Country Schools Staffing

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SpeakersTorbay Mr Richard; Watkins Mr John; Oakeshott Mr Robert; Martin Mr Gerard; O'Farrell Mr Barry; Black Mr Peter; Deputy-Speaker
BusinessBusiness of the House

Page: 6812

    Mr TORBAY (Northern Tablelands) [12.20 p.m.]: I move:
        That this House calls on the Government to immediately implement a review of the formula that determines the staffing levels of country schools.
    As the notice of this motion has sat on the notice paper for some time I believe it is appropriate to indicate that previously in the House, by way of a private member's statement, I have called for a review of the formula that determines the staffing levels of country schools. I am delighted that the Minister for Education is in the House to respond to the debate. I have made it a policy to visit all schools in my electorate. There are 55 schools in the electorate of Northern Tablelands and I will have visited every school in my electorate by the end of this month. That is of great benefit not only to me but also to my staff and to the school communities, who are able to raise significant issues with me. The school communities include the parents and citizens associations and the school councils. As the Minister saw first-hand when he recently visited my electorate, in many cases small regional and remote schools are very much part of the whole community; they are central to those communities. As a result there is feedback on a range of community issues as well.

    One of the substantial issues raised with me is this magic formula whereby if schools do not have a certain number of students enrolled, a loss of resources is automatically triggered. Some of those schools were finding it very difficult because, as we can appreciate in the electorate of Northern Tablelands, and I think in much of regional and rural New South Wales, particularly inland New South Wales, those magic formulas might work in larger centres across the State but they do not suit regional and rural New South Wales. Formulas that attempt to address issues right across the State often fail regional and rural communities because the impacts there are very different.

    I have raised this previously with the Minister and I believe there should be a review into the formula that determines staffing levels of country schools, with particular emphasis on understanding the impact that formula has on those schools. A review would provide an enormous opportunity for country schools to participate and put forward the concerns that they have put to me and that I have forwarded to the Minister. It would show the goodwill that exists in the education system and highlight where it could be improved. Magic formulas were raised with me and I highlighted the plight of one school that enrolled 55 students but would lose one teacher if that number dropped to 54. This school had three teachers. If one less student were enrolled it would have lost a third of its teaching staff.

    Mr Ashton: There are creative ways around that.

    Mr TORBAY: The honourable member for East Hills is asking us to fudge the system. We are seeking flexibility, and in my private members' statement I outlined a number of options that were put to me. I urge honourable members to consider them. I know that the Minister has been made aware of the issues I raised in my statement. The plight of a school that enrols 54 students rather than 55 students is that it could lose a third of its teachers. That is a third of its teaching capacity; that is a third of its educational component taken out of the system. Obviously that would have a very significant and devastating impact on such a school.

    Teachers make an enormous contribution to the community. I know this first-hand because I am married to a teacher and I often come home late after a function in the electorate to find my wife still working, preparing for the next day. I know how hard teachers work and I know of their commitment and dedication. I know how supportive the school communities are, but we need a formula that provides for regional and rural interests. We need a formula that takes into account the impact of statewide policy and the need for more flexibility in regional areas. A number of members who represent country electorates are here for this debate. It is appropriate that we look above partisan issues and consider how we can best develop a formula that takes account of the impact on regional communities and provide the best possible options to students in regional and rural New South Wales to support what is a wonderful education system that deserves our great support.

    Without going through all of the options that have been put to me that I would be keen to present to the Minister again at the conclusion of this debate, I want to hear the Government's view. I challenge the Government to consider undertaking a process that allows people to provide input on this. On a number of occasions I have met with Professor Tony Vinson, who has been to the electorate of Northern Tablelands. I am delighted to see how constructive the Government and the Opposition are in dealing with those recommendations because they are important to education and I believe that communities will respond very positively to them. The credibility of the process has allowed a constructive discussion. I note that some of the announcements the Government has already made have been well and truly welcomed.

    In closing I thank the Minister for his recent visit to my electorate, when we visited three schools and the district office at Armidale. The district office also does a tremendous job. One of the great highlights was a visit to a small school, Kellys Plain Public School, that welcomed the Minister very fondly and was very appreciative of his visit. We are very pleased that the Minister took the opportunity to visit the school.

