An online mass meeting of more than 350 members of the Australian Education Union (AEU) on May 5 discussed the findings of a survey on the state of government schools.
It was no surprise that workload was listed as the number one concern for teachers, principals and education support staff.
A 2016 survey also named workload as the critical issue the three groups said urgently needed to be addressed. The enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) negotiations that year failed to achieve that and the new survey results have only confirmed that workload is still a huge cause of stress, burnout and health problems among educators.
The latest survey was completed by 503 principals, 7434 teachers and 2609 education support staff, including casual staff, those on fixed-term contracts and ongoing workers.
The results were almost identical to the 2016 survey: teachers work on average 52.8 hours a week — about 15 hours unpaid overtime every week and principals work 58.3 hours per week — 20 hours unpaid overtime. Education Support staff (ES) work 43.4 hours a week, although many may be part-time.
They all reported they do not have enough time to complete the work they need to do.
Teachers reported that their workloads are excessive, the result of attending to students, unrealistic expectations of their administrative load in addition to lesson preparation, corrections and teaching.
Just 10% felt that their workload was manageable. About 41 % said that they either always or often thought about looking for another job. Ninety two percent said that a reduction in workload would lead to more teachers staying in the profession, while 72% said that smaller class sizes would achieve this. A further 63.4% said that permanent positions would help retain teachers.
Principals are concerned about their workload, as well as work-induced stress deriving from a lack of funds. Inadequate resources for school programs and to support students in addition to too many competing government initiatives and priorities added to their work stress.
The central concern for ES staff too many tasks: they often work during their unpaid breaks. Some work a second job to pay bills because pay is so low. ES pay ranges from just under $48,000 to around $79,000 on Level 1, which is most ES staff.
One IT worker spoke about his sister who had been passionate about teaching but had to give up social activities due to her workload which became very stressful. He also reported working through his unpaid lunch break.
The meeting was briefed about the union’s EBA negotiations with the Victorian government. But, because the officials agreed to negotiate in confidence I am not able to elaborate. I regard this as undemocratic because it means that many members do not know what is being discussed about our work conditions; in other words we are being treated as a third party.
In addition, we do not know whether it is time to increase the pressure on the government or what critics of the negotiations think. It allows the direction of the campaign to be held within the tight grip of the officials. The total membership of the AEU is just under 50,000.
On a positive note, when our industrial campaign begins, members can feel reassured with the strong community support. Recent surveys have indicated that during the pandemic and consequent online learning, parents’ awareness about the work of teachers, ES and principals has increased. It has led to them having a higher regard for education workers and government schools.
[Mary Merkenich is a state councillor of the Australian Education Union.]