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Teaching in WA: hard-to-staff schools bring rewards

Teaching in WA: hard-to-staff schools bring rewards

So it comes as a shock that teacher Sally Peters,* from a southern suburbs primary school, disputes the negative reputations of hard-to-staff schools.

Ms Peters says her experience at one such school in Gosnells was “so enjoyable” it was difficult to leave.

“No teacher wanted to leave the school. Everyone wanted to stay and I was very upset when I had to leave after five years for a new job prospect,” she said.

Ms Peters said the administration and the other teachers at the school made the difference.

“The school was only hard-to-staff because of the area it was in,” she said.

“The admin was very supportive. They couldn’t do enough for you.”

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show in 2017 there were 1088 schools in Western Australia: of these, the Education Department recognised 75 high schools, primary schools and education support centres as being hard-to-staff in the metropolitan area.

A further 120 schools in regional WA were considered hard-to-staff.

An Education Department spokesperson said the inability for hard-to-staff schools to retain their teaching staff was very much historical and came down to our “innate need to label and categorise everything”.

Even so, staffing levels at metropolitan and country hard-to-staff schools are stable, according to the department.

“As of March 2018, our metropolitan hard-to-staff schools employed 1848 teachers,” the spokesperson said.

“The country hard-to-staff schools employed a further 3412 teachers.”

In order to keep the teachers at the school longer than one year, the department had created incentives to attract teachers towards hard-to-staff schools and to ensure they continued teaching at the school.

“An additional salary from $3000 to $20,870 per year is provided to teachers dependent on the location of the school,” the spokesperson said.

Teachers at Balga Primary School in the northern suburbs of Perth and Neerigen Brook Primary School in the south metro area receive an extra $3000 every year.

In the country, teachers at East Kalgoorlie Primary School and Kununurra District High School receive an additional $13,730 per year.

“Teachers in country hard-to-staff schools also have access to subsidised accommodation and the cost of transport and relocation of personal [belongings] is covered,” the spokesperson said.

The main incentive was the opportunity for the teacher to gain permanency.

However: “Permanent employment is only awarded after two years of continuous and satisfactory service in the hard-to-staff school.”

And there’s a catch: the teacher is only permanent at the hard-to-staff school, and if they choose to leave, they lose their permanency and become a “redeployee” teacher on the hunt for employment.

Teach for Australia is a non-profit organisation working toward eliminating educational disadvantage in metropolitan and remote hard-to staff schools.

The organisation recruits professionals, university graduates with non-education degrees and people seeking a career change to teach for a minimum of two years at an allocated hard-to-staff high school.

Teach for Australia’s WA state manager Trudi Horler said since the program’s launch in WA in 2015, more than 100 teachers, known as “associates”, had been placed into 31 schools.

Ms Horler said the priority was to work with schools serving low socio-economic communities such as those in Kalgoorlie, the Pilbara, Albany and Esperance. Over this three-year period, the Teach for Australia program has placed 41 per cent of associates in remote and regional hard-to staff schools and 59 per cent of associates have been allocated to metropolitan hard-to-staff schools.

Ms Horler said the associates who took part in the program often struggled to settle into the community – especially in rural and remote areas – mainly due to a sense of isolation.

Another challenge for the associates was managing issues with behaviour within the classroom and being prepared to deal with these instances.

Students are generally well behaved, according to the teacher.

Students are generally well behaved, according to the teacher.

Photo: Quentin Jones

“Behaviour is a real challenge and that is just part of the things they have to deal with and get better with over time,” she said.

“In saying this, there is a whole range of techniques the associates are taught from de-escalating behaviour and helping students self-regulate their own behaviour. The associates are supported in every respect and are exposed and experienced to behaviour management strategies.”

Ms Peters agreed and said while the school administration where she worked in Gosnells tried to help where they could, they were also often overloaded.

“I have since moved on from that school but the school I am at now, which isn’t hard to staff, has more behavioural issues and no support from administration at all,” she said.

Ms Horler said bad behaviour happened in all schools and the way it was managed differentiated the good from the bad, but the majority of students behaved positively at school.

*The teacher’s name has been changed at her request.

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