Hundreds of jobs at risk as foreign students dwindle

The Ministry of Education confirmed its 2021 provisional staffing allocations for domestic...
The Ministry of Education confirmed its 2021 provisional staffing allocations for domestic students this week.
School principals are warning that they may have to lay off hundreds of teachers because they have now given up hope of getting new foreign students in for the start of the next school year.

They have reached a crunch time for staffing decisions after the Ministry of Education confirmed their 2021 provisional staffing allocations for domestic students this week, showing that 1112 schools will have reduced staffing, 1035 will get increases and 274 will be unchanged.

Secondary Principals' Association vice-president Scott Haines said many of the schools facing reduced domestic staffing had also lost foreign students and were getting reduced donations from parents who are in financial hardship due to the pandemic.

"It's a perfect storm for schools who are seriously struggling to put together their programmes for students next year," he said.

His own school, Waimea College in Nelson, faces a $750,000 revenue drop next year, mainly due to losing three-quarters of its usual 80 overseas students.

He says teachers' job losses "would have to be in the hundreds" with similar reductions expected at most schools that have international students.

Patrick Walsh of John Paul College in Rotorua, who chairs the Schools International Education Business Association (Sieba), said many schools faced laying off teachers, increasing class sizes and cutting back on the range of subjects being offered.

"Many principals are staring down the barrel now. They can't afford to retain the number of teachers that they have employed over their [domestic] staffing entitlement," he said.

"They have been having conversations with their boards about that, and if the ministry doesn't come to negotiate with those schools, then those conversations are going to materialise into conversations with those teachers and they won't be able to be retained.

"That, for me, is very disheartening, because not only will it lead to teachers losing jobs, but schools will have to pay redundancies that they can't afford."

Tauranga-based Sieba executive director John van der Zwan said some Bay of Plenty schools now don't expect any international students next year.

However, the pattern varies around the country for two reasons.

First, schools that rely mainly on Asian students are less affected because most of their students come for several years, while other schools rely on short-term students from Europe, Japan and South America.

Second, the ministry expects reduced domestic rolls in all regions except Auckland and the Bay of Plenty, but in some Auckland schools domestic growth will largely offset the loss of foreign students.

Mt Albert Grammar headmaster Patrick Drumm said he expected a drop of just over 100 international students but an increase of just over 100 domestic students.

Macleans College principal Steve Hargreaves said he was "slashing" spending on buildings and information technology, and deferring maintenance, but would not have to make anyone redundant.

"We are expecting our domestic student numbers to go up, because we have quite a lot of infill housing and in-zone growth, and we will take a few on the out-of-zone ballot. That is enough to offset the decline in international students for the moment," he said.

Pakuranga College principal Mike Williams said he expects only a quarter of the school's usual 200 international students next year, but he hoped to cope without redundancies through natural attrition and ending some fixed-term teaching contracts.

"It's pretty clear students won't be coming at the start of next year. We might get a trickle of them later in the year, and hopefully we can see a reasonable number coming back in 2022," he said.

"We are lucky that we have squirrelled some [reserves] away for rainy days, and right now it's pouring outside."

But Auckland Grammar headmaster Tim O'Connor said his school "will be reliant on additional revenue sources, the borders to open for international students in order to hold our service levels where they currently are".

"Otherwise significant cuts will be required to avoid a deficit budget to start a new school year," he said.

Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) president Jack Boyle said the secondary teachers' collective agreement includes provision for redeployment and retraining if teachers are made redundant, and the ministry also had provisions for paying moving costs if teachers move to hard-to-staff areas. Those provisions could be expanded.

"We will be having conversations about redeployment options, not least of all the confusion and change due to Covid-19," he said.

NZ Educational Institute president Liam Rutherford said he was not concerned about the ministry's projected loss of 108 teaching roles in primary schools where rolls are expected to decline next year.

"We still have a significant teacher shortage and a small upcoming reduction in primary school rolls will do nothing to offset the overall shortage," he said.

"Principals I've spoken to just this week told me that a shortage of teachers is still a major issue around the country."

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