Exiting education: is there a teaching retention and supply crisis on the horizon?

August 2017


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It’s been reported that just under half of secondary teachers joining the profession leave within five years of beginning their careers. Obviously that’s a worrying rate of attrition, particularly when there are concerns that a significant proportion of an aging workforce is approaching retirement age.

And that’s just a small part of the overall supply and retention conundrum that the secondary teaching profession faces. Education Review speaks to president of the PPTA JACK BOYLE about just a few of the myriad factors he believes are contributing to looming problems.

Exiting EdQ: Education Review: What can we say are generally the most pressing issues as far teacher retention and supply are concerned?

Jack Boyle: The reality is that, as far as recruitment and retention go, there are a number of different factors feeding into the issues we have.

The first is that if you look at advertised vacancies, that’s not the full picture. If you look just at vacancies, you could say, well, there’s this many jobs, but that doesn’t necessarily stack up with the number of positions that are required.

You can break it down further to the number of permanent jobs advertised. That introduces more complexity, because the number of new graduate teachers coming into the profession is a real bone of contention, given the average age of the workforce, which is closer to 60 than it is to 50.

When you talk about retention, you have to remember that, around the time of the global financial crisis, having a stable job probably made a percentage of the secondary teaching workforce hang on. That’s now not necessarily the case.

We do have data on the number of graduates coming through ITE, and that number is steadily declining. So we’re not training enough new teachers, let alone training enough new teachers in the areas where lots of vacancies are coming through, because there is no workforce plan from the Ministry of Education. It’s great that Nikki Kaye has said that we need to look at that: too right we do! Something should have been done well before now.

Even if you say, ‘people tend to stay in this profession’: if we assume for a moment that that’s true, we need, in order to cope with the increasing population, to backfill additional roles that will be required to release teachers to be able to go off and fulfill kahui ako roles, and we need to replenish stocks with regard to those teachers who will be retiring.

The number we’ve got is somewhere between a minimum of 1400 and possibly up to 3000 people who are leaving the profession annually. At the moment ITE providers are turning out under 600.

There isn’t really a focus on retraining; meaning getting people from other professions who might make good teachers in front of our kids. There’s all these financial and administrative barriers: if say, I’m a project manager with a level 5 qualification, then what I currently need to do [to become a secondary teacher] is I need to stop working, and go through initial teacher education. But before that I need to get a level 7 qualification, and then the Education Council and the Ministry of Education are saying ‘well actually, you need to have a postgraduate qualification’, and you can’t get student allowances for that. You’re out of work, you’re paying significantly more with no additional support, in order to get into a profession where you start on a salary of $46,000.

Q: Education Review: We know that a significant number of beginning teachers report struggling to find permanent positions. What impact do you think this has on retention?

JB: For young people who aren’t going into ITE, when they go looking for jobs, two thirds of them are going to start their careers in temporary employment. A fairly significant chunk of those people are going to have multiple short-term contracts.

Q: Education Review: Why is that situation so prevalent?

JB: Firstly: we have a clause in the collective agreement that stipulates that short-term contracts can be used, but – and here’s the caveat – there have to be genuine reasons based on reasonable grounds. That’s because, say for instance you’re going to take maternity leave as a teacher, then there is a designation called an LTR, or long term relieving teacher, which is full-time for the period that the person is on leave.

That should mean of course that a small percentage of beginning teachers find themselves in short-term or fixed term contracts, not two thirds.

Unfortunately, there are a number of possible implications of that clause. Whether it’s being used mistakenly or for ulterior motives - schools taking on new teachers may think ‘we need to try before we buy’. Now that’s a bit grim, to make that as an allegation, but we have cases that we have been through where that’s been the practice.

We have cases too where there’s a genuine reason [for employing a teacher on a short-term contract], but even though the school is working within what they think is the law, they don’t actually seek advice.

Additionally, if you’re a first time teacher, sometimes you won’t know to go looking for the information either. That’s a barrier, and that’s why we launched an initiative this year, where we’re getting schools to sign up to a promise that says basically, ‘we are good employers of first-time and graduate teachers, and we are going to ensure that they have permanent jobs’, among other things.

Q: Education Review: As it’s probably safe to assume that schools aren’t using short-term contracts cynically, but out of necessity, what do you think is driving the number of beginning teachers employed on a non-permanent basis?

JB: There are a number of reasons why schools will employ practices like that. Every school will have different reasons for their practices. I don’t think we should go around saying ‘the problem is that schools are breaking the law’, but there are examples where that has happened, and what we need to do as a system is to make sure that employers understand not just the law, but the benefits of looking after staff. A lot of New Zealand schools do understand all that, and do a hang of a good job in that regard, but two thirds of new graduates starting in temporary employment is a major problem, and within five years almost half of those new graduates are gone.

Q: Education Review: What effect do you think this has on beginning teachers themselves?

JB: When you have multiple temporary employment contracts as a new teacher, quite often you never get established in the team you’re working with, you never get the time and space to look at your practice and develop relational skills, you’re just sort of on a treadmill until you get spat out again at the end of the year.

Q: Education Review: What about the desirability of the profession?

JB: The second common story is the opportunity cost of going into the profession. Even established teachers are finding themselves struggling with the administrative and additional expectations outside of their teaching role. It could be unnecessary meetings, form filling, the use of non-contact time to provide relief cover and things like that. That’s an issue for the whole profession, but I think it affects new teachers particularly, because they might not have a whole pile of subject resources or established knowledge around the actual teaching and learning part. The bottom line is that teaching may not turn out to be what they imagined it would be!

Q: Education Review: What do you think about the state of the registration process?

JB: In order to progress to full registration, you need to do two years of full-time teaching with induction and mentoring. That is quite an arduous process. Unfortunately in some schools, that process is not supported as well as it could be. That could take the form of expecting far too much, or it could be simply not providing the level of support that new teachers need.

There is a very strong external accountability agenda – whether for good or ill - that the current government runs very strongly. When you talk about the job of secondary school teacher, it’s not just the Ministry of Education that creates that external metric. You’ve got the Education Council, who are in charge of the registration stuff. The Education Council are not making it transparent to schools what effective registration processes look like, and they need to work on that.

During those two years of registration, the job of the secondary teacher will include administration, delivery, marking, and moderation of NCEA. What we know is that our young people are doing twice as much assessment as they need to, because the Government said 85 per cent of young people need to get Level 2, and what has happened unfortunately is that has led to over-assessment, which impacts learners and teachers.

There is no jurisdiction in the world that has high stakes assessment every year for three years in a row. If you look at the PISA wellbeing survey, our 15 year olds have among the highest rates of assessment-related anxiety in the developed world.

Q: Education Review: When the PPTA has raised some of these issues with the Ministry, what’s been the response?

JB: When the new minister took up the reigns, we had formal acknowledgement the reports coming from the workload and teacher shortage and supply working groups had been received and had been read, and that there would be public release of those reports. That’s really positive, but tempered with some realities.

We need to see more movement on the jointly agreed teacher shortage and supply recommendations.

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