A teacher shortage in North East Victoria has reached "crisis" point, say members of the Border education sector.
Schools have less applicants responding to job openings and earlier along the line, there have been less university graduates.
Benambra MP Bill Tilley recently told the Victorian parliament that his electorate was "facing a critical shortage of teachers".
"School leaders, some who have been in the game for more than three decades, say they have never seen it worse," he said.
"Senior leadership roles in the more remote locations have been without a permanent appointment for several years.
"Getting a casual relief teacher is near-impossible, and those in the know say that those who are available, are choosing NSW schools because they pay more.
"There appears to be no one single cause to the shortage, but a series of events that have built a fragile house of cards."
And the shortage is not just within the public sector - a meeting of Catholic school principals was called at Catholic College Wodonga in August and was chaired by Catholic Education Office Sandhurst director Paul Desmond.
"There is a shortage of qualified teachers, and we've been watching the shortage all of this year, certainly," he said.
"Young people coming out of schools are not going into teaching, and when graduates hit schools, they find it's very hard work.
"They are in class for just under 20 hours per week, then they are at their desk for a further 20 hours, and outside of that they are doing corrections."
Catholic College Wodonga deputy principal (staff) Tony Loorham, who sat in on the meeting, agreed the pressures of the job were a barrier to retaining graduates.
"The statistics say 35 to 40 per cent of new teachers leave the profession after five years - workload and demands are too high," he said.
"Then you get into a situation where the baby boomers are starting to retire - we have 180 years of experience leaving this year - and we're not getting as many young people into the profession as we want.
"I know at some of the Catholic schools in Wodonga, and primary schools in particular, teachers have left and it's only through chance a teacher has become available to cover a class."
In 2014, Catholic College Wodonga had 124 applicants applying for seven positions, but in 2018, only seven people applied to five positions.
Similar can be said for Wodonga Senior Secondary College.
"If we got to double figures (of applicants), we'd be doing well," principal Vern Hilditch said.
"It's become progressively worse."
Mr Hilditch said there were a number of factors, including the loss of a Master of Teaching P-12 at La Trobe University, which required 21 days of on-campus study at the Albury-Wodonga campus.
"They're not learning the wonders of Wodonga by being in a local school," he said.
"We recruited a number of graduate teachers over the years out of CSU and La Trobe."
Last week, James Merlino announced $45.2 million to address regional teacher supply issues including $12.5 million that will "go towards offering the best teachers up to $50,000 to relocate to country areas".
Mr Tilley questioned whether it would result in teachers staying rural.
"The $50,000 incentive over three years is a great start, but it will take a raft of changes and some localised solutions to really bring about long-term change," he said.
"The reality is Labor's incentive payment will only provide for 250 teachers across the entire state.
"There are other ideas out there and now that the Education Minister has addressed part of the issue with financial incentives, I would encourage him to talk with our local educators about some of those ideas as well."
Mr Hilditch said he would await the details of how the incentive would work.
"You don't want to create a two-tier system where a teacher is working side-by-side with someone who has a massive bonus," he said.
"I would like to see initiatives similar to what they use in the Northern Territory, where if you do four years in a remote community, you get a term of sabbatical leave paid for by the government."
Incentives work when they are sustained, according to Associate Professor David Smith of Charles Sturt University Albury-Wodonga's School of Education.
"Communities in Europe have provided accommodation, which is a huge help to students studying teaching," he said.
"We've been trying to deal with a STEM shortage for a number of years now.
"There's much more willingness to collaborate with all concerned parties, and I think that's going to be the solution, rather than one institution or sector try to and the others not being on board."
Professor Smith said there had been a decline in numbers of teacher graduates at CSU Albury-Wodonga in recent years, with an increase in 2019 hoped to continue.
"We've looked at different ways to attract students to the teaching profession and that appears to have paid off," he said.
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"We need to raise the status of teachers, and everybody has to play their part there.
"We can see examples of where that has happened - pointing to some of the Scandinavian countries particularly - where they have focused on the importance of teachers.
"We need to realise the importance of teaching to the growth of any area."
The Border context is reflected in a national conversation; the Department of Education and Training's undergraduate figures for 2018 show a 8.8 per cent drop in applications to teacher education degrees.
And a number of national reviews have focused on the education sector, including an independent review in 2017 led by Emeritus Professor John Halsey who noted attracting and retaining staff for rural schools "continues to be a major challenge".
Governments each offer incentives to study and work regionally, including the federal government's Destination Australia scholarships.
It's hoped a new program beginning at La Trobe University Albury-Wodonga next year, specifically for post-graduates with a will to switch to teaching in rural areas, will have a direct result for this region.
Head of Campus Guinever Threlkeld said Nexus students would be paid to train to become secondary teachers.
"We've very pleased to get funding from the federal government's High Achieving Teachers program, and we're now taking applications for that program," she said.
"Students will be working in schools and paid teacher's aid rates, so they're immediately immersed in the school environment, and they'll be placed in schools where there are particular recruitment issues.
"We're looking to recruit people who already have a commitment to the communities in which they'll be placed."
Dr Thelkeld said like CSU, there had been a drop in applications to teaching degrees with changes to ATAR requirements being a factor.
"We've experienced a decline, but we are seeing an enormous amount of interest in the Nexus program," she said.
"Our campus has never offered an undergraduate teaching degree.
"What we have offered are post-graduates programs and we've gone through a process of re-designing those.
"It's (teacher numbers) been a concern of the schools and the universities for a long time, and we are all working together endeavouring to prepare the teaching workforce that our region needs."
There's never been more of a focus on the standard of teaching graduates, who have to tick various exit requirements before they can finish studying and be employed.
And they'll be needed in spades, as Mr Tilley pointed out.
"In Benambra there are 49 state, catholic and independent schools ... that cohort demands an army of qualified teachers - 1020 in 2018," he said.
"That the education system finds itself struggling to find teachers should be an outrage to one and all."
At Catholic College Wodonga, there are a number of Border-raised graduates working as teachers.
But Mr Loorham said the benefits of this region could also be sold to people from the city.
"We have had teachers in the past deliberately move from Melbourne because they can't get into the housing market," he said.
"In the end, people don't really teach because they get paid a certain amount of money, they teach because they love teaching.
"Regional areas need to sell ourselves better about what the benefits are."
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