At the end of February, the government of New Zealand called the teacher shortage a “ticking time bomb“, with the number of people training to join the profession at the pre-primary, primary and secondary education levels having dropped by 40% between 2010 and 2016.
The Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, said “the numbers were going in the opposite direction between 2008 and 2010”. As a result, one media outlet, the Education Gazette, was advertising over 600 primary and secondary school teachers’ jobs. The shortage was picking up traction.
The shortages were worse in some areas, such as Auckland and Maukau, the main union for secondary school teachers, the PPTA, found in a survey taken last November. The Auckland Secondary Schools Principals’ Association (ASSPA), for instance, showed in a new paper that the teacher shortage in high schools in Auckland was projected to hit 3000 by 2027.
The gaps are also found to be more extreme in some subjects. “Principals are considering the prospect of cancelling subjects for lack of trained and qualified teaching specialists,” the union said. A Council for Educational Research report conducted in 2015 showed that 71% of secondary schools had difficulties covering the teacher shortage, 52% of which were in key curriculum areas. The president of the Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand, Sandy Pasley, said a multi-agency planning taskforce group had been set up with the ministry to look specifically at the teacher shortage for “hard to staff subjects” such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
What are the reasons for the shortage?
For starters, teachers are retiring, and ‘younger blood’ is not arriving to fill the gaps. A new cross-education sector group, the Secondary Teacher Supply Working Group, set up the last time a collective pay agreement was agreed, published a report last summer showing that 45 % of teachers in New Zealand are now over the age of 50.
In addition, teachers’ pay is dropping. A paper by PPTA said the pay scale for top teachers needed to grow by 14.5%, from NZ$76,000 to $87,000, if they were to regain their 2002 wage levels. Without better pay, it is not surprising that students aren’t seeing teaching as a desirable career choice.
All these figures are fodder for the unions to use in the negotiations on new collective agreements due to expire in the next couple of months. And without change, strikes are likely to be on the horizon. Meanwhile, the government is carrying out a year-long review of education, for which the recent focus on teachers’ discontent is likely to play a part. But fixing the problem won’t be easy. The last settlement in 2015 cost the government up to NZ$40 million extra each year.
And it’s not as though the government has been complacent over the issue. Last August, the then Education Minister, Hekia Parata, announced a NZ$9 million package to address the issue. “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,” he said. “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.”
Yet, despite this recognition, the shortage remains.
What can be done?
The Secondary Teacher Supply Working Group, believes scholarships should be offered to enter into the teaching profession; the PPTA believes there should be an allowance for teachers living in areas where the price of a house is more than seven times a teacher’s wage. Pay is so important to preventing teacher attrition that it is monitored already by the OECD, and is one of the indicators used to help track progress towards SDG target 4.c on teachers. The issue of pay relative to other professions is one that resonates across all OECD countries. The data show that, on average, teachers in New Zealand are paid close to the OECD average with primary teachers earning 86%, lower secondary teachers 88% and upper secondary teachers 94% as much as other full-time working professionals aged 25 to 64 with tertiary education.
These points all hark back to the core findings of the 2013/4 GEM Report on teaching and learning, showing the importance of appropriate teacher pay, and a career structure if countries are to retain teachers in the profession. The answers to teacher attrition and recruitment have been circulating for a while. And so “it’s time/kua tae te wā” as the unions are telling the New Zealand government. They, like us, are “optimistic that it’s not too late to turn this crisis around.”