'Challenging time': Schools deal with staff shortages, lack of relief teachers

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Wakanui School. Photo: Facebook
Wakanui School. Photo: Facebook
An increasing number of teachers isolating because of Covid and a lack of relievers is causing some Canterbury schools to close and go online or limit pupil attendance as term one comes to an end.

Rebekah Clement. Photo: Ashburton Courier
Rebekah Clement. Photo: Ashburton Courier
It’s a last resort option to close a school, said Wakanui School principal and Mid Canterbury Principals Association spokesperson Rebekah Clement.

"To run classes we need teachers in front of them. With teachers sick or isolating, other part-time teaching staff at schools may be ‘redeployed’ into classrooms or relievers used,” she said.

"Relievers are not abundant in Mid Canterbury and currently are very stretched (working five days a week).

"There simply isn’t the relieving staff to fill all the current ‘gaps’," she said.

It was an issue at Wakanui School, but also at Hinds and Ashburton Borough schools which were this week dealing with a resurgence of Covid cases in their school communities and had fewer pupils at their respective schools.

Hinds School had opted for home schooling on Friday and Monday to avoid wide spread sickness just before the holidays.

And with no short term relievers available Ashburton Borough School principal Hilary Boyce said the school was “trying to find solutions on a daily basis”.

"Just as we were thinking Covid had pretty much finished with us, we are facing a shortage in staffing this week due to positive tests or family members testing positive,” she said to her school community.

Mrs Clement said schools were doing their best to be creative and find workarounds but for some it had got to the point it was not feasible.

Some had closed temporarily to all, while others had just moved classes with high numbers of positive cases to home learning.

Hinds School had opted for home schooling on Friday and Monday to avoid wide spread sickness just...
Hinds School had opted for home schooling on Friday and Monday to avoid wide spread sickness just before the holidays. Photo: Facebook
"All schools would have completed extensive health and safety planning around Covid at the start of the year,” she said.

"Considerable thought has gone into processes and procedures that allow the whole school community (students, staff and whanau) to remain safe,” she said.

Some of those processes included following Ministry of Education advice, keeping classes/groups separate, separate break times/ staggered, limiting non-essential people on site, students/staff following mask mandate, regular ‘breather breaks’ outside, teaching outside, ventilation in classrooms and outdoor assemblies.

But there had been issues.

"Some schools have needed to work through the employment process relating to the vaccine mandate. This has been a challenge.

"Overall, I think schools have worked through what has been required of us, (opting for) sensible decisions that are best for their school community and keeping everyone as safe as we can.

"We’ve had to be incredibly adaptable by the week (and day at times) to changing requirements (especially last term).

"Teachers, support staff and principals have worked hard to maintain consistency and quality learning for students in an uncertain time and with many obstacles – they should be applauded for the work they have done,” she said.

It had also been a time consuming process for school management teams.

"Schools have found solutions (within the requirements) that best suit their situation.

"This may look different in one school to another – and that’s okay. Everyone is doing their best.

"What has helped school staff is supportive boards and communities backing their ‘team’.

"Covid isn’t a pleasant situation to be managing and we’d all like to get ‘back to normal’ and doing all the things we used to do they way we did them,” she said.

"For now we need to continue to adapt and think of the bigger picture.”

Heartfelt thanks
"The Mid Canterbury Principals Association would like to extend their gratitude and thanks to all the staff in our schools who have been going above and beyond to ensure quality teaching and learning has continued throughout what has been a challenging time," Rebekah Clement said.

"We appreciate your ability and willingness to provide stability for our students. Thank you."

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