    I acknowledge that there are still obviously a number of issues that need to be addressed—and I am sure the Minister would hear that from every member in this place wherever he goes—but the Minister was well received when he visited Northern Tablelands and took on board a large number of representations to him. The Minister visited two other schools: Newling Public School, which made a very interesting lobbying effort for a new hall, and Duval High School, which put on a wonderful day to highlight the tremendous talent in the public education system. I hope this call for a review of the staffing formula will be accepted by the Government and the Opposition because I believe that the information that will flow from it will assist the processes, together with Professor Tony Vinson's report, the work that the Teachers Federation is doing, the work that is going on in the parents and citizens associations, and obviously the policy work that the Government and the Opposition are attempting to facilitate in the lead-up to the election.

    Mr WATKINS (Ryde—Minister for Education and Training) [12.29 p.m.]: The honourable member for Northern Tablelands is a keen supporter of public education and I commend him for his obvious commitment to schools and parents and citizens associations in his electorate. On visiting his electorate I saw first-hand how those schools value his advocacy. To my dying day I will remember our visits to those three great schools, Kellys Plains Public School, Newling Public School and Duval High School. At Kellys Plains school, kangaroos in the back paddock jumped over the fence when the kids came out to play and jumped back again when the kids returned to their classrooms. It is a great little country school.

    The Newling community advocated on behalf of the school in a way I have never seen before, with a young student, pretending to be the local member, sitting on a motorbike dragging a model of a school hall. Duval High School is an outstanding comprehensive co-educational high school. I have on many occasions used my experiences at those three schools, and Duval in particular, because I was so impressed by the quality of their students, teachers and leadership. It was wonderful to witness such dedication. I am concerned, as is the honourable member for Northern Tablelands and other honourable members, that New South Wales regional and rural schools should be properly staffed.

    Earlier this year the honourable member for Northern Tablelands provided me with information he had collected from schools within his electorate. That information highlighted staffing in our country schools and the specific challenges facing those schools. Before I comment directly on the motion I would first draw to the attention of the House the ways in which the current procedures for staffing our schools are weighted to the specific needs of our rural and regional communities. All teaching and school administrative and support staff are allocated to schools in accordance with formulas based upon student enrolments and special needs. The formulas are used to distribute staffing resources equitably to New South Wales government school students wherever they live.

    Let me turn first to our more than 1,600 primary schools. Teachers are provided to primary schools on the basis that no class need exceed 26 students in kindergarten, 28 students in year 1, 29 students in year 2, and 30 students in years 3 to 6. The formula for allocating teachers to primary schools is weighted to need. It provides additional resources to small primary schools in comparison to larger schools. Our rural primary schools are typically smaller schools. The weighting used provides small rural schools with additional classroom teacher and teacher librarian entitlements. For those interested in the numbers, this means schools with enrolments of fewer than 171 students gain additional resources.

    Small primary schools also receive support through additional relief days. Class 6 primary schools, that is, those with up to 25 students, receive 30 days, while class 5 primary schools, those with 26 to 159 students, receive 28 days of additional relief. The additional relief is used to release principals to undertake professional development, curriculum development, educational enhancement plans, special school projects and administration. Within their staffing resources, our primary school principals have flexibility to organise the teaching and learning program to meet the specific needs of their students.

    I turn now to our secondary schools. The staffing formula for high schools and the secondary departments of central schools provide that no years 7 to 10 class should exceed 30 students and no year 11 or 12 class should exceed 24 students. The teacher staffing entitlement for years 7 to 10 is weighted to provide additional resources to schools serving students from disadvantaged communities. This includes some schools in rural and regional New South Wales. The teacher staffing entitlement for years 11 and 12 is also weighted to provide additional resources to small high schools, many of which are country high schools. In addition, smaller high schools and secondary departments of central schools receive additional staffing support through the smaller schools supplement, which assists these schools to broaden the curriculum they offer students.

