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Shrinking relief teacher pool a “worrying long-term trend” as floodgates open for Term 3

Primary school principals are warning the disruptions to children’s learning will continue this term, with new analysis from NZEI Te Riu Roa showing the chronic shortage of relief teachers is the continuation of a worrying long-term trend that requires urgent attention.

NZEI Te Riu Roa revealed that it has analysed new Government data showing a 34 percent decrease in the available pool of day relief teachers in primary schools between 2012 and 2021.

This decrease was felt across the country, with Waikato and Wellington experiencing the biggest regional declines of 40 percent.

Winter illnesses and the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic meant many schools resorted to blending classrooms, remote learning or closing for a few days last term because they could not secure relief teachers.

Relievers are in high demand but in short supply right now and it’s putting a lot of pressure on everyone,” said Mark Potter, the principal of Berhampore School in Wellington and vice president of NZEI Te Riu Roa.

The pandemic, however, has only exacerbated long-standing problems facing primary schools, according to Mr Potter.

NZEI Te Riu Roa is currently campaigning for an in-depth review of the relieving workforce, however, president Liam Rutherford is concerned about the lack of immediate solutions being offered by the Ministry of Education.

“The education sector could not function without relievers,” he said.

They are an integral part of the day-to-day running of schools and faced with this ongoing shortage of relief teachers, schools are reluctantly scheduling learning from home days  — which places additional pressure on whanau — to work around staff illnesses.

“Ultimately our tamariki are suffering.”

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