Science

‘Harder than ever’ to recruit specialist science teachers, educators say

Well-qualified specialist science teachers in physics and maths are hard to come by, a Head of Department says.

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Well-qualified specialist science teachers in physics and maths are hard to come by, a Head of Department says.

Schools are finding it harder than ever to recruit well-qualified specialist science teachers, which the science educators’ association says is harming some students’ results.

It comes as some principals report teacher shortages in technology and te reo Māori, as they struggle to fill vacancies for months.

The National Party has accused the Government of exacerbating teacher shortages through inadequate immigration and border policies.

Doug Walker​, president of the New Zealand Association of Science Educators​, said schools across New Zealand have faced a consistent shortage of physics and chemistry teachers.

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“Over the last two years, it’s certainly been harder than ever to recruit good science teachers, while it’s always been a challenge, it’s been more so in the last two years.”

Walker, who is also Head of Science at St Patrick’s College in Wellington, said the problem had existed for years, and stemmed in part to the salary options for science graduates in New Zealand; who could go into lucrative engineering or medical careers.

“One of the firmly held beliefs in our community is that somebody who graduates with a physics and chemistry degree could earn a lot more if they went into industry.”

He had heard of schools re-advertising for positions multiple times, asking retired teachers to come back for a term, or putting in non-specialist teachers, say a maths or biology teacher, to fill the gaps.

“You see the lack of consistency coming through in results, very detrimentally.”

Walker said the struggle to hire had been more noticeable during the pandemic’s closed borders – applications from qualified teachers had arrived from Fiji, South Africa, the United States and Canada, but there had been no certainty they could get into the country.

Secondary Principals’ Association President Vaughan Couillault said there were long-standing issues with finding staff in specialist areas and that Covid-19 might have actually led to a reprieve with some teachers coming home.

“But as borders open up again staffing is again becoming very challenging,” Couillault said.

The Ministry of Education does not collect numbers of teachers by subject area, but is looking into ways to address the “information gap” Operations and Integrations leader Sean Teddy said.

In 2021, spaces for 300 teachers were opened under a border exception policy – but none had arrived by December 2021.

By March 18, 244 teachers had applied for positions, 84 had visas approved, and 46 teachers had arrived into the country under the scheme – so far 44 teachers for STEM (science, technology and maths) have applied for visas, but it’s not clear how many of them have arrived.

The borders will reopen more widely for some workers under an accredited employer work visa, from July 4.

National’s Immigration and Education spokesperson Erica Stanford said the Government needed a better immigration approach to attract more STEM teachers (file photo.)

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

National’s Immigration and Education spokesperson Erica Stanford said the Government needed a better immigration approach to attract more STEM teachers (file photo.)

National’s Immigration and Education spokesperson Erica Stanford said good teachers have their pick of where they go at the moment.

“NZ is not at the top of their list because there is no pathway to residency right now, we haven’t treated migrants well.”

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government was focussed on training more teachers for the classroom, rather than solely focussing on immigration. (file photo.)

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government was focussed on training more teachers for the classroom, rather than solely focussing on immigration. (file photo.)

She said well-qualified teachers should have a residence-class visa on arrival with the promise of a full residence visa in two years.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government was exploring ways to recruit overseas teachers to priority areas, including STEM and hard-to-staff schools.

The Government was focussed on training more teachers and getting them into the classroom, including a broad package of scholarships for STEM teachers through Teach NZ.

“Unlike National, who see unrestrained immigration as the solution to all workforce shortages, we’ve been focused on training more teachers and getting them into the classroom.

“Had the last National government done that, we might not have had the shortages we’ve experienced in recent years.”

*CORRECTION: Under the 2021 scheme that allocated spaces for 300 teachers under a border exception policy, 44 STEM teachers have so far applied for the scheme, rather than having 44 places reserved for them. More STEM teachers can apply. (Amended March 28, 2022, 10:30am)

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