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Fact Check

Mark Latham says 13,699 NSW teachers are not allowed to teach because of vaccine mandates. Is that correct?

RMIT ABC Fact Check
Mark Latham talking. VERDICT: Misleading with a red cross
Former federal Labor leader turned NSW MLC for One Nation, Mark Latham, says 13,699 NSW teachers aren't allowed to work due to the Department of Education's vaccine mandate.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

The claim

As teachers in NSW speak out about "atrocious" staff shortages and increasing workloads, NSW MLC for One Nation and former federal Labor leader Mark Latham has suggested vaccine mandates are to blame.

"The latest data shows that 13,699 teachers on [the NSW Education Department] payroll system are not allowed to teach because of inadequate vaccination status," Mr Latham said on Twitter.

"That's your NSW teacher shortage crisis right there."


Is that correct? RMIT ABC Fact Check investigates.

The verdict

Mr Latham's claim is misleading.

According to a report Mr Latham suggested was the source of his claim, only 865 teachers on the NSW Department of Education payroll were confirmed, as of March 31, to be unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, or to have provided evidence of vaccination that was subsequently rejected.

A spokesman for the department told Fact Check just 208 permanent teaching staff and 381 teachers on temporary contracts had been dismissed for not complying with the vaccine mandate as of June 6.

The bulk of Mr Latham's figure was made up of inactive teachers who had not attested to their vaccination status. These teachers were not currently working and therefore not required to attest, nor were they necessarily seeking work.

The figure also captured active teachers who had not attested to their vaccination status, but who may not have been required to do so. These teachers may have been nominated to a school but not yet assigned a role, or may have been on extended leave.

A young student raises his hand in a classroom setting.
Staff working in NSW public schools are required to be double-vaccinated against COVID-19.(ABC Riverland: Catherine Heuzenroeder)

The vaccine mandate in NSW schools

All staff working in NSW public schools are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

public health order made by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on 23 September 2021, required all education workers in the state to be double vaccinated (or provide a valid medical exemption) by November 8 that year.

This health order was followed by two determinations from the Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, Georgina Harrisson, establishing double COVID-19 vaccination as a requirement of employment with the department.

On April 20 this year, the NSW government announced that a number of COVID-19 related public health orders, including the one mandating vaccines for education staff, would not be extended past May 13, 2022.

Despite this, the Department of Education has said the determinations requiring all staff working in public schools to be double-vaccinated will remain in place "until the department decides its policy position based on a work health and safety risk assessment".

In accordance with this mandate, all school-based staff are required to attest to their vaccination status within the department's Vaccination Attestation and Confirmation System (VACS).

As per a page on the department's website outlining vaccine protocol, staff "will then be asked by a responsible person (such as the principal) to show evidence of vaccination".

The source of the claim

Mr Latham followed up his May 28 claim with a tweet suggesting that his figure was "drawn from the May CESE report".


He wrote: "Many thousands did not attest any vaccination status."

The NSW Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE), which is part of the state's Education Department, published a "review of the department's mandatory vaccination requirements and school-based staff numbers" on May 9.

Mr Latham's figure of 13,699 teachers unable to work due to vaccination status does not appear in this report.

In response to an email from Fact Check seeking clarification on the source of the claim, a spokesperson for Mr Latham said the "correct" figure was 15,244 but did not provide any further information as to how that figure was arrived at.

What does the CESE report show?

Contrary to Mr Latham's claim, the CESE report does not show that 13,699 (or 15,244) teachers are not allowed to teach due to their vaccination status.

The report includes data on the vaccination status of both 78,535 "active" and 13,348 "inactive" teachers in the NSW Department of Education payroll system.

Active staff are defined as permanent and temporary staff currently assigned to a position within a government school, and casual staff nominated to work at a school (whether currently seeking workdays or not).

Temporary and casual staff members not currently appointed or nominated are defined as inactive.

Tables in the report contain vaccination status data under the following categories: fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, medically exempt, not vaccinated, not attested and confirmation rejected.

Mr Latham's revised figure of 15,244 teachers blocked from working due to their vaccine status aligns with the number of active and inactive teachers who were partially vaccinated, not vaccinated, had not attested to their vaccination status within VACS, or who had their proof of vaccination confirmation rejected.

But not all those included in his account would necessarily be seeking work, and some would be on leave or awaiting assignment to a role.

Indeed, the bulk of the 13,348 inactive teaching staff included in the report (more than 85 per cent) had not attested to their vaccination status within the department's system.

But as the report makes clear, there were several reasons why these 11,442 teachers — who are included on the payroll as inactive staff for up to 18 months after their last assignment — may not have attested.

"First, staff that are not currently teaching are not required to attest," the report reads.

"Second, these teachers may have decided to retire or are no longer actively seeking positions."

In addition, the report notes that the 2,937 active teachers (3.7 per cent) who had not attested may have done so due to being on extended leave, or may have confirmed their status outside of VACS due to privacy concerns.

"[Active] staff who are on leave are not required to VACS attest until they intend on returning to school-based activities," the report says.

Casual staff who have been nominated to work at a school are also defined as active, but are not required to attest until they are assigned a role.

According to the CESE report, of the 78,535 active teachers on the NSW Department of Education payroll as of March 31, 74,539 (94.9 per cent) were fully vaccinated and 335 (0.4 per cent) were medically exempt, while 724 (0.9 per cent) were either partially vaccinated, not at all vaccinated or had had their proof of vaccination rejected.

The remaining 3.7 per cent of active teachers had not attested to their vaccination status within VACS.

Of 13,348 inactive teaching staff, 1,717 (12.9 per cent) were fully vaccinated and 141 (1.1 per cent) were either not vaccinated, partially vaccinated or had their vaccination confirmation rejected.

How many unvaccinated teachers are unable to work?

An empty classroom with a yellow board with "KEEP YOUR DISTANCE" on it.
There's little evidence of the vaccine mandate causing any shortage of teachers.(ABC News: Kyle Harley)

Within the CESE report, the total number of active and inactive teachers confirmed to be unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or who had provided evidence of vaccination that was later rejected was 865.

In a statement, a spokesman for the NSW Department of Education told Fact Check Mr Latham's claim was "wrong and misleading" and that the "overwhelming majority of public-school staff are vaccinated".

According to the spokesman, as of June 6, the department had terminated 381 temporary teaching contracts (which did not include any principals or executives) as a result of failure to comply with vaccination requirements.

A further 208 permanent teaching staff, including teachers, principals and school executives, had been dismissed.

"This number is extremely low, and NSW has appointed over 3,000 teachers in 2022, it is factually incorrect to state that vaccine mandates have contributed to a shortage in teachers."

The CESE report also suggests there is little evidence of the vaccine mandate leading to an exodus of teachers.

"If a large number of staff were being moved from active to inactive as a result of the vaccine mandate, the department would expect to see a corresponding large decrease in the number of active staff and increase in the number of inactive staff," the report explains.

"As the active counts for 31 March 2022 are mostly similar to those for 28 October 2021, with only a small increase to inactive counts, there is no strong evidence of a large shift in staff status."

Principal researcher: Ellen McCutchan