Teacher strike action explained

Industrial action: Local educator John Agnew outlined the reasons why teachers felt they had to strike last week.

Industrial action: Local educator John Agnew outlined the reasons why teachers felt they had to strike last week.

A local educator has given an insight into why teachers from Naracoorte and Lucindale participated in last week’s strike action.

Teachers around the state held industrial action for the first time in a decade last Thursday as their concerns over a range of issues and a lack of action on staff enterprise agreements came to a head. 

Naracoorte High School and Lucindale Area School were among 183 schools which closed until 12.15pm.

With the previous enterprise agreement ending months ago, the Australian Education Union SA Branch organised industrial action when discussions for a new agreement broke down. 

Early last week, a vast majority of worksites voted in favour of the stop work action. On the basis of that support, the branch executive declared a state-wide stoppage.

Around 1300 teachers took action throughout the state, including Naracoorte High School’s maths and science coordinator John Agnew. 

Explaining his reasoning behind the action, Mr Agnew said a range of factors including staff workloads concerned him, and negotiations for a new agreement didn’t seem to be progressing.

“We are a fair way after the cut off date for the enterprise agreements,” Mr Agnew explained. “And there doesn’t seem to be any real desire to come to an agreement.” 

The enterprise agreement, as Mr Agnew explained, covers the working rights of teachers and school staff.

There doesn’t seem to be any understanding from the state government that things out here are actually a bit harder

John Agnew

It includes staff to student ratio, teacher workloads and degree of funding for students with special needs, all of which were issues raised during the industrial action.

“People would think that it is something about pay,” Mr Agnew said.

“But for most of the people here it’s not about pay, it’s about incentives such as encouraging people to come and teach in the country.” 

Mr Agnew believes there is no real incentive for teachers to work in country areas, with a locality allowance negligible.

“There doesn’t seem to be any understanding from the state government that things out here are actually a bit harder.”

​Reducing classroom sizes was also a topic widely raised by those participating, with the current staff to student ratio for classrooms in high school sitting at 29 students per teacher for Years 8-10 and 26 students per teacher for Years 11 and 12.

Mr Agnew commented: “In one class of Year 9 Mathematics, the students may be sitting at about four different levels, and how am I supposed to manage that?

“There is a lot of difficulty to support the kids due to these classroom sizes.”

Need for more non-instructional time was also called for, with secondary school teachers currently allowed 5 hours and 40 minutes per week of non-instructional time as well as 21 hours per week of face-to-face teaching time. 

“There is more demand for accountability to parents such as sending email and other contact accountability,” Mr Agnew stated.

“And all that contact is a little creeping expectation that happens but it just means there’s more time that is getting used.” 

Mr Agnew also questioned the new programs announced in the Marshall State Government’s 2018-19 State Budget earlier this year. 

In September, the state government announced a Literacy Guarantee Unit to help improve teaching practices for students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties. 

Yet Mr Agnew questioned whether new programs were the way to go, with teachers struggling to find the time to plan accurately for existing programs such as STEM. 

“This style of teaching will require more collaboration between teachers to try and build it,” Mr Agnew said. 

“It is a different way of teaching and we plan with the time we have, if we had more time, the greater the outcomes will be.” 

Teachers are currently asking for an extra 60 minutes of non-instructional time per week per teacher for collaboration with peers and professional responsibilities outside the classroom, which can be used to plan for the programs. 

Mr Agnew also explained his concern behind the funding for children with special needs. 

He explained that there are some students needing to be tested for alternative programs and support, yet assessments now take a lot of time to be completed and more funding is needed to speed those processes up.

“There are some really needy kids in this situation, with poor literacy and numeracy skills that we just can’t get into the system to get assessed,” Mr Agnew explained. 

In a statement last week, state Treasurer Rob Lucas hit back at teachers, calling the industrial action a “failed attempt”. 

Mr Lucas explained the estimated cost if the AEU’s requests went ahead would be up to $59 million per year for the extra non-instructional time alone. 

Mr Lucas also explained the proposed salary increase of 3.5 per cent would cost up to $23 million per year.

An extra two sick days leave per teacher would cost $15.3 million per year and the extra non-instructional time proposed for all teachers for report writing may cost up to $28.8 million. 

Mr Lucas also explained the State Budget papers revealed an additional $196 million in recurrent funding this year compared to last year, with further increases planned over the next three years.