Schools struggle: 'I have never known it to be this bad'

Balclutha Primary School principal Paddy Ford. Photo: John Cosgrove
Balclutha Primary School principal Paddy Ford. Photo: John Cosgrove
Staffing levels in many Clutha primary schools are critically low.

Balclutha Primary School principal Paddy Ford said many schools in the Clutha District faced the daily challenge of not having enough staff on hand to deliver the high standards of education they all wanted to impart to their charges.

A teacher and principal for 38 years, Mr Ford said he and his staff faced this conundrum every day.

‘‘Honestly I’m really struggling. I have never known it to be this bad in 30 years of being a principal.

‘‘On Monday I had three teachers away and just couldn’t find relievers.’’

Mr Ford said some mornings his deputy principal could spend over an hour on the phone trying to find a relieving teacher.

‘‘Once they find one it takes them an hour to get there, and that’s an hour lost.

‘‘There hasn’t been a week this term where we haven’t had to shift people around to cover classes.

‘‘My DP has even had to go in and teach instead of doing her essential admin roles.

‘‘We have guaranteed the board that the education of their children would not be interrupted.

‘‘We have maintained that promise, but man, it’s been hard.’’

Stirling Primary School principal Mary Munro said that at her small school she was the principal, the office administrator, the telephone answerer and also one of the teachers.

‘‘I have to do everything because we are a small school. I love teaching and thankfully we have a good male teacher aide on hand, but it is hard sometimes.’’

Having access to good relieving staff helped but that was rare, as there was a limited pool of relievers.

Mr Ford said his school struggled when staff were sick, as training days and sports commitments were often planned ahead of time.

His year’s budget for relieving teachers was already spent by August.

Mr Ford believed national education authorities had made it difficult and expensive for teachers who were trained in the past to come back into the trade.

‘‘Even retirees after five years away from education have to go and do a retraining programme that is so expensive.

‘‘These barriers have been placed in front of us and are stopping us getting enough relieving teachers,’’ he said.

Mr Ford believed schools had reached the stage they were at now because increased pressure on schools and teachers was making the job less attractive than it used to be.

‘‘Teachers are far, far busier than they ever used to be.

‘‘The assessment tasks are huge and all these new initiatives have created more work.’’

Mr Ford said teachers were now being asked to help pupils understand core values, health and safety and even personal hygiene, topics they perceived were once parental matters.

Lately there had been a 40% drop in teacher applicants at the University of Otago and that worried him.

‘‘I love my job. It’s given me opportunities and experiences I would never get in any other profession, but if you are an 18-year-old and you are going to go to university for three years then you could be an engineer or a surveyor and you will start off on a bigger salary than what teachers do.’’

Mr Ford said he was astounded by the hours of work his teachers did.

‘‘They organise sports, cultural groups, choirs, PTA meetings, have their own training and professional development to complete plus attend language schools from five to seven at night.

‘‘The most hits on the New Zealand teachers resources sites are between nine and 10 o’clock at night. That’s how late they are working to prepare for the next day.

‘‘I love this job, but they are going to have to do something to attract more applicants and they should start with the hours and the conditions.

‘‘We have great schools here in Clutha, great teachers, good boards and the kids here get a great deal but we really do need some more people to apply for the job.’’

JOHN.COSGROVE@cluthaleader.co.nz 

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