The Australian Government has introduced new legislation that will see up to five years worth of HELP debts waived for eligible teachers who spend at least four years working in very remote schools.
The program will also assist more than 3500 teachers in very remote settings annually by removing indexation on their HELP debt.
To be eligible teachers must work in an eligible location for at least four years, commencing on or after the start of the 2019 school year, with an equivalent pro-rata rate for part-time teachers.
Eligible areas are those defined as very remote by the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) Remoteness Structure (Vol 5). Up to a maximum of five years tuition fees could be waived for initial teacher education which was deferred as a HELP loan. This includes a HECS-HELP loan, a FEE-HELP loan, or a combination of both.
“We’re supporting more teachers to spend more time in very remote schools where they can help improve student outcomes,” said Minister for Education Dan Tehan.
“Waiving their student debt will be an added incentive for teachers to work in the bush. It will prompt new teachers to consider a stint working in the bush, and will also attract remote community members into a teaching career.”
The new legislation, which was introduced on 16 October 2019, has been welcomed by various education experts.
Flinders University education expert and reviewer for the 2017/18 Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education in Australia, Emeritus Professor John Halsey, said the announcement was “welcome news”, adding that it was encouraging to see the Australian Government continuing to focus on the complex challenge of attracting and retaining teachers in very remote schools and communities.
Though he added that this additional financial incentive must be carefully implemented to ensure teacher quality and expertise remains a top priority.
“As I argued in my report for the Australian Government into regional, rural and remote education released in 2018, attracting and retaining top educators for RRR schools and communities needs greater importance and resourcing being given to all stages of undergraduate preparation, appointing and supporting a teacher to become a highly competent professional,” Emeritus Professor Halsey said.
Extending the new scheme to include school principals and positions of additional responsibility such as curriculum coordinators should also occur,” he added. “As well, systems will need to provide tailored, professional support for teachers and leaders who stay longer in very remote locations than they might have originally planned to do so.”