ANGRY teachers emphasised the scale of school staff shortages as they rallied in red shirts outside Bathurst MP and Deputy Premier Paul Toole's office on Wednesday morning.
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The rally in Bathurst - part of statewide action organised by the NSW Teachers' Federation - was timed as a protest as the NSW Government's new three-year award for teachers, that would include pay increases of 2.53 per cent a year, was before the Industrial Relations Commission.
The federation says that figure would be well below inflation and would essentially equate to a pay cut.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, though, told Sydney radio on Wednesday morning that she hoped the government's pay increase for teachers would soon be finalised and she was pleased that the union had not gone ahead with what she said were plans for strike action today that would have disrupted year 12 HSC students.
At the Bathurst rally, which was held in Howick Street before the school day began, former Denison College principal Craig Petersen captured the mood of the crowd during his address.
"It's great to be with educators and not bureaucrats: people who know what makes a difference in classrooms as opposed to people who think they know what might make a difference because their second cousin's aunty's uncle was a teacher 50 years ago," he said.
IN OTHER NEWS AROUND BATHURST:
Mr Petersen, who these days is the president of the NSW Secondary Principals' Council, said the teacher shortage the state is now facing has been looming for a long time.
"In 2013, I was seconded by Adrian Piccoli, who was the Minister for Education at the time, to work on what became Rural And Remote Education: A Blueprint For Action," he said.
"And it was clear to me in 2013 that we were having a staffing shortage in our rural and our regional schools.
"The warning I gave to Piccoli in 2013 and subsequently to Minister Stokes, who followed Piccoli as Minister for Education, and more recently to Minister Mitchell, is that this staffing shortage that we're starting to see manifest itself in our rural and remote schools is spreading.
"It is inexorable. It's going to hit our regional centres. It's going to hit our metro centres."
Mr Petersen said the state's most precious commodity was its children and its most important profession was its teachers.
"Without teachers, we have no other professions," he said. "We have no future.
"And we know, from the economic modelling, for every dollar the government invests in education, there's a $2 return to the economy."
Mr Petersen said he was at the rally "because we need to improve our teacher conditions; we need to improve our salaries to make sure that they are attractive so we can attract and, most importantly, retain quality people in the profession".
The NSW Teachers' Federation's local organiser, Hannah Archer Lawton, said a 2.53 per cent wages cap for teachers over the next three years would "do nothing to address the teaching shortages that are happening in the regions".
"The government has put out policy announcements that are going to bring unqualified teachers into schools to try to plug some of those gaps and it's just not going to go anywhere to actually make sure that all kids in rural areas, and every area across the state, get the education that they deserve," she said.
Bathurst West Public teacher Sarah Peard told the rally that her daughter, in year 12 at a local public school, had had to teach a lot of the content to herself - "not through the fault of the high school teachers, not that at all; they don't have staff".
"Because they're older, they [year 12 students] are left to look after themselves because they [teachers] need to supervise the younger students," she said.
"So my daughter has learnt so much through a textbook. She doesn't have teachers in front of her.
"Lucky for her, she has early [uni] entry. But what about those other kids?"
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell told the Western Advocate that she hopes the Department of Education "achieves a pay rise for teachers at the IRC [Industrial Relations Commission] and an end to disruption to students and families caused by the union and backed by NSW Labor".
The minister told 2GB this morning that the union had originally planned strike action for today.
"I wrote to them [the union] last month and said please do not disrupt our year 12 students, they've been through enough, and thankfully that won't be happening," she said.
"So, a bit of [industrial] activity early this morning, but no disruption to school days, which is good for mums and dads today, but, most importantly, good for the year 12 students who we've got to be putting first."
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