Schools struggling to fill gaps with fewer relievers available
Schools are struggling to find relief teachers, as some leave the profession because they cannot afford the $3000 or more cost of a compulsory refresher course.
Ministry of Education figures show the number of teachers working mainly as relievers has dropped from 9503 in 2014 to 9054 in 2016.
It comes as secondary schools, in particular, struggle to fill permanent teaching jobs.
The supply of relief teachers was "patchy", particularly in urban areas, Secondary Principals' Council president James Morris said.
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Two teachers who worked for him as relievers at Darfield High School had decided it was not worth their while to do the Education Council refresher course, and he had spoken to other principals dealing with the same thing.
"It has made a reasonably significant difference."
Teachers on a provisional registration for six years or more have to pay to do the course. Initial costs for the course were up to $4000, and involved setting aside 12-16 weeks without pay.
Changes had since made it easier for teachers to access and afford the course, the Education Council said. About 600 teachers have done it since it started in June 2014.
Waikanae teacher Paul Williams said he decided to stop relieving after he was made to "jump through hoops" by the Education Council.
He worked at Waikanae School since 2007, doing fixed-term contracts and relieving. Coming from Australia in the 80s, he had never fully registered in New Zealand, choosing a different career path before returning to teaching in the mid-2000s.
He signed up for the course, but eventually decided it was not worth paying a "hefty sum of money" to stay as a reliever.
"What you would pick up and use of it is questionable, at best."
He stopped relieving at Waikanae at the end of the second term, earlier this month.
Principal Bevan Campbell said reliable relievers such as Williams were getting hard to come by.
Clyde Quay School principal Liz Patara said it had been noticeably harder to get hold of relievers on a day-to-day basis.
Patara, also the president of the Wellington Regional Primary Principals' Association, said sometimes schools had to take teachers who should be doing reading recovery, or English as a second language, and put them in front of other classes, or share the children out among those teachers that were there.
Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said if Labour won the election, it would fund the full cost of the teacher education refresher courses.
He wanted to work with the Education Council to see the courses integrated with "a speedy return to the classroom" so experienced teachers could be earning money while they updated their skills.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary of early learning and student achievement Ellen MacGregor-Reid said the Government had responded to concerns about the supply of relief teachers by announcing a programme to help those with provisional certification gain full certification. It was expected to help 700 teachers over the next two years.
Fewer new teachers were starting their career as relievers, which was good for the retention of new teachers.
The ministry said schools were also employing relievers in fixed-term and permanent positions – "something many relievers welcome".
MacGregor-Reid said there was no national shortage of primary or secondary school teachers.