Education Minister Chris Hipkins is staggered to learn the number of people enrolled in initial teacher education (ITE) has dropped by a massive 40 per cent. But initial teacher education (ITE) leaders say the Ministry’s proposed solutions are a good start but and a broader and more long-term approach needs to be taken to addressing problems with the teaching workforce.

New figures released by the Ministry of Education’s Education Counts show that between 2010 and 2016, those enrolled in ITE dropped from 14,585 (EFTS) to just 8895. The number of people who completed ITE dropped from 5010 to 3665. Early childhood education teacher trainees dropped from 6760 to 3615; primary teacher trainees from 5740 to 4065; and secondary teacher trainees from 1865 to 1120.

During this period, New Zealand’s population grew by around 400,000. Tertiary enrolments overall declined during this period, but the drop was more pronounced in teacher training.

“The numbers are staggering,” says Hipkins.

He has blamed the shortage of teachers on the “shocking failure of planning” by the previous National Government.

But more worryingly, it’s a ticking time bomb for schools as baby boomer teachers retire and too few incoming teachers coming through to take over, says Hipkins.

Hipkins says the Government is addressing the problem with a $9.5 million teacher supply package. He also believes removing National Standards and changing the structure of Education Council will go some way to making the teaching profession more attractive.

Both Massey University’s Professor John O’Neill and University of Auckland’s Dr Fiona Ell are pleased to see the government recognising the magnitude of the problem, but believe there is more contributing to the teacher shortage.

O’Neill, who is head of Massey’s Institute of Education, says while initiatives like getting rid of National Standards and reviewing NCEA are welcome, they do nothing to restore the autonomy and joy of teaching, and trust in teachers, that is needed to make it a more attractive profession.

A big part of the problem is what happens when ITE graduates enter the workforce.

“We have a major workforce attrition problem because qualified and provisionally registered and certified beginning teachers struggle to find good quality employment to enable them to meet the requirements for full certification,” says O’Neill.

“This is compounded by the cost of living in the major urban areas.”

O’Neill says cost of living and learning area specialisation scholarships are a “short-term sticking plaster”. In reality, there aren’t enough school leavers coming through with NCEA Level 2 or 3 in shortage subjects like Te Reo Māori and the STEM subjects.

He also views teachers’ pay as part of the problem.

“After the first few years teacher salaries hit a ceiling and thereafter compare poorly with other graduate professional groups in New Zealand and teachers in other OECD countries.”

Dr Fiona Ell, head of Initial Teacher Education at University of Auckland, agrees we should be looking beyond “sticking plasters” for the problem.

Ell says in times of over supply there are calls for higher quality and more stringent requirements, while in times of under supply the rhetoric shifts to ‘where will we find enough people to front these classes?’ with a tinge of ‘anyone will do’.

“The key in both situations is to recognise that policy levers on change should have an eye to the medium-long term, rather than being quick fixes, and that robust preparation is more likely to lead to long careers than shortened routes into teaching.”

Ell says teacher preparation should be engaging and of high quality to support a sustainable supply of teachers.

O’Neill thinks the government and employers should develop an equivalent of the graduate nursing scheme for teachers, which guarantees a first ‘provisionally certified’ position for those completing ITE, before they have to compete on the open market with more experienced teachers.


  1. As a beginning teacher who hasn’t been able to find a position I’m all for having a guaranteed graduate position to get your full registration. In my subject area many vacancies are listed as not being suitable for BTs and the few that are, are either fixed term, Maternity/LTR, or part-time. For the few full-time positions that have come up suitable for BTs the schools has ended up hiring someone who has taught for a number of years instead of a BT.


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