Class sizes of 60-plus if teacher shortage isn't fixed right away - PPTA

Secondary school teachers are fired-up and ready to strike if negotiations with the Ministry of Education don't go their way.

Jack Boyle, president of the Post-Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) says they're committed to bargaining "in good faith" over pay and work conditions through February, but if the ministry doesn't budge, then it's all on.

"We want to avoid it, if at all possible," he told The AM Show on Monday. "At the moment though the rhetoric is 'there is no more money, wait another three years' and we need to move past that, in the interest of kids."

As high school students go back to school over the next week, the shortage of secondary teachers isn't quite as bad as it was this time last year when schools were 800 short.

But Mr Boyle says the influx of overseas-trained teachers is just "papering over a pretty glaring gap" that will widen over the next few years unless there's a "circuit breaker" of a policy change.

"If we get through February and there's been no move, I'm sure secondary teachers are going to be asking us to try something different."

Jack Boyle.
Jack Boyle. Photo credit: The AM Show

Whetu Cormick, head of the Principals Federation, says the solution is fairly simple.

"We need to look at the cost of living in large areas such as Auckland - it's too expensive for young teachers to consider moving to Auckland," he told Newshub.

Combined classes

Class sizes of up to 60 aren't out of the question, says Mr Boyle, if the teacher shortage isn't fixed.

"What it might mean is larger class, it might mean that a subject is no longer able to offered, it might mean you've got multi-level classes - year 11, 12 and 13 students all learning... in the one classroom."

Ministry of Education spokesperson Ellen MacGregor-Reid said that won't happen.

"We are confident that we can help. We have the supply coming through. We know it's tight out there, but we're seeing some good results."

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

The Government last year announced a plan to lure retired and former teachers back in front of classes.

"We know that we have filled 220 places already with international teachers, but at the same time we have been running a package of initiatives which is aimed at getting New Zealand-trained teachers back into the classroom," said Ms MacGregor-Reid.

Where's the money?

Education Minister Chris Hipkins told The AM Show last week he didn't think a strike was justified, because there simply isn't any more money available.

"We are happy to talk to them about how we can reconfigure [the offers] to meet their needs but the ability of Government to continue to add to the offer is constrained."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson have talked up this year's 'Wellbeing Budget', saying it'll focus less on GDP and more on fixing inter-generational poverty. Mr Boyle says if it doesn't include a shake-up for the education system, they might as well not bother.

"The best way of ensuring intergenerational wellbeing is that young people - no matter where they come from, no matter what their background - are going to have highly trained, competent, motivated and well-supported teachers... Having it continue as it is, is not tenable."

A mooted super-strike involving both the PPTA and the New Zealand Educational Institute, which represents primary school teachers, isn't being ruled out. Mr Boyle says the two unions have been planning campaigns to run together, but haven't yet discussed the possibility of a coordinated strike.

"Ultimately we're going to do our level best to make sure that young people's learning isn't too badly affected."

If strikes do happen, as looks likely, the earliest date will be in March.


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