Friday, December 10, 2021

Soaring numbers of university students, unregistered teachers fronting classrooms to plug shortages

This reminds me of the Whitlam era in the 60s and 70s when there was another big teacher shortage. At that time I got a job teaching in a NSW High School despite having no teacher qualifications at all. But I had a degree

In 2021, 320 teachers were granted Permission To Teach (PTT) approvals by the Queensland College of Teachers (QCT) — an increase from 211 in 2020 and 178 in 2019.

Of the 320 approvals this year, 272 were for pre-service teachers in Queensland, with 222 working in state schools and 98 in non-state schools.

A PTT application can be considered when a school is unable to find an appropriate registered teacher for a specific teaching position and can be granted for up to two years.

QCT director Deanne Fishburn said the majority of PTTs were granted for one year or less.

"Teachers approved under PTT are restricted to teaching specific subjects and year levels in the nominated school only," she said.

"Importantly, applicants must also be suitable to teach and have the knowledge, qualifications, skills or training reasonably considered by the QCT to be relevant to the position."

Ms Fishburn said pre-service teachers who were granted PTT were generally in the final stages of their teacher education program and were continuing their studies while teaching.

A Department of Education spokesperson said the number of PTT applications represented a small fraction of the broader teaching workforce.

"The majority of approved PTTs engaged by the department are in the final stages of their Initial Teacher Education programs, and about to graduate as a qualified teacher," they said. "This is a normal occurrence each year."

Queensland Teachers' Union president Cresta Richardson said using PTT to fill shortages should be a last resort. "We really should be producing enough quality candidates — and I'm not saying they're not quality people — but we really should be attracting enough people to universities, getting them through and supporting them as teachers," she said.

It comes amid concerns of further workforce shortages due to the Queensland government's vaccine mandate for any staff entering an educational setting, including schools.

Independent Education Union QLD/NT branch secretary Terry Burke said both schools and employees were waiting on clarity regarding the health direction arrangements and advocated for consultation.

Ms Richardson said the union was working with the department on understanding how the directive would be implemented.

"If we apply what's happened in Victoria and New South Wales, we would assume that there will be a very small proportion of people who may choose to remain unvaccinated," she said.

"Where there are numbers or support required, we'll be working with the department on how best to support those school communities to ensure teaching and learning can continue for students in those schools."

Contingency plan

An Education Department spokesperson said all Queensland state schools had contingency plans in place and were well prepared for any disruptions that might occur.

"Principals and their school teams have been planning for these scenarios for almost two years, and are ready to deliver programs that best meet the needs of their school communities," the spokesperson said.

"The department will continue to follow advice from Queensland's Chief Health Officer and Queensland Health to help manage the impacts of COVID-19 on students, staff, and their families."

Soaring demand for relief teachers

This year, the department increased the number of casual relief teachers available to schools to meet rising demand.

"The department continues to track the number of offers made to relief teachers to fill short-term demand within schools to cover the impacts from seasonal cold and flu, as well as managing public health advice, such as 'Feel Sick, Stay Home, Get Tested', which is now a standard practice in the workplace," the spokesperson said.

"The department continues to work towards offering more full-time and permanent employment to teachers within a school, or cluster of schools. and remains consistent with the government's commitment to employment security for public servants."

The spokesperson said the department had managed more than 200,000 relief teacher requests, filling 95 per cent.

"The requests that were not filled can be attributed to late notice of the request by school, geographical location and availability of the relief teacher for that day," the spokesperson said.


Fish can help ward off starfish outbreaks

Starfish are the real danger to the reef, not global warming

Some of the tastiest reef fish might be in shorter supply in the future after scientists found they help protect coral by eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

Researchers have looked at decades of data on fish takes and the prevalence of the coral-eating starfish on the Great Barrier Reef.

It turns out there's a striking relationship between starfish numbers and the biomass of some fish commonly harvested for seafood.

"We found very strong relationships between the two, where the more fish you harvest, the higher crown-of-thorns starfish numbers were," says Frederieke Kroon, an ecologist with the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

"We found that for emperors, for tropical snappers, and for rockcods."

It's long been known that some fish like to eat crown-of-thorns starfish but the study led by Dr Kroon is the first to explore how fisheries harvests may affect starfish numbers.

Part of the study looked at how fish and starfish abundance differed between green-zone reefs, where fishing is banned, and blue-zone reefs where commercial and recreational fishing is allowed.

On closed reefs, the biomass of emperors, snappers and rock cods was 1.4 to 2.1 times higher and starfish densities were nearly three times lower.

"It's well known that no-take marine reserves increase fish biomass and diversity of large fishes and previous studies have suggested marine reserves could also influence starfish numbers," Dr Kroon says.

"But our study provides strong evidence there are fewer crown-of-thorns starfish on reefs with more predatory fish."

Dr Kroon says many factors are believed to contribute to outbreak proportions of crown-of-thorns starfish.

Understanding that the removal of predatory fish is one of them should help reef managers refine what they do to suppress starfish numbers. That might include altering the way fishing activities are managed.

