While it was always a given the ACT Liberals' no confidence motion in the Education Minister Yvette Berry was going to fail, it was still a self-inflicted black eye the Barr government could have done without.
It is remarkable, especially given the historically close ties between the ACT branch of the Australian Education Union and the ACT Labor Party, that the union had to resort to taking action under Workplace Health and Safety legislation in the face of a failure to act on well documented concerns by either the Education Directorate or the Minister.
WorkSafe ACT was called to the Macgregor Primary School last week following union concerns there weren't enough staff to provide face-to-face teaching services as a result of teachers being furloughed due to COVID-19.
Following this intervention the decision was made to send part of the student body back into home learning in order to alleviate the pressure on staff.
"Macgregor was a turning point for the Education Directorate. It was recognition that maybe they had not been acting in the best interests of students and staff by cobbling [together] arrangements to keep schools open," ACT AEU branch president Angela Burroughs said last week.
Ms Berry's response to the effect that she was "surprised that remote learning hadn't been employed sooner this term considering the high numbers of COVID-19 cases in the territory, and could not rule out other schools being affected" begs the question of where she has been and what she has been doing.
Macgregor was not the straw that broke the camel's back and prompted the ACT Liberals to move their no confidence motion on Wednesday however.
That was the revelation of chronic problems linked to alleged student violence and COVID-related teacher shortages at Calwell High School which prompted WorkSafe ACT to issue a prohibition notice from Monday, April 4.
Teachers told WorkSafe inspectors they were "exhausted". One reportedly described the campus as "like a war zone, only worse. At least in a war zone you can fight back".
According to the prohibition notice teachers had regularly been taking classes of more than 40 students due to a chronic shortage of staff and COVID-19 absences. It was alleged that on one occasion a group of 75 students was being supervised by one teacher and a learning support officer.
Inspectors were told of student mobs forming which would target and then physically assault other students. The problems had started in the year 8 cohort and was now spreading to the year 7 cohort.
Some teachers had suffered significant injuries while trying to stop the violence.
While it is true COVID has put immense pressure on education the reality is that other services, including hospitals, police and ambulance services, have risen to the challenge. Ms Berry has also been at pains ever since the beginning of the term to reassure parents all was under control and that their children were in a safe and supportive environment. That does not appear to have been entirely correct.
The question at the heart of the Opposition's no confidence motion - and Elizabeth Lee's call for Ms Berry's resignation - is does the Minister take an active role in the management of the schools covered by her portfolio or is she more like a semi-independent observer who bungees in from time to time to provide running commentary?
It's clear that when the Minister says "we can't predict what's going to happen next week or day-to-day in fact, but we're ready for it if that needs to be the case" her assertion needs to be taken with several large grains of salt.
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