Auckland principal says sickness among teachers is worst in 30-year career

Sickness among teachers is the worst it's been in the 30-year career of one West Auckland Principal due to winter illnesses and COVID-19 isolation. 

Paid teacher sick leave has almost doubled this year compared to the same time period in 2019, before the onslaught of COVID-19. 

Room 17 at Auckland's Western Heights School has its dedicated classroom teacher today. 

Something that principal Ash Maindonald said is no longer a given.

"On any given day up to seven teachers, away sick and the impact of that as you can imagine is massive. So much time trying to find relievers, trying to organise splitting of classes."

And it's causing headaches when it comes to the school's books. They're in the red. 

"All my banked staffing to open help me open new classes at the end of the year. gone. nothing there. 50 thousand dollars overspent on staffing and I'm not even halfway through the year."

And the West Auckland school isn't alone. 

Teachers have claimed more than 183,000 paid sick days so far this year, that's almost double compared to the same time period in 2019 at just over 95,000 days. 

To ensure classes have a teacher, schools have hired relief teachers for more than 177 thousand days, up again from 2019. 

Teachers are absent due to COVID, winter illnesses, isolation and taking care of their sick children. 

"Greater than I've ever known in my 30 years as a Principal."

The Ministry of Education says it's provided additional support in term 1 and has increased that support with extra funding this term, through the relief teacher fund.

But Cherie Taylor-Patel from New Zealand Principals Federation says it doesn't go far enough.

"The Government needs to step up and fund all COVID-related illnesses from now at least until the end of the year. We also need the government to step in and increase funding for relief staff."

To help curb the spread of illness in classrooms, there are renewed calls to make masks mandatory in schools. Under orange, they are only encouraged. 

The great benefit of masks is that they are like a universal vaccine because they cover all COVID variants, they cover influenza, RSV and all other winter illnesses.

To keep the bugs at bay, so teachers aren't away.