COVID exhaustion hits schools and preschools

AEU SA Branch media release: Thursday 24 March 2022

A survey conducted by the AEU last week reveals that educators in SA schools and preschools are stretched to the limit covering absences.

“The AEU applauds the heroic work of all educators to maintain classes. However, this is not sustainable,” said AEU SA President Mr Gohl.

The survey responses from more than half of SA schools and preschools shows that:

  • 76% of sites have 1-10 teachers away each day
  • 15% have more than 11 teachers away each day
  • 87% reported 1-5 support staff absent each day
  • 75% reported no backfill for support staff

The costs of the former government and and the Department for Education's (DfE’s) recent approach to keep sites open regardless has come at the expense of the physical and mental health of educators who are working into the night to make up for lost preparation time from covering absent staff.

It is also evident that there are breaches of the SA Schools and Preschools Enterprise Agreement. Loss of time for lesson preparation, assessment of students’ work, report writing, and curriculum development was reported by 56% of respondents.

Members reported combined classes of up to 55 students in 71% of sites. This raises concerns for the capacity of remaining teachers to adequately provide duty of care to students. This may leave staff open to claims of negligence should accidents occur.  School support staff have been supervising classes which is unlawful without teacher oversight. The survey also shows significant levels of concern for leaders who are “doing a huge job by taking classes and covering for support staff.”

Term 1 is an 11-week term. Educators are exhausted. The number of cases of staff absent for COVID reasons continues to escalate. The AEU calls upon DfE to ensure that industrial conditions are observed in every site and to close sites where this cannot occur. The health and safety of staff is directly linked to working conditions.

The AEU recognises that DfE has finally responded to the AEU’s persistent calls to implement ‘circuit breakers’ by suspending classes and age cohorts. 

The AEU now calls upon DfE to declare Week 11 as student free days. As a demonstration of goodwill toward fatigued educators this break will provide much needed time to reset in preparation for term 2.  Words of thanks are not enough. Real measures to address workforce exhaustion are needed now.