A massive new education hub at Hanley’s Farm is set to take pressure off Queenstown schools already bursting at the seams – but finding enough teachers to staff it may throw a spanner in the works.
A long-discussed new primary school is a step closer to reality, with government plans submitted to Queenstown’s council for a 3.03-hectare site catering for up to 600 pupils from Years 0-8.
An early childhood centre catering for up to 50 kids is also proposed. All going to plan, the school will open its doors for term one, 2021.
But it will need 40 to 45 staff – in a town where existing schools are grappling with an ongoing teacher shortage.
NZEI union boss Lynda Stuart’s reaction to that speaks volumes. “Good luck,” she says.
“I wish them all the best, but they’ll find it very difficult.”
One way of combating Queenstown’s teacher shortage, that the union is keen on, is making the profession attractive enough to entice teachers who have left to come back.
“The issue is the pay, and also that parts of the job have become exceedingly complex.”
Shotover Primary School principal Ben Witheford says getting staff, and particularly experienced staff, is a struggle.
“The difficulty in the Wakatipu and Central Otago is the cost of living is significantly higher, and being a teacher on a fixed income makes it incredibly difficult,” he says.
Back in October, principals who were struggling to fill vacancies, with most saying the number of applicants was dropping.
It’s an issue the Ministry of Education’s been working to address, calling it a “priority”.
Meanwhile, another proposed new school along Ladies Mile is facing delays, after councillors declined applications for two special housing areas (SHA) last week.
Land on both the Glenpanel and Flint’s Park SHA sites had been pegged as potential school sites, according to a council report.
With the SHA plans now dead in the water, any developments on those sites will have to go through the Resource Management Act process, which could take much longer. But there is another option.
“The council’s purchase of 516 Frankton-Ladies Mile Highway provides one option for a future school site,” the council report states.
Witheford says the MoE is “very conscious of the rapid rate of growth” in the Shotover area.
The school’s current capacity is 650, which will rise to 900 once a new building is completed. Projections show that 900 capacity will be reached in 2022.
Under the Education Act, if a child is in the school’s zone, they have to enrol them, even if they’re full to the brim.
“We’re very determined not to go over that maximum figure,” Witheford says.