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Principals raise the red flag on chronic staffing issues in New Zealand schools

In brief
  • Principals nationwide sound the alarm over chronic teacher shortages in New Zealand schools.
  • Causes include retiring teachers, limited training opportunities, and too much red tape when recruiting overseas.
  • Potential shortages of hundreds of secondary school teachers by 2026.
  • Some regions may experience a surplus of primary school teachers, others face challenges in attracting educators, particularly in specific subjects.

Extent of the problem

Despite ongoing efforts to address the chronic shortage of teachers in New Zealand schools, the situation remains acute, a Centrist investigation has found.

Centrist found widespread acknowledgment from school principals across New Zealand regarding the prevalence of staffing shortages. “Are you fully staffed?” is the common question among school principals, reflecting the widespread nature of the issue. 

According to David Bovey, Rector of Palmerston North Boys’ High School, the problem has reached crisis levels

Many admit that the situation has deteriorated compared to previous years. A note – some of the principals contacted declined to comment, and the majority asked to speak anonymously.

What’s causing these teacher shortages?

Testimonies from various principals cite reasons such as retiring teachers, inadequate training opportunities, and challenges in recruiting overseas educators. 

Bovey says that the declining number of individuals entering teacher training exacerbates this challenge, indicating a worsening situation in the years ahead. One factor may be students are steering clear of teacher training because they are leery of the increasing politics in the profession.

For secondary schools it’s because of a “larger-than-normal cohort of primary school children transitioning into secondary school, in combination with increasing immigration numbers,” says Anna Welanyk, Hautū (Leader) Education Workforce at The Ministry of Education. 

To put the shortage into numbers, Budget 23 has allocated over $23 million to the problem and the hope is to attract about 1,000 teachers for each of the primary and secondary school sectors, according to Welanyk.

New Zealand Schools: Education Insights
Centrist spoke to several school principals around the country who confirmed the chronic shortage of teachers is real and having a negative effect on education.

One deputy principal of an Auckland-based special character school that Centrist spoke to said lots of teachers in New Zealand left the profession when the government imposed COVID vaccine mandates. Many took other jobs and never returned to their roles.

Some of these vacant teaching roles were then filled by relief teachers, which has meant the pool of relief teachers is now low, so it’s hard to get relievers – you often have to give 48 hours notice.

It is also widely reported that we’re losing teachers to Australia because they get paid more and some say the work life balance is better.

Government response and projections

While some schools struggle more than others. The Ministry of Education’s Teacher Demand & Supply Planning Projection – December 2023 report predicts potential shortages of hundreds of secondary school teachers by 2026. The report reads that “Without greater supply at the national level, shortages will occur that distributional initiatives will not effectively be able to address.” 

However, the Ministry also predicts we’ll have a surplus of primary school teachers (in most regions of NZ) and a declining need for them in the years to come as the population ages. 

But Centrist spoke to some primary school principals around New Zealand and they said they’re currently dealing with staff shortages.

Welanyk says some schools are definitely experiencing “greater challenges than others attracting teachers, particularly in specific subjects such as te reo Māori, science, technology and mathematics.”

It really depends on the school, subject and region, she says. 

Image: Archives New Zealand

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