With the threat of action from staff at Canobolas Rural Technology High School looming, NSW Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell insisted her government is working to address teacher shortages in Orange.
NSW Teachers Federation members at Canobolas have voted in favour of considering further action unless a 'crisis in staffing' is addressed at the school, effectively sending the minister an ultimatum.
The vote was confirmed by Teachers Federation deputy president Henry Rajendra, who said unfilled positions at the school are putting Canobolas staff under 'incredible pressure' to fill the gaps.
It's time for the minister to bite the bullet, accept this is a major crisis for a large number of schools across the state and come up with a solution.NSW Teachers Federation deputy president Henry Rajendra
"Staff have been attempting to teach under incredible pressure due to 10 classroom teacher positions and a deputy principal position that are unfilled," Mr Rajendra said.
"Teachers are forced to teach additional subjects outside of their area of expertise.
"It also has resulted in many teachers taking on additional duties and responsibilities to meet this shortfall, impacting on their mental health and well-being.
"This is putting unacceptable pressure on the school's staff and affecting student learning and engagement."
Mr Rajendra challenged the minister while she was in Orange to announce more than $1 million in funding for local schools, as part of the government's Regional Renewable Program.
He suggested that while she was visiting schools in the city, she should "go down the road to Canobolas and sort out this problem".
"It is the responsibility of the NSW Government and the Education Department to provide appropriately trained teachers. The current model of leaving staff recruitment to local principals has clearly failed," Mr Rajendra said.
"It's time for the minister to bite the bullet, accept this is a major crisis for a large number of schools across the state and come up with a solution as a matter of urgency."
Ms Mitchell confirmed none of the funding announced on Thursday will be allocated to addressing teacher shortages, but said the government is 'looking at ways to increase supply'.
"Obviously we're looking at what we need to do to fill vacant positions and we've got a range of initiatives in place," she said.
"These are ongoing issues we're well aware of and we're working with organisations like the Teachers Federation, like our principals groups to see what we can do.
"Our teacher numbers fluctuate every year across schools and that's normal. In fact our vacancy rate across the system is actually down a little bit on last year which is great news.
"Our current vacancy rate is less than two per cent ... but, of course, at certain schools at certain times we're going to have vacancies we need to work together to fill.
"But we're doing the first review in more than 100 years into rural and remote incentives, which we consulting with the Teachers Federation on, looking at what attracts teachers to those communities and also how we can retain them.
"There's a real focus on regional communities and unashamedly so, I live in Gunnedah so I understand the challenges that we have in our country towns but also the amazing opportunities.
"It's certainly a commitment of mine to do more work in this space, and there'll be more to do over the next year."
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