A dire need for extra classroom teachers in the Riverina region has left some schools having to leave students "on the front lawns" unsupervised for hours at a time, a teachers federation inquiry has heard.
Fronting the NSW Teachers Federation inquiry on Tuesday, Murrumbidgee Regional High School deputy principal Richard Wiseman told of his school's ongoing recruitment troubles.
Mr Wiseman told the inquiry about his year-long struggle to source a music teacher. An advertisement for the position has been run four times but to no avail.
The first two times, Mr Wiseman told the inquiry, there were no applicants. The third time, an applicant was offered the job but declined after finding a position "closer to home".
"Four times I've tried to this position with no success," Mr Wiseman told the inquiry.
Contacted by this masthead, Mr Wiseman explained that the position is now filled through a time-share between the school's two sites.
Speaking to Australian Community Media, Mr Wiseman explained his belief that the situation would be helped if the school was able to offer better incentives to re-locate to the Riverina.
He said the 2012 introduction of the 'local schools, local decisions' policy by the NSW Department of Education has effectively required that schools in regional areas now compete against metro-based cities for teachers.
"It's made coast schools more attractive but it's made finding teachers in rural areas even harder," Mr Wiseman said.
To address the issue, Mr Wiseman suggested the department of education re-introduce a more widespread centralised staffing system.
Riverina organiser for the NSW Teachers Federation, John Pratt, told ACM the system was effective during the 1980s when greater incentives could be offered to teachers who were willing to relocate to rural areas for a time.
"We need those incentives to get people to come to the bush," Mr Pratt said.
"These days it's hard to get a transfer back to where you'd like to be, where your roots are, so the incentive is not there to risk the move, to begin with."
According to Mr Pratt, some schools including those in Ariah Park and Ardlethan are still able to offer incentive schemes that will see a teacher bumped to the top of the transfer list if they stay for five years.
But schools with equal staffing issues in neighbouring towns - including Griffith - are not able to offer the same rewards.
As a result, Mr Wiseman said, it has left the school in a long-term teacher deficit.
"This year, it's been a regular thing that students on both sites have had to be left unsupervised because we don't have the teachers to cover the classes.
"It's something that predates COVID and it's something that's not going away."
Mr Pratt told ACM the problem was far from an isolated occurrence, with many schools around the region lamenting the same staffing issue.
"Absolutely [it's happening] all over. No-one is winning," Mr Pratt said.
"If you can't cover classes the only alternative is to have the students out in the quadrangle or somewhere under minimal supervision, or you have teachers covering extra classes, or taking extra students into their classes."
Mr Pratt said the situation had led to many "time-poor teachers" having to cover for their absent colleagues on a semi-regular basis.
"They're not being relieved of other tasks [to take extra classes] instead they're having to penalise their own classes or leave students under minimal supervision," he said.
"We need casual teachers attached to every school that can be called upon for the continuity of all students."
The situation does not only affect the recruitment and retention of teachers, but also the staff in non-teaching roles.
At the inquiry on Tuesday, Mr Wiseman told of how a school counsellor had to be borrowed from a neighbouring school when a student presented in critical need.
Usually, the Griffith school would have a counsellor on hand four days a week, but an absence forced a problem.
"Last week, there wasn't [a counsellor] at the school for four days, and lucky we were able to access the neighbouring school's counsellor [on short notice] because a student was threatening self-harm," Mr Wiseman told the inquiry.
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