Education

Teacher exodus: ‘You have cause to be worried’

The incoming government is likely to get an earful from Auckland Council when new ministers are briefed - with some issues well outside its remit. 

But after some quiet desperation from a delegation of primary and secondary school teachers at today's Governing Body meeting, Mayor Phil Goff has promised to include their pleas for help in the traditional briefing. 

The teachers knew before their appearance their problems fall outside the council's gambit. Encouraged by councillor Christine Fletcher, who wrote a Herald piece highlighting their concerns this week, the group laid out their issues before the council today. 

Mt Eden Normal Primary School principal John Faire led the delegation, saying he was coming to the council because teachers are making no headway in Wellington.

He said Auckland schools are losing teachers in an exodus forced by high housing prices. Schools are increasingly being staffed by first year teachers as older, experienced workers retire. UK teachers aren't coming here anymore as the costs of renting compared to their wages don't stack up. The quality of education in the city is slipping through larger class sizes and shared teachers. This in turn will affect the numbers of international students, who at the moment are funding large numbers of teacher salaries. And they haven't been able to make the Ministry of Education, or its last two ministers (Nikki Kaye and Hekia Parata), understand how bad the issues are. 

"We are faced with the situation where we don't have enough applicants for jobs," Faire said. "The applicants who do apply are of descending quality." Mt Eden Normal lost nine teachers last year - six of them to the regions where housing was affordable. Five of the nine have been replaced with graduates straight out of training college. "There is a problem," he said. "We are asking the government for a plan to try to deal with this." He said on any one day in Auckland in terms two and three, upwards of 400 - 500 reliever teachers are needed - "those relievers have now gone". 

Macleans College principal Byron Bentley says Auckland is hundreds of graduates short of filling the number of vacant positions. "The outlook is bleak because we are not turning out new teachers. We are on a downward spiral .... if you have children and grandchildren in our schools, you have cause to be worried." He estimates there are 200 vacancies in the region at the moment, a number that will increase as retirements click in at the end of the year. Bentley said the staffing shortage is the worst he's seen in his 28 years as a principal. 

Liz Auger from St Joseph's school in Otahuhu pointed out it was generally the poorest schools in south Auckland who suffered most, and "for some in poorer areas, the only way out of poverty is education". 

Fletcher asked the mayor to include some formal advocacy on the issue to the incoming government, with Goff agreeing to do that. 

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