Some parts of the country are encountering the worst teacher shortages ever, according to a recent survey of secondary school principals.

The annual survey run by the New Zealand Secondary Principals’ Council found that schools around the country are experiencing significant teacher shortages, worse than last year’s results and in some cases, worse than ever before.

The survey of 162 secondary principals found about a third of advertised teaching jobs had no suitable applicants.

A worrying 20 percent of schools had to cancel classes or transfer to a form of distance learning because a suitable specialist teacher could not be found, the highest level since 1998.

The survey also found that teachers were increasingly being asked to teach outside their specialist areas, due to shortages. Over 40 percent of schools have had to do so this year, the highest recorded since these surveys began. According to the survey, schools mostly use teachers trained in PE, primary and social studies to cover classes and the classes most covered by non-specialists are Maths, English and Science.

New Zealand Secondary Principals’ Council chair James Morris says poor pay is a major contributing factor to the shortages, which he describes as being at “crisis level”.

“Young graduates no longer want to enter the profession, the pay is far too low compared to what they earn in other careers and, of the new teachers who do enter the profession, nearly half burn out and leave within five years.”

“There is a wave of teachers about to retire and I’m embarrassed to say that we have reached the point where we are begging them to stay on, for another term, another year, until the crisis is over.”

Vice President of Auckland Secondary School Principals’ Association, Richard Dykes, agrees.

“Principals are increasingly frustrated and concerned that the teacher shortage is getting worse, not better. I want to place highly skilled and motivated teachers in front of my students, but this is getting harder and harder. I’m increasingly hearing stories from our members of schools having to cut subject choices, increase class sizes and timetable teachers into classes outside of their specialist curriculum area.”

Morris and Dykes both urge the government to put in place sustainable ways to attract and keep teachers in the profession.

The Minister of Education has been clear at the recent Education Summit events that this is a priority for the Government.

The recent Budget included a $370.0 million allocation to fund 1,500 new teacher places by 2021, a $20 million teacher supply package, and a $6.4 million voluntary bonding scheme allocation. However, this did little to impress the teacher unions, who felt there needed to be more emphasis on attracting teachers to the profession.

“It’s great the government is planning for future roll growth but we were hoping for more action to fix the twin crisis of declining numbers of teacher graduates and high levels of attrition in the profession,” says PPTA president Jack Boyle.

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