Surge in foreign teachers fills gap but worries schools
By CATHERINE WOULFE - Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 29 June 2008

Half the teachers chasing jobs in New Zealand secondary schools are trained overseas, new figures show, and principals say many do not have the language or social skills to cope in Kiwi classrooms.

The PPTA will release its annual staff survey this week, showing 49.3% of teachers applying for jobs in secondary schools during the peak period of January, February and March this year were trained overseas the highest since 2004. And 43% of schools hired at least one teacher from overseas for a permanent fulltime position.

The number of immigrant teachers rises when those who train here are taken into account. Although national figures are not available, about one in 10 teachers-in-waiting at the University of Auckland speaks English as a second language.

The secondary school teacher shortage is the result of several factors, including the declining numbers of trainees and a predicted increase in the number of teachers expected to retire in the next few years.

Principals say many overseas teachers are excellent, particularly those handpicked during recruitment trips to the UK, Canada, South Africa or Australia. But those coming from India, China, Fiji or the Middle East were often less able.

"You have to be very, very careful in terms of employing that latter category," says Peter Gall, president of the Secondary Principals Association.

This group often has excellent subject knowledge and may have passed English language tests but struggles in a classroom situation, says Manurewa High School principal Richard Thornton.

He says some immigrant teachers are used to lecturing, rather than teaching. They have been dealing with huge class sizes up to 80 students but these students have been incredibly well-behaved and grateful to be at school.

"You put them in front of 30 Year 10 students [in NZ] who are needing somebody to take control, you're going to have a situation... If they haven't learned how to deal with our types of kids, they're going to struggle."

Thornton recently had eight applicants for a science teaching job. Six were from outside New Zealand and he did not think they were ready to work here.

"But eventually, somebody is going to employ them... Down the food chain there may be some schools that will just take whoever's left and put them in front of kids and then it is very difficult."

He says Kiwi teachers are scarcest in maths, science and technology classrooms.

But Gall, who is also principal of Papatoetoe High School, says shortages of New Zealand teachers are across the board. "If you walk into any staffroom of any secondary school you would encounter overseas teachers. And it's not a bad thing."

Gall says most principals would prefer to hire New Zealand teachers but are happy to choose quality overseas teachers. Although many are fantastic, all teachers new to the New Zealand system need extensive on-the-job training and many are simply sub-standard. "I'll put it kindly they need a lot more support provided," Gall says.

PPTA head Robin Duff refused to comment as the survey is not yet officially released.

The Ministry of Education also declined to comment, but provided its own figures showing that in 2007 almost 14% (395 of 2824) of first-year secondary and primary school teachers were trained overseas.


What about primary and early childhood teachers? Overseas-trained teachers are flocking into our primary schools, according to Ministry of Education figures. Last year 177 teachers who trained overseas started their first job in a New Zealand primary school. That is a 29% jump on 2006, and a 75% rise on 2005.

So where are they coming from? The ministry's most recent data on country of origin is from 2003, which is before principals started making recruitment trips to pick up top teachers from the UK. At that stage, most teachers heading here came from England, South Africa, and a catch-all "other" category that included Europe, Africa, the US, Asia and Pacific islands. Alan Cutting, head of Auckland University's Faculty of Education, estimates 12-15% of its students now speak English as a second language. But outgoing dean John Langley says students have to pass rigorous language tests. Faculty figures suggest early childhood centres are also set to see a major change in the ethnicities of new teachers. Asian teachers-in-waiting now outnumber any other ethnicity on the one-year graduate programme.

From here.