    High schools with years 7 to 10 enrolments of less than 611 students receive a teaching allocation under the smaller schools supplement of up to 3.8 additional teachers. This supplement is weighted to provide additional resources to schools serving students from disadvantaged communities, and again many rural and regional schools benefit from this program. In 2001 a new executive structure for high schools was implemented. This new executive structure, which is being phased in over three years, increases the number of deputy principal positions and provides a more equitable distribution of head teachers. Under the new executive structure, many smaller high schools qualify for a second deputy principal. When a high school's student enrolment reaches 500, and the school serves a disadvantaged community, it qualifies for a second deputy principal.

    I shall deal now with our 58 central schools. These schools are the backbone of many of our more isolated communities. They cater for students from kindergarten to year 12. All central schools are eligible to apply for a range of additional resources. There is a whole school staffing supplement that is unique to central schools and is provided to central schools where secondary teachers teach a primary load and vice versa. All central schools receive this supplement. In 2002 a total of 32.2 additional full teaching staff were allocated to central schools under this arrangement. In addition, central schools can apply for additional teaching resources under the Emergent and Unique Teacher Supplementation Scheme. During 2002, 15 central schools are receiving supplementation of their teaching resources under this scheme.

    Central schools are also considered for program funding under departmental initiatives including the Access Program, Aboriginal education, special education, Country Areas Program and the Priority Schools Funding Program. Access programs are provided to central schools to increase senior secondary school retention. In 2002 a total of 35.4 full-time equivalent teaching staff were provided to central schools under Access Program supplementation compared to 30.3 in 1997. Also, in 2002 statewide allocation of teacher supplementation and program staffing initiatives for central schools is 265.7 full-time equivalent teaching staff. This compares to 219.3 in 1997.

    There has been a range of initiatives to enhance staffing of central schools. In 1995 the position of central school principal class 4 became a non-teaching position. Since 1999 all central schools have at least one head teacher. The allocation of head teachers to central schools has increased from 108 in 1997 to 122 in 2002. In 2002, 31 central schools have been allocated a secondary deputy principal, compared with six in 1997. The efficient running of our schools is in the hands of dedicated school and administrative support staff. SAS staff are the front line when dealing with parents and supporting our principals. As with teachers, SAS staff are allocated to all schools in accordance with formulas based upon student enrolments. As I highlighted earlier, these formulas favour the smaller schools that are prevalent in our rural and regional areas.

    For example, central schools are allocated SAS staff by applying the primary school SAS staffing formula to the primary enrolments and the secondary school SAS staffing formula to the secondary enrolments and then combining the two totals. Additional resources are also made available through the SAS staff Emergent and Unique Supplementation Scheme. This year principals were invited to apply for SAS supplementation if they felt that their school had a unique situation that warranted support. Ensuring sufficient numbers of quality teaching and support staff in our schools is a major priority of this Government. The recent launch of the Teach.NSW Recruitment Program—the most significant teaching recruitment drive in nearly 30 years—is one example of our commitment. The Casual Teacher Plan 2002, which I launched in April this year, is a further example.

    The level of teaching resources needed for our schools is also the subject of the Government's recent response to the issue of class sizes in the early years of schooling. Our class size pilot program will determine how additional teaching staff could best be used to promote better educational outcomes for our students. These initiatives will all lead to improvements for our country schools. I will conclude by returning to the motion moved by the honourable member for Northern Tablelands. As I stated earlier, the honourable member is to be commended for canvassing the views within his electorate on staffing needs in public education. I have looked at the information he has provided as well as the many letters and representations I have received on this issue.

    Is clear to me that we must distinguish between the current level of staffing provided to our schools—which I am pleased to say is presently allocated according to need and favours both rural New South Wales and disadvantaged communities—and the way in which each school's staffing is determined annually. My understanding is that the overwhelming concern is the way the formulas I have described are applied. What I am hearing when I visit schools and what I have read from the honourable member's information, as well as from representations from other members of this House, is that school communities are concerned with the rigid application of these formulas.

