A Budget estimates hearing earlier this week into shortfalls in the education workforce has asked more questions than it answered.
Despite a damning report released by the Australian Education Union (AEU) earlier this year, the Minister for Education Yvette Berry and senior bureaucrats could not yet confirm whether teachers are leaving the public system in the ACT, and if so, why.
Likewise, neither the Minister nor the Directorate could definitively say how many teaching positions would be created this fiscal year.
The current Budget provides for 42.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions made up of teachers and support staff as part of an equitable enrolment adjustment.
Ms Berry took a question on notice about how many of these positions will be filled by teachers.
Education Directorate director-general Katy Haire also noted there will be further baseline funding available to support the growth of the public education system, which will also allow for more teachers.
Again, no precise figures were provided.
It’s also been reported that 188 positions in education – mostly cleaners and building maintenance staff – were being cut as the Jobs for Canberrans funding ended.
Opposition Education Spokesperson Jeremy Hanson questioned how this could add up to the 400 extra teachers and support staff the Government committed to in an election promise last year.
“Why isn’t the money in the budget to pay for some of those teachers that you promised?” he asked.
Mr Hanson also pointed out what he saw as a “disconnect” between the Budget’s provision for teaching positions and the recent survey results which he said had identified a “crisis” within the system.
During the Budget, Ms Haire and Ms Berry both made comments that seemed to contradict the AEU’s survey results. Ms Haire told the committee that there were only 12 vacancies across the public system.
Ms Berry also said ACT teachers are among the highest-paid and longest-serving nationally.
Data from the Teacher Quality Institute (TQI) presented in the hearing by chief executive Coralie McAlister showed that 90 per cent of the 8,400 teachers eligible for renewal each year did so.
Furthermore, she said most of those who allow their registration to lapse do so because they are retiring.
She said an increase in lapsed registration was not evident, suggesting teachers are not leaving the workforce in large numbers.
This, Mr Hanson suggested, contradicts the results of the AEU survey which showed 91 per cent of ACT public school teachers were negatively impacted by a lack of staff.
The survey also revealed 95 per cent of staff thought workforce shortages were serious.
When the survey results came out in August, Ms Berry established a task force to better investigate how to attract and retain skilled teachers to the public system.
She said on Tuesday that work would establish exactly why teachers are leaving and that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to finding innovative ways to attract skilled and qualified teachers to the workforce.
Ms Berry said exit interviews with teachers who do leave had been underway for some time “at a school-level”, but that process was now being centralised to allow for a more comprehensive understanding of why teachers were leaving the public system.