A "critical" shortage of relief teachers is putting extra pressure on south-west schools, forced to go without relief teachers to replace their absent workforce.
The Standard understands some schools have had to combine classes due to staff absences and cancel specialist classes to free up classroom teachers.
Some school leadership teams have swapped to teaching duties and said casual relief teachers (CRTs), who could previously be called on the day, now had to be booked well in advance.
Warrnambool's Professional Teaching Solutions owner Sue Abbott said the high demand for CRTs was a challenge nationwide.
"Every day we can't supply teachers," she said. "Schools are going without two to three teachers a day because we can't supply them.
"There's no teachers around or they're all isolating or the kids have got COVID-19. The schools and the kids they're teaching are really suffering."
She said the shortage was being felt across the region.
"Everyone's the same and the schools are being really good about it because they know what a critical shortage we've got. We're getting booked out days in advance which has never, ever happened before.
"We used to do 100 teacher placements a week but we're less than half of that now because we just don't have the teachers.
"It's the same with every business in Australia. Every business can't get staff so it's no different to us."
Warrnambool's St Joseph's Primary School principal Matthew O'Brien said it had had only felt the impact this week.
"We haven't had to combine classes or stop specialist classes but the leadership team has had to take some classes," Mr O'Brien said.
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He said absences combined with staff at interschool sports days and undertaking professional development and planning days was responsible for the higher-than-usual demand, which made it difficult.
"We've had CRTs throughout the term, that's been fine. It's only been this week we haven't been able to get CRTs," Mr O'Brien said.
He said student infections were low but a number of children were close contacts and had to isolate, while staff infections had been "pretty consistent" during the term.
Mr O'Brien said they had contingency plans in place and leaders taking classes was the first stage. He said having to combine classes this term due to the shortage was highly unlikely.
"It looks like we're going to get through the whole term with the school open and all kids on site that's a real big plus for us," Mr O'Brien said.
"We planned for the worst. Our final contingency was shutting down year levels but we're nowhere near that or even thinking of that.
"Keeping the kids at school has been a real positive."
Emmanuel College principal Peter Morgan said at its peak there were 12-15 staff away per day, either COVID-19 positive or isolating, and four to five staff absent almost daily due to COVID-19 reasons.
He said in most cases classes were covered by existing staff but the "constant pressure on staffing" made it difficult to employ replacement teachers, particularly at short notice.
"There is a region-wide, if not state-wide, shortage of casual relief teachers and Emmanuel has felt the impact of this in 2022," Mr Morgan said.
Warrnambool's Our Lady Help of Christians Primary School assistant principal Nathan Auld said its part-time staff and CRTs had "been really good at jumping in and supporting the school to do extra days".
He said the shortage hadn't affected learning or school operations.
"Schools are pretty adaptable. Remote learning has showed that schools are good at adapting to sudden change," Mr Auld said.
A Department of Education and Training spokesman said it was continuing to support Victorian schools to stay safely open throughout term one and was working with any schools facing workforce issues as a result of COVID-related staff shortages.
"As well as launching our pool of inactive, retired or pre-service school staff, the departments Workforce Bridging Program can provide financial assistance to eligible schools should they require additional staffing support," the spokesman said.
Teaching staff in Victorian government schools have reported 4829 positive results from the start of term one to March 30.
"We have strategies in place to ensure face-to-face learning continues - including drawing from casual relief teacher pools or having senior members of staff take over classes where capacity allows," the spokesman said.
National Cabinet has classified education staff as critical workers which allows household contacts to voluntarily continue working if they are asymptomatic and return daily negative rapid antigen tests, reducing the pressure on school staff required to isolate.
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