    Situations have arisen where a school's enrolment falls under the staffing threshold by just a couple of students, but this means they could still lose a teacher. It is this that concerns me. As Minister, I want our public education system to be as strong as possible and this means that it must have flexibility where required. Our small country schools offer a first-rate education to the children and people of New South Wales. I am absolutely committed to our small schools and to ensuring that they have the best possible resources to do the precious job of teaching our children. I thank the honourable member for raising the matter with me.

    Mr OAKESHOTT (Port Macquarie) [12.38 p.m.]: I strongly support the motion. I am a strong supporter of investment in country schools in general and, in particular, schools on the mid North Coast. I acknowledge the commitment by the Minister to conduct a review into the formula that determines staffing levels at country schools. I understand that the shadow Minister will speak to the motion and I hope that he, too, will support the review process. In moving this motion, the honourable member for Northern Tablelands is driving the Government and, hopefully, the Opposition to take on this important issue. This is a substantial victory for country New South Wales, particularly the mid North Coast.

    Only last week I attended one of a series of meetings with a group calling itself the Hastings Public Education Forum. This group of principals, parents and citizens representatives and Teachers Federation representatives decided to form a united body to present issues of concern to all the schools in the local area, in line with what has been happening on a statewide basis with the Vinson report. It is no surprise that the key issues developed by the Hastings Public Education Forum mirror what Vinson has recommended on a statewide basis. One issue that stands out is the need for improved staffing levels in schools in my local area, and I attach to that the need for improved funding levels for those schools.

    For example, one program has caught my attention because it smells of inequity, and I hope the Government will look at it. I refer to the dollar-for-dollar grants program for capital works for all schools, particularly as it relates to schools on the mid North Coast. The demographic on the mid North Coast is not rich. In the 1996 census Laurieton was identified as the poorest community in Australia. Several communities in my electorate, including Wingham and Laurieton, can in no way be described as having wealthy populations. That is why the dollar-for-dollar grants program needs to be examined.

    The Wingham Parents and Citizens Association has managed, with great community support, to raise more than $50,000 for a new permanent drama facility. That has taken a lot of sweat and great community support. However, that is not quite enough to access the dollar-for-dollar program to complete the building project. Without any jealousy or malice, I compare that with schools in wealthier communities that access that program. That makes the dollar-for-dollar grants program inequitable for country schools and schools in the area I represent versus schools in wealthy communities.

    When we look at these staffing levels—and I am pleased that that is happening—I hope that the broader issue of the need for not only a review of staffing but a review of funding levels for country schools and, being completely parochial, schools on the mid North Coast is an issue that I hope the Minister considers at the same time. These are exciting times for public education in regional and rural areas. During the next four months I hope that both the Government and the Opposition treat the recommendations in the Vinson report very seriously and invest heavily in public education. It is clear that a need exists, and I hope that within the current pool of money we see a reinvestment and a reallocation of funding to country and regional areas such as the area I represent.

    Mr MARTIN (Bathurst) [12.43 p.m.]: I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate on the motion moved by my colleague the honourable member for Northern Tablelands. The allocation of teaching and support staff is only one way in which resources are provided to our schools. The current Government has implemented a range of initiatives that benefit country schools and their communities. The Department of Education and Training has been actively exploring infrastructure and software approaches that will directly benefit isolated schools and teachers.

    In 1996 New South Wales led the world in connecting schools to the Internet ahead of countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America. More than 125,000 computers are available for students and staff in New South Wales governments schools. Many of those computers are purchased locally and they are in all country areas. It is particularly in rural and regional areas that this technology is of great benefit. As the use of technology has increased, all government schools have been connected to the department's wide area network. Some 165 predominantly remote rural schools were connected to the department's network by December last year through the provision of a satellite-based network link. This satellite service will cost the Government $4.5 million during the next two years.

    The record funding for education and training in the current budget demonstrates the Government's clear and ongoing commitment to the use of technology in schools. The technology budget includes $963 million in recurrent and capital funding during the next four years. In addition, to support the use of computers in schools and TAFE colleges, it is necessary to provide training for teachers and to expand the network bandwidth. That is being done at a cost of $247 million during four years, and another $82.3 million over four years to support the implementation in schools and colleges of the 1.3 million e-learning accounts for all staff and students.

