24 May 2022
For immediate release
WA’s public-school leaders are currently facing an unprecedented staffing crisis across WA as increasingly high numbers of covid cases continue to impact the availability of both permanent and relief teachers.
The responsibilities of school leaders have escalated throughout the pandemic as they continue to grapple with ongoing staff absentees and the Education Department’s inability to provide sufficient relief staff to cover the shortages.
Principals Federation of WA (PFWA) President, Bevan Ripp, believes that the Department, although it is trying its best with limited resources, should be lobbying Government harder to support school leaders at a time when they are finding it increasingly difficult to adequately staff their classrooms and provide the quality of education for which our public schools are renowned.
He said the response from the Department to school leaders continued calls for more support and assistance to fill escalating staffing gaps was insufficient and put all the responsibility back onto Principals to cover ongoing staff shortages.
He said the department had told Principals “They must consider all local solutions to provide coverage for any staff absent due to COVID-related reasons. This means schools are expected to exhaust options such as postponing professional learning and cancelling off-site meetings, collapsing classes, using relief staff, and administrators teaching.”
“The Government is expecting school leaders to deliver nigh on the impossible. We are concerned and we acknowledge that parents are also concerned and frustrated,” he said.
“We seek the community’s support and recognition that school leaders are doing everything they can to meet the needs of students and their families while sustaining high-quality learning in a safe environment. However, impacting on this is a staffing crisis school leaders cannot fix because the human resource is simply not there” Mr Ripp said.
The response from the Minister has been to establish a Ministerial Hotline for Principals, which flies in the face of long-established Public-Sector protocols.
“Feedback from Principals so far is it is a complete waste of time, an exercise in appearing to do something without actually achieving anything.”
“What would be better received by our members is the Minister recognising the value our school leaders bring to public education by advocating strongly for an industrial agreement that reflects the complexity and demands of their role,” he said.
Mr Ripp said he had heard from numerous school leaders across WA who were at the end of their tether trying to grapple with the current staffing crisis.
“At the moment it is a full-time job just to do staffing. We have 23 members of staff off tomorrow so far… I don’t know what the answer is, but this is not sustainable. The message needs to be seriously heard and action taken,” was the feedback from one member.
And from another: “I’ve just lost my school Psychologist, head cleaner, another teacher, and 2 more EAs to COVID and received my second cranky parent email for the day. What can I say? They are correct that their child is not getting the quality they deserve. Absolutely correct!”
“At what point can we collapse schools together? Or close them!? There is no learning happening here – staff just supervising for safety, avoiding the risk of accident whilst injuries are increasing,” another PFWA member said.
Mr Ripp said that more support is needed from ministerial and government bodies through tangible means before we lose more school leaders through burnout and lack of support.
“School leaders are seeking the support of parents in understanding that public schools are experiencing a turbulent and difficult time, and it is certainly not business as usual, as the Government would have them believe.
“Education assistants, teachers and school leaders are working under extreme pressure trying their hardest to retain teaching and learning continuity in a very complex and challenging environment,” Mr Ripp said.
“School leaders have the responsibility for setting the conditions in which staff, students and the broader school community thrive, and they deserve an industrial agreement which recognises and rewards this extremely complex role. Currently, there is no incentive to attract good classroom practitioners into school leadership and this needs to change so our public schools continue the vital role they play in ensuring our young people are given the best educational opportunities available to them,” he said.
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