Exclusive: Teacher shortage could get worse due to immigration influx

New Zealand is so short of teachers, the head of the secondary schools association says "schools are cannibalising each other's staff".

There's currently 1000 job vacancies across the education sector and Newshub can reveal the shortage could soon get even worse.

A fast-tracked COVID-19 residency visa for 110,000 eligible migrants opened this year and already, more than 14,000 dependent children overseas have been approved, leading to questions about who will teach them.

There are so few teachers, schools have started stealing them off their neighbours, creating something of a 'teacher merry-go-round'.

"If I take a teacher from another school it might solve my immediate problem, but then there's still a vacancy in the school up the road," said Vaughan Couillault, the Secondary Principals Association President.

The shortage is about as bad as it gets.

"It's the most difficult we've experienced in quite some decades," said Couillault.

The worst in decades could be about to get even worse, with an influx of children heading for New Zealand.

Before creating the R21 COVID-19 residency visa, officials promised "the infrastructure impacts of the visa applications are likely to be minor given… only a small number of offshore partners and dependents will be included".

But Newshub can reveal there have already been more than 14,000 dependent children approved and 58 percent of those are coming from countries where English isn't an official language, meaning they may need even more support and resources.

"We're already in a shortage situation with our young people that we're trying to educate at the moment, so add another 14,000 to that and that certainly isn't going to help the situation," said Couillault.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said there's no question an increase in enrolments is going to put additional pressure on the school system. 

"It will also help to alleviate it because we're also going to be bringing in additional teachers as part of that increased migration."

But Immigration NZ has not told its education counterparts about the influx.

Hipkins confirmed in a parliamentary answer that neither he nor his ministry have "received any correspondence of this nature".

"The Education Minister had no idea that these children were coming and had not planned for it. He's got no workforce strategy, he's got no ESOL strategy," said National's immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford. 

Asked if he had been caught unaware, Hipkins said: "No, I don't think so. Look, the education system does adapt and cope with changes in school roll numbers."

But thousands more children will need even more teachers, who are already stretched too thin.