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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, December 13 2021

Beware of Despair

Working in the highly stressful conditions of a modern school have been the subject of many of our Newsletters however in recent times I have seen a worrying shift from the high levels of stress working in such a demanding environment to the emergence of a culture of despair amongst teachers and principals.  Despair differs from anxiety or worry in that it represents a complete loss of hope that things will recover. 

 

This feeling that things are profoundly wrong is reinforced by the evidence that public schools have been abandoned by our governments both state and federal who continue to differentiate the provision of resources and the work/time demands on employees in the public sector in comparison to the private system.  It is as if our employer has abandoned any effort to deal fairly with the issues facing our public schools.

In a renowned speech made by John Ralston Saul in Canada, a jurisdiction much like our own he draws attention to the strength of a democracy being reliant on the strength of its public-school system.  The systems built on privilege, like our own where wealthy schools for kids from rich families are based on a philosophy of institutionalised selfishness.  In Australia this selfishness is supported by the governments who, unlike other countries provide significant funding of tax-payers’ money rather than have these individual schools being completely self-funded!  It is an example of social engineering by the elite class and supported by the government to reinforce privilege; a situation that has historically ended badly!

The perennial inequity has grown from its origin in 1964 when the then Prime Minister Robert Menzies did a deal with the Labor Party’s break-a-way group the Democratic Labour Party to fund catholic schools in return for their support to form a government.  Because of the poor state of the existing ‘parish’ catholic schools this was hard for following governments to reverse this support.  However, from the late 60’s and beyond, neo-liberal philosophies permeated throughout the western world and Ministries of Education of all persuasions supported non-government schools.  The inevitable partition between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ happened when the principles of market-based competition and consumer choice was introduced into the school systems.

The funding for public schools per student is now at a scale that see public school teachers being asked to compete against private teachers while facing a huge disadvantage.  For example, funding per student in Victoria is 80% higher ($11,528 per student per year) in the private sector than in public while in NSW it is 60% higher.  Comparisons between results in tests such as NAPLAN or Matriculation show no evidence that there are educational values for the increased expenditure.  However, teachers in the public system have to work in such disadvantaged condition it’s no wonder they despair!

As we close in on the end of the 2021 school year and look ahead to 2022 one acute issue that will fill the teaching staff with a sense of dejection is the serious staffing shortage they are facing.  In NSW, the current circumstances are:

  • 3,000 school teaching vacancies
  • 95% of teachers say that teacher shortage is a significant issue
  • 93% of schools struggle to recruit casuals to fill vacancies
  • 51% of permanent teaching positions are not filled
  • 60% of those teachers employed are teaching outside their area of expertise
  • Students in Broken Hill are going into 2022’s HSC without having teachers qualified to teach their subject
  • More than half of the classroom teachers surveyed would not recommend teaching as a career to family members or friends.
  • 85% of respondents said they did not think that the Education Directorate was sufficiently resourced to meet the demands put upon schools

And, if you want any more evidence that teachers are living in despair, 58% of teachers are considering leaving work due to the workload.

The move to privatisation since the 1970’s has been supported by the adoption of a neoliberal approach to management which encourages the use of market forces reflected in the increasing support for choice.  Parents have been encouraged to make a choice for their own children and governments have set-up so-called contrivances to base that choice on.  These are things like the NAPLAN test and the My School website where comparisons could be made.  However, any close examination of this site could only conclude that sending a child to a private school will make no difference in their learning outcomes yet the drift continues to grow.

These changes have been ‘legitimised’ by a tidal wave of specialists who reinforce this reliance on the market-based approach to management.  These consultants have concluded that the inclusive systems that prevailed before are no longer viable if we want to move to a competitive system.  This movement away from the professional educators that existed in the public service has not been cheap with over $9.3 million being spent on just four companies, KPMG International Limited, Deloittes, Ernst and Young and Price, Waterhouse and Coopers.  Their advice is based on the modern management model and pays only marginal lip-service to any educational expertise.  The corporate knowledge of those who have served public schools is at most downgraded and the call to ‘get rid of the lifers’, that is remove those with years of experience, echoes throughout the education bureaucracy.

