By: Simon Collins

A new state school has been staffed with 10 teachers for an opening roll of just 13 children – at a time of a record teacher shortage.

Te Uho o te Nikau School in the south Auckland suburb of Flat Bush was officially opened yesterday with a teacher student ratio that most principals could only dream of.

While seven more pupils will start on Monday and a further seven in the following week, the school will remain overstaffed for months, if not years.

Almost one in six Auckland schools was still looking for teachers when the school year started this week, despite a global recruitment drive which has brought in 225 overseas teachers nationally, including 150 in Auckland.

The 10 teachers have been working at the school since the last term ahead of the official opening. It is hoped the roll will reach 180 within three years.

NZ Educational Institute president Lynda Stuart said the Ministry of Education policy was to staff new schools in advance of roll growth so they could build a coherent team and school culture.

But, she suggested that the ministry could reconsider its policy at a time when teachers were desperately needed elsewhere.

“There are some practices that happen that actually could be changed to alleviate the situation,” she said. “That could be one.”

Ōtara Principals Association president Alan Lyth said several Ōtara schools, which are not far from the new school, were short of teachers.

“I know, for example, one school is short of a couple of teachers, but has made it work by having the management team go into the classrooms several days a week,” he said.

Roll growth at his own school, Bairds Mainfreight Primary, has forced him to increase class sizes from 26-27 to 29-30.

“That might not sound much, but it makes a big difference to teachers’ mental health and wellbeing,” he said.

“The biggest problem is going to be when people start getting sick and exhausted, we won’t be able to get relievers. So 13 kids to 10 teachers sounds a very enviable situation to be in.”

Ministry deputy secretary Ellen MacGregor-Reid said new schools were staffed to “do all the work required to get their new school up and running like establishing and developing learning policies and curriculum as well as a full set of policies and procedures”.

“Schools can work together to share teachers if they want to – there are no barriers the ministry puts in the way of that,” she said.

Te Uho o te Nikau (“the heart of the nikau palm”) has been built with capacity for 560 students in an area of eastern Flat Bush where Harcourts Botany managing director Aman Pannu says 2000 to 4000 homes are planned.

The school’s principal Mel Bland pointed to hundreds of houses under construction in the immediate area.

“Most of the homes in our area are still empty, so we have about 400 empty homes in our zone,” she said.

The school’s 13 children are from China, India, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Cook Islands, Fiji and South Africa, as well as New Zealand.

Bland said 80 per cent of the school’s long-term roll was likely to be Asian. The two closest schools, Ormiston Primary and Mission Heights Primary, are already 76 and 80 per cent Asian.

She said she about 150 families had inquired about enrolling their children, but most were from outside the school zone. The ministry has drawn strict, non-overlapping zones for all the schools in the area to ensure they can cope with the expected population growth.

“We are called ‘Te Uho o te Nikau’, ‘the heart’ of the community, and we really want to be that,” Bland said.

“It would be terrible for a family in this zone not to be able to grow with us.”

Two of the pupils who started yesterday lapped up the luxury of having a teacher all to themselves.

Guo Yong Choo, aged 7, and Matoroa Edmonds-Taomia, 6, were reading a book together with their teachers Laurie Power and Gina Heo after yesterday’s opening ceremony.

Laurie Power (left) hopes that Guo Yong Choo (centre) and Matoroa Edmonds-Taomia (right) will become leaders guiding new students into Te Uho o te Nikau School. Photo / Leon Menzies

“They get a lot of individual attention,” said Power, an Irish-born, Australian-trained teacher who looked for jobs “all over the world” before picking the Flat Bush school with its team-teaching approach in colourful open spaces with small break-out rooms.

“I believe that kids learn when they are having fun, when they like what they are doing,” he said. “I don’t agree with that very old-school textbook mentality.”

He hopes Guo Yong and Matoroa will learn the way things are done at the school so they can become leaders guiding new students when they arrive.

The school is one of three new primary schools and a new combined campus for two Christchurch high schools which have been built in a $220 million public/private partnership by the ShapEd consortium, led by Wellington investment bankers Morrison and Co.

Source: NZ Herald

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