Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Standing Committee on Regional Australia
13/06/2012
Fly-in fly-out work practices

SUTTON, Mr David, Assistant Principal, Maryborough Education Centre

[12:07]

CHAIR: I now welcome the representative from the Maryborough Education Centre to today's hearing. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. We would like you to make an opening statement and then we will open it up to a broader discussion. What we have been really doing today has drifted a little bit from our specific terms of reference, but, bearing in mind that this is a regional Australia committee, I think the evidence we have had here has been invaluable in relation to a whole range of other regional community issues. So please feel free to wander a little bit.

Mr Sutton : Okay and thanks very much, Tony. Talking about figures as you were before—and I came in at the end of Kelvin's questioning—we have 102 teachers at Maryborough Education Centre and in the vicinity of 1,200 students. Of the 102 teachers, 49 drive in and drive out—they are from outside the shire—and 52 live within Central Goldfields Shire, most of whom live in Maryborough. Of the leadership of the school—the principal and the leading teachers—50 per cent drive in and drive out. Looking at the figures this morning, I noted, interestingly, half of the teachers who drive in are under 30. In thinking about this I started to worry a little bit because it might appear that the school does not value the members who drive in and drive out—and nothing is further from the truth as the work they do is really acknowledged. They have 100 per cent commitment to the place. So I will make no pejorative statements about whether you live there or not, but I will try to put some context around that. From what Kelvin was saying, the town does miss out on benefiting from the wider skills that teachers might bring in terms of clubs, committees and groups, because only half of them live within the shire. The skills that their partners might bring is also an issue, for whatever reason. Half the teachers choose not to live in Maryborough, so that is their partners as well.

One issue that we do face is that we will often employ graduate teachers, and they might spend two or three years with us, and once they have got their experience and we have put the resources into training them up, they will then take up positions in Bendigo or Ballarat, because they are closer to home. That has been a real issue for us. We have got graduates who stay for a short time but then move on—and for understandable reasons. If you did not have to travel an hour each way you would probably take a job closer to your home. Also, I have lived in Maryborough for 23 years now as a teacher, and one good thing about being a teacher and living in your community is that it does increase your accountability. Teachers in schools now are very much accountable with NAPLAN data and all the exit data that we collect, but there is nothing keeping you more accountable than actually living with your decisions. So you do clearly want to do the very best for your community, and if you live here there is that extra layer of wanting to make sure that the school can be its very best. I think that is one thing worth thinking about.

We would much prefer a highly effective teacher or educational leader who lives in Ballarat or Bendigo than an ineffective teacher who lives in Maryborough. It is certainly not an employment criteria that we use, but it would be good if we could get the highly effective teachers to choose to live here. That would be the perfect situation. I just did try to think about the reasons why many of them choose not to live here. Often the young people, and I guess it is their family and perhaps where they are from—Bendigo or Ballarat—are not wanting to move to Maryborough. Perhaps it is because of anonymity. Some teachers prefer to not see the students all the time when they go down the street. I am a bit the opposite of that. Some might like the anonymity but some might enjoy some—I will not say 'notoriety' but enjoy knowing people. I think there are lifestyle factors too. There is more of a vibe around Bendigo, Ballarat and these places, with the sort of cafe society that Maryborough might lack. But, as Kelvin was saying, it is not very far to get in the car and drive 65 kilometres. I would rather do it on the weekends than do it every day, if I were going to do that.

We have had a number of staff who drive across from Bendigo or Ballarat over the years I have been here who have been involved in accidents. That is something worth putting out there. The roads might be okay but, for example, last week we had a staff member hit a kangaroo and write his car off. It could have been far more significant. I have had a teacher involved in a serious car accident on the way back to Bendigo and there have been others who have fallen asleep behind the wheel, which I think is another issue. In terms of whether many teachers that I am aware of drive out of Maryborough to work in Bendigo, Ballarat or Castlemaine, there may be some but not many. As far as I know, and I would probably know them from the teacher networks, I do not think there are many teachers who choose to live in Maryborough and work elsewhere. I am not aware of any, actually, but that is not to say there are not some.

CHAIR: Are there any questions?

Mr GIBBONS: Is the school, especially in the primary school part of it—because it is all part of the same complex now—do you run a breakfast program?

Mr Sutton : Yes. We run a breakfast program for secondary students two mornings a week—we have actually expanded it—and three mornings a week for the primary school.

Mr Sutton : No, it is out of demand. It has been seen as a need. It is very well patronised by students and by family helpers as well.

Mr GIBBONS: I understand that Maryborough has the highest youth unemployment. Do you know the actual stats?

Mr Sutton : I do not. I know that unemployment is high, but I do not know exactly what the youth unemployment figure is.

Mr GIBBONS: I know that your school runs classes that are directed at specific-needs students. Are those classes continuing to be successful?

Mr Sutton : Given the economic make-up of Maryborough, while our students performance is very much improving in terms of literacy, we do face a battle. Our students are behind other students from more affluent areas when they start prep, and that works its way up through the schooling system. We have worked very hard to train teachers about understanding poverty and working with students with those particular needs. Other than our school and what we do, the Goldfields Employment and Learning Centre offers training to people of various ages and Bendigo Regional Institute of TAFE has also set up here and is running a VCAL program for 12 to 15 of our students for whom school was not working out.

