Teacher crisis: Principal describes staffing shortages as 'worst he's ever seen', fears kids could miss more school

An Auckland principal says the staffing shortage crisis is the worst he's ever seen and warns it could result in kids missing even more days of school this year.

Auckland Primary Principals' Association president Kyle Brewerton warned it's getting to a point where students are being taught by relievers, deputy principals or even the principals.

In some cases, it's gotten so bad schools are asking students to stay home, a situation that happened last term in several Auckland schools.

This comes after students missed days of school when teachers were taking industrial action against poor work conditions and pay, with kids rostered home during Term 2. Students were also forced to stay at home or learn online over the last two to three years because of extreme weather events and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brewerton, who is also the principal of Remuera Intermediate, told AM on Tuesday he's been a principal for 20 years and he's never seen the teacher shortage this bad during his career.

"This is certainly the worst I've ever seen it and that's certainly the sentiment that's been shared across Auckland. I think the issue around keeping kids home is a very isolated issue. I think what we saw in very isolated pockets last term was instances where COVID was compounding the issue," he said.

"You already had all available personnel involved and it wasn't a case of necessarily telling kids to go home. But I know there were a few instances, very few instances."

Auckland Primary Principals' Association completed a survey at the end of last term, which highlighted the drastic shortages facing the industry, particularly in Auckland.

"We saw 123 of our teachers across Auckland move overseas, over 100 left Auckland altogether. Auckland as a whole over that six-month period lost about 570 teachers out of Auckland entirely. Only 50 of those were due to retirement," he said

He told AM co-host Laura Tupou there is a much deeper issue of people leaving the profession altogether.

"These stats raised the question of how can the teaching profession attract more Kiwis into the role, " he said.

"Once we've got these great people, what do we need to do to really keep them involved and keep them motivated because, at the end of the day, we're talking about young people."

In Auckland alone, there are currently 120 vaccines in primary schools, which means 3000 students who don't have a teacher, so either a reliever, deputy principal or even a principal teaches the class, according to Brewerton.

"That's where we've got to go right back to the beginning and say, why aren't people stepping into teaching? What can we do to attract them there and then, more importantly, keep them there? Especially those really high flyers," he said.

Auckland Primary Principals' Association president Kyle Brewerton said the staffing shortages is the "'worst he's ever seen it".
Auckland Primary Principals' Association president Kyle Brewerton said the staffing shortages is the "'worst he's ever seen it". Photo credit: AM

The shortage is also affecting specialist programs at Remuera Intermediate.

"We have things like a PE specialist, a drama specialist, a science and technology specialist. All those people have been pulled out of those roles and put back into classrooms," he said.

"Worst case, we've got things like our special needs coordinators, ESOL teachers who are working with those kids who have the greatest needs in our schools being pulled back into a classroom. So that sends a ripple right through the entire school."

Labour previously announced they wanted to reduce the teacher/student ratio for Year 4-8 students from 1:29 to 1:28.

The change, which is expected to cost $106 million over five years, would be initiated from 2025 and would lead to an extra 320 full-time primary and intermediate school teachers in classrooms across the country.

Brewerton believes it is an ambitious and challenging goal set by the Government, but it's doable.

"I guess you have to take a longer-term view. So part of that issue I was talking about earlier, how do we keep our people and that's around the conditions... there's three of you sitting here, would any of you want to step into a classroom today? Sadly, the answer is often not really, but that's around those conditions," he explained.

"So how do we create schools that attract and keep those people and part of that is around things like class sizes? So if we've got class sizes that are manageable, if we've got support services in schools to help us with those students, with those complex behaviour, complex learning needs, if we've got people to get alongside our teachers to help them continue to develop and grow, that's a work environment that people want to stay and be part of."

Anna Welanyk, an education workforce hautū (leader) at the Ministry of Education, told Newshub there is no evidence that students have been sent home from school due to teacher availability.

Welanyk said teacher availability varies across the country and some schools are facing challenges recruiting the teachers they want.

The Government has invested in initiatives to boost domestic supply and attract qualified teaching staff from overseas, including an additional $24 million in both September 2022 and Budget 2023.

This has resulted in more than 1100 overseas teachers arriving in New Zealand - including returning Kiwis - between January 1, 2022 and July 6, 2023.

"With a massive global teacher shortage, New Zealand continues to focus on attracting international teaching talent by supporting teachers to move here and be successful. Our research shows that overseas teachers are valued," Welanyk said.

"The majority have at least five years' experience and their range of cultural backgrounds brings the world to our ākonga, and reflect the diversity in Aotearoa.

"Our teachers have always travelled and worked overseas, especially early in their careers. Our data indicates this pattern of movement is nothing unusual at this stage."

Watch the full interview with Kyle Brewerton in the video above.