Lagging salaries compound NZ's teacher shortage crisis, union says
New teachers would be earning thousands more if salaries kept pace with inflation, a new OECD report says.
The report showed no growth in experienced New Zealand teachers' salaries between 2010 and 2014 under austerity prompted by the global financial crisis.
However, the Ministry of Education has disputed the data the OECD used and the effects its document stated.
Those in the sector said the Government's goal to "raise the status of the teaching profession" lacked direction, with perceptions of teaching as a "lifestyle" career at odds with increasing workloads and scant pay progression.
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A 2015 collective agreement raised state school teachers' pay, but the Post-Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) said questions about adjusting for inflation hampered its efforts to "catch up and keep up" salaries in the wake of nationwide teacher shortages, particularly in science and maths subjects.
New Zealand teachers' salaries were about 80 to 90 per cent of similarly-educated professionals in 2014, the OECD report said. Their pay progression after 15 years' experience ranged from 1 per cent to 9 per cent.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary Ellen MacGregor-Reid said the OECD's data was "not reliable" because it compared teachers with different qualifications and experience.
She said the international organisation had agreed to revisit its data. The ministry provided teacher pay scales that showed new teachers' salaries grew about 3 per cent between 2010 and 2014. Inflation was about 12 per cent over that period.
The 2015 collective contract progressively raised the base salary for secondary teachers with bachelors degrees and teaching diplomas to $50,268 this year, increasing to $51,200 from September 4. New equally-qualified primary teachers earnt $47,980 under their collective agreement.
According to the Reserve Bank's inflation calculator, new primary and secondary teachers' salaries in 2010 – $46,908 and $45,653 respectively, according to the ministry's figures – would be $54,670 and $53,207 today if their pay was adjusted for inflation (16.5 per cent).
PPTA president Jack Boyle said a ministerial taskforce "took a bit of the heat" out of historic collective bargaining, but contract negotiations in 2014 and 2015 were stymied by questions about whether the Consumer Price Index was a good measure for salaries.
After the global financial crisis and the Canterbury earthquakes "there wasn't a keenness from the Crown as an employer to look beyond the bottom line", he said.
New Zealand teachers spend 850 to 900 hours in the classroom each year compared to an OECD average of about 700. Boyle said low pay combined with increasing after-class workloads contributed to teacher shortages, as 50 per cent of teaching graduates left the profession within five years.
"At the moment if you have a level 7 qualification you can go into law, you can go into accounting, you can go into medicine or you can go into education."
The Education Council is tasked with raising the status of teaching to attract and retain workers. Its deputy chief executive Lesley Hoskins said salaries "reflecting professional status" were important.
She hoped the organisation would elevate the profession by "helping the public to recognise the positive contribution quality teaching and educational leadership makes to our society".
But Boyle called the council's statutory function a "blank sheet".
"There's a straight pathway [to attractiveness] and you don't need an Education Council to do that."
Christchurch Boys' High School headmaster Nic Hill believed low pay had positioned teaching as a "lifestyle" career.
"I think where education has gone wrong, and especially in teacher recruitment, is that we haven't positioned ourselves as a career pathway of excellence … We've got to stop marketing it as a cruisy job."
University of Canterbury acting head of teacher education Stuart Wise said it was lucky trainee teachers were passionate about helping children because their long-term pay prospects lagged behind lawyers, nurses and police.
"I say to them 'It's busy' and the ability to hang tough (stay determined) is really high."
He said teachers' college enrolments swelled in times of high inflation.
"The global financial crisis had a lot of people flocking back into teaching because it's seen as a safe profession. If you have got a booming economy people will leave the profession to work in business."