Maths and science teachers in 'twilight' or back from retirement

Secondary Principals' Association president Sandy Pasley is concerned about specialist skill shortages in teaching.
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Secondary Principals' Association president Sandy Pasley is concerned about specialist skill shortages in teaching.

Maths and science teachers are being pulled out of retirement as schools experience "critical" staff shortages in those subjects.

Teacher training institutes are ramping up efforts to attract specialist degree students into teaching because schools are finding job advertisements going either unanswered or only by international applicants.

Secondary Principals' Association president Sandy Pasley said the sector was becoming increasingly concerned about lack of high quality STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – teachers, so has sought help from the Ministry of Education.

It met on Friday to discuss vacancies in certain subjects being a "very critical situation".

Similar shortages in the United Kingdom prompted a recruitment drive for Kiwi teachers, but there were few here too, she said. It was also training teachers without degrees in specialist subjects within schools in order to have them fill gaps.

In New Zealand, the private sector and research areas were too attractive, Pasley said.

Her school, Auckland's Baradene College, advertised for a physics teacher twice in 2015, but got no applicants. It had to attract a retired teacher back into the job – a move she had heard many schools resorting to.

"Principals are getting pretty desperate."

Many experienced teachers who entered the profession at an "attractive" time when studies were paid for and they were bonded to schools were heading in to retirement, Pasley said.

"I think that's been missing for the last few generations now."

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There were also concerns about a high turnover of principals, with 64 vacancies reported in 2015, compared with the previous highest number of 48 in the 1990s.

Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) president Angela Roberts said the supply of teachers was a growing concern, which it had a working party researching.

In 2015, job advertisements for classroom teaching positions had increased to 1849, compared with about 1300 in 2013.

She believed incentives like scholarships were the answer to attracting high standard applicants and focusing on retaining those already teaching.

Hillmorton High School principal Ann Brokenshire had to go abroad for a physics teacher for her Christchurch school.

"We had real difficulty in getting a well-qualified, New Zealand-trained teacher. Most applicants were from overseas." 

She also had a social scientist teaching automotive engineering.

"People are coming out of subjects they were trained to teach in and filling other areas."

Phil Holstein, principal at Christchurch's Burnside High School, was concerned about a "huge drop or just lack of applicants" in maths and science teacher positions.

"We're really creative in the ways we have filled our roles."

He had no idea where replacements were going to come from once teachers in the "twilight of their careers" retired. The average age of teachers was now about 50 to 55 years old.

Shirley Boys' High School principal John Laurenson said he managed to find a maths teacher, but it was not their main subject.

"If any of my technology teachers go, I don't believe there's a replacement in the city."

Science teachers were "as scarce as", he said.

University of Canterbury head of teacher education Letitia Fickelsaid the school was aware of the concerns and was working with science and maths colleges to ensure students were encouraged into teaching.

It was competing with other job prospects in better paid industries, she said.

She believed scholarships to attract graduates in those subjects into further study to become a teacher would help.

Ministry head of early learning and student achievement Lisa Rodgers said it was developing options to address an "emerging shift" in teacher supply, including reviewing recruitment and retention initiatives.

 - Stuff

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