In December, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced a new package to help alleviate teacher shortages.
The measures included tweaking existing programmes such as the Auckland Beginner Teacher Project, and boosting financial support to schools needing to attract and retain teachers with limited authority to teach in skill areas that are in short supply.
It also promised to expand the eligibility of the Voluntary Bonding Scheme (VBS) to beginning teachers, cover the cost of the Teacher Education Refresher Course and make it faster and cheaper for overseas teachers to move here to work.
But as principals look further and further afield to staff their schools, will these measures be enough to alleviate the problem?
No, and especially not to address the crisis in Auckland, believes Glendowie College principal Richard Dykes.
“I think the overall thing is that yes, everything helps, and it will make a difference but not enough of one.
“I’ve heard from one or two Auckland principals that it has helped relieve some of the pressure, but personally I think some of the implementation of the package was under-cooked.
“For instance, the one around the recruitment for Maori and Pasifika beginning teachers, it won’t necessarily achieve its goal because we cannot specifically advertise for those teachers.”
In his role as vice-president of the Auckland Secondary Schools Principals’ Association, Dykes meets regularly with fellow principals and the story is consistent.
“It’s our number one issue, something we discuss at every meeting we have. Property issues are our second priority but teacher shortages are the first issue, by a long way,” he says.
“With fewer people applying for the jobs, it’s about finding high-quality teachers. We’re having to take people who are less qualified, and in many cases, overseas teachers who have no experience of NCEA or New Zealand culture.
“Having said that, there are some fantastic teachers from overseas, but the truth is that principals are feeling compromised to employ teachers with less experience or skills than they would prefer to normally employ in their classrooms.
“Teacher shortages are a ticking time bomb for our schools,” he says.
The elephant in the room is, of course, pay.
A recent Herald editorial titled Pay and prestige can fix New Zealand’s teacher shortage argues that “just about everyone agrees teachers should be better paid,” and that “until graduates see teaching as desirable and valued schools will battle to attract staff.”
“You can tinker around the edges, but first and foremost, when principals were asked directly by the Minister what was needed, they were unequivocal: pay.
“It’s about pay, all the data would support that. When you really break down why people are not going into teaching, especially in the Auckland region, where graduates are realising they’ll never be able to buy a house, they’re choosing other careers for monetary reasons.”
News stories and editorials about teacher supply issues appear in the mainstream media every week. Is this coverage prompting more would-be teachers to enter the profession?
Education Review asked providers of initial teacher education whether enrolments, or even general interest, in their courses had increased this year.
While numbers for some providers are not yet available, Victoria University of Wellington Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Teacher Education Robin Averill reports a rise in registrations.
“We are pleased to have roughly an average 10% increase in our initial teacher education enrolments across our programmes this year on last year’s numbers,” she says.
“We are always keen to have more student teachers, and in particular in the areas of national shortages.”
While Victoria University offers more than one qualification for preparing teachers for each sector, there is one programme in each sector with increased numbers.
“We’ve seen the biggest increase in enrolments in our Graduate Diploma of Teaching (ECE), Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Primary) and Masters of Teaching and Learning (Secondary). So I guess overall, all sector numbers are up,” says Robin.
A spokesperson from the University of Auckland reports a similar trend.
“We are still a couple of weeks out from the final enrolment closing date but at this stage we can see there is a slight increase (17%) in the number of students enrolling in our Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Secondary) programme compared to the same time last year. There is also a slightly higher increase in our Graduate Diploma in Teaching (Primary) applications (23%) and enrolments (57%),” she says.
“It is hard to gauge interest as such as many are interested but don’t enquire about teaching programmes until they are ready to apply. It is encouraging to see that those who are enrolling are tertiary qualified graduates from a variety of institutions who have succeeded extremely well in their subject speciality at undergraduate level and have the potential to become highly adaptive and responsive teachers who understand the needs of all students in Aotearoa New Zealand.”
Teach First NZ: Ako Mātātupu is a non-profit organisation that runs an employment-based programme that brings graduates into secondary school teaching.
Its programme was allocated additional funding as part of the government’s December teacher supply package, allowing Teach First to recruit up to 80 new participants in time for the 2019 academic year.
Chief Executive Jay Allnutt says the programme saw an increase in both registrations (people who expressed interest) and applications in 2017 for the 2018 programme.
“But we also set a higher target so undertook more work to attract these people,” he explains.
“In that sense, we may not be affected by the media attention in the same way as teacher training providers.
“Each year we select 8% to 10% of those who apply for our employment-based teaching and leadership programme. In 2017, we selected 45 of those who applied, which was an increase from 30 in 2016, and we saw an increase in registrations and applications to reflect that growth.
“Our target group is people who have not considered entering teaching through a traditional teacher training pathway,” he says.