Teachers flown in to cover 'worst' shortage

Teachers flown in to cover 'worst' shortage
Photo credit: File

New Zealand's teacher shortage is currently the "worst it's ever been", the secondary teachers' unions says, with teachers being flown in from overseas as a "stopgap" measure as schools struggle to fill vacancies.

The post-primary teachers association (PPTA) says it's a major problem, with reports of schools dropping subjects as they can't find the teachers. The PPTA says schools are even struggling to find English teachers - where shortage has not historically been a problem. There are particular problems finding Te Reo, science, technology, math and relief teachers, as well as teachers in rural communities.

The problem is the pay doesn't meet the cost of living in many regions, and isn't sufficient reward for the workload, the PPTA said.

"This is a crisis," PPTA President Jack Boyle said.

"We've had ongoing concerns around our ability to recruit and retain secondary specialist teachers for a long period of a time. Now principals are telling us it's the worst it's ever been," he told Newshub.

The PPTA's Jack Boyle.
The PPTA's Jack Boyle. Photo credit: File

In November, a handful of measures described as "stopgap" by Education Minister Chris Hipkins were announced.

That included an overseas relocation grant. Since that was announced, 124 teachers have flown in, of which 30 percent are returning New Zealanders, according to information provided to Newshub by the Ministry of Education.

Overseas-trained teachers can be reimbursed up to $5000 of their relocation costs through the grant, and New Zealand-trained teachers can access $7000 for relocating to New Zealand. The Ministry pays upwards of 50 percent of the recruitment costs, "and in oftentimes considerably more," they told Newshub.

Schools and the Ministry of Education are spending "egregious" sums on those recruitment agencies, and those teachers who do come in then need to adapt to New Zealand's teaching environment, Mr Boyle said.

"When you look at bringing in people who haven't taught in the New Zealand context or haven't taught in the New Zealand context for quite some time, they need to get to grips with the culturally-responsive pedagogy - the culturally responsive teaching load - of whatever their school is.

"It's not a case of a teacher is a teacher is a teacher."

Mr Boyle said some principals have recruited from overseas, gone through the "bureaucratic hoops" and then had the candidate drop out because they couldn't find a house.

Mr Hipkins said the longer-term plan is to train more teachers but said the stopgap measures are working.

"There's certainly a tightening of teacher supply where there's no doubt we're going to need to retrain a significant number of extra teachers over the next few years," he told Newshub.

"We have put in place stopgap measures. They've not been fully taken up. Not being fully taken up suggests to me we are on top if it for now."

The minister said it would be inappropriate to get into whether better pay might improve the situation, as pay negotiations are coming up.

"There are a whole lot of things about attracting people into teaching that aren't to do with pay, and I'm sure that will be fully canvassed in the negotiations," he said.

That doesn't square with the PPTA. Mr Boyle says there "isn't a thing in the pre-Christmas supply package that is going to fix the challenge", and it will all come down to the collective negotiations.

Teachers join nurses and police in taking part in collective negotiations this year.

Nikki Kaye, National's education spokesperson, says some of these issues have existed under successive governments.

"The issues of teacher shortages are not new. We had these in 2008, 2009. We need to work together to solve these longer-term issues," Ms Kaye told Newshub.

"There are some short-term issues that need to be resolved and the Government hasn't delivered on what it said it would do."