Mr GIBBONS: Are those kids from families that have traditionally had unemployment?

Mr Sutton : Yes. Many of our students—I do not know the exact percentage—are from families in which neither parent works.

Ms LIVERMORE: Are you a low-SES-background partnership school?

Mr Sutton : Yes, we are a national partnerships funded school under the low-SES banner, which has been very, very helpful. We have put most of the national partnerships money into building teacher capacity through the employment of teaching and learning coaches. We have focused on the data. We have looked at our on-demand reading data, our NAPLAN data and our VCE data and then worked with the teachers to get a uniform approach on how to plan a good lesson. We have also looked at behaviour management processes. We have employed a psychologist, who we call a behaviour coach. He has helped us develop our processes and our understanding of the effects of trauma on the developing brain. We have been on a real journey over five years to increase the capacity of everyone to be more effective teachers for our particular students.

CHAIR: And you are actually seeing the results coming through the student body?

Mr Sutton : Yes. All our data has been absolutely outstanding. We have been acknowledged as the fastest-improving secondary school for years 7 to 12 in the region. We have had no end of schools who are perhaps where we were at five years ago coming to have a look through to see what we have done. It has been a transformation over the last three to four years, largely with the help of the national partnerships money, which we will really miss when it goes.

CHAIR: We are probably a little bit off subject, but we are trying to find things that can be constructively done to deal with an issue. The issue is based on drive-in drive-out but also on the community's confidence in itself, aspirations et cetera. From a regional perspective, I hear exactly what you are saying in what I would call the depressed communities of my electorate: smaller schools, central schools, national partnerships money, progress. But what happens when the money drops off? We have been going up for so many years. Will it start going down again?

Mr Sutton : That would be absolutely soul destroying for me. I could not bear that. We have been conscious of trying to make it sustainable beyond the life of the national partnership. Through the coaches that we have used we have developed processes in the school and we have developed the capacity of the teachers. So we have not just brought in programs that will last for that time and then drop off. We are hoping that, through the coaching, the performance of the teachers and of the leadership will improve so it can be sustained. But, given the nature of the disadvantage here, you find that key people leave. When you are dealing with structural inequalities within the society and the community it is not easy to maintain the change for decades into the future.

Mr GIBBONS: You said that 50 per cent of your teachers live in Maryborough. How many of those would participate in social activities here in Maryborough such as junior sports, senior sports or other community activities?

Mr Sutton : Many of them would. For example, Terry Hillier, a leading teacher up at the school, runs Auskick and is involved in Maryborough Football Club, and Andrew Ford is involved in hockey. I would say that most teachers—not forever but at different stages of their life such as when their kids are little—will be putting in as president of the kindergarten or whatever. Most of them choose to take an active role in clubs, sport, Rotary or whatever.

Mr TEHAN: I want to follow up on national partnerships. I was up at the school this morning. Thank you for your hospitality. I met two wonderful young girls at the school who were obviously doing great things. That was fantastic to see. My understanding is that, with the national partnerships funding, you have been able to get a psychologist on board, which has helped no end, and you have also been able to upskill the teaching staff. Do you know exactly in dollar terms what the funding would be?

Mr Sutton : I think it is in the vicinity of $500,000 a year.

Mr TEHAN: You have been a teacher for over 20 years. These programs target this type of disadvantage and try to raise schools in lower socio-economic areas up. Would you paint this as one of the best programs?

Mr Sutton : Yes, it is the best that I can recall. I was a young teacher when we had the disadvantaged schools program. I was at Maryborough Technical College them. A fair bit of money was thrown at the school. Teachers would put in an application. I remember sitting on a committee and the money would just be divided up. From what I recall, there was not a lot of accountability or measurement. We did not measure a lot in education in those days. But now, with the reams of data that we have got, we can measure the impact that the programs have. We go back six monthly and report on our progress and get quizzed on it. From my point of view, national partnerships has been absolutely crucial to the transformation that our school has been able to make. But I also take Tony's point: I would like to revisit it in 10 or 15 years to see if it has been sustainable.

Ms LIVERMORE: I have some questions about the driving factors that might influence teachers to locate somewhere else and work in Maryborough. Do you know what the childcare situation is here in Maryborough? Is there reasonable access to childcare?

Mr Sutton : There is reasonable access to childcare. My kids are now 19 and 16 years old. They had family day care back then. There are a couple of actual childcare centres that do a good job and are available. I do not think childcare would be an issue. I think it is more livability. I think people tend to think that perhaps Ballarat or Bendigo is a bit more exciting and has a bit more on offer.

CHAIR: Why did you come here?

Mr Sutton : They rang me and said there was a job in Maryborough and I thought it was Marysville. I was from Melbourne. I thought starting a job teaching in a country style setting would be a good place to learn. I came here and stayed. I do not find it terribly far to Ballarat, Bendigo or Melbourne anyway. I quite like the archetype of the teacher in the town so I have just stayed. I brought up the kids here and they have gone to school. My wife is a teacher at the school and my daughters are at the school so we all go there together.

