Rural and remote Victorian schools are pleading for a new approach to attract and retain quality teachers and education leaders, with many principals saying staff shortages are the biggest challenge affecting country schools.
The Country Education Partnership (CEP) – which represents the interests of rural and remote education– says the battle to draw quality staff to the country had become critical.
“We are hearing more and more from our education communities that they simply can’t fill vacancies and, in many cases, are not even attracting applications, especially in those hard-to-staff curriculum areas, like science, maths and performing arts,” CEP Chief Executive Phil Brown said.
“In the end, it is the students who suffer, it is their education that is affected – and yet we still get questioned why there is a widening gap between urban and rural education outcomes.”
In the Mallee, Manangatang P-12 Principal David Griffin says isolated schools have always had a hard time attracting teachers, but the situation had deteriorated substantially.
“Schools out here can advertise a teaching or principal position time and again, and we might get one applicant, maybe two, but most likely we get none,” he said.
“Then the task of keeping existing staff is another battle in itself – it’s pretty clear that graduates don’t want to come out here, so what do we do and how do we change that?”
At Apollo Bay P-12 College in the state’s south-west, Principal Tiffany Holt says she recently advertised four teaching positions and received just 16 applications.
“Once upon a time we could expect at least 60 (applications) – I realise this isn’t as dire as the situation facing our more isolated schools, like in the Wimmera, but I think it’s a fair reflection of the overall problem we have in rural education,” she said.
“On top of this, we’re seeing a lack of depth in the applications that we do receive – they’re under-qualified and under-experienced – which leaves me in a very difficult situation because I need educators, but I have a duty of care to my students … to make sure they receive the quality schooling that they deserve.”
Tim Cashmore, who is Principal at Mallacoota P-12 College in far East Gippsland, says he would like to see substantial improvement in areas of accommodation, university partnerships and the overall recruitment process used in Victorian schools.
“And that’s just a very basic starting point; if we are going to attract the best teachers … we need to give them something to be attracted to,” he said.
“And, with that, it is critical that we have meaningful university partnerships to get graduating teachers out to our regions.”
Nathalia Secondary College Principal, John Sciacca, agrees.
“It’s plain and simple, the vast majority of graduates do not want to come out to a rural setting (and) I guess you could say it’s because there’s no carrot to lure them out,” he said.
“We need incentives – we need a system approach offering incentives well beyond what is currently offered so that we (rural schools) stand a chance.
“And that goes for mature teachers transitioning into the industry as well; we’ve heard all about this push to recruit teachers from other fields, which is really good, but what is being done to then encourage them into a position in a rural setting?”
Last month, CEP released a strategic paper (“Education in Rural Victoria – A Case for Action”) outlining critical issues affecting the provision of education in country Victoria.
Teacher recruitment and retention were at the top of the list.
The paper includes 19 recommendations for the future course of rural and remote education and urges all relevant authorities to commit to targeted measures for change, through the creation of a Rural Education Blueprint.
“To date, we’ve seen consecutive Victorian governments develop various education frameworks to support rural and remote schools but within these frameworks there has been minimal resourcing and specific initiatives to directly influence change,” Mr Brown said.
“This is what we need, and this is what our paper outlines; clear-cut measures to tackle the core challenges in country education — such as staff recruitment, lower levels of student aspirations, flagging education outcomes and limited curriculum opportunities.”
“Education in Rural Victoria – A Case for Action” comes as a new report from the Gonski Institute for Education has found Australia would add up to $53 billion to its annual GDP if it better invested in the education of kids in regional, rural and remote areas.
The report (Economic Impact of Improving Regional, Rural and Remote Education in Australia) is the first research to be released by the Gonski Institute.
The head of the institute, former National Party MP and Education Minister Adrian Piccoli, said the report was commissioned because it was challenging to get governments interested in country education.
“It’s difficult to get decision-makers to understand the economic consequences of having this gap (between urban and rural education outcomes),” Mr Piccoli said.
“But actually, when you put a number on it, and then at the same time people talk all the time about regional development … here is the great regional development opportunity,” he said.
CEP is now urging all state political parties to outline how they will address the critical issues affecting rural and remote schools, in particular the crisis of staff recruitment, ahead of the Victorian Election next month.