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Addressing the root causes New Zealand’s teacher shortage

In brief
  • We spoke to a principal about his views on teaching and the impact of deteriorating student behaviour on staff retention.
  • Suggestions to improve recruitment include making it easier for qualified individuals to teach specialised subjects like technology and dropping the culture wars. 
  • Challenges to the recruitment of overseas teachers included bureaucratic hurdles, validating qualifications and the slow registration process, but progress is being made.

This is Part 2 of a 2 part series. Read part 1 here.

Teaching needs to be seen as a more valued and attractive option

The status of the teaching profession has been eroded over the years, so for many young people it is not an attractive option, says David Bovey, Rector of Palmerston North Boys’ High School.

“The profession has, in many ways, shot itself in the foot and is partly responsible for this. Coverage in the media is almost always negative: industrial action, poor conditions, not enough money etc.,” he says. 

Erosion of student behaviour in New Zealand schools

Centrist spoke to several principals around the country who say that the way kids are behaving in our schools, and treating their teachers is not helping with staff retention.

“The behaviour of many pupils is terrible. Even at primary school, there has been a clear erosion of behavioural standards which has made teaching very challenging,” says Bovey.

In his view, instead of being upset at their children for inappropriate behaviour, parents are blaming their teachers.

“This is a societal issue that various ministries don’t want to go near despite saying all the right things,” says Bovey.

Make it easier for trade-qualified people to teach technology subjects

Bovey criticises the Teaching Council for hindering schools in finding technology staff and calls for the development of pathways to ease the entry of trade-qualified individuals into teaching roles, particularly in specialised subjects like technology. 

Addressing the root causes New Zealand’s teacher shortage - Centrist
Bringing teachers to NZ from overseas has been notoriously difficult.

The Teaching Council acknowledges the challenges and outlines efforts to expedite the processing of applications from trade-qualified people. While the Limited Authority to Teach (LAT) pathway is available, its limitations are recognised. 

LATs are typically paid on the untrained teacher base scale, says Anna Welanyk, Hautū (Leader) Education Workforce at The Ministry of Education. According to a Teaching Council representative, LATs are “not a type of practising certificate and are not for registered teachers nor permanent employment. A LAT can be issued for one, two, or three years.”

More overseas teachers is potentially part of the solution

Since New Zealand re-opened its borders after COVID-19, we have seen a 237% increase in the number of applications from overseas-trained teachers to gain registration in New Zealand, says the representative.

The Council’s representative says that overseas teachers are largely coming from the Philippines, Fiji, South Africa, the United Kingdom and India. 

Could this overseas recruitment process be sped up?

It has not been an easy fix to get teaching staff from overseas, says Bovey.

“The Teaching Council has not been particularly helpful. I have had two well-qualified teachers from overseas who have been unable to have their qualifications ‘signed-off’ because in one instance not all of the teacher’s degree had been in English. All my communication with the teacher had been in English and I had met the person and his English was absolutely fine. He had been teaching in an English speaking school for seven years,” he says.

On the bright side, the Council rep says that since 2022, the average turnaround time for the Teaching Council to process an overseas application has significantly reduced – from around 146 days to around 9 days.

In other words, from way too slow to quite prompt. We say keep up the good work if this is in fact occurring on a regular basis. But, of course, to be most helpful this has to be accompanied by an immigration process that is also fast paced.

Don’t forget the culture wars! 

It’s long been known that the ongoing culture wars in education have not been helping with teacher morale. One New Zealand school principal Centrist spoke to, who wished to remain anonymous, said the curriculum needs to be depoliticised so it doesn’t change every three years.  

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