Rodney principals frustrated over teacher shortage

Principals in Rodney say the current teaching shortage in Auckland is the worst in their careers and the education sector is reaching a crisis point.

Auckland Secondary Schools Principals’ Association president James Thomas believes that if major reforms aren’t implemented quickly, there could be a shortage of between 2000 and 3000 teachers across Auckland sometime within the next five years.

This could mean class sizes double to between 40 and 50 students and a number of specialist subjects cut from school curriculums, which has already occurred at some schools.

“It’s a problem that’s gradually worsening,” Mr Thomas says. “We’re facing an ageing teaching population and fewer graduates.”

In recent years, nearly half of all graduates have left the profession within the first five years and the average age of a secondary school teacher is now 58.

Rodney College principal Irene Symes says this is a problem that has been more than 20 years in the making. She says a lack of affordable living in Auckland, coupled with poor pay and increased workloads, has made the issue inevitable.

“Initially, cheaper house prices made Wellsford desirable for teachers, but I lost one staff member last year who went to live in Martin because, as the only earner in the family, he couldn’t afford to live locally,” she says.

The starting pay for a teacher with a four-year Bachelor of Education degree is $51,200 and the maximum pay cheque for a specialist teacher is $78,000.

“The pay increase in teaching has fallen a long way behind other professions and is now grossly below what is required to attract new teachers.

“Roll growth means Rodney College will need more teachers next year and I am worried about where I’m going to find them.”

Mahurangi College principal David Macleod has also felt the pinch. He says teacher recruitment is the hardest it’s been in his 22 years’ experience.

“For only the second time ever, I have had to use a recruiting agency to hire three staff members,” Mr Macleod says.

Of the 13 new teachers at the school this year, seven are from overseas and one has returned from an international school. To try to avoid another desperate scramble for staff next year, two teachers have been hired already, both from overseas.

“We have a serious problem getting suitable teachers, particularly for specialist subjects like science and maths.

“A job six years ago would have attracted around 80 applicants, whereas now we get around 10, and of those, two are likely to be from NZ and many do not have the required skill set.”

There is also a shortage of relief teachers and teacher aides. As a result, Wellsford School principal Dave Bradley has been forced to combine classes and utilise teachers during time set aside for administrative tasks.

“In the last 12 months, I’ve had multiple times where there was no reliever to fill the gap,” Mr Bradley says.

“An increase in the cost of staying registered has unintentionally deterred a number of relief staff from remaining in the profession.”

Auckland Primary Principals’ Association president Helen Varney says teacher aides are required more than ever to help teachers cope with increasing workloads.

“Teaching involves so much more than it used to, with staff having to deal with the health and wellbeing of students now, and other personal needs,” Ms Varney says.

Ten years ago, her own school, Target Road on the North Shore, identified just two per cent of students with special needs or behavioural problems. That figure is now around 25 per cent. Plus, about 20 per cent of students spoke English as a second language. That figure is now closer to 50 per cent.

“What teachers are required to do has increased enormously, but their pay doesn’t reflect that.”

Both the secondary and primary school associations have met with Ministry of Education staff and say they are working towards a solution on the shortage.

“The budget hasn’t solved the problem,” Mr Thomas says.  “The future of the profession will be hugely influenced by the teacher pay increase to be announced later this year.”

The Government last year announced it would spend $9.5 million to address teacher shortages and committed a further $2 million to fund 35 extra places in the Teach First NZ programme.

The Teacher Education Refresher Programme will also assist 500 teachers to renew their practising certificates and the budget recognised $370 million to fund 1500 new teacher places by 2021.

New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft says the Government has acknowledged the budget is a good start, rather than a final solution.

“The Education Minister is committed to increasing pay for teachers and funding has been set aside for bargaining,” Ms Marcroft says.