By: Simon Collins

New Education Minister Chris Hipkins plans a pre-Christmas package to tackle record teacher shortages, particularly in Auckland. File photo

The new Labour-led Government plans a package of measures before Christmas to overcome teacher shortages which have hit record levels in Auckland primary schools.

The package will be “one of the high priorities for the next few weeks”, new Education Minister Chris Hipkins told the Herald.

Principals Federation president Whetu Cormick said he expected the package would include abolishing a $4000 fee that teachers now have to pay for a retraining course to keep registered if they teach less than half-time for three years.

And the Ministry of Education has confirmed that education agencies have already pre-approved qualifications for teachers recruited from Britain, Ireland, Canada and Fiji as a first step towards fast-tracking applications from other countries.

Ministry deputy secretary Ellen MacGregor-Reid said announcements would be made in November on streamlining separate approvals that are now required by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), the Education Council, Immigration New Zealand and the Novopay teacher payroll system.

“A first tranche of pre-approved Initial Teacher Education (ITE) qualifications has been agreed by NZQA and Education Council, which will mean no NZQA assessment for these UK, Ireland, Canada and Fiji ITE qualifications,” she said.

“These pre-approvals cover the most common qualifications that are deemed the most relevant to teaching in New Zealand and is the result of detailed work between NZQA and the Education Council with their counterparts in these countries.

“A triage and fast-track process is being designed with NZQA and Education Council, which when implemented will lead to time reductions in the processes supporting the recruitment of overseas and NZ teachers.

“The Ministry has also been working with Immigration NZ to access the database of 5000-plus UK teachers that have signalled their interest in teaching in New Zealand. This work is at its very early stages.”

Former Education Minister Nikki Kaye announced other measures before the election, including $7000 grants for teachers moving here from overseas and extending a bonus of up to $17,500 for beginning teachers to teach in any Auckland school for at least three years.

It is understood this last move was never signed off by the National Cabinet, and Hipkins said he was still taking advice on whether to honour it.

“I’ve had some preliminary discussions about that,” he said.

“I’m going to look at a whole package of initiatives around teacher supply, particularly in Auckland, but I’m not going to make any announcements today.”

Vacancies in Auckland primary schools are running at a record October high of 287, up from 213 last October and 216 in the previous peak in 2008.

Teacher unions have foreshadowed claims for big pay increases next year including a proposal by the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) for an extra allowance in all areas where median house prices exceed seven times the top of the teachers’ basic salary scale.

Hipkins declined to be drawn on any such allowance and said teachers should not expect “unreasonable” pay rises.

“I recognise that wages have been constrained over the last decade, but I think people need to be reasonable about that,” he said.

“An incoming Government can’t suddenly catch up with a whole decade’s underfunding, so I want teachers to be realistic in their expectations. Certainly they will have a Government that recognises the pay pressures and wants to act in good faith with them.”

Any measures to increase teacher trainee numbers would also be “part of the teacher supply work”, he said. Trainee numbers have dropped from 13,615 in 2012 to 9750 in 2015.

Hipkins said his “number one priority” would be legislating for one year’s free tertiary education and a $50-a-week rise in student allowances and student loan limits from the start of next year. Labour’s fiscal plan has allocated $344 million for the first year of free tertiary training and $273 million a year for higher student allowances.

Labour also promised this year to increase funding for early childhood centres with 100 per cent qualified teachers. Hipkins said that would be “in the first Budget” next year. Labour’s fiscal plan provides $74 million a year for it from the start of 2019.

Source: NZ Herald



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