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Home Features Teacher Workforce Where have all the young teachers gone?

Where have all the young teachers gone?

Teacher trainee numbers are plunging nationally, new teachers are quitting and the teaching workforce is ageing.

Teacher Erin Steel has moved to Whangarei with husband Nathan Steel, daughter Jaxon, 8, and son Wiremu, 9 months. Photo / Virgilio Santos

Whaea Erin, as she is known at Tōtara Grove School in Kamo where she now works, and Nathan, who works for a truck servicing company, moved north from Takanini at the end of 2014.

Even with two incomes, they didn’t earn enough to service a mortgage on a house in Auckland.

“It would cost us at least $500,000 to $600,000 in Takanini,” says Erin. “In Whangarei we are looking at a three-bedroom house with a garage for between $300,000 and $400,000.”

In Auckland, she commuted from Takanini to Fairburn School in Ōtāhuhu. Nathan worked at Penrose.

“Now I’m five minutes away from my school, which is awesome. You can get from one side of Whangarei to the other in 10 to 15 minutes,” she says.

Her experience is increasingly common. A joint working group of the Ministry of Education, the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) and other agencies has found there is now a net outflow of secondary teachers from Auckland to other regions – “a significant change from the historical trend” of teachers who used to move into the growing metropolis for work.

Yesterday’s Weekend Herald, revealed some Auckland schools such as Rangitoto College and Macleans College are looking at using their incomes from international students to build or lease subsidised rental housing for teachers.

Macleans principal Byron Bentley says he is already subsidising rents for nine teachers who have come to the college this year from overseas or other areas outside Auckland.

“It’s not a salary. Maybe a perk,” he says.

“It’s not very much, but it’s some contribution. It’s critical that we get our teachers into our schools.”

The exodus from Auckland is only part of the problem. It comes at a time when teacher trainee numbers are plunging nationally, new teachers are quitting and the teaching workforce is ageing.

Trainee numbers have dropped by more than a third from 17,065 in 2010 to 10,965 in 2015.

Almost half of those who do get through to work in state and integrated secondary schools leave teaching within five years.

That is partly why teachers in their fifties or older have increased from 35 per cent of teachers in 2005 to 41 per cent a decade later.

Within those numbers, the high-school workforce has aged even faster and is now among the oldest in the world. Those aged 50-plus have risen from 38 per cent to 45 per cent of secondary teachers, including 21 per cent in their sixties and seventies.

There are at least three interlinked issues that have combined to cause a crisis.

Left to the market

First, there has been very little planning of teacher numbers. As the Education Council said in a discussion paper last year: “Decisions on how many candidates are admitted to initial teacher education programmes lie largely with providers.”

A quarter-century after teacher training was deregulated in the 1990s, there are now 25 teacher training institutions.

“Faced with significant fixed costs, providers will always be incentivised to maintain numbers of students,” the Education Council says.

With very little national guidance, the system has produced a surplus of teachers in popular subjects such as physical education, and persistent shortages in maths, science, technology and te reo Māori.

Overall numbers are cyclical, with more people training to be teachers in bad economic times when it’s harder to get other jobs, and fewer choosing teaching in good times. Trainees jumped in the global financial crisis from 14,680 in 2008 to 17,065 in 2010, and the stronger economy since then has played a big part in the recent decline.

The Education Council is now talking to other agencies and the training providers about “a more proactive approach to managing the total numbers”.

Ministry of Education acting deputy head of early learning and student achievement Karl Le Quesne says the ministry is developing “a longer-term all-of-government workforce strategy to support the Government’s goals for the education sector”.

New Education Minister Nikki Kaye says she is “very focused on ensuring that we have a workforce strategy in the future”.

Massey University’s Professor John O’Neill, who chairs the NZ Council of Deans of Education, says the system is already getting more stability through 465 Teach NZ scholarships, mainly for teachers training in maths, science, technology and te reo Māori.

“After a number of years of not using Teach NZ scholarships, we have now got those back in the last 18 months to two years,” he says.

“It’s a start, but it’s nothing like enough to address the national shortage.”

No job security

Second, the loss of almost half of newly trained teachers in their first five years is at least partly due to their lack of job security and support.

The secondary teacher working party found that only 22 per cent of newly trained secondary teachers went straight into permanent fulltime jobs in 2015, down from 36 per cent a decade earlier.

Half of the newly trained teachers obtained only fixed-term jobs, 27 per cent could only get relieving work and 1 per cent found permanent part-time work.

Yet new teachers have to teach at least half-time in mentored positions for at least two years to gain full certification.

