15 May 2024

The urgent need for the full funding of NSW public schools is demonstrated in new research that reveals acute teacher shortages, unsustainable workloads and alarming declines in student wellbeing and engagement that schools do not have the resources to fully address.

The AEU’s 2024 State of our Schools survey results are being released today at a campaign event, where 2154 miniature schools will cover the lawns of Mrs Macquaries Point in Sydney to represent the unacceptable reality that New South Wales public schools are underfunded by $1.9 billion this year.

In the survey of 6,794 NSW public school principals and teachers, conducted in March and April:

  • 86% of principals reported teacher shortages at their school in the last year – the highest number of any state. Half the principals said they had unfilled teaching positions at the time of the survey.
  • Over half the principals said they were merging classes regularly or constantly due to the shortages and 16% said they were regularly or constantly running classes without teachers.
  • Just 12% of principals described their school as well-resourced and only 5% of teachers did.
  • Over two thirds of principals and teachers reported a decline or significant decline in student wellbeing and engagement in the past 18 months. Nine out of 10 teachers reported a decline or significant decline in teacher wellbeing and morale over the same period.
  • Only one in ten principals said the level of counsellor support at the school was adequate and one quarter said children were waiting longer than two months, on average, to see a school counsellor.
  • Workloads remain unsustainable, with teachers, on average, working 50 hours a week. Only 16% of teachers are now committed to staying until retirement, the lowest level of any state.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said NSW public schools are funded below the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), which is the minimum level governments agreed a decade ago was required to meet the needs of students.

“The challenges are too great and the cost of inaction too high for governments to continue to fail on funding,” she said.

“While the number of principals reporting teacher shortages has fallen from the unprecedented level we saw under the NSW Coalition Government, they remain an acute problem.

“Teacher shortages are having a detrimental impact on teaching and learning with schools forced to merge classes, run classes without a teacher and reduce the range of specialist classes offered.

“The diversity and complexity of student needs has never been greater, and teachers and principals are reporting alarming declines in student and teacher wellbeing. Only one in ten principals believes the level of school counsellor support at their school is adequate.

“NSW public school principals and teachers are doing an extraordinary job, but they are being asked to do too much with too little. We are in danger of losing many more teachers, with unsustainable workloads their number one concern.

“Fully funding public schools is the only way to ensure every child gets the support they need to succeed, and we can recruit and retain sufficient numbers of teachers. There needs to be additional teachers and school counsellors in NSW schools.

The AEU research comes after an inquiry, ordered by Education Ministers, warned in December that the underfunding of public schools is “undermining other reform efforts with real implications for student educational and wellbeing outcomes, teacher attraction and retention”. The Expert Panel that conducted the inquiry said the need for full funding was “urgent and critical” and it was a prerequisite for student learning and wellbeing improvement.

In the AEU survey, NSW principals said students who have fallen behind in literacy or numeracy and students with disabilities or learning difficulties would be the biggest beneficiaries if public schools were fully funded.

Teachers listed additional support for students with disability or behavioural issues and more time within their paid hours for lesson planning, assessment and reporting as changes that would most assist them to improve student outcomes.

NSW Teachers Federation President Henry Rajendra said the survey results highlighted the critical importance of the NSW and Federal government reaching an agreement this year to fund public schools at 100% of the SRS.

“We don’t have a level playing field where every child can get the support they need to succeed,” he said.

“NSW public schools are grappling with a $1.9 billion shortfall this year alone. It’s time for the Prime Minister to step up and lift the federal SRS share from the current 20% to 25% by 2028.

“The Minns Government also needs to ensure that the accounting tricks used by the former Coalition government to artificially inflate the state’s SRS share by 4% are not relied on in the next agreement and public schools are funded at a genuine 100% of the SRS.”


Meriel Killeen, 0466 393 485

Melissa van der Haak, 0484 674 958 (on-site)