Will overseas teachers help the workforce shortfall in education?

Primary teachers were added to the “green” residence pathway in an announcement from the government last year. But will it be enough?

In December of last year, primary teachers were added to the “green” pathway for residence into Aotearoa New Zealand.

Although the move acknowledges the shortfall facing the primary education sector, some believe the announcement doesn’t go far enough to address the myriad of issues that primary educators are raising.  

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Last year, teachers, principals and early childhood educators of NZEI Te Riu Roa union members overwhelmingly rejected government offers. Claims included pay increases to combat rising costs of living, and workload controls. Across the sector, concerns were raised that inadequate offers from the government would lead to poor workforce retention, exacerbating understaffing issues.  

Last year’s NZEI Te Riu Roa President, Liam Rutherford, said that given these existing issues, making it easier for overseas primary teachers to gain residency may not make up the shortfall. In a press release, Rutherford said the union would like to see “a more comprehensive plan to grow and retain the workforce of teachers in Aotearoa, and ensure that all tamariki receive the education they deserve.”  

Rutherford said that “while we welcome this [announcement] as a positive step, the Government should be looking at the reasons why they have to implement such a policy in the first place.”  

There was also concern that any overseas teachers would require support to adjust to their roles in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Without external structural support, the burden of care for new staff may fall on long-serving local teachers already stretched thin.  

To address the issues of the primary education sector, Rutherford pointed to the Pūaotanga report, stating the government should look to those recommendations rather than simply using overseas teachers as a stopgap.  

The report, which came after an independent review commissioned by NZEI Te Riu Roa, found staffing entitlement settings were not fit for purpose, and “has not kept up with the needs created by changes in society, education and schools.”  

The recommendations outlined include increased staffing entitlements for support staff such as teacher aides, counsellors, special educational needs coordinators, increased management staff, specialist ESOL support, increased release time, improved teacher:student ratios, and more. The report can be found in full on the NZEI Te Riu Roa website 

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She enjoys crochet, painting, and a coffee or two at the beach. Her work can be found at The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, Stuff, and of course, School News NZ.
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