Working and learning
conditions on review

Online survey for School Workplace Committees.

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

Federation is conducting a review of the working and learning conditions in NSW public schools.

As part of the review, an online survey has been developed to assist Federation Representatives and Workplace Committees to identify issues associated with school structures, facilities and maintenance that have a negative impact on the learning environment for students and the working conditions of teachers.

Delegates at Federation’s Annual Conference noted that schools have different needs and priorities depending on factors such as the age and size of the school and its location. However, many schools share common concerns about lack of teaching and storage space that impact on teachers’ ability to set up and utilise technology within existing classrooms and other learning spaces as well as facilitating innovative learning strategies.

Many classrooms are overcrowded and frequently lack sufficient space to support and accommodate the special needs of some students. Similarly, toilet and other facilities are frequently inadequate to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

Cuts to cleaning hours and the number of cleaners have impacted on the overall condition and cleanliness of schools despite the best efforts of these cleaners.

Teachers raised serious concerns about the failure of the Government to take action to remove and replace about 48,000 unflued gas heaters in schools. This is despite research by the Woolcock Institute, commissioned by the previous NSW Labor Government, that “classroom exposure to low NOx unflued gas heaters causes increased respiratory symptoms, particularly in atopic children, but is not associated with decrements in lung function. It is important to seek alternative sources of heating that do not have adverse effects”.

Following the research, unflued heaters were removed from about 110 schools which the Department identified as the “coldest” schools in NSW. The inadequacy of this measure was obvious, particularly in Albury, where the heaters were removed from only one or two schools in the whole city. It is clear that if the heaters were determined to be a risk to staff and students in these schools the risks will also impact on staff and students in every school where these heaters are used.

Each year the Department warns of the need for cross ventilation when these heaters are being used. This generally requires opening windows which negates the effect of the heater’s warmth. Students and staff are then expected to learn and work in cold conditions.

Over many years successive NSW governments have failed to allocate the necessary funds for major works and maintenance in schools. The NSW Budget allocation for 2014–2015 is no different. The Budget provides for only two new schools and major upgrades of around 14 schools. This will not address the needs of hundreds of schools with inadequate space, run down demountables, problems with toilets and the multitude of other issues that impact on the safety, wellbeing and morale of students and teachers.

Both teaching and learning are impeded in schools with inadequate or unsafe facilities, resources and space. Where the survey identifies risks to the health and safety of students and teachers, Organisers will assist Federation Representatives and Workplace Committees to pursue minimising the risks with the Department.

School Workplace Committees are asked to complete the survey by August 22.