"The next step could be to look at which reefs are particularly important in crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks by being highly connected, spreader reefs," Dr Kroon says.

"There's already quite good information about which reefs they are.

"Then we can look at how they are managed for fisheries, and make that more targeted ... so we can basically use the fish to help us keep starfish numbers down."


No evidence in support of the great PFAS panic

Erin Brokovich made good coin out of this scare

A major study on the effects of toxic chemicals that leaked into the groundwater of regional towns near Australian air force bases has found there is no conclusive evidence of increased risk of cancer or disease.

Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) were asked to conduct a three-year study into the health risks of living with the chemicals in Katherine in the Northern Territory, Oakey in Queensland and Williamtown in New South Wales.

The chemicals, known as per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), were widely used in firefighting foams on defence force bases until the early 2000s.

All three communities were exposed to contaminated groundwater and were told to limit their consumption of local fish and fruit, following historic use of PFAS at nearby Defence Force bases.

Teams analysed 2,587 blood samples, including more than 600 from residents living in Katherine, and found there was clear evidence of elevated levels of PFAS and increased psychological distress.

Researchers also found there was an association between higher levels of PFAS and high levels of cholesterol in residents living in Williamtown, compared to people living in three comparison communities without toxic contamination.

People living in Katherine and Williamtown included in the study were found to have a higher prevalence of elevated uric acid, which is a marker of poor kidney function.

ANU lead researcher Martyn Kirk said one-third of residents described being "very" or "extremely'"concerned about their health, while one in five people had serious concerns about their mental health.

But he said the study's findings were consistent with previous research that could not conclusively identify causative links between PFAS and adverse health outcomes.

"The main factors associated with people having higher levels of PFAS in their blood were the length of time they had lived in the town, whether they regularly drank bore water or ate locally grown foods, and if they had worked with firefighting foams in the past," Professor Kirk said.

Early last year, the largest environmental class action Australia had ever seen was won by residents in Katherine, Oakey and Williamtown. They sued the Australian government, arguing their property values plummeted because of the contamination.

The class action was filed by Shine Lawyers, which enlisted the support of American activist Erin Brockovich, who has previously told the ABC that PFAS "should be concerning for all of us". Ms Brockovich has highlighted studies in Europe and the US linking PFAS with some cancers and thyroid disease.

The ANU study looked at years of health records, and included the findings from a series of focus groups involving a small sample size of 180 people, including 69 participants from Aboriginal communities in Katherine.

ANU associate professor Rosemary Korda said researchers noted higher rates of some health conditions in PFAS-affected communities, but said it could not be ruled out "that these findings were due to chance or important factors that we couldn't measure".

The report said residents described feeling "trapped" or "stuck" in their homes and discussed the psychological stress and anxiety they experienced living in an area with PFAS contamination.

Many of the study's participants said they were worried about cancers and aggravation of existing health conditions.

The research was commissioned by the Australian government's Department of Health, and included international experts on epidemiology, environmental chemistry, cancer and statistics.

The report's findings have not reassured some residents in the community of Katherine, about 300 kilometres from Darwin.

Peter John Spafford, who worked as the only GP in Katherine for a decade, said PFAS had impacted the health of his patients.

He said the study's sample size was small, and he hoped further research would be carried out.

"I think there is a serious conflict of interest between the funding [by the federal government] of this and the outcomes," Dr Spafford said.


Arrogant black Muslim in a heap of trouble

The court was told the incident started when Mr Mahmoud and a friend were ejected by a security guard for riding their bikes inside the shopping centre.

After seeing what happened, Reah told the teenagers that he was watching them, waved a stick at them, and then, as they were cycling off, yelled racist abuse.

Bottles were then thrown at his vehicle, prompting Reah to get in the car and chase Mr Mahmoud through the dimly-lit car park, at speeds of up to 60 kilometres an hour.

The teenager was knocked down, thrown under the vehicle and run over, suffering extensive injuries including fractures to his thigh, pelvis, shoulder blade and ribs and a punctured lung.

Reah stopped his car but left it to bystanders to help Mr Mahmoud while he went looking for his dog.

He later lied to police and told them his brakes had failed.

Justice Bruno Fiannaca said Reah had been "fuelled by anger" when he drove at Mr Mahmoud after "unnecessarily" becoming involved in the original incident, which had escalated the situation.

"I am satisfied your intervention was motivated, at least in part, by a racist attitude which contributed to your offending," he told the 51-year-old.

"I am satisfied you were (then) angry and wanted to exact revenge for the fact they had thrown bottles at your car. "You deliberately drove at Mr Mahmoud and hit him."

He also noted that Reah had failed to take responsibility for his actions and continued to do so.

The court heard Mr Mahmoud's injuries had affected his ability to walk and run, and it was likely he would suffer long-term consequences such as arthritis.

Mr Mahmoud, who is now 20, was not in court for the sentencing, but members of his family and the Eritrean community were, including his uncle Gamal Ahmedin.




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