Govt 'confident' primary teacher shortage will be solved by next year - Hipkins

The AM Show 05/11/2018

The Government is confident it'll have teachers in front of every school classroom when school begins in 2019.

Classes across the country have been split up this year, with a shortage of about 800 roles and teachers leaving the profession in droves.

"We train a lot of beginning teachers every year, and one in five of them don't make it to the classroom," Education Minister Chris Hipkins told The AM Show on Monday.

"If we can up those numbers, then we can definitely meet the number of teachers that we need for the beginning of the new school year."

He says an overseas recruitment drive has resulted in more than 3000 applications, about 500 of which have been approved are "good to go".

The rest he says will come refresher training for former teachers who want to get back in the classroom, and a mentoring programme to ease the transition for new teachers, in an effort to stop them choosing another career path.

"We know that the primary teacher shortage is at its peak at the beginning of next year, then it starts to level off a little bit. We know that the secondary peak really starts to kick in in a few years' time. We've got a window here to do a big recruitment campaign to make sure we've got enough teachers in our classrooms."

He wouldn't guarantee every class would have a teacher, saying ultimately it's up to principals and schools to do the hiring.

"I'm saying to schools, get into the recruitment process as quickly as you can, and we will do everything we can to support you. If you do that, we're confident we can find you teachers to be in your classrooms at the beginning of next year."

Lynda Stuart. Photo: The AM Show.

Learning support staff 'a good start'

A $217 million plan to hire 600 learning support staff in schools by 2020 might not be enough to put off planned rolling strikes for next week however, with the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) - which represents primary school teachers and principals - saying it'll have to ask its members first.

"It's a start," NZEI president Lynda Stuart told The AM Show. "There's a lot more that actually goes on around this. We know that our teachers are looking to more time that they actually need for their time to teach as well. That's a little more than the [learning support] role, which is only just the beginning.

The problem is that while having support staff will certainly help ease the pressure teachers are under in the classroom, the announcement has no bearing at all on what's in their collective agreement - and that's why it wasn't brought up in facilitation earlier.

"We don't have staffing formulas and all of those sorts of things in the collective agreement," said Mr Hipkins. "The collective agreements cover things like pay rates and the amount of time teachers get out of the classroom - it doesn't cover things like learning support or special needs, and that's never been the case."

Mr Hipkins says the timing of the announcement was not designed to stop the strikes.

"We committed to doing this when we were in Opposition, and we've been working since we became the Government to actually get this up and running. The consultation on this has been taking place over the last few months, and that only finished a few weeks ago. We've now got the opportunity to forge ahead."

Ms Stuart said teachers understand this is just "phase one" of fixing the profession, but "huge issues" remain. At this stage, the strike is still on.

"We work through the facilitation over the week, and there will be recommendations which we will then be putting to our membership. The rolling strikes at this point in time are moving ahead."

Mr Hipkins said it's not necessary, because the Government is doing all it can to help teachers.

"We'd far rather be working constructively with them than have them out on strike."

The strikes begin November 12, and follow a nationwide strike on August 15. Dates for each part of the country can be found on the NZEI website

Watch the full interview above.

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