More funds for rural education

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

Rural and Remote Education — A blueprint for action responds, in part, to longstanding Federation policy calling for additional resources and support for students and teachers in rural and remote schools.

In many campaigns Federation has urged better support for rural and remote students to access a range of health facilities including mental health, counselling, medical, dental and other wellbeing services.

The blueprint, released on November 7, says 15 specialist centres will be created with $15 million over four years of additional funds. They will bring together coordinated interagency health and wellbeing services to provide advice, assistance and direct support for students and schools.

Federation has campaigned for many years and has called for more incentives to attract and retain teachers in rural and remote schools. These policies have sought expansion of rental subsidies and improved teacher housing as well as options for permanent employment of long term temporary teachers in remote locations.

The blueprint has allocated $30 million over four years for additional incentives including:

  • a 50 per cent rental subsidy for eligible teachers in 4-point incentive schools
  • the option for principals in 6 and 8-point incentive schools to appoint temporary teachers who have taught continuously at the school for two years to a permanent vacant position and an option in 8-point incentive schools for principals to permanently appoint these temporary teachers above establishment if there is no vacant position
  • a recruitment benefit of $10,000 in 8-point incentive schools to attract applicants where two consecutive selection processes have not filled a vacancy
  • the payment of the Institute’s submission fee for accreditation at highly accomplished or head teacher for teachers in rural and remote schools.

The blueprint announces the establishment of a “virtual” secondary school at a cost of $8 million to offer students in rural and remote schools access to additional subjects and selective classes.

No detail is provided about how the work of the “virtual” school will intersect with provision of distance education, or about matters such as class sizes or the number of classes run by the school. Federation will seek discussion with the Department of Education and Communities regarding the operation of this “virtual” school.

The blueprint proposes that rural and remote schools establish education networks. It states that some “communities may agree, through local consultation, to have all schools operating with one principal at a coordinating school” and “the education network would operate with one school plan, one budget and staff working across all schools”.

Federation has called on the Minister to clarify that these networks will not be used is a method of closing schools or forcing schools to amalgamate. If such networks are proposed members should inform their Organiser.

The blueprint outlines a range of strategies to support professional collaboration and professional development. While not rejecting the value of online learning or virtual networks as strategies to support professional learning the Federation believes that these strategies should not replace the need for time and opportunities for teachers to participate in face to face professional learning and development.

Teachers in rural and remote areas must be afforded the same opportunities as their metropolitan colleagues and not be limited access on the basis of their location or cost.

Federation will pursue more information and negotiation around many of the strategies outlined in the blueprint. The focus on the need to provide more, and better, support for rural and remote students and teachers is vital.