NSW schools are in the midst of a perfect storm. Can principals weather it?

NSW schools are in the midst of a perfect storm. Can principals weather it?

The number of teachers leaving NSW public schools has doubled in the last two years, leaked data from the state’s education department shows.

The alarming finding, reported by The Australian earlier this week, found nearly one in five teachers are now leaving within their first five years in the profession, exacerbating a recruitment and retention crisis in the state’s public school system.

Meanwhile, data collected by the NSW Secondary Principals Council (SPC) in December 2022 and April 2023 shows staff shortages in the state’s public schools are not going away, with 50% of respondents reporting 2-4 vacancies in their school on the day they completed the survey – a figure that remained consistent in the SPC’s March 2023 survey.

SPC president Craig Petersen said the number of SPC members reporting staff leaving to teach in the private system is a particularly concerning trend as workforce shortages worsen in the government school sector.

“There have been reports of staff being offered significant financial bonuses to accept positions in the private system, so the issue of teacher salaries in the public system really needs to be addressed. We have outstanding teachers in our public schools, and we must make sure we retain them.”

Root causes of crisis must be addressed first

As the threat of more industrial action from the unions looms, the NSW Government is offering teachers a 4.5% increase in wages from July 1, but this is short of the 6% being demanded by the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF).

While the current Award agreement doesn’t expire until the end of 2023, Gavrielatos said the union is in negotiations with senior government officials to ensure the abolition of the state wages cap, a reduction in workloads, more competitive salaries, and a reopening of the Crown Employees (Teachers in Schools and Related Employees) Salaries and Conditions Award.

“Our in negotiations is informed by four significant challenges, which must be addressed. They are immediate cost of living pressures; NSW teacher salary relativities to other jurisdictions; the decline in teacher salaries relative to other comparable degreed professions; and significant changes to the nature and value of teachers’ work since the last work value case in 2003/4,” Gavrielatos told The Educator.

“The teacher shortage cannot be addressed without addressing the decline in teacher salaries and crippling workloads.”

Warning signs were there for a decade

Petersen said while the state's Education Minister and Acting Secretary are showing determination to hear the concerns of principals, there is a lot of hard work to be done to address these issues.  

"The truly frustrating thing is that we, the Principals’ Associations, have been warning of the impending staffing crisis for well over a decade. Had our concerns been heard and acted upon at the time, the current situation could have been averted," Petersen told The Educator.

"We are now looking forward to working with the Deputy Premier to ensure that she has a realistic picture of how this is impacting schools and what needs to be done in the short, medium and long term to address these issues in a far more strategic and deliberate manner."