As the spectre of a national teachers strike loomed last week, 14 primary schools across the wider Mahurangi region were preparing to close on August 15 affecting hundreds of families across the region.
Affected schools were expected to be Warkworth, Leigh, Tauhoa, Wellsford, Horizon, Pakiri, Kaiwaka, Tapora, Matakana, Snells Beach, Kaipara Flats, Mangawhai Beach, Waipu and Tomarata.
The strike decision comes after the Government announced a 2.5 per cent pay increase for teachers, well short of teacher demands. it will be the first strike in 24 years.
Wellsford School principal Dave Bradley says the action is an attempt to avert disaster.
“The union feels the pay offer from the Government hasn’t addressed the teacher shortage crisis that will only get worse,” he says.
“We are seeing fewer people entering the profession, teachers leaving it earlier and student numbers rising. It’s crucial we make the job more attractive.”
The average annual salary for a primary school teacher is around $55,000 per annum.
The NZEI teacher’s union believes an eight per cent increase each year for two years is required.
Mr Bradley says teachers’ working conditions are also unacceptable.
“Teachers are not just at school to teach. They also have to deal with mental health, behaviour and an increased amount of administration.
“By attracting more people into education, the load on teachers will decrease. There will be smaller class sizes and schools will be able to employ more specialist staff to take care of student wellbeing,” Mr Bradley says.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said the strike would achieve nothing and described it as a “serious disappointment”.
“The reality is we’re doing the best we possibly can for them,” he said.
“If they give us a chance we can help them into the future, but we can’t do it all in the first year, they know that and so it’s a serious disappointment.”
Mr Bradley argued that the government knew the teachers were in need of a bigger pay increase and didn’t distribute funds accordingly.
“We’ve seen them give free tertiary education to students, while teachers receive a mediocre pay cheque and it’s time for that to change.”
Schools closed on August 15 will not be providing alternative options for students, but some after-school care organisations are looking to fill the gap.
“Working parents will either need to take a day off or find family to look after their children, just as they would if their child was sick,” Mr Bradley says.
Maungaturoto School, Ahuroa School and Living Way School will not take part in the strike and will remain open.
Striking teachers from the area will head to Auckland or Whangarei to take part in marches.