Schools to axe core subjects as shortage of specialist teachers reaches 'crisis point'

Secondary school students could be left without teachers as a teacher shortage reaches a "crisis point".
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Secondary school students could be left without teachers as a teacher shortage reaches a "crisis point".

Secondary schools across the country could be forced to drop subjects as a teacher shortage reaches a "crisis point".

A lack of applicants for teaching positions in core subjects such as mathematics, science and technology is forcing schools to encourage older teachers out of retirement to teach, or use untrained teachers teaching students.

It is understood there are schools who have been advertising for teachers for more than a year, with no suitable applicants applying for roles, leaving students without qualified teachers.

The principal of St Peter's College in central Auckland, James Bentley, said the shortage of quality teachers in New Zealand had reached a "crisis point", in a write-up for his latest school newsletter.

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He blamed an aging population, resulting in the number of students at university training to become teachers not being high enough to replace the number of experienced teachers retiring, and said Auckland was no longer an attractive place to teach.

"Pay levels have drastically failed to keep pace with the cost of living, especially in Auckland," he said.

Bentley suggested the Ministry of Education stump up more cash to provide housing allowances for teachers in Auckland, a similar system offered to teachers in expensive parts of London, or a rebate on student loans.

He said the shortage of teachers meant schools were on the brink of cutting subjects, but he was reluctant to single any particular school out.

Canterbury's Darfield High School principal James Morris said he advertised for six months to find a metalwork teacher and had to fill the gaps by having students carry out paperwork tasks instead of practical work led by a teacher.

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"Teacher supply issues have been building for some time. We're close enough to Christchurch - only 20 minutes drive away, so there should be no real issue with attracting teachers."

A Council for Educational Research report on Secondary Schools in 2015 confirmed 71 per cent of secondary schools had problems finding teachers to fill vacancies, 52 per cent of them in key curriculum areas.

Principals spoken to by Fairfax Media said schools were hiding how bad the situation was, because being open about recruitment issues could jeopardise their reputation.

"We do know that schools are on the brink of not being able to offer physics, some schools are bringing in university students to teach," Bentley said.

David Hodge, head of one of the largest state secondary schools in Auckland, Rangitoto College, said many schools would have to cut subjects, if the ministry did not address a shortage of teachers.

His school could have to cut electronics – a core technology subject.

"We've been advertising for an electronics teacher all year – we've been unable to find that person in New Zealand, or overseas," Hodge said.

"We're looking at the possibility of having an untrained teacher, or someone who is retired and has specific subject knowledge."

Auckland's Edgewater College is one school principals say is faced with the reality of having to cut physics as a subject and using university physics students, who are part of the campus physics programme, to teach.

Principal Allan Vester denied any crisis at the school, saying one physics teacher would leave at the end of the school year, but that there had been no issues this year.

However, he agreed no school was going to admit they had reached a tipping point with staffing, but would talk "generally".

Education Minister Hekia Parata said currently there are enough teachers, "but not necessarily in the areas or subjects that we need them in".

"We are aware that some principals are finding it difficult to fill vacancies in some parts of the country and in certain subjects, particularly science, maths, technology and te reo Maori.

"We also know that supply is tight when the economy is booming, with more opportunities for teachers to move to other careers or work in other countries.

In August, Parata announced a $9 million package to address the issues of teacher supply.

But she said there were no plans for a housing allowance for teachers in Auckland."

Schools like Rangitoto College have pleaded with the ministry for years over the shortage of teachers, according to Hodge, who said they refused to acknowledge there had been a problem brewing.

Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand president Sandy Pasley said a multi-agency planning taskforce group had been set up with the ministry to look at teacher supply issues for "hard to staff subjects" such as technologies, sciences, mathematics and te reo and would start meeting every six months from the end of this month.

She believed the issue was reaching a critical stage, and said she had to entice a teacher out of retirement to teach a maths class at the school she heads, Baradene College.

The ministry had been working across the sector on teacher supply issues. In August, a report was published by the Secondary Teacher Supply Working Group,  a cross-education sector group formed out of the last secondary teachers' pay collective agreement.

According to the report 45 per cent of teachers in New Zealand are now over the age of 50.

The report called on the ministry to further promote secondary teaching as a profession by offering scholarships and the union representing secondary teacher, the PPTA backed an allowance for teachers living in areas where the median house prices exceed seven times the secondary teacher's income.

Education Ministry associate deputy secretary Karl Le Quesne said it was not uncommon for teachers to teach subjects they were not specialists in.

"Schools do not have to report how they deliver the curriculum, any school considering dropping a subject should contact us so we can assist them."

 - Sunday Star Times

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