Flanders launches plan to combat alarming teacher shortages

Flanders launches plan to combat alarming teacher shortages
Credit: Belga

The Flemish government has announced a package of measures to address the teacher shortages in the region. These include better pay for staff who work longer hours and allowing people moving from the private sector to education to transfer their seniority.

An alarming shortage of teachers was already affecting schools in the region. In 2013, there were 3,137 nursery or primary school teacher vacancies and 4,956 for secondary school teachers. In 2019, that rose to 4,846 and 11,881 respectively, according to figures from public employment services VDAB.

This phenomenon and the effects have been aggravated by the coronavirus crisis. Many teachers are off ill or in quarantine, with no one to replace them. In response, Flemish Education Minister Ben Weyts announced a plan to combat this issue after consultation with the education partners.

"Many of these measures have been discussed for a long time, now they are finally becoming reality," said Weyts in a press release. "Politics is giving teachers better conditions and more opportunities, but we also need to give teachers more respect and this will have to come from everyone."

To show this support, the government will now make legal support more accessible to schools if pupils challenge a decision of the class council, for example in defiance of a final grade. "In this way, we make it clear that we are siding with teachers."

He added that the other new measures can help create an environment in which teachers feel more respected, adding that "more people will want to work in a classroom if it is a job that is respected."

Increased seniority and support staff

One new measure allows those moving into public education from private schools to carry over up to ten years of seniority, rather than only eight.

In 2020, 2,818 Flemish people switched from the private sector to education – the highest number ever – after rules were changed to allow up to eight years of seniority to be carried over when moving into public education.

Previously, this was only possible for teachers in ten subjects that were most affected by the shortage (including Maths – where the issue was most apparent – French, Dutch and mechanics), but this has now been doubled to 20 subjects.

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Until now, teachers only received extra pay for temporary substitute assignments. Now they will be given a chance to work more hours, which was previously only possible for temporary replacements. This means that, for the first time, teachers will receive extra pay for extra hours of teaching.

Finally, upon request from the education umbrella organisations, schools can now spend up to 20% of their teaching staff budget on support staff if full-time teaching positions cannot be filled. These people, who do not need to have a pedagogical degree, can help with administration and other tasks, leaving teachers with more time to focus on their core tasks.

Additionally, retired teachers who still want to teach a few hours will soon be able to without affecting their pensions. Teachers at the end of their careers can take on extra hours to help out in schools without this impacting their pensions.

Not ambitious enough

Despite measures being taken on various levels, the proposals from the government are not ambitious enough to tackle the shortage of teachers, the umbrella organisation for education in Flanders, Katholiek Onderwijs Vlaanderen, argued.

"It is disappointing that the Flemish Government, after years of alarm signals and the crisis of the past few months, does not succeed in tackling the shortage of teachers fundamentally," Lieven Boeve, the organisation's Director-General said, adding that these measures risk being a slap in the face of the staff.

The organisation is arguing for at least 20 years of seniority, adding that people otherwise still lose too much pay. "Weyts must urgently raise the bar because the teacher shortage remains the biggest threat to the quality of our education."

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