13 Sep 2017

Govt told to wipe student loans to attract teachers

6:11 pm on 13 September 2017

Education groups are putting forward a plan to help ease Auckland's teacher crisis - including by wiping student loans for teachers who agree to work in the city for three years.

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Photo: Supplied

The Auckland Primary Principals Association has said it is facing the worst shortage in 20 years, with schools unable to fill vacant teaching jobs.

The association - alongside the Principals' Federation, the Waitakere Area Principals Association and the Educational Institute - released their 10-point plan to deal with the problem this morning.

They asked whoever formed the incoming government to adopt and implement the plan within 100 days.

It includes reducing class sizes in low-decile schools, increasing teachers' pay, letting teachers teach rather than spending too much time over-assessing children, and investigating whether affordable housing can be prioritised for key public sector employees.

Auckland Primary Principals Association president Kevin Bush said the problem has been ignored for far too long, and government initiatives already introduced earlier this year were taking too long to be implemented.

"We are in the depths of a staffing crisis in our Auckland schools, we have a shortage right across the region and we've got schools where there are three classes with two teachers and a teacher aid covering for the third teacher - so it's not a satisfactory situation at all.

"On any one day we are short 150 to 200 teachers ... which impacts thousands of children," Mr Bush said.

He said people simply could not afford to live in Auckland, let alone buy a house on a teacher's salary - and the 10 point plan could help make it more appealing for teachers to stay.

The former president of the Waitakere Area Principals' Association, Martyn Weatherill, said the plan also has five priorities to increase resources for children with learning and behavioral difficulties.

"Learning support and mental health issues are huge in our schools, people look at what is happening in our classrooms and suddenly banking, law and architecture starts to look pretty shiny."

Mr Weatherill said the fact that a third of teachers are expected to retire over the next 15 years is likely to exacerbate the problem.

"We are struggling to recruit, we are struggling to retain teachers, the trickle of economic refugees leaving Auckland is becoming a flood - the government needs to act now otherwise our children and grandchildren will not have a teacher."

The Education Minister said the government had committed about $20 million towards mitigating the Auckland teacher crisis since August last year.

Nikki Kaye said $2 million is available to help teachers relocate to Auckland and $1 million was available for schools who commit to employing beginner teachers in permanent position.

Buying a house 'will be a tough grind' - Auckland student teacher

Liam Kelly, 21, who is in his first year teaching, is exactly the type of person they are trying to keep.

"I've always wanted to be a teacher, I think the impact that teaching has on children and the beauty you see through their successes is a powerful thing."

Mr Kelly earns about $47,000 annually before tax, and has a student loan debt of about $24,000.

He said he's happy in Auckland right now, but is keeping his options open.

"Obviously the price of living is high and paying off the student loan is a big one for me, so I have to get that done so it's not burden in the future.

"I think if you want to buy a house in Auckland on a teachers salary you really have to pinch your pennies and play it smart on the housing market - but I think it will be a tough grind for me to get my own house in Auckland," Mr Kelly said.

The plan - point by point

  • Make class sizes smaller in low-decile schools by 2020 so teachers have more time with children
  • Write off student loans of teachers who commit to placement in Auckland schools and other hard-to-staff areas for three years
  • Let teachers teach rather than spending too much time over-assessing children
  • Increase teacher pay
  • Investigate making affordable housing for key public sector employees a priority in Auckland housing projects
  • Give children with mental health needs access to High Health Needs (HHN) funding immediately
  • Increase the notional hourly rate used for Ongoing Resourcing Scheme and HHN funding - which has not changed in eight years - to $19 per hour
  • Commit to at least a 10 percent increase in resourcing for Learning Support in Budget 2018 to make up for nine years of a staffing freeze
  • Fund special needs coordinators to meet the needs of every child in every school in Budget 2018
  • Value teacher aides and other support staff by committing to a Living Wage by 2019 and a 10-year strategic plan to develop the workforce

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