    Some 28,000 teachers and school administrative and support staff have undertaken technology training, which is an adjunct to what I just said. This includes 4,000 staff who are undertaking Technology in Learning and Teaching [TILT] training. That course concentrates on such disciplines as science and mathematics. A further 2,000 teachers will undertake TILT training in the current financial year. As for other programs that specifically help rural areas, the Schools as Community Centres Program was established at the Windale Public School, Anna Bay Public School and Cessnock Public School through Families First funding in 2001. This program has been expanded in 2002 to sites in Woodberry, Irrawang and Wyong. This program supports families raising children aged from birth to eight living within communities where there are identified concentrations of disadvantaged.

    Some 40 access scholarships are available for isolated students, valued at $1,560 each to assist students in years 9 to 12 in trying to keep rural families together without the necessity for year 11 and year 12 students to leave home to access Higher School Certificate programs. Under the access program, isolated schools are linked together in school clusters to deliver classes using modern technologies. In 2002, 22 schools grouped in five clusters are teaching HSC subjects from different schools. That is an innovative use of technology.

    The honourable member for Northern Tablelands pointed out that he had 55 State schools in his electorate. It is not a matter of one-upmanship, but I have 60 State schools in my electorate. The diversity and commitment of the Government and the Minister to ensure that those schools stay open is important. Glen Alice school, in my electorate, currently has four students, and Trunkey and Burragaat schools, both remote schools in my electorate, sometimes have single-digit student numbers. But in all those cases there is a firm commitment to keep the schools open because they are important to their local communities. The teachers in those schools are committed not only to the school community but to the general community. In regard to the rigidity or flexibility of staffing formulas, in the Bathurst electorate the district inspector, Chris Evans, and the other staff take a very compassionate view, for which the Government must be commended. [Time expired.]

    Mr O'FARRELL (Ku-ring-gai) [12.48 p.m.]: The honourable member for Northern Tablelands must be commended for this motion because it highlights in a very real way the concerns faced by parents, teachers and students in smaller schools throughout regional New South Wales. The honourable member must be commended for his prescience in putting this motion on the notice paper well before any revelations from Professor Vinson in his report. I pay tribute to Professor Vinson for seeking to highlight the significance of rural and remote education. I particularly commend to honourable members chapter 7 of his report. He makes the point that submission after submission contained requests from school communities, teachers and parents to see greater flexibility in the existing staffing ratio because of the concerns that both the honourable member for Port Macquarie and the honourable member for Northern Tablelands have noted. That is, a rigid application can mean the loss of a teacher or the loss of a demountable classroom and can have a significant impact in these smaller schools.

    I represent a Coalition which, in the last Parliament, demonstrably sought to assist rural and remote education. It did so not only by looking at staffing formulas but also by providing administrative assistance and relief leave for teachers to cope with those things that are bigger pressures in smaller communities and smaller schools than they are in schools in Sydney. The Coalition has promised to reduce class sizes, a commitment that has not yet been matched by the Government. This will have a demonstrable impact across New South Wales.

    I support the motion. I met recently with the three Independent members in this Chamber—the members who represent the electorates of Northern Tablelands, Port Macquarie and Dubbo—to discuss issues arising out of the Vinson report and to demonstrate to them our commitment to try to redress the imbalance. It is all very well for the Minister to say in response to this motion that he will commit himself to a review. With all due respect to the Minister, who has been in the job only 12 months, the Government has had 7¾ years in which to try to resolve the problem. To date it has not done so, and that is why I will be arguing to people in rural and regional areas of New South Wales that we need a change of government. We need a better focus on these issues and we need a commitment from those responsible, not simply to a review but to take decisions that will demonstrably improve the situation.

    Mr BLACK (Murray-Darling) [12.51 p.m.]: Like all other honourable members, I am delighted to support the motion of the honourable member for Northern Tablelands. I recognise that the Independents—the real Opposition—are here. Let Hansard record that not one member of the National Party has turned up for this debate. In my part of the country the National Party thinks that Kings is the local school.

