16 Apr 2018

New rise in stagnating teacher training enrolments

5:52 am on 16 April 2018

Universities say schools' complaints about a desperate need for more teachers has contributed to a rise in enrolments in teacher education programmes.

Students at a university workshop.

Universities are expecting to graduate more teachers than last year Photo: 123RF

Four of the seven universities with initial teacher education courses told RNZ they had more enrolments than they did at the same time last year and they were expecting to graduate more teachers than last year.

The increase was expected to reverse a decline that cut enrolments by 40 percent between 2010 and 2016 to about 8900 full-time students.

The dean of education at the University of Waikato, Don Klinger, said its numbers were up and reports of the teacher shortage had almost certainly contributed to that.

"The word is definitely out that the shortage is coming and students are making the choices that teaching is a profession worth pursuing so we're seeing small growth, about 4 percent above our targets," he said.

Victoria University also had more teaching students and expected to graduate about 80 more school teachers this year than it did last year.

The university's dean of education, David Crabbe, said teaching was a respected career and the increase in enrolments would be due to a range of factors.

"Currently the press reports are about job availability being high, that schools are desperate for teachers particularly in certain regions and certain disciplines and I think that partly explains why people are drawn to it," he said.

"I think too there's a sense of renewal in the system. We've got a new government with a new agenda and a strong manifesto for change and I suspect that that has an impact on people thinking about their career, they want to be part of the move."

Mr Crabbe said fixing the teacher shortage required not just more students, but more efforts to ensure new graduate teachers stayed in the profession and did not quit due to overwork or lack of support.

The University of Auckland said enrolments in primary and secondary teacher education were about the same as last year, while the University of Canterbury said it had about 80 more students than last year enrolled in primary teaching.

Numbers were also up at AUT, with deputy head of education Ross Bernay saying that was mostly because the university was now also offering the courses in south Auckland.

He said the best way of increasing enrolments further was to make teaching a more attractive career.

"We will continue to have small increases and I think we will have large increases at our South Campus, but I think if we're going to address the issues of teacher shortage we're going to have to address conditions of employment and the status of the profession as well," he said.

The president of the Principals' Federation, Whetu Cormick, said the enrolment increases were good news, but it was too early to celebrate.

"It's heartening to hear that there has been a little increase in the number of teacher trainee graduates, however I think it's too early to crack the cork off the champagne and celebrate this. We'll need to see data and figures over the coming years to see that there is an upward trend."

Improving teachers' pay and working conditions would help attract even more people into the profession, Mr Cormick said.

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