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Rural and remote education

The issue

Attracting and retaining teachers and school leaders in rural and remote state schools

Who is affected

While it can be suggested that rural and remote education only impacts on the approximately 15,000+ teachers and school leaders serving in Queensland schools in rural (generally transfer rating 3, 4 and 5 locations) and remote (generally transfer rating 6 and 7 locations) schools, the issues of rural and remote service impacts on all QTU members.

All children in Queensland deserve access to great teachers – this includes a mix of early career and experienced teachers and school leaders. In order to achieve this, the state government should ensure that these teachers and school leaders have opportunities similar to their colleagues working in provincial and metropolitan centres.

Consequently, having a Remote Area Incentive Scheme that serves to attract and retain teachers and school leaders in rural and remote settings, support for these teachers to access face to face professional development, and support for members in rural and remote locations to move to their preferred location after a period of service in rural and remote communities, is essential

What’s in the claim?

The QTU’s EB9 claim proposes a number of measures to improve conditions for members in rural and remote Queensland, including:

  • revising the Remote Area Incentives Scheme
  • improving the teacher transfer and relocation systems
  • more funding to support professional development in rural and remote centres.

Remote Area Incentives Scheme (RAIS)

The first version of the RAIS was secured in 1991 *. The purpose of the scheme was to attract and retain teachers and educational leaders in rural and remote areas to secure stability of school staff. This continues to be the purpose of RAIS today.

* see Table 1 Remote Area Incentive Scheme Improvements for the history of RAIS in Queensland for the history of RAIS in Queensland

Why was RAIS established?

The 1979 Select Committee on Education (Queensland) made this statement:

There are significant disadvantages to the education of children when teachers are replaced too frequently. The quality of education is enhanced when children perceive some degree of stability among the school staff.

(Select Committee on Education, Fifth Interim Report, 1979, p4)

The identification of these issues led to joint department and QTU working parties and the establishment of RAIS in 1991.

In 2008, the Rogers review of RAIS found:

Despite the existence of the Remote Area Incentives Scheme (RAIS) for over 16 years, DETA continues to face significant challenges in the recruitment and retention of experienced educators to identified schools. Current workforce data profiles illustrate the continuing disparity between RAIS locations and metropolitan and provincial centres. This disproportion, observable across the age, gender, professional experience and retention rates of teachers and school leaders, directly challenges the quality of educational service delivery provided in rural and remote schools.

DETA commissioned Remote Area Incentives Scheme Policy Review, 2008, Rogers Educational Enterprise (2008) p1.

This disadvantage was also identified in the original Gonski review when remoteness was identified as one of the key factors of educational disadvantage.

These ongoing challenges led to the agreement to review and trial variations to the RAIS in the 2016 certified agreement.

Additionally, the current Promotional Positions Classification Review has identified that the most appropriate method of addressing remoteness is through an incentive scheme applicable to all classifications.

Features of the current scheme

The current scheme includes a number of monetary and HR incentives.

1. Compensation benefit – this is payable to members who have worked 60 or more consecutive days in transfer rating (TR) 5 to 7 schools. The benefit is designed to subsidise air travel of one return flight to Brisbane and one return flight to the closest coastal provincial centre.

2. Dependent benefit – as per compensation benefit for dependents of teachers and school leaders.

3. Incentive benefit – paid to teachers and school leaders following the completion of the minimum years of service in TR 4 – 7 locations. This benefit is designed to retain teachers in the location beyond the minimum required years of service in the location.

4. Identified location incentive (also referred to as special incentive payment) – paid to teachers and school leaders working in identified Indigenous communities (accessible for five years).

5. Identified Indigenous communities travel benefit – choice between receipt of compensation benefit payment or three flights (two flights to the closest coastal provincial centre and one to Brisbane).

6. Human resources benefits such as additional leave days (referred to as RAIS leave) and other HR benefits.

Review of RAIS and trial 2016 Certified Agreement

Throughout the current agreement, the department has finalised a review of RAIS and conducted a trial of a differentiated incentives scheme in select locations.

The trial:

a) allowed for varied RAIS payment frequency (currently paid once/semester or in a lump sum)

b) provided an online dashboard for members to interact with RAIS

c) enabled choice between monetary incentive payments and/or goods and services such as travel, fuel, further study, freight, electricity, rent, additional RAIS days, health clubs and PD.

In reviewing the interaction of members with the trial, the vast majority of members (over 85 per cent) were found to have opted to continue to receive monetary payments of their incentives (either as requested through the portal or due to a lack of interaction with the portal to request a variation).

While the outcomes of the trial have not yet been released, the QTU supports the continuation of the online portal, the ability for members to choose between incentives and cash payments, and the offering of flexibility in terms of RAIS payment frequency.

The Union also supports the introduction of attraction incentives offered as both monetary and goods and services incentives. This is part of the Union’s claim around RAIS.

The QTU has also called for RAIS payments to increase aligned to certified agreement increases. However, the Union has been clear that action to improve RAIS must occur in this agreement. The time for reviews, trials and pilots has passed. Action on RAIS needs to occur in this agreement and not be locked into another review. The time for a new RAIS is now

Transfers and relocations

In Queensland, classroom teachers are subject to transfers and relocations apply to promotional positions.

An effective RAIS must be supported by a functioning transfer and relocation system. The Union supports the need for members to work in various locations across the state, including in rural and remote locations, but also recognises that for some members there are times during their career that “away from home” service may not be possible. As such, a transfer system that supports rural and remote service and service in “preferred locations” (as identified by relevant member) is necessary.

Consequently, the Union has been actively engaged in the reviews of the teacher transfer and relocation system throughout this agreement. Currently, the department is trialling various transfer initiatives, a relocations pilot, and reviewing the transfer points allocated to various locations. The Union supports the incorporation of these improvements into the new agreement as part of a suite of actions that need to be undertaken to ensure an effective transfer and relocation system.

Improved access to professional development in rural and remote centres

The review of RAIS highlighted the value members placed on PD opportunities. Within Queensland state schools there is a requirement for teachers to undertake professional development linked to system imperatives and aligned to the annual teacher performance reviews. Teachers also need to complete CPD hours to maintain teacher registration.

Mandatory PD such as code of conduct and student protection is generally conducted on student free days (SFDs) or in lieu of attendance at SFDs. Other system imperatives such as the new Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE), new senior assessment and tertiary entrance (SATE) and senior curriculum and revised behaviour management procedures, are also required PD.

However, the provision of this PD on a statewide basis should include a blend of face-to-face and online delivery.The benefit of face-to-face delivery enables interaction with other colleagues and the development of networks. Consequently, to access quality PD experiences, teachers in rural and remote schools should be allocated additional time for the purpose of travel, attendance and release. To ensure the cost of face-to-face PD delivery is not prohibitive, schools in rural and remote locations receive supplementary funding to provide these opportunities. Additionally, the provision of district relieving teachers should be prioritised to support these and other short term vacancies in rural and remote locations.

Workplace health and safety

Every Queensland state school teacher and school leader deserves a safe and healthy working environment - and that includes being free from violence and abuse, whether physical or virtual, by students and parents. 

Workplace health and safety are key elements of the QTU's EB9 claim. The claim calls for better processes to prevent occupational violence, and for support and release time for QTU members undertaking WHS roles. Members should not have to resort to directives to protect themselves from abuse by parents and students.

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