Teachers needed: Department wants bureaucrats back in class as COVID takes hold

Key points

  • The spread of COVID-19 and influenza has left many Victorian state schools short of teachers.
  • A number of bureaucrats working for the Education Department remain registered teachers.
  • The department has offered those willing to return to the classroom expenses-paid placements as relief teachers in regional and rural Victoria.
  • The department has also encouraged retired teachers back to classrooms and allowed near-graduates to take relief roles to help cover for the sick staff.

Education department staff who are still registered as teachers are being offered expenses-paid stays in regional and rural Victoria to fill casual relief shifts at schools hit hard by COVID-related staff shortages.

Influenza and COVID-19 cases have hit many schools hard this term. There is also a statewide shortage of casual relief teachers. Schools have split classes and, in some cases, sent certain year levels home, temporarily, to learn remotely. But, in all but a few instances, schools have stayed open.

The education department is offering registered teachers expenses-paid stays in regional Victoria to plug COVID-related teacher shortages in rural schools.Credit:

Victoria’s education department secretary, Jenny Atta, has urged any staff who retain teacher registration to step forward to work as relief teachers in government schools “due to the continuing high level of COVID-19 transmission across the Victorian community”.

“For staff willing and able to relocate for one or more days to provide relief teaching support in a rural location or regional centre, financial support will be available to cover all incurred expenses, including travel, accommodation and meals,” Atta wrote in a departmental email last month.

The department is also seeking staff to make themselves available to fill gaps in metropolitan schools.

The callout to office staff to return to classrooms came as a separate initiative to use fourth-year teaching students faltered, in part due to a lukewarm reception from schools.

More than 400 university students in the final year of their teaching degree were granted special permission to teach in government and Catholic schools suffering staff shortages this year. But so far, just over 80 of them have been deployed.

The scheme is well-meaning but flawed, one Catholic school teachers’ representative said.

“The reason that it hasn’t been picked up very much is there are a whole range of extra pressures put on already stretched staff,” the source said. “They do need to be mentored, and asking a teacher to mentor and keep an eye on a [teaching] student is problematic.”

Teachers are also dealing with difficult behaviour from some students.

“We are having kids that are not coping well with being back in school settings, so you can’t really throw them into that,” the source said.

“You don’t want to put your least experienced people in a situation that has the most complexity.”

There are also limitations in how the teaching students can be deployed. They can only be used to fill short-term vacancies caused by teacher absences because of COVID-19 illness or isolation requirements.

An Education Department spokesman said officials were working closely with schools facing COVID-related staff shortages, including establishing a pool of almost 1000 extra teachers to call upon.

“Whether it’s through normal casual relief teacher process, using department staff who are registered teachers, or our Job Opportunity pool of retired, pre-service or career-break teachers, we’re supporting government schools to stay open and continue learning face to face,” the spokesman said.

“Schools are best placed to make informed decisions in relation to actual, rather than reported, staffing pressures.”

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