Retired teachers called on to get back in the classroom

The Government is urging retired teachers to dust off their chalkboards, saying it's better than schools having no teachers at all.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins made the plea on The AM Show on Monday, in an effort to fill the 850 vacancies schools are expected to have next year.

A viewer wrote into the show with the suggestion, which Mr Hipkins welcomed with open arms.

"Schools can do that right now. If there are retired teachers out there who want to spend some time back in the classroom, contact schools who are advertising vacancies and make themselves available. [Having] part-time retired teachers is far better than having no teachers."

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: The AM Show

On Sunday he announced how the Government intends to fill the vacancies - 600 in primary schools and 250 in secondary - by luring Kiwis back from overseas, covering the costs of retraining for former teachers and offering money to graduates to keep them in the profession.

"It is a short-term plan. It is not a long-term fix - we know we need to train more teachers in New Zealand in order to have the teachers in the classrooms we're going to need in the future," Mr Hipkins said on Monday.

"There's been a big reduction in the number of people training to be teachers over the last decade, so we are scrambling to fill the vacancies that we've got, and we're doing everything that we possibly can."

Teachers who went on strike earlier this year have two main gripes - pay and conditions. Mr Hipkins says the complaints are "legitimate" and there's a lot of catching up to do.

"A lot of that went backwards under National," he said. "The $7000 payrise we're currently offering for primary teachers and the $11,000 payrise we're offering to primary school principals is more than all of the payrises they received under National put together."

This is true - primary teacher pay only went up 13 percent on average under the John Key and Bill English-led National Government (which had to deal with the global financial crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes), but rose 33 percent under Helen Clark's Labour-led regime. The National Government in the 1990s performed similarly to Labour, rising the average teachers' pay 34 percent.

As for conditions, Mr Hipkins said it's a "bit of a chicken-and-egg situation".

"We've got to address the shortages of teachers in order to address the workload issues. Some of things that teachers are asking for… involve us employing even more teachers, and at the moment we're struggling to fill the vacancies we've got."

He said he couldn't guarantee primary schoolchildren would start classes next year without a permanent teacher, as it could take time to relocate teachers from overseas and retrain those keen to get back in front of classes.

"This is not a situation of our making… I would prefer not to have these teacher shortages. We're doing everything we possibly can."