The Education Council admits that principals are reluctant to give permanent fulltime jobs to new teachers because “a perception exists within at least some parts of the sector that initial teacher education has become increasingly academic and that newly graduated teachers lack the practical skills to manage in a class.”

O’Neill says the teacher training providers are already increasing the practical component of their courses, partly by shifting away from a three-year bachelor qualification to what they hope will become a compulsory one-year diploma for trainees who already have first degrees.

However they are using a short-term scheme funding “exemplary” post-degree courses which the Ministry of Education says are designed “to see what exemplary practice looks like”.

“Massey students spend three days a week in schools under the exemplary programme. They only have one day on campus a week,” O’Neill says.

The Education Council plans to start consultation next week on long-term changes which are expected to include a stronger practical component in a compulsory post-degree course.

“The Government won’t want to commit themselves to that till they have done the number-crunching,” O’Neill says.

“They have accepted the case for higher funding for a better-resourced practical experience, but they have signalled that it’s not at the level of the current exemplary programmes which run at $4000 per student year, or $6000 for a master’s.”

Meanwhile, the last two Budgets have funded an increase in the small-scale Teach First scheme which trains teachers while they are working in low-decile schools, funding two intakes of 45 trainees a year, up from two intakes of 30.

Last week’s Budget also provided an extra $2 million a year to mentor new teachers whose initial mentoring has ended before they could get full certification.

The Government is also funding another small-scale pilot run by the Auckland Primary Principals’ Association to provide guaranteed jobs with mentoring for two years for up to 40 beginning teachers this year, with a $24,000 bonus to each of the 37 participating schools.

Kaye says the attrition rate of new teachers leaving the profession is already dropping.

Auckland’s crisis

And third, on top of these longstanding issues, we now have the crisis of teachers like Erin Steel who are leaving Auckland because they can no longer afford either decent housing or a tolerable quality of life.

The extent of this problem is debated. Ministry of Education data shows that teaching vacancies advertised in Auckland last year, although up from the recession years of 2010-14, are still well below peaks in the late 2000s when student-to-staff ratios were being reduced.

But Auckland Primary Principals Association president Kevin Bush says there is a similar policy-induced shortage this year with the new Communities of Learning (COLs) expected to create up to 900 new fulltime-equivalent jobs nationally to share expert teachers across groups of schools.

Teachers who have been relieving are being sucked in to “backfill” for established teachers taking roles in the new COLs, creating a critical shortage of relievers.

“I can’t remember a time like this since the 90s,” he says. “It’s a dire situation that we have got in Auckland especially.”

Auckland Secondary School Principals Association president James Thomas says he asked principals at a recent meeting to raise their hands if they had lost teachers because of housing costs.

“Every single principal raised their hand,” he says.

The Auckland problem stems from paying teachers on a national scale with the same starting rates of $47,000 for primary teachers or $50,000 for secondary teachers, even though average household housing costs vary from $13,900 a year in the South Island outside Christchurch up to $22,400 a year in Auckland.

PPTA vice-president Melanie Webber, who teaches at Auckland’s Western Springs College, says a colleague worked out how much more a teacher at the top of the scale would need to earn to be as well off as a teacher outside Auckland based on relative house prices.

“In order to equalise them, you’d have to pay Auckland teachers more than double what you’re paying teachers in the rest of the country,” she says.

Martine Udahemuka of the business-oriented NZ Initiative think-tank says principals should have the flexibility to pay teachers more in the cities, and in the subjects, where they are most needed.

“The funding needs to be flexible enough to respond to the challenges that different schools are facing,” she says.

But both the PPTA and the primary teachers’ NZ Educational Institute oppose an “Auckland loading” or higher pay for teachers of maths and other hard-to-staff subjects.

“Is that fair?” asks Melanie Webber. “If you screw down into pay equity, you have women willing to do jobs for less secure hours because of what it allows them to do with childcare – is it fair that they are paid less?”

At Western Springs, principal Ivan Davis plans a childcare centre both as a training venue for students and as a facility for teachers’ children.

Webber says the childcare centre is “less of a concern because it’s offering a facility to the community as well”, but she worries about the fairness of subsidising rents for some teachers and not others, such as the plans at Rangitoto and MacLeans.

“I wonder how you go about deciding who gets to stay in the houses and who doesn’t,” she says.

She says the fundamental problem is Auckland’s housing shortage, which has driven up both rents and house prices.

“It [housing] is not just an issue for teachers, it’s a problem we are seeing in all schools with the transitory nature of students who are not staying in the same area because their families are renting.”

And until that is resolved there will be more teachers like Erin Steel for whom Auckland is a memory.

“We wouldn’t look back. The quality of life here is so much better because we are not travelling every day. We can spend time doing fun things with the family.”



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