South-west schools facing critical teacher shortages could be staffed by Melbourne relief teachers paid $700 per day in a bid to keep schools operating, but one Warrnambool principal is questioning if an "untapped" body of registered teachers exists to fill the vacancies.
The Department of Education and Training introduced a financial incentive this month to encourage casual relief teachers (CRT) from metro-Melbourne to head to the hard hit regions for at least two weeks.
Successful candidates willing to relocate are able to earn an extra $300 per day, on top of the regular CRT $400 daily pay rate. Eligible teachers may work across multiple schools in the regional area.
The statewide government school initiative is in response to critical shortages and significant staff absences this year with south-west schools forced to combine classes and cancel specialist classes to free up classroom teachers.
The shortages are due to COVID-19 and flu-related absences and other issues, including unvaccinated teachers leaving the profession, making it difficult for the education sector to fill vacancies.
Brauer College principal Jane Boyle welcomed the initiative which has led to the deployment of 15 teachers to schools in Shepparton, Wodonga and Wangaratta.
"It's definitely something I'd support for those schools that are unable to cover their CRT requirements at the moment," Ms Boyle said. "We're not at that point just yet."
While the college faced its highest number of teacher and student absences in mid-May, she said it wouldn't need to rely on metro teachers for now.
"It has improved, people aren't getting as much COVID at the moment but we'll just wait and see what the flu season brings," Ms Boyle said.
Emmanuel College principal Peter Morgan said while his school faced "unprecedented" staffing pressures this term, budget constraints meant it wasn't in a position to offer the $700 payments.
Mr Morgan said school budgets were carefully planned and finely balanced and, without external or government assistance, the college would be unable to sustain payments of $700 per day for replacement teachers.
"The initiative assumes there is an untapped supply of qualified teachers available to step in and take up the offer," Mr Morgan said.
"Locally, schools have explored many options to attract and engage teachers to fill vacancies and I am not sure there's an untapped body of registered teachers available to step in in response to this offer."
Mr Morgan said the college had managed staff illness by employing casual relief teachers and existing staff covering lessons for colleagues.
"We have also employed a number of recently retired teachers while several part-time employees have increased their weekly hours to assist us to cover those who are absent," he said.
Mr Morgan said the school's CRT budget was under pressure for this time of the year but if COVID-19 and flu rates flattened in the second half of the year, it would be in a position to manage it.
In April, The Standard reported a "critical" shortage of relief teachers was putting extra pressure on south-west schools which were forced to go without relief teachers to replace their absent workforce.
Meanwhile, in May, Warrnambool secondary schools faced "significant" staff and student absences following a spike in local COVID-19 case numbers.
Australian and international recruitment agency anzuk advertised the regional teaching incentive saying education was "significantly impacted by the effects of the pandemic" and while statewide schools had been affected, those in regional Victoria had been "hit the hardest".
Anzuk recruitment team leader Tenielle Henderson said the financial incentive was to cover the cost of travel plus some extra spending money.
The incentive is in place for the remainder of term two, which ends on Friday, and is likely to continue into term three.
The Standard sent questions to the education department on Monday asking if any metro-Melbourne teachers had come to the south-west or if it was likely but did not receive a response.
A Department of Education and Training spokesman said said in the first two weeks of the program, 15 teachers had been deployed to schools in Shepparton, Wodonga and Wangaratta.
"As just one part of the work we're doing to support schools to manage the impact of COVID-19 and flu season, we're seeking eligible applicants to work in Victorian schools to provide short-term, casual support throughout 2022," the spokesman said.
"We are also continuing to work with the CRT agencies to ensure teachers are available in Victorian government schools across all areas of the state - including the establishment of a daily rate of travel, accommodation and meals for CRTs who relocate to work in rural Victoria," the spokesman said.
"The Victorian Government is providing $41.7 million to attract more teachers to fill hard-to-staff positions in government schools across the state. 250 incentives have been paid this financial year, of which 70 per cent were allocated to rural and regional schools," he said.
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