Classes cancelled for lack of teachers
By MICHELLE SUTTON - Sunday Star Times
Last updated 12:54 02/05/2010

High school principals are being forced to cancel classes and hire unqualified teachers, as they grapple with a teaching shortage that unions say will worsen as the economy improves.

Principals at state schools say the lack of good applicants for advertised posts is affecting the quality of teaching. Many job applications are sub-standard, including many from foreign teachers with inappropriate training, poor English, or little understanding of New Zealand's NCEA qualification system.

Some schools report having to cancel classes or shunt students into correspondence courses where they have little or no contact time with a real teacher.

In two extreme cases this year, the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) says it became aware that two North Island schools were using senior high school students or old boys to relieve classes, because they were unable to find any relief teachers while advertising for permanent staff.

PPTA president Kate Gainsford said while rare, this showed the desperate measures schools were forced to take because the shortage was so critical.

Principals say the situation is about to get worse as the country heads out of a recession and unemployment falls, because in a buoyant job market when there are fewer concerns about job security, more teachers will be lured to other careers by better pay or conditions.

The impact of teacher shortages on classrooms is not new: figures collected by the PPTA from a survey of 212 schools last year showed 14 percent of schools had cancelled classes or switched students to correspondence courses.

Based on that figure, as many as 58 of the 427 area or high schools nationwide could have been affected.

The survey also found 21 percent of schools (which would mean 90 nationwide) had hired untrained or unqualified relievers, and one in five schools said there had been occasions when they had either one or zero applicants for an advertised post.

Principals told the researchers that while two out of five job applications were filed from abroad, just one in five of those applicants were considered suitable for the post. And applications from New Zealanders often fell short: four out of 10 were also considered inappropriate.

Secondary Principals Council chair Julia Davidson said the most concerning aspect of foreign applicants was that some were unable to speak English fluently.

Many also lacked understanding of New Zealand's curriculum and qualifications such as NCEA, which was like no other system in the world, and in some cases they required constant supervision. Often these teachers demanded respect rather than earning it, she said, leading to confrontation in the classroom.

"In some cultures if you allow a student to talk to a teacher that's insulting."

Davidson said the core problem was that there simply weren't enough teacher graduates. She said there were 190 vacancies for Year 7-15 teachers advertised in the Education Gazette.

Gainsford said before New Zealand could attract the best and brightest students into teaching, they needed to be offered better pay and conditions and the profession had to be given more respect.

PPTA is tomorrow calling for a 4 percent pay rise for secondary school teachers, and a 1 percent employer contribution to KiwiSaver.

The union is also asking for a reduction in class sizes, and perks such as free laptops for teachers and free immunisation. She refused to comment on whether any strike action would be considered, if the claim was rejected.

Last week Finance Minister Bill English poured cold water on the pay claim, saying teachers' pay had increased 50 percent since March 2000. The latest Statistics New Zealand figures show many teachers are looking abroad for work; in March this year 708 teachers left to live abroad for longer than a year.

Education Minister Anne Tolley said the PPTA's complaints about unfilled posts was "a bit of scaremongering from the PPTA", pointing out that the number of vacancies is less than 1 percent of the number of teaching jobs.

"However, we are working on how we can better attract and retain good teachers."

From here.