A survey of 700 primary and intermediate principals shows that a dire shortage of teachers is already disrupting children’s learning in most schools, with 30% reporting no suitable applicants for vacancies and 90% struggling to find relievers.

NZEI Te Riu Roa conducted the email survey of 1749 principals on Monday, with 700 responding within 24 hours.

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 to 39% in deciles 8-10).

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart said children’s education was suffering already and without urgent action, the crisis was destined to become a disaster.

“This is why we had a day of action on August 15 – this is desperate and the Government has to take the bold steps to make teaching a sustainable career choice again. We simply can’t wait. Teachers’ heavy workload and low pay for their qualifications and responsibilities has seen many leave the profession,” she said.

Finding relievers has also been very difficult, with many having already taken up permanent teaching positions. Just 10% of principals said it had been easy to find suitable relieving staff this winter.

A third of principals had needed to split up classes and spread the children around other classrooms more than five times this term when relieving teachers could not be found.

Ms Stuart said shifting children or ‘splitting classes’ was a desperate last resort, usually taken after a principal and other senior leaders had put their usual duties on hold to teach for the day.

“I’ve never heard of this happening so frequently before. It’s really disruptive to teaching and learning – for those who are spread around other classrooms, for the children who find themselves with extra classmates, and for the teachers who are trying to continue a quality teaching programme with a significantly larger group of students,” she said.

Many principals also reported having to cancel or postpone release time for teachers because relievers could not be found – adding to teachers’ stress and workload. Also of concern was that 81% of principals said sick teachers had still come to school on occasion because they knew there were no relievers available to take their class.

The survey also found that 28% of principals have had to increase class sizes this term to try and manage staffing issues, and 36% don’t yet know whether they will have all the teaching staff they need at the start of Term 4. Just under half (46%) had to alter curriculum or programmes because of a shortage of teachers this term.

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