27 June 2023
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:28): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development on the topic of teacher shortages at regional schools.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: On 4 April, The Advertiser reported that our four regional schools were struggling to fill teacher vacancies for any longer than 19 days, which is the maximum length of a relief teaching contract, and that one of those schools, Lucindale Area School, has been unable to find a permanent replacement to teach its year 8 to year 10 maths and science since the start of the year. My office has also been advised that Whyalla secondary school has been carrying three unfilled vacancies in 2022 and that there have been as many as eight unfilled vacancies during 2023.
The problem is not limited to Whyalla. I understand some reports have been heard from Port Augusta and the broader country regions. Across the state there are between 40 and 50 unfilled teacher vacancies, according to the Department for Education.
The Advertiser quoted the Australian Education Union of South Australia's President, Andrew Gohl, who said finding qualified educators was a widespread problem and that 'most country schools will be experiencing this now or have experienced it in the last 12 months'. He went on to say that short-term solutions such as offering $10,000 extra as an incentive to find a qualified maths or science teacher are proving ineffective, and that the excessive workload for teaching needs to be addressed.
He has also added that there needs to be additional country incentives, such as access to quality housing, as some teachers are starting their teaching career living in a caravan or in a motel room. I note that the official government of South Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regions website states that the minister is committed to regional development, improving educational opportunities, along with supporting small business and promoting the importance of primary industry sectors. My question therefore to the minister is:
1. Is the minister concerned about the impacts of teacher shortages on development in the regions and educational opportunities for regional people?
2. What action has the minister taken to address the problem?
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (15:30): I thank the honourable member for his question, and certainly I echo some of the quotes that he made in there that attracting qualified educators is a widespread problem, and in common with other professional occupations in regional areas it is a widespread problem. It is something that we have been acutely aware of and have been working in a number of ways to address.
Specifically in terms of the teacher workforce, one of the initiatives that I know that our government has done was make the country teachers retention allowance—forgive me if that is not the correct name—permanent. Previously, as I understand it, it was only available for the first five years of someone's tenure in a country area, teaching in a country school, so that was one step that was an important part of encouraging those teachers who had been in regional areas for five years to continue their stay, and hopefully to actually become permanent.
Secondly, housing, as the honourable member mentioned, can be a limiting factor, and certainly I have told in this place stories of schools that have attracted teachers and have unfortunately then seen those teachers living in a caravan park for two terms, resulting in them returning to Adelaide. That type of experience is one of the reasons the Malinauskas Labor government has implemented the program for regional housing for essential workers, which we announced last year and then alluded to also in this year's budget.
The importance of that can't be underestimated. That is about ensuring that regional professions, be they healthcare workers, be they police, be they teachers, or a number of others, can access housing. The program has been established in such a way as to hopefully make it self-sustaining in the sense of long-term leases being taken on, which gives confidence in building housing in some of those regional areas where perhaps the market by itself would not provide that. In terms of other issues, I am happy to refer to the Minister for Education in the other place and bring back a response.