A 1:25 ratio of teachers to students in rural multi-age classrooms is a recipe for teacher burnout and poor educational outcomes for students, according to the Julia Creek branch of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association, and last week’s state conference in Winton agreed with that.
Motions from the branch advocating the ratio be brought down to 1:20, and that a new fund for schools with between 40 and 52 children in multi-age classrooms be available to employ an extra teacher, were unanimously supported by delegates.
The $5m proposed fund would employ an additional teacher whenever those conditions were met, so that principals could have more flexibility with how they split classes and reduce the possibility they would have to undertake teaching duties.
Branch member and McKinlay shire mayor, Belinda Murphy, said expecting the principal to step into the breach wasn’t an appropriate solution.
“As a school grows, the principal should be being the principal, supporting the graduate teachers, running the school and dealing with student issues,” she said.
“When you look at bullying, the principal needs to be on top of those issues across the school – how do they do that if they’re forced into full-time teaching?
“I’m not an educator but I see our teachers in our small schools just working ridiculous hours, going overtime, and saying they don’t have the time they would in a smaller class.”
State schools such as the one at Julia Creek have the same number of staff with 44 children as a school with 27.
St George delegate, Michelle Freshwater described the needs of students in P-2 and 3-6 classrooms as a complex mix.
“It’s incredibly difficult to run English, maths and science every day, for all those levels, as well as everything else,” she said.
Cr Murphy described it as a “time-poor” situation, without adding in graduate teachers participating in the Remote Area Incentive scheme needing extra support, or education conferences and training programs in regional centres drawing staff away.
“The school kind of rides this tightrope until they get over 52 children,” she said. “I think it would (discourage teachers). If you throw a graduate teacher into a small rural community with 24 kids from Prep to Year 2, I just think it becomes a recipe for disaster.”
She described the request for a fund as a solution that was valuable and manageable, and hoped a collaborative effort by local governments, P&Cs and ICPA would result in a proposal that could be taken to the government by October.
“I really believe it will give great bang for buck for education,” she said.