19 Jul 2016

Recruiting Auckland teachers 'a nightmare' due to housing costs

9:04 am on 19 July 2016

A survey of Auckland's primary schools paints a picture of severe teacher shortages across the city and at every school decile level.

The struggle to recruit teachers is being described as "a nightmare" by principals who blame it largely on the high cost of housing in the city.

Sold sign outside a house in East Auckland

The Auckland Primary Principals Association survey showed the high cost of Auckland housing is putting teachers off applying for jobs in the city. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Three years ago, schools were getting 50 applicants per job. Now many are lucky if they get five - and often for multiple positions.

Phil Palfrey, principal at Manurewa East School, had one vacancy to fill for Term 3 which starts on Monday.

"I advertised through the New Zealand Gazette and I advertised through Seek and I got nothing at all.

"Well, I had two or three replies, but they weren't of a standard that would be suitable for a performing school, a school that was trying to achieve good achievement levels amongst its students."

With a week to go he managed to find a teacher - who will have to travel 60km every day to school and home again through rush-hour traffic.

Elm Park school in Pakuranga faced a similar issue.

Principal Trish Plowright advertised for two positions but got no responses and in the end she had to rely on goodwill to make sure there were enough teachers.

"We've been really lucky that one of our teachers who was on leave has offered for come back for the next two terms." she said. "And the other [vacancy], we've managed to fill with a reliever."

But she said employing relievers has a knock on effect for the rest of the school.

"If there are staff that are sick or going on courses or things like that we don't have a bank of relievers to call upon.

"Then that would mean one of my senior deputy principals or myself would have to go in or we'd have to split a class up."

Ms Plowright said she had had teachers leave and move out of Auckland to reduce housing costs.

Stories like this prompted the Auckland Primary Principals Association (APPA) to conduct a survey in June.

It found that of the 168 schools actively needing staff for Term 3, 65 percent received five or fewer applicants.

At least eight schools received no applicants for vacancies.

Association president Diane Manners said the data illustrated the serious problem facing primary schools in Auckland.

"It's a really severe situation for schools when you consider that some of those applicants would be the same person applying for more than one position."

The survey also found there were expected to be 418 vacancies across Auckland that needed filling before the end of 2016 as new entrant classes grew or teachers went on maternity leave.

Ms Manners hoped the survey's data would lead the Ministry of Education to acknowledge the problem, but she was not confident any solutions will be in place for students this year or next.

"There's no way currently to incentivise to bring people into the Auckland market.

"So to bring experienced teachers from anywhere else in New Zealand with the cost of housing, the potential of having to travel across Auckland to get to where the work might be from where the affordable housing or semi-affordable housing might be, there's nothing we can offer at the moment."

In a statement, the Ministry of Education told RNZ News that it met regularly with Auckland's principals to respond to their concerns about teacher supply.

A range of potential solutions were being explored, but in the meantime the ministry was working to smooth the way for overseas teachers to work in New Zealand and helping schools which had hard to fill vacancies.

Diane Manners has talked through possible solution with ministry officials said they would help, but only around the edges.

She wanted greater urgency in dealing with the problem, especially with a growing population that will mean more children needing more teachers.