16 Nov 2017

Teacher shortage: 'I've had no applicants'

6:11 am on 16 November 2017

Auckland's teacher shortage has reached the point where some schools are getting no applicants for their vacancies and some secondary schools are considering cancelling subjects next year, principals associations say.

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Randwick Park School principal Karen McMurray, who is also chairperson of the Manurewa Principals Association, said her school and others in the area had received no applications at all for some of their vacancies.

"We currently have two vacancies at our school and to date I've had no applicants. Not even no unsuitable applicants, absolutely none, and I know I'm just one of many in our area," she said.

"We're in a lower socio-economic area, but I've also heard of decile 10 schools who are not attracting quality applicants either. They may be getting applicants, but not ones that they would consider employing."

Ms McMurray said she did not know how she would staff the school if her vacancies remained unfilled at the start of next year.

"It is a real concern and it's compromising the education of our children which can have a long-term effect on our society," she said.

Ms McMurray said the government needed to pay teachers more and make it easier for foreign teachers to work in New Zealand schools, with full recognition of their prior experience and qualifications.

Teachers also needed more incentive to move to Auckland from other parts of New Zealand, she said.

Frances Nelson, the principal of Fairburn School in Otahuhu, said the situation was dire.

"It's keeping principals awake and I'm sure other people in school settings as well awake at night because we know we will not be able to get suitable applicants into our schools for the beginning of next year," she said.

Ms Nelson said the school had advertised for three experienced teachers and to date only one applicant had extensive experience in New Zealand classrooms - the remainder were from overseas or were provisionally-registered teachers who had not yet gained full registration.

She said in most cases it was no longer possible to match the right teacher with the right jobs and principals had to resist the temptation of hiring people who were available but not suitable.

"We do not want to appoint people who are not suitable for teaching in the New Zealand context or do not have the skills in particular school contexts that are required because that inevitably means down the track we have some difficult decisions," she said.

Ms Nelson said schools would have to hire more new teachers who needed a lot of support from their colleagues and that put more stress on schools.

She said Auckland's teacher shortage was likely to go on for several more years because too few people had been training as teachers.

"People just have to accept that class numbers will have to go up and that there will be a lot of inexperienced teachers in the system," she said.

"It will be extraordinarily tough and it's not fair on those students who are going to be coming through our schools in the next probably three to five years because it takes a period of time to get teachers through initial teacher education and out into the system and experienced enough to hold their own without significant support."

Auckland Secondary Principals Association head James Thomas said some high schools had no applicants at all for some of their vacancies.

"It's not just maths and science, it's in a range of areas, technology, commerce, English," he said.

"I met the other day with a cross-section of principals from around Auckland, about 12 of us, and not one is fully staffed for next year and a couple of them are looking to get letters out to their parent community before Christmas saying your child might want to do this subject, but because of a staffing crisis we might not be able to offer it."

Mr Thomas said schools would do whatever they could to avoid cancelling subjects or classes, but it was likely some schools would be forced to do it.

"The ones I've heard about are real challenges in technology and also some of the other specialist areas. It's not because there's three kids in a class we're not going to offer it because it's not viable, it's that actually there are 25 kids who might want to do it at Year 11 or 12 but we just don't have the staff to cover it."

Mr Thomas said his school, Whangaparaoa College, planned ahead and started hiring teachers for 2018 in March and July, but he still had vacancies to fill.

Auckland Primary Principals Association president Kevin Bush said most schools had filled their vacancies for next year and were now hoping that they did not get any resignations before the start of next year.

He said where schools were short, they would do their best to cope.

"Schools will deal with the situations as they arise in their school and they will then make decisions that best fit their schools in this, and that could be around large class sizes, it could be around management going back into classrooms and things like that."

Mr Bush said principals were hoping the government could do more to help.

The Education Minister's office told RNZ News the government would announce a teacher supply initiative before Christmas and the Education Ministry was working on the problem as fast as it could.

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