Teachers at troubled Shepparton super school deny racism claims

Teachers at a Shepparton super school where more than a quarter of the students are Indigenous or from a multicultural background are disputing claims in an Education Department report that staff are racist, and say they are stressed, overworked and under-resourced.

The minutes of a staff consultation meeting in mid-March show teachers at Greater Shepparton Secondary College queried the findings of a report commissioned by Victoria’s Department of Education and Training detailing systemic racism among the exclusively white teaching staff.

An artist’s impression of Greater Shepparton Secondary College’s new campus, set to open in 2022.Credit:Victorian School Building Authority

The new college has been plagued by problems including incidents of violence between students and allegations of racism by staff and students since last year’s merger of four high schools.

The college is spread across three campuses. It has more than 2000 students, of whom more than 600 are from multicultural or Indigenous backgrounds. Next year, it will move to a new $121 million campus on the site of the former Shepparton High School.

“If a report was being written on behalf of the department, why were staff not part of the information-gathering process, yet we have been mentioned in the report,” a teacher said at the meeting.

Other issues raised were poor communication from school management, excess hours, inadequate staffing levels and too-large class sizes.

“At times, one staff member has supervised from 60 to 80 students in one [study] session,” a staff member said. “How can this be amended?”

The school’s Australian Education Union sub-branch wrote a motion decrying racism and calling on the Education Department to consult with them and to supply additional teaching and classroom support.

A department spokesperson said it would work with the school’s leadership team to address the report’s findings.

″While some teachers were consulted, we acknowledge more could have been done to engage more staff in the production of the report,” the spokesperson said.

Deputy Nationals leader Steph Ryan said the stressful situation was leading to a teacher shortage.

“Because teachers are under so much pressure, they are leaving the school, they are going on stress leave and as a consequence there is a dire shortage across the school, leaving teachers having to look after multiple classes at once, or students without a teacher at all,” she said.

“Teachers don’t feel supported and they are worried about the future of the young people they are teaching.”

Ms Ryan said teachers disputed the findings of racism and that the ripple effects of the school’s problems were affecting the entire region, including families and teachers in her neighbouring electorate of Euroa.

Australian Education Union Victorian president Meredith Peace said staff and the union needed to be shown the report.

“Staff must have the opportunity to understand the contents of the report, and be engaged properly in the work required to address the issues raised,” she said.

“Racism should never be tolerated and we expect the department to provide the additional resources necessary to assist the school community to tackle the issues.”

Opposition education spokesman David Hodgett has visited the school and said while acting executive principal Barbara O’Brien was clearly committed to the success of the merger, the department needed to outline concrete steps for tackling the problems.

The department spokesperson said additional staffing resources had been supplied to the school including extra teaching staff, casual relief teachers, education support staff and multicultural aides.

“In a state-first, a senior Koori education adviser will be appointed to provide strategic advice to the school about culturally inclusive learning environments.

“Greater Shepparton Secondary College maintains appropriate class sizes to ensure all students experience high-quality learning,” the spokesperson said.

Education Minister James Merlino has previously said that the super school was part of a plan to lift decades of poor academic outcomes in Shepparton.

with Adam Carey

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