OPINION: Regional educational barriers must go

Peter RundleCountryman
Transportable classroom at Atwell Primary School in the southern suburbs .... picture Barry Baker
Camera IconTransportable classroom at Atwell Primary School in the southern suburbs .... picture Barry Baker Credit: WA News

Equity in education in WA is not a privilege. It is a right every student needs and deserves. Unfortunately, access to that right is a long way from ideal.

Families across WA are faced with a raft of issues every day at their local schools. From substandard facilities to a lack of maintenance, all are problems no student should have to put up with.

There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has proved challenging for the Education Department, but it should not be a scapegoat for sub-par education and resources. Principals and teachers stepped up to the plate to deal with the barriers they faced, ensuring students’ learning and safety were the highest priority.

Lockdowns meant online learning became the norm, but it also proved to be the main barrier for regional and even some metropolitan students as a lack of access to reliable data, connectivity and network speed compromised their education.

What is the point of online learning if students can’t access it?

The lack of relief teachers has also put extra strain on full-time staff, given an increased workload as they are requisitioned for internal relief.

Stressed teachers equate to a stressed classroom and can lead to a compromised duty of care and safety for both staff and students through no fault of their own.

I have absolutely no doubt teachers are doing the best they can and will always look after their students first and foremost but, with 25 per cent of graduate teachers leaving the sector within five years, the Government must address what is shaping up to be an impending crisis.

Roe MP Peter Rundle.
Camera IconRoe MP Peter Rundle. Credit: Countryman

One of the schools in my electorate of Roe has seen its fifth principal appointed in five years. A lack of continuity in leadership weakens the school and, by default, the community.

The recruitment of a principal shouldn’t just be about filling a role. The needs of the community must be considered, and priority given to finding the best person for the position. The current recruitment processes are outdated and unsuited.

I call on the McGowan Government to conduct a review into the process quickly.

Even if the right person is selected for the position, housing them in our towns creates an even bigger issue.

Rents are skyrocketing, house prices are at record highs and public housing is in such a deplorable state, that in some instances, the applicant for an education position will refuse an offer purely due to the lack of suitable accommodation.

I have heard stories of principals and teachers waiting a full term or more to get the keys to their house.

Financial benefits for teachers should be addressed by this Government.

The $1000 public sector salary freeze imposed by the Government in its last term is looking shaky as expected.

Freezing wages for four years not only puts a strain on the recruitment of excellence, but it also puts immense pressure on budget projections as the Government tries to make up for the time lost in normal wage increase cycles.

Many teachers will become tired of the rhetoric and austerity and want some reward for the work they do, justifiably so.

Our orange school buses are the lifeline for our families in accessing education in our State.

People ring my office every week regarding an issue with a bus service. School bus services regulations are outdated and inflexible.

The lack of relief teachers has also put extra strain on full-time staff, given an increased workload as they are requisitioned for internal relief.

Peter Rundle

Some families have left communities purely because they cannot access a bus to their local school. When families leave, communities flounder.

I know of mothers who had to give up work because they must get their children to numerous bus stops many kilometres away at different times.

I am very pleased to see the Transport Minister has agreed to a review of school bus services, and I look forward to working with her on this.

Mental health in our youth must also be a priority.

Intervention can save and change lives and schools need the support of qualified professionals to work with vulnerable students and families.

The latest results from the DETECT report said 40 per cent of secondary school students were experiencing anxiety — three times higher than the last time a similar study was conducted, in 2014.

On a more positive note, I am pleased to see our colleges of agriculture have very high rates of enrolments and are attracting girls as well as boys.

We cannot underestimate the importance of quality teachers and leaders in our schools.

Considering the $5 billion surplus predicted, this is an opportunity for the State Government to better support teachers and staff, replace outdated facilities and infrastructure of many schools and improve accessibility to bus services and networks to help create better outcomes for our youth.

Their fundamental right to equity in education should be top of mind.

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