to one, and we as parents have had the discussion about whether we move our daughter into a private school.

“We feel like we made the wrong choice.”

The shortage of at least 2200 teachers across NSW has already been the subject of numerous union strikes, two state parliamentary inquiries, and a pledge by the new State Government to move some 10,000 temporary teachers and 6000 support staff into permanent roles.

While Deputy Premier and Education Minister Pru Car has said in a statement that the government expects 1400 teachers would be eligible to be transferred from temporary to permanent contracts, it is unclear how, or when, the government plans to move the remaining 8600 teaching staff.

READ ALSO Students at Griffith school miss ‘1500 classes’ as rural teacher shortage worsens

The statement says eligible staff would have to have worked at a single school for at least three years, and still be working there, for the first “priority cohort” that would focus on the state’s “highest-need students” and communities and would include Aboriginal education officers and “schools that have desperately struggled to find staff”.

Staff to be moved onto permanent contracts under the scheme were currently expected to start as permanent employees on the first day of term three this year.

But the parents Region has spoken with have suggested more needs to be done in regional areas, including the Riverina, particularly for students with disabilities or other special needs, and the NSW Teachers Federation has said that schools across the region had been forced to merge classes.

The federation’s Riverina country organiser, Jack O’Brien, has previously said Tumut High School was among those affected, with some 94 classes for Higher School Certificate (HSC) students at the school being held without a qualified teacher, and students instead supervised by a librarian.

The NSW Department of Education was unable to respond by deadline to questions for this report.

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