Relief teacher shortage

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Stretched resources . . . Otago Primary Principals' Association president and Elmgrove School principal Chris McKinlay is concerned about the lack of relief teachers in Dunedin. PHOTO: JESSICA WILSON

The pool of relief teachers in Dunedin has halved in the past decade, a worrying trend for educators.

Otago Primary Principals’ Association president and Elmgrove School principal Chris McKinlay said there were 35 relief teachers available, down from 80 about 12 years ago.

The New Zealand Educational Institute continues to negotiate with the Government for better pay and working conditions after a nationwide strike in August – the first in 25 years.

Further industrial action is planned for this month.

Mr McKinlay said 19 Dunedin classrooms had gone without a teacher for a day since June.

“On those 19 occasions, a class has not had a teacher so the school has had to adapt and do something to cater for that.”

On days when a relief teacher could not be found, the school principal could take over, if they did not have their own class, or the pupils would be split between other classes in the school.

This meant teachers would have more children to teach, often children they were not familiar with.

“It’s got to affect the learning.”

Although people were still applying for teaching jobs in Dunedin, Mr McKinlay was concerned the city would follow a trend occurring in other parts of the country.

“I hear from principals in bigger centres like Auckland . . . that this is where they were a year or so ago.

“They were struggling to get relievers for their classrooms but now they’re struggling to get teachers for the classroom so the concern for us is if it’s following that trend.

“At the moment we can get teachers for our classrooms . . . but we are short of day-to-day relief.”

Although there was no “magic bullet” to solving the issues, a major focus of negotiations was working to make the teaching profession more attractive.

The average graduate stayed in the profession for about five years and the average age of a teacher was over 50.

“We’re concerned about when we can’t put teachers in front of kids because that’s not doing the kids the justice they deserve.

“We need to do something and we need to do it now.”

Abbotsford School principal Stephanie Madden said there had been about five days this year when the school was unable to get a relief teacher.

“Last year there was a couple but I’ve never experienced this before.”

In some cases she had to teach, otherwise “we just have to reorganise within the school to make sure that everyone has got a teacher in front of them”.

Often specialist teachers had to be pulled off their role to teach, which affected other classes in the school.

Carisbrook School principal Ben Sincock said while the school was “OK” finding relievers, he had noted a “significant drop” in the number of people applying for jobs.

“In previous years I think Dunedin has been quite spoilt with regards to getting plenty of applicants for both fixed and long-term teaching positions, but we have definitely noticed a dramatic drop this year in the number of applicants.”

He said the drop in applicants was “hitting home” and predicted it would become more apparent as fewer people trained in the profession.