UP TO 60 teaching graduates each year will have their HECs debts paid off if they go bush, as part of a new government initiative to address big staff vacancies west of the divide.
In an attempt to attract the best teachers to rural NSW and whittle down the 200 teaching vacancies, Education Minister Rob Stokes has announced free university degrees for 60 people a year if they accept a posting at one of 150 eligible public schools in the bush.
Rural education voices agreed the plan could work, but were cautious to back it, saying money did not necessarily guarantee quality applicants who understood rural life and education needs.
“(We) have concerns that the young teachers are not coping with the limitations that a rural lifestyle has and that is why we see teachers only staying for one year,” Isolated Childrens’ Parents Association president Kate Treweeke said.
“Our members want a teacher who gets to know the children and that community. We need consistency, our members are tired of the revolving door of teachers so reward the current teachers with these incentives as well, the ones who are there now and have shown they intend to stay.”
The free degree is one of 16 new changes in Government’s $140 million rural and remote rewards package, with teachers also now able to earn up to $30,000 a year more on top of their base salary at eligible schools, as well as getting a $10,000 sign-on bonus, a $5,000 retention benefit annually for up to 10 years.
More than a third of the eligible schools are in the giant Barwon electorate, with another 43 in Murray and 22 in the Northern Tablelands. The rest are spread across Cootamundra, Albury, Lismore, Orange, Tamworth, Dubbo, and Monaro.
Meaghan Kempson is studying teaching at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst and already has plans to head west after she graduates next year.
Originally from Orange, the 21-year-old is studying to be a PE teacher, and is already guaranteed permanent work through a Teach NSW scholarship, which requires her to be placed west of the Riverina for a minimum three years.
She said these new incentives could be a good way to lure more people to the bush, especially those without a natural affinity for the regions.
“There are obstacles for a lot of people in the cities or on the coast,” she said. “Geographical isolation is a big one, and the social isolation and lack of facilities and resources. It could be a shock to not have a Westfield or ANZ Stadium just down the road.
“I think the biggest thing is being guaranteed permanent work if you go to certain places. For PE teachers that’s a big one because there aren’t a lot of places.”