Supply package – a few drops of water on the parched lawn
This morning there were the first few drops of rain that Wellington has had in over 6 weeks – but as my garden will show, it’s not enough to turn the brown parched lawn back to a healthy green. It’s a fitting metaphor for the supply package that the new Minister of Education announced at the same time.
The Ministry of Education seems to have been telling Ministers for a while that the crisis is primarily an Auckland and a primary school issue. Certainly house prices in Auckland have exacerbated the teacher shortages there, leading to chronic shortages of both primary and secondary teachers. However, the shortfall of secondary teachers is being experienced throughout the country, from other cities such as Wellington, Hamilton, Tauranga and Queenstown, to a vast number of small rural secondary and area schools though-out the country, and it will only get worse over the next decade without significant and expensive changes.
The reasons for this crisis are major ones: firstly, there are not enough young people choosing secondary teaching as a career due to the availability of more rewarding career options; secondly, more teachers leaving teaching early or mid-career due to burnout and availability of other career choices; thirdly, the last tranche of baby boomer teachers will retire over the next 5 – 10 years, and fourthly, student rolls are forecasted to increase markedly over the next 9 years.
The report of the 2017 joint Ministry of Education, Education Council, School Trustees Association, the Secondary Principals Association and the PPTA Teacher Supply Working Group found that the increases of secondary students will continue to rise for the next nine years and that that there is an urgent need to increase teacher numbers immediately.
The Supply Working Group Report also identified workforce trends and current issues as;
• An aging workforce is ageing - 45.4% of secondary teachers are over 50
• Fewer beginning teachers entering the profession. In 2016 715 secondary teachers’ graduated, while the Ministry predicts it needs 1400 new teachers a year.
• Just under half of new teachers leave teaching within the first five years of teaching
• The crisis of too few new teachers in worse for new teachers in the sciences, technology, mathematics and Te Reo Māori Teacher.
• Teacher shortages impact on student achievement.
• Employers report that they are forced to compromise on quality to fill positions.
• Supply and demand issues are being experienced across all deciles.
• While the supply crisis is worse in Auckland, it is also evident in other cities, regions and rural areas.
The impact of too few teachers in secondary schools is also major. 60 % of secondary principals in Auckland and around 40 percent of principals around the country have said they will start the 2018 school year without the staff they need. This means schools will be operating with far too few teachers which can only impact harshly on students and their ability to reach their potential.
Crowded classes, burnt out teachers, many having to teach outside their areas of expertise, and fewer subject choices available to students, all prevent students’ ability to thrive and achieve.
As the reasons and outcomes for the secondary teacher shortage are major, so too must be the solutions. While Mr Hipkins’ proposed measures will assist in some measure, they sadly aren’t near being sufficient to address the problem. His package includes;
• Expanding the eligibility of the Voluntary Bonding Scheme (VBS) to beginning teachers who start in decile two and three schools in Auckland next year.
While an increase from teachers in decile 1 schools to decile 2 and 3 ones will be useful, Nikki Kaye’s intention was to extend it to beginning teachers in all decile schools which would have been a great deal better. The teacher supply crisis extends across all deciles in Auckland and elsewhere so this measure will only go some way and is more an incentive to beginning teachers in Auckland to teach in low decile schools issue.
• Expanding VBS nationally to new teachers of science, technology, maths and te reo Māori.
This will go some way towards addressing the shortage of teachers in these worst effected subject areas.
• Expanding the Auckland Beginner Teacher Project to increase the employment of beginning teachers in permanent or fixed-term roles in Auckland primary schools and to support them to become fully certificated teachers.
This will be helpful to primary teachers in Auckland but does not address the greater crisis in secondary teacher shortages not just in Auckland but across the country.
• Help to retain experienced teachers whose practicing certificates are about to expire, and attract back teachers who haven’t taught for six years, by covering the cost of the Teacher Education Refresher course.
This is a helpful and practical way to remove a current barrier to attracting teachers back into the teaching service, and follows through on a Labour Party manifesto commitment.
• Financial support to schools needing to recruit and retain teachers with limited authority to teach in skill areas that are in short supply.
While this may be a good short term patch on the teacher shortage in these areas, it does not provide a long term remedy for retaining and recruiting trained teachers into our schools.
• Promoting and making it faster, easier and cheaper for overseas teachers from the UK, Ireland, Canada, South Africa and Fiji to come and work in New Zealand.
Again, this is a good short term measure but does not itself alleviate the shortage of New Zealand teachers in our schools.
These measures are, to a greater or lesser extent all helpful, but they will not in themselves address the absolute crisis in secondary teacher shortages.
The elephant in the room is that teachers are finding teaching to be less rewarding than it used to be, both in terms of increased unnecessary workload, and in terms of financial reward. Mr Hipkins has said they have a commitment to addressing teacher workload which will be welcomed but cannot alleviate the increased workload of teachers in schools with vacant positions they have been unable to fill.
However, a call by the PPTA to immediately raise teacher salaries by 5% has been refused by this government.
While teachers will maintain the teaching is not just a profession, it’s a vocation, teachers still have to live in the world; they do at least 4 years of tertiary education to become qualified, many crippled for years by student debt, they have families and want the ability to buy their own house and to maintain a fair standard of living.
Teacher salaries have been eroding substantially throughout this century. Comparisons with other graduate professions in New Zealand, and with teachers’ salaries in other countries show New Zealand teachers’ salaries compare badly. However, possibly the most useful relativity is a New Zealand one, that of New Zealand annual median salaries with the salaries of teachers (at the top of their basic scale).
This shows that the relativity peaked in 2000 with a teacher’s salary being 1.8 times that of the average NZ median wage /salary in New Zealnd. While the relativities had a few minor ups and downs throughout the 2000s, the last six years have shown a continuous drop each year, from 1.77 in 2011 to the current relativity in 2017 of 1.52.
Until the erosion of their salaries is addressed, the number of students going into teacher education will continue to drop, teachers will continue to leave the profession early, our secondary schools will continue to be compromised in providing the best possible education to their students, and our students and their education will continue to suffer!