As the teacher shortage reaches crisis point, the Government is looking overseas for 900 teachers. But will its recruitment plan be enough? Laura Walters reports.

Primary school teachers and principals have voted to go back to their picket lines next month, as negotiations for better pay, smaller classes, and a more manageable workload again met an impasse.

Meanwhile, secondary teachers rejected the Government’s initial pay offer, with PPTA president Jack Boyle saying secondary schools “are facing an unprecedented shortage of the trained, expert quality teachers that our young people need”.

At the same time, the Ministry of education’s new modelling tool – Teacher Demand and Supply Planning Tool – is forecasting a shortfall of 650 primary schools teachers (1.9 percent of demand) and 170 secondary teachers (0.6 percent of demand) for 2019.

Based on current projections, the ministry’s modelling puts teacher demand for next year at 34,900 primary teachers and 26,310 secondary teachers.

While there are enough teachers in the system to meet base student-teacher ratios, there are not enough to meet demand including additional staff. These additional staff account for 3 percent of additional full-time equivalent staff in primary, and 7 percent of demand in secondary schools. 

Meanwhile, one in every five teacher graduates (20 percent) do not get a job. There are mixed thoughts on why this happens, with some saying it was driven by personal preferences, issues of job stability, and working conditions. Others said some were not up to an appropriate level. Overall the number of graduates has declined in recent years, but data from April showed enrolments were up on the same time last year.

With the pressures of an increasing teacher shortage, and issues with recruitment, retention, and the level of new graduates, the Government has unveiled a rebooted recruitment strategy.

But those in the sector question whether Education Minister Chris Hipkins and his ministry will be able to pull it off, and whether it will be enough to keep the looming strikes at bay.

Short-term strategy

In order to plug the immediate gap the Government has drastically extended its overseas recruitment target, from 400 to 900.

Earlier this month, Immigration New Zealand emailed 6000 teachers who had registered interest in working in New Zealand.

Hipkins also unveiled $10.5 million in extra funding, on top of the $29.5m announced last year. This brings the budget for teacher recruitment and supporting initiatives to $40m.

Part of this funding will go towards relocation grants and finders’ fees.

As well as looking overseas, other short-term measures include expanding the Teacher Education Refresh scheme for those coming back into the profession, and for those coming in from overseas.

There would be further support for schools to mentor beginning teachers before they took on their own classes, to make sure more people who had gone through training were getting jobs, without over-burdening schools with dealing with inexperienced teachers.

There would also be changes to criteria of the Recruitment, Retention and Responsibility (3R) national fund to make it easier to recruit in isolated areas, and in subjects with staff shortages.

The PPTA’s Boyle said in 2017 there were only five computer science teacher graduates, 15 engineering teachers and no food tech teachers at all.

Overseas recruitment

While there were plans to help attract new and returning teachers from inside New Zealand, the big push would be to bring in teachers from overseas.

“We’re continuing to focus on bringing New Zealand-trained teachers home, while also looking for other teachers from countries with qualifications similar to ours,” Hipkins said.

Ministry of Education deputy secretary of early learning and student achievement Ellen MacGregor-Reid said overseas recruits came from Australia, Canada, England, Fiji, Germany, Ireland, Malaysia, Netherlands, Philippines, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Tonga, United Kingdom, the US, and Wales.

Meanwhile, Hipkins named the UK, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia and Fiji as countries with similar teaching qualifications, allowing for teachers trained in those countries to have their qualifications pre-approved.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said ideally the Government would be able to draw on New Zealanders, but there was an immediate need that could not be addressed entirely from within the country.

The Government often looks overseas to fill skills shortages, however, there have been issues in sensitive jobs where a level of cultural competency is needed.

For example, the New Zealand Police Association said past drives to bring in overseas officers had not been successful, due to a lack of New Zealand-specific knowledge, particularly when it came to Maori and other cultures.

This time around, in the Government’s plan to recruit 1800 extra police, it’s focusing entirely on Kiwi cops.

Both Hipkins and Ardern recognised a strong cultural understanding was important for teachers working in New Zealand, and Hipkins said the Education Ministry was working with the Teaching Council to improve the support available to overseas-trained teachers, including a focus on induction that built the “culturally responsive practices” needed to work in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Principals’ Federation president Whetu Cormick said he didn’t believe the Government would be able to meet its overseas recruitment target.

They needed to do something now to plug the gap but it was unlikely those in charge would be able to attract 900 people to the profession, and keep them, he said.

Long-term solutions

A growing chorus of voices is calling on the Government to improve pay and lessen workloads in order to deal with the staffing issue in the long-term.

Cormick said principals across the country were worried the latest moves to stem the teacher shortage wouldn’t be enough to fill the vacancies expected for the 2019 year.

“I am hearing from more and more stressed principals that they cannot secure teachers for vacancies in their schools.”

The status of the profession needed lifting after a gradual decline. That meant paying teachers better, reducing workloads and increasing support, in order to make teaching a desirable profession.

Boyle said in the high school sector, even conservative forecasts suggested schools would be short 2200 teachers by 2025.

“What this data does show very clearly is that we need to recruit a lot more teachers,and do everything we can to make it a career they want to stay in.”

And recently National Party education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye has thrown her support behind teachers’ calls for better pay, resources, class sizes, and support for learning support.

When asked by RadioLive why she hadn’t given teachers a bigger pay rise or smaller class sizes while her party was in power, she cited a lack of funds.

Kaye told Newsroom without moves to address long-term issues, the Government would not be able to attract and retain teachers, especially in areas of high need like Auckland, where the cost of living continued to rise.

Over history, there have been periods of teacher shortages – often during tough economic times.

During the global financial crisis, there was a major shortage, where Kiwis couldn’t make the numbers work from an income perspective.

“My view is we haven’t had a decent workforce development strategy over the past 30 years,” Kaye said.

It wasn’t enough to “ship teachers in from overseas”, she said.

Others in the sector have voiced a similar opinion, saying it was important to get the modelling and workforce strategy in place now.

NZEI principals’ lead negotiator Louise Green said the unprecedented level of industrial action by primary teachers and principals at the moment showed the severity of the situation.

“We’re at crisis point for recruiting and retaining teachers in this country.

“I’ve had principal colleagues in tears with the stress of trying to ensure a teacher in every classroom.

“Meanwhile the huge workload and lack of resources for children with additional learning needs is driving teachers out of the profession,” she said.

NZEI and the ministry has begun facilitation with the Employment Relations Authority, and is still looking to seek an agreement before November.

“There’s a lot of water still to go under the bridge before the proposed industrial action is due to take place,” Hipkins said last week.

Those strikes are now a fortnight away, and the calls for better pay, smaller classes, and better support seem to be universal from a workforce looking for long-term solutions to the current teacher shortage crisis.

Leave a comment