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Education, Children and Young People – Professional Support Staff in Schools

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 7 June 2023

Tags: Education, Public Service, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Ms Pearce. Minister, I have a query here from the Howrah Primary School's Association Parents and Friends subcommittee, stating there is a serious issue with the need for increased specialist school support services and resources to public schools. There has been a recent incident at the school which culminated in a serious physical assault of some of our teachers. And there is a concern that there is a lack of professional support staff in services available to students in need at our school. This includes psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and speech pathologists.

What is your response to the issues raised by Howrah Primary School Association, which I imagine the Department would be aware of? Also, to this significant unmet need for these services in public schools?

Mr JAENSCH - All schools have access to professional support staff, including school psychologists, social workers, speech and language pathologists.

Since 2014, the Department has allocated an extra 132 FTE professional support staff - school psychologists, social workers, speech and language pathologists; school nurses have gone from 146.5 FTE in 2014, to 279 FTE as at 31 March 2023. There are currently 76.85 FTE school psychologists; 88.3 FTE social workers; 55.8 FTE speech pathologists; and 58.1 FTE school health nurses allocated across the state - a total of 279.05 FTE.

Ms O'CONNOR - The concern from the school association is that students who have these needs are waiting, in some cases, years to be assessed by specialists within the system.

Mr JAENSCH - The issue there is access to these professional support staff. I note that $8.5 million has been provided in 2023-24 and the forward Estimates to increase the number of professional support staff available to our schools to support our learners and our teachers in their roles.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay.

Mr JAENSCH - This is about access to those hard-to-get staff at the moment. There's a lot of demand for them. We're investing heavily in them and we're invested as part of our implementation of the teacher wage agreement.

In regard to Howrah Primary School, would you like Mr Bullard to provide any additional detail that we are able to share?

Ms O'CONNOR - Specific to Howrah if possible, yes.

Mr BULLARD - In regard to Howrah Primary School and the current situation regarding support staff, I can indicate that a school psychologist has been allocated and there is now a short waitlist for assessments. A speech and language pathologist is also allocated and in 2023 the incumbent is working an extra day a week compared to what was provided to the school in 2022. Students with more complex communication and feeding needs are being provided with support from an additional speech and language pathologist.

We've got university students and it's absolutely great to see the University of Tasmania pick up speech and language pathology as a qualification. We've got placements of students there as well and as part of that they are supporting students as part of their practicum. We've also got a social worker there in 2023 and that allocation has been increased. There's a number of things that are now in place at that school to address what I understand are some complexities with the student cohort.