Education union questions number of vacant teacher positions as NT spruiks new recruits

Education union questions number of vacant teacher positions as NT spruiks new recruits

Zoe and Aleah Smith are starting a new adventure today, leaving this morning with backpacks full and bucket hats on.

Key points: Most public schools in the Northern Territory return to school today The territory government says there are 35 vacancies across the education system The teaching union says the situation is worse than the government says

It’s the first day of kindergarten for the three-year-old identical twins, who join thousands of students across the Northern Territory entering classrooms today.

The NT Government is promising that every one of those classrooms will have a teacher in front of it, as concerns over teacher shortages resurface.

The twins’ mother, Rebecca, said she did not know how many current vacancies there were at the girls’ school in Darwin’s northern suburbs, and was concerned about the ongoing issue.

“I sometimes worry about the long term for their education,” she said.

Other Territory parents also wonder “whether [their kids] are going to receive everything they need”, she said, “if we don’t have the right teachers in the right positions and enough teachers.”

Union, government at loggerheads over teacher numbers

At least 35 teaching positions are currently vacant across the NT, Education Minister Eva Lawler said this week.

The number is lower than the official figure given at the same time last year.

Education Minister Eva Lawler says the NT has recruited around 100 new teachers from interstate recruitment. (ABC News: Felicity James)

“I think this time last year there were about 59 vacancies for teachers,” said Education Minister Eva Lawler.

She said 150 new teachers and 11 principals were starting work in NT schools, with 102 from interstate.

But the number is disputed by the teaching union.

Based on an assessment of membership data, the Australian Education Union NT believes a reduction in overall teaching posts has artificially reduced the official number of “vacant” places.

“We speculate that there are fewer teaching jobs in the area in 2023 as a whole,” said President Michelle Ayres.

“Although the Department of Education may say that all positions are filled, we are probably still seeing far fewer teachers.”

Total teacher numbers are not made publicly available and Minister Lawler’s office has yet to respond to follow-up questions.

She was asked at a press conference about another union claim, that the number of new teachers was overstated because some Education Department staff were transferred to classroom roles.

“Look I’m not going to get into those details, but you know what I’ll say to the teachers union?” she said.

“Now is the time to be really positive and jump on board with the work that the department is doing, the work that our government is doing.”

The teaching union says it believes the number of teaching posts in NT schools has been reduced. (ABC News: Elise Pianegonda)

She pointed to the government’s recent agreement to drop a proposed teacher pay freeze and said the time for “adversarial” behavior from the union was over.

She said: “Get behind education, because there are really good things happening in education in the Territory, and be a part of it and be positive about it.”

The government is defending progress with the new model for remote funding

Late last year, the government also backtracked on its decision to cut a rental subsidy for teachers in Katherine, where teacher shortages have been particularly severe in recent years.

Ms Ayres said that although remote schools were the worst affected, even schools in the major population centers were struggling.

“I meet teachers, sometimes principals, who are [union] members struggling to staff some of the largest schools in Alice, Palmerston and Darwin,” she said.

“It puts a lot more pressure on the teachers who are there … but it also doesn’t create a conducive environment for learning.”

While remote communities usually struggle to find teachers, the AEU says even major NT population centers are struggling at the moment. (Supplied: Tourism NT)

The government also defended its progress in moving to a new way of funding remote schools, after a report found the current model of the most disadvantaged areas.

The union warned that some remote schools could collapse in the time the government said it would take to implement change.

Minister Lawler said last week the government had agreed to put an immediate funding “floor” in the budgets of some schools in central Australia for the time being.

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