Teaching crisis hits home

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The teaching crisis is hitting the Wakatipu, with more than a dozen roles up for grabs and concerns there won’t be enough applicants to fill them.

Shotover Primary School principal Ben Witheford’s scathing about the situation, calling recent government moves to tackle the issue “a short-term fix”.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins recently announced a $10.5 million funding boost to increase teacher numbers.

Shotover’s got nine vacancies to fill, due to staff leaving and significant roll growth heading into 2019.

Witheford says Wakatipu’s “not too dissimilar” to Auckland, and the cost of housing might be worse here.

That’s had a direct impact on the school, with one prospective hire pulling out of the recruiting process last year due to housing costs, and another teacher leaving the school, and the area, because they wanted to get on the property ladder.

“It is impacting,” Witheford says.

He’s also noticed an increase in less experienced teachers applying for roles in the past couple of years.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when trying to build a balanced team, “it’s a bit of a problem”, he says.

Witheford says he’s “confus-ed” by mixed messages from the Ministry of Education and those involved in ongoing negotiations with teachers, who he says recently told educators there was no teacher crisis.

“But the next day the minister’s announcing $10 million.

“If we’re short of teachers, we’re short of teachers.”

Arrowtown School principal Chris Bryant says there are three roles up for grabs in 2019, and “like all schools, we’re finding it hard”.

“The number of applicants is definitely down.”

He says the high cost of living and the area’s housing hassles are likely a factor.

At Remarkables Primary School, principal Debbie Dickson says they’re in the final stage of recruitment for “a few positions”.

One of the challenges for her has been only being able to offer fixed-term positions in some cases.

“We know there’s a new school that’s going to come into our school zone,” she says.

Uncertainty around the impact of that meant the school had to take it into considera-tion when looking at future staffing levels, she says.

She’s referring to ministry plans to source land for a new primary school in the area.

When asked about progress on the new school, a ministry spokeswoman says: “We’re in the early stages of plans for the new school and will provide updates when we are able to”.

Dickson’s also noticed an increase in inexperienced teachers applying for jobs, as well as more teachers from overseas.

Queenstown Primary School principal Fiona Cavanagh says there’s no teacher shortage at the school, but “we are finding it increasingly difficult to find day-to-day relievers”.

The resort’s only high school’s faring a bit better.

Wakatipu High School principal Steve Hall says a number of appointments were made over the school holidays, leaving the school with two roles left to fill.

“We continue to have great people wanting to work here.”

But, he acknowledges there is a shortage of teachers in the industry.

“I’m very aware of it.”

The Ministry of Education didn’t directly address the issue of whether principals were told there was no teaching crisis.

In a statement, early learning and student achievement deputy secretary Ellen MacGregor-Reid says attracting new teachers and increasing the supply of teachers “remains a priority”.

She says the ministry’s taking a nationwide approach.

“We’re aiming to get new recruits and career-changers to train as teachers, and encourage others to return to the profession, or from overseas to teach in our classrooms.”

The ministry’s also increased the number of recruiting agencies it works with, and in turn they’ve been ramping up engagement, she says.

“In the last week we’ve also been in touch with 6000 overseas-based teachers who have registered interest in coming to New Zealand.”

daisy.hudson@scene.co.nz