Auckland schools struggling to find teachers in 'dire' shortage

7:46 am on 12 September 2019

Auckland primary school principals are warning the city's long-running teacher shortage is as bad as ever, with some saying it's worse.

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One school could not find teachers to staff new entrant classes. Photo: RNZ/ Dan Cook

They are worried about finding enough staff for next year and say a shortage of relievers is putting more stress on their teachers.

The principal of Swanson School in West Auckland, Leandro Piantelli, said the supply of teachers in Auckland was so bad, he simply could not find teachers to staff his new entrant classes.

"This term already we needed a teacher to open a new entrant class - five-year-olds starting in the school - and we couldn't find one so we ended up fitting them into existing classrooms and putting teacher aides there to help with the overload of kids," he said.

Mr Piantelli said he managed to fill another vacancy only by persuading two relievers to share a single full-time job.

"We're going to open two new entrants' classrooms in the next term and we advertised for a teacher, we didn't get anybody, no applications at all, zero, and we had to convince two relievers to combine and open one of the classrooms."

Mr Pinatelli said his school was growing and the outlook for staffing for next year was "dire".

"It's a worry for all of us," he said.

Auckand Primary Principals Association president Heath McNeil said other principals were also struggling to find teachers.

"Our council members, which represent 26 clusters across our city, they're telling us they can't get applications and there's just no-one out there to fill these vacancies," he said.

Mr McNeil said the association surveyed its members last week and more than 100 responded, representing about a quarter of the city's primary principals.

Five percent of the respondents said their staffing situation was better than at the same time last year, a third said it was worse and the remainder said it was just as bad as in 2018.

Mr McNeil said 50 percent of the respondents said finding relief teachers was difficult or extremely difficult and a quarter had to split classes, spreading the children among other classes, on a daily or weekly basis because they could not find a teacher.

Mr McNeil said splitting classes used to be an act of last resort, but it had become almost standard practice for many schools.

He said the shortage, and especially the lack of relievers, was putting a lot of strain on teachers and schools were increasingly providing counselling services so they didn't burn out.

"Over 40 percent of the schools surveyed are now funding counselling or making available counselling services for staff due to the increased pressure. That's only started to occur over the last two or three years," he said.

Secondary Principals Association president Richard Dykes said secondary schools started hiring next year's teachers in April and May, but some were still struggling to find teachers in shortage subjects.

"The standard areas of technology, maths, science, especially physics, they are absolutely chronic. You look in the [Education] Gazette right now, there'll just be maths jobs galore and they are not being filled. Schools are really struggling to find high quality maths teachers to fill those positions."

Mr Dykes said some schools this year cancelled classes in subjects where they could not find a suitably qualified teachers and others had asked staff to teach subjects that were not their specialty, such as PE teachers teaching maths.

The Education Ministry's acting deputy secretary early learning and student achievement, Pauline Cleaver, said it acknowledged there were pressures on teacher supply nationwide, and particularly in Auckland.

She said the past three government Budgets allocated millions of dollars to teacher supply and the ministry was working on several initiatives, including recruitment of teachers from overseas.

"As part of the targeted overseas recruitment campaign, there are currently 45 roles lodged with ministry recruiters for Auckland primary schools. Since September 2018, 186 roles have been accepted in Auckland primary schools," she said.

Ms Cleaver said in preparation for the 2020 school year, the ministry was holding recruitment information days for principals and the Auckland event would take place on 16 September.

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