No security for teachers of special needs pupils

  • Anna Patty Education Editor
  • April 29, 2009

ELIZABETH GAWTHORNE has spent 11 years working with children at Marrickville High School yet is still classed as a temporary employee.

As a school learning support officer, she works alongside classroom teachers, helping children with special needs.

While satisfying, the job provides no security from one year to the next. Further training opportunities are limited.

"I have 11 years of experience and can be told I'm not wanted next year," she said.

"I am still classed as a long-term temporary employee.

"At the end of each year I have to see if I have a job the following year."

The NSW Public Service Association is starting a campaign on behalf of 5000 learning support officers this week in an effort to help them secure permanent employment and professional development from the Department of Education and Training.

The Students Need Us campaign will coincide with students returning to school from holidays from today. More than 30,000 students with special needs attend mainstream classes.

The association president, Sue Walsh, said most public servants could obtain permanent employment after two years in the job. She is urging the Department of Education to provide permanent status and professional development opportunities for the school learning support officers.

"We want the department to recognise the work that they do, and we want these people to be made permanent. Some … have been working for more than 20 years and they can't borrow money and find it difficult to get home loans because they don't know from one year to the next whether they will have employment, or whether their hours will be dropped significantly."

Sebita Hipwell said that her daughter Laura, 9, had benefited from the help of a learning support officer at Beverley Park Special School in Campbelltown. Laura has been diagnosed with autism and developmental delays.

"These people are invaluable," she said. "They work side-by-side with the classroom teacher, as a team. It is the special support officer's determination and effort that has pushed Laura forward in her personal growth."

The Department of Education and Training yesterday said it was in negotiations with the association and would discuss the possibility of offering permanent employment for more school learning support officers.

A spokesman for the department said it was committed to permanently employing staff "where appropriate".

"The workload of school learning support officers can vary significantly from year to year due to the number of students requiring assistance and their disability level. To ensure disabled students receive [school learning support officer] assistance where and when it is needed, the officers are employed on a temporary basis."