Country Education Strategy

Thursday October 28, 2021

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (15:26): My question is to the Minister for Education. Can the minister update the house on incentives to attract teachers to regional areas like Mount Gambier?


The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER (Morialta—Minister for Education) (15:26): I thank the member for the question. It is an excellent question and it comes hot on the heels of the government's release of our Country Education Strategy, which is a very significant body of work. I would like to thank teachers and leaders in the member's electorate and surrounding areas.

We had, as part of our very significant consultation in developing a richly detailed Country Education Strategy—which is of course a long-term strategy 2021 to 2028—staff from Grant High School, Mount Gambier High School, Yahl Primary School, Kangaroo Inn Area School and Millicent North Kindergarten who were all engaged in that process, as indeed were staff right around South Australia from all corners of our state, feeding in what were the key challenges, the drivers of behaviours, the things that will encourage more people to come to country South Australia—to enter towns and communities where they are going to be teaching, and to enter those towns successfully and to integrate into the community successfully—and what is best practice and how can we consolidate that across South Australia?

That is a really important question. We have a range of initiatives that are outlined under our Country Education Strategy. Some of the early activities involved working with universities to reduce barriers to strengthen our pipeline of teachers to the country and accelerate our replacement of ICT infrastructure within all public schools, including in the country.

We have already laid fibre-optic cable to all except I think three of our public schools in country South Australia. In the far, far north of our state there are different solutions for Marree and Leigh Creek, I understand, and Kangaroo Island has had a significant upgrade to their facilities, but it doesn't at this stage involve fibre to the school. But every single one of our other schools, I believe—I could be mistaken with one or two, but I think it is every single one of them—now has that fibre-optic cable. The internal work within those schools is to make sure those schools can get maximum benefit out of it and that teachers can have the optimum work experience, which is really important.

The strategy is also bolstering allied health supports to schools in speech pathology and psychology through telehealth practice and is one of the key things where we are now recruiting roles to assist in making the workload in those schools better supported. It will also be improving our permanent and temporary relief teacher supply to the country, increasing our pool of available permanent and country relief teachers, and funding the removal of barriers to their deployment in country regions.

It is also supporting schools to partner in curriculum delivery across our regions, operating best practice so that students can access subjects they desire without having to necessarily rely on an open access college offering high quality, as it may be, but where a teacher in Adelaide might not have that personal engagement that a teacher operating in three or four partner schools in a local region may have, a better personal contact—and, indeed, bringing country voices to the fore.

I think one of the really interesting things that is going on at the moment is a partnership the Department for Education has with the Teach For Australia charity, a really important group that is bringing incredible individuals who have been successful in life already, the best of the best in their areas, and encouraging them to undertake teaching without having to go away for several years to do a degree where they are not being paid. Instead, it is supporting them to do a master's from day one. The first three were rolled out this year in Roxby Downs and Whyalla and in one of the member's own local schools—at least one of them, possibly up to three.

There will be more Teach For Australia associates next year in that area. There is a lot of exciting work that we are doing. I think the removal of the right of return from country South Australia, as I believe has been proposed by those opposite in the Labor Party, would damage massively the opportunity, the enthusiasm that people can go to the country to take permanent positions. I certainly think that would be a detriment to the attraction of country teachers, but we are very excited about building up that workforce, including in Mount Gambier.