Slippage blamed on lack of teachers

New Zealand students may be slipping on maths and science achievement because schools cannot attract and retain teachers "for love nor money".

New Zealand has fallen from seventh to 18th in science, from 13th to 23rd in maths, and from seventh to 13th in reading, according to a report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Just over 4000 15-year-old Kiwi students took part in the Programme for International Student Assessment, which is done every three years. China topped the charts, followed by Singapore, Japan and Korea.

Canterbury principals and the College of Education told The Press finding teachers in science and maths was difficult.

Canterbury Westland Secondary Principals Association chairman Neil Wilkinson said the results were concerning and linked them to the struggle to recruit and retain qualified, specialist teachers, particularly for science and maths.

"People with maths and science ability are being snapped up by the commercial sector.

"Comments I'm hearing [from other schools] is they can't get maths teachers for love nor money."

Christchurch Boys' High School headmaster Nic Hill said the Government needed to raise the status of teaching.

"Teachers are the most important cog in the system. They need to recognise that and put resources into that, rather than initiatives."

Education had become too political, he said. "Teachers make schools, not initiatives."

New Zealand had "lost the essence of teaching" as the sector was "too scientific, too bureaucratic", and quick to bash its teachers.

He considered himself "very fortunate" to have recently employed two good maths teachers, but the national shortage would flow on to there being fewer science and maths tertiary students if more was not done soon.

"There aren't any teachers," Hill said.

Canterbury University College of Education pro vice-chancellor Niki Davis said it had always been hard to recruit good mathematics and science teachers, particularly in physics and chemistry.

"There have been incentives such as scholarships in the past, but Ministry of Education analysis has not indicated a lasting shortage in these areas, and these incentives have been removed."

Wilkinson was surprised at the reading results, given the emphasis on reading and reading recovery within primary schools.

He believed the secondary school curriculum had taken a lot of focus off reading. It was now a smaller part of English, rather than a subject of its own.

Wilkinson ensured his Amuri Area School parents had specific feedback on reading and writing within his year 9 and 10 reports.

"It is concerning. We are pretty proud New Zealanders and we all want to be top of the tree."

Education minister Hekia Parata said the Government was fixing the issue, and the Prime Minister's chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman pointed out limitations with ranking systems.

He said it was difficult to make objective comparisons between a diverse range of variables across local situations.