Central Queensland schools take action to address teacher shortages
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 5, 8 July 2022, page no.13
At the start of the 2022 school year, 12 schools across Central Queensland found themselves with critical teacher shortages.
All secondary schools, they were located along the coast and across the coalfields. Interestingly, schools in the far west of the region, while experiencing their own teacher shortages to some extent, have not experienced the critical shortages that those in other locations closer to the coast have had.
QTU members at these schools sought advice, and as Central Queensland Organiser, I joined with a number of schools to hold worksite meetings, with the intention of passing a series of resolutions to highlight the staffing shortages to both regional and central office.
While most of these schools determined to wait and see what eventuated throughout the term, two schools were left with little choice but to consider further action.
Dysart SHS found itself with a total of six teacher vacancies out of 14 staff, and Moranbah SHS at one point had 12 substantive vacancies. Coupled with high teacher absence rates due to illnesses linked to COVID and close contact restrictions, both schools could not effectively operate without major disruptions to learning programs.
Despite the extremely hard work of both schools’ admin teams, both of which showed a willingness to support their teachers, teacher working conditions could not be met within the context of the limited resources available.
QTU members at Moranbah SHS and Dysart SHS resolved to seek a solution through the dispute resolution process, with the loss of non-contact time and the inability to get it repaid forming the basis of the dispute in both schools. At the same time, they highlighted their intention to take industrial action should the outcomes of the dispute not be satisfactory.
After five days of trying to resolve the dispute at the local level, it was clear that it would require support from the system to resolve this issue. Union Reps in both schools progressed to a stage 2 (regional level) dispute.
In light of the critical shortages, not only at these two schools but across the region, the department responded by establishing the Rapid Response Program.
Under this program, the department offers existing staff willing to fill short term vacancies a range of incentives. These include: a guaranteed return to their school after the agreed period of service, two return flights, self-contained and furnished accommodation during the period of service, and a daily meal and incidental allowance.
While the stage 2 dispute was active in the last two weeks of Term 1 and across the Easter holidays, the department was able to recruit teachers to both schools to fill their allocative model.
QTU members at both schools resolved to drop the dispute as a satisfactory outcome had been achieved. They both acknowledged the efforts of CQ and central office HR in resolving the issue in a timely manner.
However, while enough staff have been recruited to fill a number of the teacher vacancies that existed, both schools have been unable to recruit teachers into some specialist subject areas, including ITD and senior English. This has led to the disruption of some programs in both schools.
The good news is that a number of teachers who have come up under the Rapid Response Program have agreed to transition to permanent positions in these schools. Regrettably, however, some teachers have withdrawn from their positions before the end of the original commitment. Clearly, the department needs to do more work on induction and support for these teachers.
While the QTU recognises the issues caused by having teachers working in the same school on different sets of incentives, this can only continue for a short period of time. QTU members in both schools know that the only way to attract and retain a permanent workforce is to improve the incentives for rural and remote teacher service, and they will be expecting the state government to deliver these outcomes in the ongoing EB process.
QTU members are to be congratulated on being prepared to take action in their schools and raise this issue. The QTU is prepared to support members in any schools that face teacher shortages, and they are encouraged to contact their QTU Regional Organiser to discuss their situation.