Strike will show teachers 'mean business' - principal

The AM Show 02/08/2018

Auckland principal Helen Varney says she has the best job in the world, but would struggle to recommend anyone follow in her footsteps.

"Teaching is a wonderful career - it allows you to grow people, it gives you opportunities to really make a difference in your life. But I am concerned about the income, I'm concerned about the qualities, I'm concerned about the conditions that our young teachers - and all of our teachers - are in today."

Primary school teachers and principals will strike later this month, giving up a day's pay in their fight for better salaries and conditions.

"We do mean business," Ms Varney told The AM Show on Thursday. "We really regret the impact it will have on families. This is not about pressuring families - it's about making sure the Government understands we're serious."

It'll be the first full-day strike by primary school teachers in 24 years, and the timing - under a union-friendly Labour-led Government - is no coincidence.

"We're listened to at the moment, so we want our voice heard. They will listen to us."

Teachers were offered a pay rise over three years, ranging between 6.1 percent and 14.7 percent, but rejected it. Ms Varney says not only was the offer not enough, it did nothing to boost teacher numbers in the short-term.

Helen Varney. Photo: The AM Show.

"It's critical at the moment... Thirty percent of our young teachers will, in the first five years of teaching, leave the profession. The conditions of the service - they find it's just too much to manage."

That includes not just class sizes, but the needs of the students - Ms Varney says in Auckland, many classes are made up of students for whom English is a second language. Reliever teachers are in such short supply, when a teacher calls in sick their students are regularly divided up and put into other classes.

"Today for example, I have to split a class - I could only get one reliever into my school, because in my classes I've already got most of my relievers working part-time."

Former Education Minister and current National Party spokeswoman Nikki Kaye says the strike is "entirely of Labour's own making" and the result of poor spending choices.

"We would have paid teachers more," she told Newshub. "We had a fiscal envelope with the Canterbury earthquakes and the global financial crisis, and despite that we managed to increase teacher salaries by about 20 percent."

Ms Kaye's predecessor Hekia Parata in 2012 proposed a freeze on teacher numbers, telling The Nation the number of new teachers was outpacing growth in roll numbers. Since then, there has been a 40 percent drop in people training as teachers, principals' head strike negotiator Louise Green told The AM Show in July.

Teachers want a 16 percent increase over two years, extra learning support and more time actually teaching.

"People are not choosing to come into teaching, they are not choosing to stay in teaching," says Ms Varney.

If she could turn back time, Ms Varney says she'd go into IT rather than teaching.

"I'd be Nanogirl - something like that. I love my job - absolutely love it, I've got the best job in the world - but it's getting harder and harder."

The strike will take place on August 15. It's up to each school's board of trustees whether they close for the day, or provide supervision.

Watch the full interview with Helen Varney above.

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