Cessnock Electorate Teachers 10 May 2022

Clayton Barr - Private Member's Statement

“I’m a Year 11 student at Cessnock High School, and I’d like to voice my growing concern about the serious staff shortages that are occurring at my school, and the impact it’s having on us as students.”

Speech made as part of Clayton’s Private Members Statements 10 May 2022

Mr CLAYTON BARR (Cessnock) (19:10): Earlier tonight I spoke about Indigenous affairs issues on behalf of a young person who lives in the electorate that I have the great privilege of representing. I now give voice to another young person in my electorate, who wants to talk about the state of education in our local area. He sent me an email early last week, a couple of days before the teacher’s strike. I read his words directly:

Hi Clayton,

I’m a Year 11 student at Cessnock High School, and I’d like to voice my growing concern about the serious staff shortages that are occurring at my school, and the impact it’s having on us as students. Since the start of the 2022 school year, when our teachers are away, whether that be due to COVID or other reasons, the school simply does not have casual teachers to look after us. Often we are directed to go to the library, where we are told to do self-directed learning on our computers, almost always with minimal, to no supervision. Today for example (Monday 2/5/22), we did not have a teacher organised to teach us in THREE out of six classes. How can it be that in my senior and most important years of schooling, I am left without not only quality teaching, but without any teaching at all for 50% of my scheduled lessons?

It has now gotten to a point where teachers are volunteering to supervise classes, even when they are already supervising another class, with NO financial benefits. Being a former high school teacher, I’m sure you understand the lengths teachers go to make sure students can reach their full potential, and yet the government doesn’t seem to value them accordingly.

Progressing through Year 11, soon to be in Year 12 where I will start my HSC, I want certainty that I can achieve my best through the public education system. Yet I feel like am being severely disadvantaged, along with my peers. It frustrates me that the NSW government is still refusing to pay teachers appropriate to their experience, dedication and degree level, leading to the statewide school strikes occurring in December 2021 and this forthcoming Wednesday (4/5/22).

It baffles me that the state government is offering no more than a 2.5% annual wage cap, when Australia’s annual inflation rate was just announced to be 5.1% as of the first quarter of 2022, meaning the government’s pay “increase” is really causing teachers to LOSE money. It’s even more infuriating to know that teachers aren’t paid sufficiently when it’s just been announced that 61 of the 62 Coalition MPs have received parliamentary promotions to boost their pay.

I implore you and your fellow MPs to take action on this matter urgently, as the future success of young Australians depends on it. It is unjust and unfair that this is happening to students and teachers in 2022. Please prioritise lobbying for fair pay so we can get back to the quality education we all deserve that you were committed to in my parents’ generation as a teacher and very gratefully still committed to as an MP.

That is an email from one of the students at one of the local schools in my electorate. I emphasise that on the particular day that he sent that to me, obviously in some frustration, he had six classes scheduled. Three of those six classes had no teacher. Quite apart from the question as to whether those classes had a suitably qualified teacher, the fact is those students had no teacher to take them. That is not a new problem. It has come about as a result of many factors in our society, not least of which is the ill‑informed, uneducated—with regard to what teaching actually means—highly opinionated and ideologically driven commentary from a number of MPs at State and Federal levels who really talk through their backsides about what it means to stand in front of a school, and about what schools and teachers should and should not be doing. Those MPs have absolutely no idea what it is like to stand up in front of a class and teach.

No‑one takes into account the fact that we keep loading up teachers and the education system with all the perils and problems of society. We say, “Let’s get the teachers to do that,” and at the same time we put a wage freeze on them, but we do not put a wage freeze on many other sectors. For example, a person working on a road with a stop‑go sign could be on $110,000 or $130,000 a year, while a highly qualified teacher is on less than $100,000. We pay for those roads. We allow unrestricted wage growth in those industries, but we impose a 2.5 per cent wage cap on our teachers—the most important people who form our future through the education of our young people. It is not good enough. I congratulate my young people for speaking up.