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Volunteering in Schools

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

My children are enrolled in three different ACT schools. I am grateful that they get to grow up with easy access to quality education. We parents understand personally the role education plays in growing strong individuals who can think critically, reason logically and act for themselves, even – perhaps especially – when that means not blindly following the crowd.

Essential to the educational enterprise are many dedicated, hard-working teachers. My children have overwhelmingly been taught by capable and passionate professionals who accelerate their students’ personal development and instil in them a love of learning that will last a lifetime.

Today I pay tribute to these teachers. We have always asked much of our teachers: to instruct, to guide, to provide gentle but effective disciple, to create engaging learning environments, and so forth. In recent years, many have argued, we have begun to ask too much of our teachers, often leaving them overworked and underappreciated.

A recent national survey of 2,000 teachers found that 73 per cent of them thought their workloads had noticeably increased just in the past year. More than two-thirds of those surveyed said that they were working more than 46 hours a week, and nearly one-quarter of them reported working more than 55 hours a week.

As a result of these and other pressures, almost one in five school teachers is currently looking to leave the profession, another study has found. Because teachers now have to do so many additional tasks at school, they are often left doing much of their prepping and marking at home. This same study found that Australian teachers on average spend 20 per cent of their holidays either going in to work or working from home.

I have tried to support the teachers at my children’s schools however I could. I have volunteered to read to kids one morning each week before the school day started, and I have helped with various school events: cooking, serving and cleaning. Being engaged in my children’s schools has always felt like the right thing to do, and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to be involved.

I therefore felt disappointed to read in last Saturday’s Canberra Times about the ‘volunteering crisis’ that is affecting a large number of Canberra’s schools. Nearly half of the territory’s P&Cs are struggling to fill all committee positions, and three college P&Cs have folded over the past four years. A lack of volunteers has already impacted things like sport and fetes, and a decline in volunteer fundraising will hurt the provision of essential materials in schools. All this is in addition to the work volunteers do directly to support teachers.

A number of possible factors contributing to this decline has been identified. One main factor is lack of time. Cost of living rises in Canberra – such as increases in rates, rents and fees – have hit average families especially hard, reducing the time that parents have available to lend a hand at school. Other factors include increasing bureaucratic requirements, such as needing a food handling certification to run a fundraising barbecue.

The Association of Parents and Friends of ACT Schools, the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations, Volunteering and Contact ACT and the Canberra Preschool Society have joined forces to try to reverse this worrying trend. They are currently running a survey on called ‘Volunteering in ACT Schools’ to see if they can more clearly identify the pitfalls, difficulties and barriers faced by potential volunteers.

I encourage all parents of ACT schoolchildren and other concerned community members to contribute to this effort by completing the online survey, and whenever and however possible, please find the time to serve a local school. Our teachers need our help. Our kids need our help.

Thank you.

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