Mr McCORMACK: Those graduates you speak of who use some of the smaller regional towns as a stepping stone and then go on to bigger primary or high schools, would some of those be part of a program whereby it is a scholarship that the Victorian state government puts up so that graduates then go into areas deemed in need of specialist teachers—or any teachers for that matter if they are reasonably remote—and then perhaps having given those three years back to the state government they then go on and go to a school of their own choice?

Mr Sutton : Yes, some years we offer scholarships through the department and that is a good carrot for us to offer and it is helpful. They are quite strict about how many schools can offer them, who can offer them and in what areas but it does work for us, for sure. Often it will just be someone who has trained at La Trobe in Bendigo or UB in Ballarat and they are putting their names out for jobs within a certain radius and we will pick them up. They might stay for a couple of years. We might put them on for a year and they might stay for another year but they can leave midpoint in a year when something comes up in Ballarat that is more attractive to them. We offered one scholarship in maths and science last year. A teacher who was driving in and out from Bendigo took it on but decided teaching was not for him and left us a bit stranded halfway through this year. There was a financial penalty for him giving up his scholarship after six months.

Mr MITCHELL: I am curious about the inability to get apprentice bakers and relying on the 457 visas. What is the education centre doing with local business to point out potential kids and give them pathways into those of apprenticeship positions?

Mr Sutton : We are involved in a Beacon program, which is linking the school in with the businesses. We also run a wide number of VET subjects where the students do industry and job placements. We are in the process of organising tours with True Foods and Sutton Tools. In getting students ready for the bakery, the hours would be unattractive. Getting students who come from families of unemployment work ready is a real challenge for us. Through the Beacon Foundation we work on that, and we do other work through our School to Work Centre. But understanding what it takes to get a job and hold a job, particularly if it has the hours of a bakery, is a real challenge. We want to link in with the businesses in order to get the students ready, but it is a challenge when students do not understand clearly what work is. That is a good point—getting students ready for work. There is also—and we have spent a lot of time looking at this recently—the issue of having our students who come from backgrounds of disadvantage understand what real study is too. They think they are working hard by doing, say, an hour a night of homework in year 11 or 12, when students down at Glen Waverley will be doing four hours a night. The Maryborough student would think that they are slaving away, but in fact, in the big race, they are not. It is a bit like that with work and study. I think actually understanding the real world is an issue.

Mr GIBBONS: Your school council is obviously made up of members of the community. Do all of them live here in Maryborough?

Mr Sutton : Yes. We were talking about our student catchment with Dan this morning. Most of our students live within Central Goldfields Shire. Some would come from Pyrenees. There are students who come from Avoca, Amphitheatre or Moonambel. Then some come from over towards Baringhup, in Mount Alexander Shire; some from Clunes, in Hepburn Shire; and a couple from Eddington, which is in the Loddon Shire. We have trouble getting school council members, but they are all Maryborough people.

Mr GIBBONS: Thanks.

Mr MITCHELL: What sort of percentage of your students would be eligible for EMA?

Mr Sutton : Over 50 per cent—I think 60, but I would like to check that. I do not have that figure. But it is a high percentage. We have a Student Family Occupation Index of 0.69. That is why we have the SES national partnerships.

Mr MITCHELL: Through that, do you employ student welfare officers?

Mr Sutton : Through the national partnership, we employ three teaching and learning coaches and a behaviour coach. We have spent the money on leadership retreats, where the leadership has gone off towards the end of the summer holidays to set our agenda for the year. That is where the main bulk of the money has gone. We have a student services program where we have a full-time education support worker who takes a counselling and coordination role. We have visiting specialists who come in through the department of education. We have a chaplain, and we have a primary welfare officer partly through national partnerships as well.

CHAIR: What is the EMA—just for Hansard?

Mr Sutton : The education maintenance allowance.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, David, for your contribution and the way you have answered the questions. There will be a copy of Hansard. If there are any issues with it, please let us know. If there is any other information that you would like us to have, please feel free as well. Thank you very much.

Mr Sutton : Thank you for listening.

CHAIR: Is it the wish of the committee to authorise publication of the transcript of the evidence given before it at the public hearing today? There being no objection, it is so resolved. I thank people in the audience for attending this hearing. It has been quite enlightening, actually. We have not stuck exactly to the script of our terms of reference because this was always going to be a little bit different from travelling to a massive mining community where there is a resource boom and where people are looking for skilled workers to be flown in or out or driven in or out. It has been rewarding. I thank you, Steve and Dan, for making sure we came here, not just in terms of this inquiry but in terms of things that impact on regional communities and that we should perhaps be looking at further down the track. The evidence we have had today, from all sources, displayed that even though there is movement in and out of this community there are a lot of people within it who care about it. That is an ingredient to work with as well. I think it has highlighted a number of the areas that we should be looking at as a committee. I am sure that, in terms of our specific inquiry, we have learnt something from today and will try to convey that in our recommendations. Thank you, very much.

Committee adjourned at 12:36