How does the brutal situation facing beginning teachers square with the stated aim of lifting teacher quality?

A shortage of teachers may be looming in secondary schools, especially in maths and science, but in primary the situation is awful in other ways. The number of students finishing teacher training has halved since 2010, to 2200 last year, but new graduates still face a brutal reality: nowhere near enough jobs.

Ministry of Education figures say 76% of primary schools received nine or more applications from New Zealand-trained teachers for each permanent job advertised in 2014 – up from 59% of primary schools in 2011.

Low decile and rural schools, and schools with a higher proportion of M?ori students may receive fewer applications, but many new graduates have family commitments and cannot move, and many low decile schools will hold out for experienced teachers.

One Wellington principal reports receiving 40 or more Beginning Teacher (BT) applications each time a permanent job is advertised – “and not every job is suitable for a BT”.

Add to that, new teachers are finding their jobs do not live up to expectations. A recent study by Canterbury University reports that as many as one in four have quit, or want to leave, the profession because of the high workload, lack of professional development and all the paperwork, such as “useless assessment and data collection”.

When asked by EA about workforce planning, the Ministry of Education replied that it was tasked with “ensuring an adequate supply of appropriately trained and qualified teachers” and that it monitored teacher supply. There had been some hope that the ministry’s new regional directors would engage in workplace planning, but EA was assured this is not the case.

Dashed hopes

In Auckland, John Bembo is typical of the enthusiastic new graduates whose hopes are being dashed. He arrived in New Zealand as a four-year-old from the Philippines and credits teachers with encouraging him to fit in with New Zealand culture and become who he is. “I want to give something back,” he says.

“We often don’t notice that quiet Asian in the corner – I was that sort of person. But I was encouraged to develop.”

He has a degree in theatre studies, a postgraduate teaching qualification, a masters in arts management, and a graduate certificate in human resource management. He has worked as a gymnastics coach, for Auckland Transport, as an ECE and primary reliever, and he helps run a small theatre company.

But despite a clear passion for primary teaching – “I really connect with the children” – after three years of trying, he has not been able to get a permanent job.

“I’ve applied for dozens of jobs and had interviews. I’ve learnt a lot and adapted – but no job.” He says he’ll give it one more year, then he will start looking for another career.

Lately, he’s become involved with NZEI’s New Educator Network. “I thought I would get involved once I got a job. I wanted to focus on getting a job – but now I understand it’s the other way round.”

He’s enthusiastic about the network, particularly a Reliever’s Workshop he attended. “They used integrated learning and Bloom’s taxonomy to teach the material and I needed that refresher. I also went to an NZEI branch meeting – and I’ve found a network. It’s been so refreshing.”

NZEI president Louise Green, who is a primary principal on secondment, encourages new graduates to become involved with NZEI, to develop networks, and to put their names down at as many schools as possible for relieving work.

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I’ve applied for dozens of jobs and had interviews. I’ve learnt a lot and adapted – but no job.


Fixed term contracts

She is particularly concerned that many new teachers are being employed on short-term contracts. Ministry figures show that nearly a fifth, or 19%, of first-year beginning teachers in term 1 of 2014 were not entitled to the BT Teacher Time Allowance, meaning they were in insecure jobs and officially unsupported in their roles.

Yet, legally, fixed term contracts are only meant to be offered where there are legitimate reasons – for medical or maternity leave, or for roles that are over staff entitlement, for example.

Green advises new teachers to ring the NZEI helpline in confidence if there is a question about their role. NZEI Area Councils also offer networking opportunities.

“Anecdotally, it seems some schools are reluctant to offer permanent jobs to unproven BTs because their faith in initial teacher education (ITE) is shaky,” says Green.

To connect with your nearest Area Council, go to the contact page on or call the helpline 0800 693 443.