Support casual relief teachers impacted by COVID lockdowns

Support casual relief teachers impacted by COVID lockdowns

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Andy Parthenopoulos started this petition to Daniel Andrews (Premier of Victoria) and

Dear Victorian Department of Education, the NSW Department of Education, the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria, and Catholic Schools NSW,

Casual relief teachers and early childhood education workers are the forgotten professionals of our continual COVID-19 snap lockdowns. With our source of income being regularly cut off at the last minute due to primary school, high school and kindergarten closures (to all but children of essential workers), we request action to recognise us as in need of assistance.

Specifically we ask that CRTs in your jurisdictions are more appropriately supported during state-mandated lockdowns through one or more of these means:

  • Full compensation for cancelled shifts that were secured prior to the lockdown announcement
  • Half pay for casual workers (at the daily rate based on average hours worked*) whose income is sourced from the state departments (this includes those employed by agencies, as they are simply further down the chain from Government sources)
  • Mandate that for all future lockdowns, CRTs are to be employed by schools for the purpose of supporting children of essential workers on site (with appropriate funding offered to compensate schools).**

*When assessing hours worked, school holiday periods and the first 3 weeks of the school year must not be taken into account, as these periods of reduced income are not representative of the income lost by CRTs during peak May/June period.

**This will greatly benefit full-time teachers, who are required to juggle online delivery of learning for their own class while running support for the students in attendance. These teachers are having their work-life balance impacted as a cost to their ongoing mental health.

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Integral to the success of Australian education is the role played by casual relief teachers (CRTs). We comprise roughly 1 in 5 of the entire teaching force, and account for approximately 10% of students’ learning.

Just as full-timers, we are tertiary-educated professionals. We require full teaching accreditation - the process of which can be particularly complex when placements are short-term.

Our number includes those of us who deal with insecure work and underemployment at the best of times. We are predominantly:

  • Working mothers, whose family situation prevents them from taking on full-time roles.
  • Young graduates (convinced to join the profession through promotional efforts like the Victorian Government's “Teach for the Future”) who cannot secure full-time positions due to lack of opportunity.
  • Other early-career teachers released from short-term contracts - squeezed out by established teachers returning to their positions.

Schools rely on us to fill the void left by absent teachers, as well as those who are engaged in essential and ongoing professional development. Often we are required to present at unfamiliar school communities at short notice and carry out a comprehensive work plan, with all of the professionalism and duty of care for children that entails.

Experienced teachers know that quality CRTs can make a huge difference to the continuity of a learning program and wellbeing of the children. Without them, professional learning opportunities for teachers would not exist during work hours, and any absences would need to be handled by splitting children into other classrooms.

Significant investment in initiatives to tackle the shortening of teaching careers due to stress and poor work-life balance, such as “Professional Practice Days”, would be wasted without CRTs to keep things going.

CRTs are clearly essential, but our line of work carries with it a high degree of difficulty:

  • Daily plans left behind can be complicated to execute with limited preparation time and little knowledge of past student progress.
  • It is professionally and personally challenging to support the needs of those children with diagnoses, trauma or learning difficulties, who in many cases rely on the strong, stable relationships found only with their regular teachers.
  • CRTs have limited social mobility compared to their full-time teaching colleagues, and we do not receive the same level of support and feedback from school leadership teams.

It is specialised work and not for everyone. Despite this, the absolute maximum gross salary a CRT can earn in a school year is just under $75,000, but this does not account for:

  • Sick days, for which there is greater demand due to the increased requirement to self-isolate if suffering from cold symptoms
  • The significantly reduced availability of shifts at the beginning and end of a school year, when days missed by full-time teachers for professional learning reasons are limited.
  • The cut taken by CRT agencies, through which most casual teachers must align with in order to obtain consistent work. In some cases, this can be up to 15% 

In this way, the average CRT earns well below the quoted maximum, which is well below a graduate teacher salary and without any of the security. Many of us have barely had an opportunity to recover financially from a 2020 in which many fell through the cracks of JobKeeper and other stimulus.

Due to government oversight on the essential nature of our role plus the poor future career outcomes we face, many quality CRTs are turning their backs on the profession. This should be a preventable loss, but one that will have a negative flow-on effect to the day-to-day operation of our schools. The resultant impact on teachers, students and the community, whose collective mental health and education needs have already been impacted by the pandemic and school closures, could be significant.

Please sign this petition if you are:

  • a casual worker like us, 
  • a full-time teacher who benefits from the efforts CRTs put in to ensure their students are looked after
  • a parent whose child has benefited from the teaching and support of a casual teacher
  • anyone else who is bemused that there is a large contingent of Government workers who have been ignored and let down financially by decision-makers

A great disservice has been done to all casual staff in retail, the arts and other heavily casualised industries.

But we as teachers serve the common good - our work does not revolve around the quest for personal or company profit.

So it saddens us that in this so-called Education State, CRTs needs have been deemed non-essential.

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