Secondary schools facing a 'perfect storm' as teacher shortage deepens

Schools are finding it much harder to find quality teachers, particularly those specialising in subjects such as maths ...
SIMON SCHLUTER

Schools are finding it much harder to find quality teachers, particularly those specialising in subjects such as maths and science. (File photo)

High school students are being taught maths and science by teachers without specialised skills as schools struggle to fill gaps created by a worsening teacher shortage. 

Schools are also being forced to drop or transfer some of their courses to outside providers, a survey by the Post-Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) has found. 

It's all part of a "perfect storm" hitting schools, as the teaching workforce ages, fewer teachers are willing to step into middle management roles, and fewer people are graduating as teachers. 

PPTA vice-president Melanie Webber says the problem is going to get worse, before it gets better.
FAIRFAX NZ

PPTA vice-president Melanie Webber says the problem is going to get worse, before it gets better.

"It is a crisis if you're a kid in school and you don't have a teacher . . . [trained] in a speciality in front of you," PPTA vice-president Melanie Webber said. 

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She believed the situation would get worse before it would get better. "We've got a perfect storm waiting to happen . . . and no-one's paying attention to it." 

Wellington East Girls' College principal Sally Haughton says not only is it becoming harder to appoint teachers, but it ...
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Wellington East Girls' College principal Sally Haughton says not only is it becoming harder to appoint teachers, but it is more difficult to get good beginners.

The Ministry of Education acknowledged there had been a tightening of the labour market for primary and secondary school teachers, but said the level of vacancies remained relatively low as a percentage of the total workforce. 

Secondary Principals' Association president Michael Williams said the survey's findings were not a surprise, and the teacher shortage was "pretty severe". 

Schools were making do, but students were not getting the scope of curriculum they deserved. For instance, he had heard of one school dropping its robotics course in the senior school because the principal could not find a teacher to take it.  

Otaki College principal Andy Fraser says there is an extra challenge for schools in smaller towns, where some teachers ...
SUPPLIED

Otaki College principal Andy Fraser says there is an extra challenge for schools in smaller towns, where some teachers are reluctant to live.

"It's still a good solid traditional curriculum covering the bases, but not adding the richness. It's adequate, but not great."  

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Canterbury West Coast Principals' Association president Phil Holstein hoped the issue would be alleviated as more teachers graduated from Canterbury University courses in the next three years.

The problem certainly existed in Canterbury, and principals were in discussions with the university to try find a solution, he said.

Education Minister Nikki Kaye announced funding and new initiatives this week to help boost the numbers of quality teachers.
ROBERT KITCHIN/ FAIRFAX NZ

Education Minister Nikki Kaye announced funding and new initiatives this week to help boost the numbers of quality teachers.

The university recognised the need to promote teaching as a "first option", and encouraged students into teaching careers at an earlier stage.

"Many people come to teaching as a second or third career after already doing something else."

Math and science students, for example, often pursued other paths and, while that depth of understanding was useful, people needed to consider teaching a "first choice career", he said.

The number of students entering teaching degrees was growing though, which could help solve the problem that had plagued secondary schools for years, he said.

Wellington East Girls' College principal Sally Haughton said the survey reflected what schools were facing. It was becoming harder to appoint teachers, and it was becoming more difficult to get top beginner teachers. 

"There are smaller fields [of applicants] for [head of department] jobs, and there are certainly shortages in the Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] area." 

Otaki College principal Andy Fraser said teachers were moving into other careers because of increased workloads and poor salary structure. 

There was an extra challenge for Otaki in that some teachers did not necessarily want to move to a small town. 

Education Minister Nikki Kaye, who pledged $5 million this week towards training more teachers in priority subjects, said the overall number of teachers was just over 100,000 across school and early childhood education, and she had been told this was a reasonable number to support the system.

She had listened to what the sector was telling her when it came to pressure in some subjects, and some parts of the country. 

"There is no one measure that will enable the right quality teachers to be in the right place at the right time, which is why on Wednesday I announced a range of initiatives to address supply pressures." 

Ministry acting deputy secretary of early learning and student achievement Karl Le Quesne acknowledged the tightening market for teachers. "We will continue to monitor the teacher supply situation and work with sector groups, and support boards of trustees and principals to address their concerns." 

SURVEY FINDINGS

* One in five schools had to cancel classes or transfer to distance learning because a suitable specialist teacher could not be found. 

* Principals are, in general, more pessimistic about recruiting and retaining teachers than since the late 1990s.

* The relief pool continues to decline, with some schools saying they have no relievers. 

* Maths, science, technology, English, physics, chemistry, hard materials, te reo and business are the subjects for which principals find it hardest to recruit. 

WHAT PRINCIPALS SAY
Comments from the PPTA survey

* "Teacher supply needs to be addressed urgently. WIth the average age of secondary staff in the mid-late 50s, there is a looming crisis!" 

* "I believe we are in a parlous state regarding the recruitment, reward and retention of quality teaching staff."

* "The focus should not just be about the supply of teachers. Rather, the supply of good teachers with excellent subject knowledge ..."

* "First and foremost, we have no access to well-trained and reliable relievers."

 - Stuff

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