Teachers left feeling exhausted by workloads and staff shortages in COVID-marred term

As a COVID-marred school term comes to an end, “overworked” and “overwhelmed” teachers say they are limping to the finish line.

Only 5 per cent of schools have escaped having COVID cases among staff and or students.

Of the state’s 1,100 schools, 1,045 have identified positive cases since the start of the year, and more than 5,000 staff have had COVID.

Education Minister Sue Ellery said the state’s approach to managing COVID and student learning experiences had been effective.

“The processes that this government has put in place on the basis of the advice of the Chief Health Officer have worked,” she said.

Sue Ellery is pleased with the way schools have been managing the pandemic.(ABC News: James Carmody)

But these “processes” are implemented by teachers and other school staff, who are waving red flags about being overworked.

Schools getting by on staff goodwill

One teacher told the ABC they felt guilty for even considering taking time off.

“It’s overwhelming. You feel like you can not take time off because there’s that relief shortage at the moment,” they said.

“The school has had to lean into the goodwill of a lot of teachers to take up internal relief. They’re full load already. They’re doing extra work on top of that.”

Young Guildford Grammar Preparatory School students in blue uniforms walk away along a bush path with backs turned.
Teachers say the pandemic has left them overworked and underpaid.(Supplied: Guildford Grammar Preparatory School)

They said despite their workload essentially “doubling” to meet the demands of workforce shortages and COVID measures, teachers had received little to no compensation.

Another teacher described the first term as “traumatic”, with most of their colleagues working longer hours than ever before.

“It’s been one of the most difficult terms we’ve experienced in a long, long time. A lot of teachers are just limping to the end of the line,” they said.

“Teachers had very little spare time prior to this. But with the pandemic, there’s virtually no spare time.”

School staff doing extraordinary job: Minister

About 5,600 staff have tested positive in schools across Western Australia so far, according to the Education Minister.

“That is a significant number. We’re managing. The staff in schools have done an extraordinary job,” Ms Ellery said.

“We have committed to face-to-face learning, all of the evidence shows that’s the best. We’ve put in place systems to manage it.

Three primary school students walk across a courtyard.
The government says it has been “committed” to continuing face-to-face learning wherever possible.(ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck)

Ms Ellery lauded the measures put in place to manage COVID in schools.

“If that has meant they’ve had to combine year groups or whatever, and combine classes, that’s what they’ve done,” she said.

“The system has worked. All of the measures that have been put in place have worked.”

‘Health Department’ responsibilities burdening schools: Union

WA’s State School Teacher’s Union has echoed the sentiments expressed by teachers.

“Whilst schools have remained open, learning has been disrupted throughout term one,” the union’s senior vice president Matthew Jarman said.

“Teachers and school leaders are exhausted, they have spent another term trying to perform multiple roles as teachers, parent liaison, Health Department workers and so much more.

“And at the same time meet the needs of their own families.”

A close-up of Matthew Jarman wearing a shirt and tie.
Matthew Jarman says it is too much to expect schools to be handling matters than are the Health Department’s responsibility.

Mr Jarman said school resources had been diverted away from educational responsibilities to meet the demands of COVID protocols, which compounded existing workforce shortages.

“School leaders would like to see an end to their triage Health Department responsibilities they have been performing which has, in many cases, completely absorbed their attention.

“We need to see an emphasis placed upon the health and well-being of our teachers and school leaders otherwise workforce shortages will be a legacy issue from COVID the community will not want.”

More than 240 people in hospital with COVID

As WA’s first term of the year comes to an end, the state recorded another 6,892 cases overnight, and two more deaths – women in their 80s – from earlier in the week.

Another 1,110 separate cases were also added to the tally, which were detected by rapid antigen tests dating back to March 11 in Catholic Education WA (CEWA) schools, but were only reported to WA Health yesterday.

Medical worker prepares to test woman at drive through clinic in Perth.
There were close to 7,000 positive COVID tests in WA on Thursday.(ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck)

CEWA executive director Debra Sayce said the discrepancy was due to parents self-reporting positive rapid antigen tests through a school portal, but not advising the government of the positive cases.

“All positive cases reported to Catholic schools have been provided with directions in relation to isolation requirements, close contacts and return to school procedures in accordance with WA Health guidelines,” she said.

There are 243 people with COVID in hospital, with six under intensive care.

There are 46,022 active cases in WA – the fourth day in a row of less than 50,000 active cases in the state, after reaching a high of about 54,000 last Saturday.

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