By: Zoe Hunter
Fairhaven principal Paul Hunt describes the pressures it puts on teachers
Teachers are going to work sick as schools struggle to find relief staff to cover absences, Bay of Plenty principals say.
Principals from Gate Pa, Fairhaven and Rotokawa schools said teachers felt they could not call in sick if they knew there was no one to cover their shifts.
A New Zealand Educate Institute survey of 700 primary and intermediate school principals showed 90 per cent of those surveyed were struggling to find relievers.
Eighty-one per cent of principals said sick teachers had still come to school because they knew there were no relievers available to take their class.
Gate Pa School principal Richard Inder said due to the shortage of relief staff, teachers felt pressured to come into work sick if the school could not find cover.
“It is certainly significant during Term 3 when the flu season is pretty rife,” he said.
Inder said the school’s deputy principal was often on the phone either late evening or early morning to find last-minute cover from the small pool of four to six relievers who were often also on call to other schools.
“We just cope,” he said.
It meant relievers who would normally work part-time had to juggle childcare and other commitments to be able to work the extra hours because “they want to be loyal to schools”, Inder said.
Fairhaven School principal Paul Hunt said it was getting harder to find relief teachers which put pressure on fulltime staff.
“Teachers are having to come in and teach when they are sick or think twice about whether they will have time off,” he said.
Hunt said the school had resorted to splitting classes last term as it became increasingly difficult to find suitable relief staff, especially for Māori classes.
Western Bay of Plenty Principals Association president Matthew Skilton said it was getting harder to find relief staff for schools across the Western Bay district.
“We have had a couple of days where we haven’t been able to find relief staff,” he said.
“Many of them have been picked up by new entrant start-up classes which has reduced the number of relievers in the pool.”
Rotokawa School principal and Rotorua Principals Association president Briar Stewart said it had been hard to find relief teachers coming off the back of winter.
“You do your best,” she said. “We count ourselves lucky if we can find two people.”
A Tauranga relief teacher, who wished to be referred to only as Pamela, said she worked about five days a week at a local school.
Pamela said the challenges of being a relief teacher meant each day was determined by an early morning phone call at 6am or 7am by the first school to call that needed help.
“Last year sometimes I would spend five days a week in just as many different schools,” she said. “I have worked at about eight to 10 schools since 2014.”
She said she would never turn down relief work.
“I have to say yes to the first person who calls because I want to work,” she said. “If you don’t work you don’t have any income.”
It was also difficult to earn the students’ respect when drifting in and out of classrooms, she said. “It is a challenge because they are used to their own teachers.”
NZ Education Institute president Lynda Stuart said finding relievers had proven difficult, with 34 per cent of principals reporting splitting up classes more than five times this term and 50 per cent were forced to do so less than five times.
“I’ve never heard of this happening so frequently before,” she said. “It’s really disruptive to teaching and learning.”
Ministry of Education acting deputy secretary Pauline Cleaver said the ministry was aware many schools and businesses were affected by a later winter flu.
Cleaver said schools countrywide had reported how hard it was to find relievers in the past three years. The Government announced a package of teacher supply initiatives in December last year as part of Budget 2018.
Other findings from the survey:
- 28% had to increase class sizes this term to try to manage staffing issues.
- 46% had to alter curriculum or programmes because of a shortage of teachers this term.
- 36% don’t yet know whether they will have all the teaching staff they need at the start of Term 4.
- 30% reported no suitable applicants for vacancies
- Almost 52% of principals said they did not have all the teaching staff they need this term, and the problem is much worse for low-decile schools (62.5% in deciles 1-3, compared with 39% in deciles 8-10).
Givealittle to Greerton Village School
A Givealittle page has been set up to help Greerton Village School buy much-needed resources.
The school has developed a reputation for providing quality education to high-needs pupils but is struggling to fun the services it provides.
Principal Anne Mackintosh said the page was set up after their story aired on TV.
A third of the school’s 410 students needed additional learning support, 27 were in the highest need category, six were legally blind and five used wheelchairs.
However, Mackintosh has previously told the Bay of Plenty Times the hours of support for high-needs students had to be increased over and above what was funded because of their extreme needs and health and safety issues.
Mackintosh said the school requested funding towards a sensory and therapy room when it met with the Ministry of Education but discussions had since fallen flat.
The school had enough funds to provide the essentials but not enough to replace any lost or damaged literacy books, she said.
“What we have got off our ever-dwindling stock is held together by Sellotape.”
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Source: Bay of Plenty Times