THERE ARE ISSUES AROUND NT RELIEF TEACHING

This was published in the NT Sun on May 1 2018.

RELIEF TEACHING IS A BIG ISSUE

There have been problems about the employment of relief teachers for many years. The issue goes back to a time when the Department of Education determined that schools would not be reimbursed for more than 6.5 days each year for each teacher’s absence on sick or short term leave. Teachers absent for longer periods of time would have to be funded from within school budgets. This was despite the fact that teachers are entitled to approved leave for 15 days each year.

This provision has been quite strictly enforced, with claims for reimbursement based on exceptional circumstances often declined. This puts the onus on schools to find the funds needed to cover relief teacher funding.

It had been possible for principals to negotiate a short term contract to cover absences beyond several day’s duration. However contract options were stiffened, so that absences of less than 21 continual days had to be funded from school budgets.

An outcome of this stringent policy is that some teachers who should be taking sick or personal leave, feel they have to consider the school and their colleagues and soldier on. In order to save on outlays for relief teachers, some school leaders split groups, temporarily siphoning students to other classes and teachers. On occasion, specialist teachers are re-deployed to general classroom duties. Changes of this nature mean that programs have to be altered.

In 2014, classifications for relief teachers were introduced. There are three levels:

Tier One is for teachers with one to three years of teaching experience

Tier Two is for teachers who have four to six years of teaching experience.

Tier Three is for teachers with seven or more years of teaching experience.

The daily rate is less for Tier One than for Tier Two and Tier Three teachers. Allocations to schools do not take this variable into account, meaning that Category One teachers are generally preferred to their more experienced peers because they cost schools less to employ. This has lead to experienced teachers, many who have retired after years of teaching, being overlooked for temporary employment.

Unfortunately, that can deprive schools and students from the benefits experienced teachers bring to classrooms when regular staff are absent.

Staffing changes for schools are being considered by the Department of Education. However, if changes take place, they will not be actioned until 2019. Challenges confronting schools over relief teaching are likely to continue during 2018 and into the future.

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