By: Christine Fletcher

Certainly the cost associated with living in Auckland is a factor that is contributing to a teacher shortage. Photo / Nick Reed

There has been much debate around Auckland’s urgent and long overdue physical infrastructure in this election but little consideration given to Auckland’s appallingly fragile social infrastructure, writes Christine Fletcher, a member of the Auckland Council and a former National MP. She says that absolutely fundamental to this has to be quality schools and inspiring teachers for Auckland’s children.

I enjoyed the privilege of growing up in New Zealand in the 1950s and ’60s, when there was equal access to quality education for all New Zealand children. Success or failure was determined by an individual’s ability to leverage off the wonderful educational system of that era.

Successive governments must share the blame for failing to elevate the status of teaching as a profession through social standing and remuneration. If we are to succeed as a country, we need the brightest and the best of our young people to consider teaching as a career.

Few Aucklanders realise the extent of the growing teacher shortage crisis taking place, in which 65 per cent of Auckland schools have vacancies right now. This will only become worse, with fewer students opting to study teaching as a career.

School principals have shared with me their growing despair in being unable to attract and appoint teachers of sufficient experience and quality, particularly in the sciences, mathematics, technology, te reo, English and geography. This is resulting in a crisis of staffing situations that will have an impact across New Zealand.

This is not good news for a small trading nation at the bottom of the Pacific where we rely on our entrepreneurial spirit to deliver our future prosperity. If ever there was a time to inspire our youth, it is now. How can this be achieved without inspirational teachers?

Certainly the cost associated with living in Auckland is a factor that is contributing to a teacher shortage. However, the remuneration of teachers remains key in the declining number of prospective teacher candidates joining and sticking with the profession.

The lack of quality teaching staff in both primary and secondary schools is a real emergency facing Auckland. Political parties seem to have given little thought or analysis   to the negative impact that this will have on the future quality of life for Aucklanders.

One school principal advised me we are on the cusp of the perfect storm in Auckland with the tiny pool of graduating secondary teachers, the average age of secondary school teachers in their mid-50s, and the high cost of living and travelling in Auckland. Furthermore, where many schools have traditionally relied on the UK market to fill many of the ‘hard-to-staff’ vacancies with trained UK teachers and returning New Zealand teachers who have completed their OEs, they are now finding this is drying up.

As a result, some secondary schools are forced to limit subject options and/or combine classes in a lecture theatre situation, which is an unsatisfactory way to teach and unacceptable to most students and parents.

We need drastic and immediate action. School principals I have met have shared with me a number of possible short-term options that are worthy of consideration by the Ministry of Education. A few include the piloting of programmes in which aspiring teachers can learn to teach in a school assisted by experienced, quality teachers, and given extra mentoring and guidance by the school’s teaching and learning teams.

Getting the right balance of on-the-job training and academic study would be important, as would adequate targeted funding for host schools of any pilot schemes for aspiring teachers who might be recruited as staff members. Or consideration of an abatement of student loans or a bonded scheme and payment or abatement applying if there has been an adequate period of teaching carried out.

I would like to see policy developed that enjoys cross-party support to assist the teaching profession and solve the problem of recruitment and retention of quality teachers. There is no short-term silver bullet. However, it is worth allowing some flexibility to fast-track those with specialist subject knowledge and care who are seeking a change to their present vocation.

I acknowledge the importance of housing and transport policy and funding, but I sincerely implore the next government to also give consideration to the importance of quality teaching. I attended a major election meeting and asked each of the political parties what policies they would put in place to address this. Not one was able to provide any answers. This does not bode well for the future of our city.

Source: NZ Herald


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