 

We end 2021 with this inescapable feeling of depression and despondency.  There is no real expression coming from any government that would give teachers any hope things will get better.  The current Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell, when asked about the teacher’s union’s concerns about staff shortage claimed "The current NSW Teachers Federation campaign is misleading and simply untrue”.  She went on to accuse the Teachers Federation of ‘peddling misinformation’.  There is an all-too familiar reliance on denying the facts!

 

I have called this essay ‘Beware of Despondency’ because I understand that the feelings teachers have always enjoyed at this time of year, watching the students move on in their education or finally graduate on to a productive adult life have become much more difficult to recognise.  This is particularly so in public schools who have been purposefully and systematically weakened and for what purpose.

 

I think it was Carl Jung who, when discussing the importance of motivation in behaviour said if the motivation is not clear then look at the outcome and infer back to the motivation.  The outcome for public education is that it has become an under-funded, resource poor, residualised system where we have a class-based structure.  This is a betrayal of the principles of democracy.  Strong public schools are at the heart of all flourishing democratic societies and so I must conclude the motivation of our current system imposed by our elected government is to return to a class-based, ‘me first’ political system.  I for one, see the inherent dangers in this with the emergence of class dictatorship.

 

This outcome will only be avoided by the actions of our teachers in our public schools and so I would urge those of you who are feeling that legitimate despair to turn that despair into energy to resist this unfair and dangerous situation!

Posted by: AT 06:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Sunday, December 05 2021

An Ignored but Vital Workload

Tomorrow teachers in NSW will take industrial action airing many grievances but critically the unreasonable workload imposed by an ill-informed Government and bureaucracy. However, one aspect of this workload that is critical for all students and teachers is the management of disruptive behaviours.  Not only is the amount of work generated significant, but it is also disproportionately distributed across the socio-economic division, concentrated in public schools and geographically diverged.

 

The evidence for the unsustained workload is verified in the ‘Understanding Work in Schools 2018 Report’ carried out by the NSW Teachers Federation.  This concluded that full-time employed classroom and special teachers work an average of 55 hours per week, made up of more than 43 hours in school and 11 hours per week at home.  This result is supported with research from the University of Sydney which confirmed teachers in New South Wales were working an average of 54 hours a week and principals 62 hours.

 

Tactics designed to reduce the workload focuses on the reduction of administrative work and unrealistic demands on accreditation however these strategies, along with a succession of ‘improvement’ plans fails to address what continues to be the elephant in any classroom and that is the effect dysfunctional students have on children’s learning.

 

There is ample evidence that students with extreme behaviours have a very significant influence in learning outcomes.  John Hattie has identified the presence of dysfunctional students and the environment in the classroom accounts for two of the top three impediments to learning.  There is an obvious close relationship between classroom environment and the presence of these students and combined they would constitute the leading cause of student failure in our system.   In any case, collectively or alone these factors have been identified as more significant than the quality of the teacher, yet the focus on learning improvement is completely focused on the latter element.  In personal communication with Professor Hattie, the question was asked why he dropped these findings from subsequent reports and he advised that the result of his work was being used to exclude these children. 

 

In no way am I advocating the removal of these students from the classroom but I am promoting the removal of these behaviours.  As with all our work the maxim ‘100% acceptance of the child with 100% rejection of the distractive behaviour’.

 

The work I present below was carried out about 2015 and will use the most available data of that time.  I see no evidence that things have improved since that time and would suspect the drift to the private sector would have exacerbated the problem.  The data used comes from Long Term Suspension rates up to the Year 2011.

 

As there was no available known records of the individual incidents nor data refined to individual schools I was compelled us to use Long Term Suspension (LTS) numbers as a means of inferring the whereabouts of these students and their numbers.  The table below shows the growth of LTS in NSW Public Schools per 100 students.

 

Long Suspension Rate 1997-2010 % of Enrolment

1998

1999

2000

2001

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

0.71

0.62

0.76

0.88

1.51

1.67

1.81

1.96

2

2.34

2.26

 

 

The graphical representation below clearly reveals the consistent growth of these proportions.  The rate has more than tripled since 1998.

 

 

This statewide representation does not show the variability across the state at the Regional or District level.  The next table shows the rate for each Region in 2011 numbers and the range for Districts within each Region.