    Mr O'Farrell: Point of order: For the sake of accuracy it should be said that only two Opposition members were to be allowed to speak, as well as the shadow Minister. There is no room for a National Party member. National Party members sought to speak in the debate but because of our co-operation with the honourable member for Northern Tablelands, who has handled the debate very well to this point, it was not possible for the National Party to participate. It is unfair for the honourable member for Murray-Darling, whom I have some regard for and who has a teaching background, to make cheap and nasty political points on an issue that should be beyond politics.

    Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.

    Mr BLACK: It is interesting that we have had Liberal education Ministers, such as Charlie Cutler, who sent me to Broken Hill in 1969—and I will come back to that in a moment—and other desperadoes like Terry Metherell, who just about destroyed education in country New South Wales, but we have never had a National Party Minister for education. Being a member of the National Party and being educated are mutually exclusive. I started at Broken Head High School in 1969. The school was 17 teachers short and we had permanent extras. The average class size was 42. We had rough diamonds in those days, and we did not have the type of behaviour problems that we observe now. Broken Hill has the westernmost school in New South Wales, Railway Town Public School, which my wife attended.

    I want to refer to some of the programs we have today to address problems in western New South Wales. The first is the Emergent and Unique Teacher Supplementation Scheme. In addition to formula entitlements, schools with specific needs or circumstances may submit for additional teaching staff under this scheme. In 2002, of the 96 primary schools, primary departments of central schools and schools for specific purposes that received additional teacher resources under the scheme, 58 are regional and rural schools. This year, of the 87 high schools and secondary departments of central schools that receive additional teacher resources under the scheme, 55 are regional and rural schools.

    Schools with a high proportion of students disadvantaged by socioeconomic circumstances are supported by funding and extra teachers through the Priority Schools Funding Program. The Priority Schools Funding Program is designed to assist school communities to improve the literacy, numeracy and participation outcomes of students. In 2000 the then education Minister gave the school at White Cliffs an extra teacher. That was a great move. Next year an extra head teacher will go to Bourke. The incentive for teachers to go out west—and this also applies to police—is demonstrated by the fact that we are staffing schools, and we are getting police out there.

    The two areas of concern are nurses and Department of Community Services staff, where the incentive program does not apply. I hope that in future years the same incentive scheme will broaden to include those other classifications of public servant. Schools on the Priority Schools Funding Program receive direct financial grants, additional teacher supplementation, access to consultancy support and community development officers, additional training and development and resource materials. Allocations under the Priority Schools Funding Program are weighted towards smaller schools, almost all of which are country schools. Even the smallest country schools benefit from the allocation of a half day per week additional teacher time under the program.

    In western New South Wales we have an additional week's school holiday, and that is another form of incentive. In 2002, 545 schools are included in the Priority Schools Funding Program. Of these, 371 are regional and rural schools. Of the 154,200 students enrolled in Priority Schools Funding Program schools, 54 per cent are in rural and regional areas. Of the 280 extra teacher positions in Priority Schools Funding Program schools, 54 per cent are in regional and rural areas. In 2002, 213 New South Wales government schools are on the Country Areas Program. This year the Government is providing reading recovery support under the Reading Recovery Program to students in 842 schools. This includes 3,500 year 1 students in more than 400 rural schools, in conjunction with a $1.2 million literacy and numeracy program for students not achieving basic literacy and numeracy standards.

    Mr TORBAY (Northern Tablelands) [12.56 p.m.], in reply: I place on record my thanks to the Minister for Education and Training, the Independent member for Port Macquarie, the shadow Minister for Education and Training, the honourable member for Bathurst and the honourable member for Murray-Darling. The bipartisan and unanimous support shown for this motion makes public education in New South Wales the winner. I am delighted to have heard the Minister and the shadow Minister agree to support the motion. I hope that from this review people will be given the opportunity to make a contribution to ensure that the formulas change to suit the impact on regional and rural communities. Many communities will welcome the initiatives. I commend all honourable members, particularly the Minister and the shadow Minister, for their support not only for this motion but for education.

    Motion agreed to.

    [Mr Deputy-Speaker left the chair at 12.57 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]