Solving schools staffing crisis

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ACU student teachers prepare to lend a hand at St Clare’s school in Hassall Grove. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
ACU student teachers prepare to lend a hand at St Clare’s school in Hassall Grove. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

In a joint partnership between Australian Catholic University and the National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC), teacher education students will be employed in NSW Catholic schools as paraprofessionals to address the growing shortage of teachers and provide paid, in-the-classroom experience.

The plan will not only address the short-term challenges posed by COVID-19, it is part of a long-term strategy to place highly trained, workplace-ready graduates into Australian Catholic schools and early childhood education centres.

From this week, paraprofessionals will be employed as Education or Learning Support Officers, joining the workforce in NSW Catholic schools that are challenged by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our preservice teachers engage in rigorous teacher education programs and have already spent a significant amount of time in schools where they are mentored by high-quality teachers.”

Other states and territories across Australia are expected to join the program as part of a national roll out.

Teacher education students, who have already undertaken substantial in-school professional experience, will be directly involved in supporting teachers in the classroom and those working remotely.

This will support the continued delivery of high-quality learning and teaching in our schools.

ACU student teachers with students at St Clare’s school in Hassall Grove. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
ACU student teachers with students at St Clare’s school in Hassall Grove. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The paraprofessionals will be employed up to four days per week with in-school mentoring and support from ACU.

This flexibility ensures they have time to complete their university studies and to meet the requirements of their final professional experience so they can graduate and join the workforce.

ACU Vice-Chancellor and President Zlatko Skrbis said that as the largest provider of teachers in the country the university has a responsibility to the teaching profession, in times of uncertainty and challenge, to assist in any way it can.

“We see this as an opportunity to add breadth and depth to their experience whilst helping the profession meet current workforce needs and prepare adequately for upcoming demand.”

“Our preservice teachers engage in rigorous teacher education programs and have already spent a significant amount of time in schools where they are mentored by high-quality teachers,” he said.

“We see this as an opportunity to add breadth and depth to their experience whilst helping the profession meet current workforce needs and prepare adequately for upcoming demand.”

National Catholic Education Executive Director Jacinta Collins said the commission is “developing a long-term strategy to build teacher capacity and address the teaching workforce needs of Catholic schools, particularly in rural, regional and remote areas.

ACU student teachers with students at St Clare’s school in Hassall Grove. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
ACU student teachers with students at St Clare’s school in Hassall Grove. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“This is an exciting partnership that enables teaching students to find employment and extend their experience in Catholic schools where they are most needed.

“Supported by mentors, school and tertiary professional learning, this initiative will provide the opportunity of paid teaching experience,” she said.

“We believe the role of paraprofessionals in Catholic schools will benefit these young aspiring teachers, the experienced teachers they work with, our students and the community as a whole.”

Kevin Jones, Principal, St Clare’s Catholic College, Hassall Grove, said his school was acutely aware that the experience undergraduate teachers gain in schools is invaluable.

“We believe the role of paraprofessionals in Catholic schools will benefit these young aspiring teachers, the experienced teachers they work with, our students and the community as a whole.

“Their work will be a tremendous support to hard-working professionals both in the learning spaces and in terms of preparation, resourcing and organisation.”