This week, the NSW Government announced $24.4bn in funding, including nearly $200m to kickstart the first major rewrite of the school curriculum in 30 years.
The cornerstone of this investment is a massive $196.6m package to lift student achievement by updating the curriculum “to provide a strong foundation in literacy and mathematics, and clearer post-school pathways, linking learning to future employment or study”.
While the announcement has been broadly welcomed, some key voices in the state’s education sector have voiced concerns.
“This budget fails to address the biggest challenges facing the teaching profession: unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive salaries leading to widespread teacher shortages,” NSW Teachers Federation president, Angelo Gavrielatos, told The Educator.
“The 2.5% wages cap will only make it harder to retain teachers and attract the ones we need to cope with rapidly increasing enrolments”.
Gavrielatos said there is still no comprehensive workforce plan and no plan to reduce the crippling workloads that are impacting on teachers across NSW.
“Further, the NSW Auditor General warned in April the government had not put aside the capital funding to deliver the classrooms needed from 2023 and this budget gives us no confidence that those classrooms will be built in time”.
Concerns remain over staffing shortage
Craig Petersen, president of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, said the government’s significant allocation for new and refurbished schools is welcome, and especially needed in areas experiencing high growth.
“We are yet to see the detail around any strategies to address the staffing shortage, but the best strategies to attract and retain staff would be to provide salaries that are comparable to other professions, improve working conditions and provide additional release time to allow teachers to collaborate on lesson planning,” Petersen told The Educator.
Matthew Johnson president of the NSW Special Education Principals and Leaders Association (SEPLA) and national president of (ASEPA) welcomed the government's support of special schools including their commitment to enhancing the resourcing available for complex learners and students with special needs in NSW.
"Beside commitments to new and upgraded facilities, there is an SSP Supplementary Funding agreement which has already been announced," Johnston told The Educator.
"This means $35 million-dollars per annum until 2024 for all of our special schools across NSW, Johnson said. This funding and the flexibility attached to it is a game changer for all of our specialist schools and most importantly, for our students".
On top of this, the Government has provided the additional COVID Intensive Learning Support Program, which provides special schools with significant funding to assist students whose learning was disrupted during the height of the pandemic.
"The ability to use these funds to hire allied health service staff to cater for specific student need is welcomed and deeply appreciated. These commitments are deeply appreciated, and the genuine collaboration and consultation with the department has never been better," Johnson said.
“Of concern however, is the irony that our special schools now have the resources needed but are struggling to find day-to-day casual staff. The staffing issue, along with declining numbers of teacher graduates is impacting all schools but especially with regard to qualified and experienced special education staff".
Budget 'entrenches inequality'
Greens MP David Shoebridge said the Budget allocation means public schools will continue to be underfunded at 91% of the National Resourcing Standard.
“This is a budget that entrenches inequality with NSW private schools on track to receive at least $100 million more than they are entitled to under the resource standard,” Shoebridge said.
“The resourcing standard is the bare minimum public schools need, and yet many schools aren’t even getting that”.
“We cannot afford the ongoing siphoning of public funding to wealthy private schools at a time when public schools can’t afford the essentials”.