 

The Average per Region along with the Range between Districts within each Region

 

 

LTS per 100 (%)

Lowest District Rate

Highest District Rate

Hunter Central Coast

2.5

1.7

3.9

Illawarra and South East

1.6

0.8

2.1

New England

2.9

1.7

4.4

North Coast

2.5

1.7

3.5

Northern Sydney

0.4

0.3

0.5

Riverina

2.2

1.1

3.6

South Western Sydney

1.5

0.9

3.2

Sydney

0.7

0.5

1.2

Western NSW

2.7

1.5

5.8

Western Sydney

1.3

0.6

2.6

 

 

To establish a reliable quantitative measuring tool that would calculate the hours required to address the student welfare demands for different schools, principals were surveyed to estimate the hours taken to deal with a suspension and the percentage of time dealing with suspensions relative to other welfare issues

 

From the results an index was calculated using the relationship between long, and short-term suspensions for my school, Holsworthy High based on the following computation:

  • To deal with the average suspension takes 3.2 hours (results from survey)
  • For 115 (the total number for Holsworthy High of suspensions) this equates to 368 hours per year.
  • Work on suspensions is only 14% of the total time spent on behaviour management by senior executive of a school (results from survey) the hours become 2,628 for the year or 65.7 per week for a forty-week school year.
  • If this is divided equally between the three senior executives, each spends 21.9 hours each week dealing with behaviour issues. 
  • If this work were applied to one deputy and principal the time would become 32.9 hours each.
  • Students spend only 30 hours each week at school (discounting after school detention) all three are spending over half our pupil time dealing with behaviour management issues. For two senior executives this becomes all of their time.

The figures cited above reflect the impact on actual educational practices at the senior executive level at Holsworthy High.  Of course, these figures represent what would be the optimal allocation of resources and this would be impossible considering the multitude of other demands on the time of the senior executive.  As a result the issue is never properly addressed.   

 

It would be fair to assume that a proportionate amount of time would be taken away from other educational tasks for all teachers and this is also not feasible.

 

The results above show the average across the state but as mentioned the workload is not equally distributed across the state and the table below shows the average rate for each Region and the hours of work, based on the index found by considering the number of LTS for the year and the subsequent derived number of hours for discipline and welfare we arrive at an index of 22.8.  If you apply this to the number of LTS at a school you will calculate the hours per week spent on student welfare and discipline.  The table below provides these hours for the highest and lowest time demands, reflecting the highest and lowest numbers reported above for the districts within each Region

 

 

Average

Hours

Maximum

Hours

Minimum

Hours

Hunter

2.5

57.0

3.9

88.9

1.7

38.8

Illawarra

1.6

36.4

2.1

47.9

0.8

18.2

New England

2.9

66.1

4.4

100.3

1.7

38.8

North. Coast

2.5

57.0

3.5

79.8

1.7

38.8

North. Sydney

0.4

9.12

0.5

11.4

0.3

6.84

Riverina

2.2

50.2

4.1

93.5

1.1

   25.1      

SW Sydney

1.5

34.2

2.2

50.2

0.9

20.5

Sydney

0.7

16.0

0.5

11.4

1.2

27.4

West Region

2.7

61.6

5.8

132.2

1.5

34.2

West Sydney

1.3

29.6

1.8

41.0

0.6

13.7

 

From these observations it is seen that one District in Western Region would require 132.2 hours per week just to deal with student welfare issues.  This equates to more than three executive doing a 40-hour week just addressing this problem.  Contrast this to 6.84 hours of work demands for one senior executive in one district in North Sydney.  The implications for the attention that can be focused on other mandated duties are obvious.

The distribution of the problem is not homogeneous but the support services offered such as counselling services are broadly based on enrolment numbers not need. 

These results were provided directly to the Minister at the time and to other professional bodies with no response and no change to the approach to dealing with dysfunctional behaviours.

The presence of children with severe behaviours has always been a major impediment to the learning outcomes of our children and the issues to be highlighted will continue this lack of acknowledgement.  I despair as I see the continued drift or should I say torrent away from public schools as the parents’ solution to the problem.  This is exacerbated with the current political appetite to disregard the lowest levels of our society and finance those from the privileged strata.

Posted by: AT 08:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

PRINCIPALS

John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance


ABN 64 372 518 772

ABOUT

The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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