The teacher supply and demand see-saw

December 2013

 

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JUDE BARBACK reviews the tricky business of managing teacher supply and demand.

Since Education Review published an in-depth feature on the oversupply of teachers earlier this year, more and more hard luck stories have emerged of new teacher grads struggling to get jobs. Yet research shows more teachers will be needed in just a few years.

The Ministry’s move to bolster the teaching profession with the introduction of postgrad ITE supports might support future demand, but is it going to help with the current oversupply situation?

The fluctuating job market

Given the current oversupply of teachers, it certainly seems hard to believe that merely a decade ago secondary school and early childhood teaching were listed on Immigration New Zealand’s long-term skill shortage list. Harder still to fathom is the need for a $1500 loyalty bonus as an incentive to keep young secondary school teachers in

New Zealand classrooms – an idea that was tossed around at the time. And then there was the $19 million teacher-bonding scheme established in 2009 to help overcome a teaching shortage and prevent teachers from being lured overseas upon completing their training.

Just four years later, we have tales emerging of teaching graduates whose study has been funded by Government scholarships yet have been unable to find employment, stories of newly trained teachers applying for hundreds of jobs, and anecdotes of schools receiving over 600 applicants for one job.

Di Davies, manager of the Ministry of Education’s TeachNZ, says the recession has contributed to the situation.

“As in other countries experiencing the impact of the global economic recession, we’ve recently seen some significant changes to teacher supply and demand in New Zealand.

“This shift in teacher supply has emerged over the last two or three years. It is impacting on new teacher graduates who were studying to become a teacher before the change became apparent (approximately 2800 graduate each year), and on teachers who have been out of the workforce, in short-term or relieving roles.”

Yet, research suggests that the sector could be facing a shortage again in just a few years’ time, due, in part, to a boost in the national birth rate. Ministry of Education figures show primary school enrolments will increase steadily until 2019, when there would be 44,500 more students than in 2011. An additional 1150 primary teachers will be needed to cope with the increased enrolments, based on an average class size of 27. The knock-on effect for secondary school student numbers will start in approximately 2019, reaching a peak in 2024 with about 22,000 more students in the system than in 2011.

The implication of these forecasted trends for teaching students is that those who begin their studies this year, are likely to have improved job prospects in New Zealand primary schools by the time they have graduated.

Taking action

Perhaps the fluctuation from feast to famine is an indication of why the Ministry of Education and the teacher education providers have been reluctant to take any strong measures on limiting the number of teacher students.

Davies says the Ministry is taking a proactive approach in monitoring teacher supply and demand and has improved the accuracy of analysis, forecasting, and modelling of the teacher workforce. The Ministry produces the Monitoring Teacher Supply report each year, which provides a snapshot of the number of vacancies in schools on the first day of term at the start of each school year and identifies recent trends from that information.

Since the current oversupply situation has emerged in recent years, the Ministry has also scrapped contracts to recruit overseas teachers and has removed teaching from the immigration skills shortage list.

But the Ministry draws the line at restricting the number of teachers that can be trained, as it “does not and never has had the role of directly influencing demand”.

Teacher education providers we spoke with took a similar stance. They were confident that a teaching qualification opens doors to many different occupations, and therefore appeared reluctant to match available jobs for course places.

Associate Professor Sally Hansen of Massey University says that they do not set caps on their teaching qualifications to reflect the New Zealand teaching job market.

“We strongly believe that a teaching qualification is an excellent qualification for a diverse range of career opportunities. Determining a cap on selection related to the teaching job market (particularly one that is prone to shifting) could have the potential to be limiting and short-sighted.”

Mary Simpson, Associate Dean of Education at University of Otago, agrees.

“A teaching qualification does provide a very sound background for work in other areas and applicants are often very aware of this. It is noticeable how many people working in diverse fields have a teaching qualification. Additionally, many students, for a variety of reasons, do not intend to teach immediately.”

Gary Downey of University of Canterbury says their programmes offer “rigorous professional preparation”, which can lead to a diverse range of employment opportunities both within and outside the education sector.

Hansen says an effort is made to manage applicants’ expectations, but they are careful not to be too prescriptive.

“We accept we have a duty of care to applicants regarding their employment expectations. This needs to be balanced, however, by an awareness that we should not be making decisions for our students, some of whom will wish to use their qualification and skills in locations other than New Zealand and in settings other than the secondary school classroom.”

Similarly, Mary Simpson, Associate Dean of Education at University of Otago, says they review their student enrolment numbers each year taking into consideration, among other factors, what is known of the employment market.

“We do our best to monitor both national and local trends, and we endeavour to track our students as they move into the teaching workforce. We know there are both regional and subject area trends, and we recognise the challenges in matching the number of graduates with the likely number of positions that will be available.

“When we receive an application, if it is in a subject area where there is an oversupply of teachers, we always discuss this with the applicant. Applicants for secondary programmes are prepared to teach in more than one curriculum area. The combination of subject areas is important to consider,” says Simpson.

Subject shortage

Teacher education providers are very aware that while there is an oversupply of teachers in some areas, like physical education, for example, there is a shortage in others, such as Maori–medium, maths, and science.

The New Zealand Initiative report, World Class Education? Why New Zealand must strengthen its teaching profession, released in October, showed 19 per cent of vacant teaching jobs in secondary schools were for maths.

The report also examined the link between teachers’ mathematical abilities and students’ grades. It looked at Laura Goe’s research, which showed that a mathematics degree was strongly and consistently related to student achievement in mathematics.

However, the problem appears to be that those with a mathematics qualification often have a wide choice of careers open to them and teaching is not necessarily at the top of the list.

“The possibilities outside of teaching for people with maths and science qualifications is much greater than it used to be,” Naenae College principal, John Russell, told the Dominion Post.

Indeed, the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) revealed that around two-thirds of Year 9 mathematics teachers had a mathematics major.

The Ministry has acknowledged evidence showing that students’ achievement, particularly in mathematics and science, is influenced by their teacher’s previous study in those subjects, along with the teacher’s pedagogical knowledge.

Postgrad ITE finally here

The Ministry has welcomed the New Zealand Initiative report and its emphasis on raising the profile of the teaching profession. In support of this, Education Minister Hekia Parata recently announced that the Government is partnering with the Universities of Auckland, Waikato, and Otago to provide new postgraduate level initial teacher education qualifications from next year. Further providers may be contracted to start in 2015.

The path towards postgrad ITE has been plagued with uncertainty. The Ministry has had plans to support providers in the implementation of postgraduate teaching qualifications for some time, based on advice it received from the Education Workforce Advisory Group in 2010.

While Minister Parata’s Budget 2012 announcement declared that a shift to a postgrad focus was on the cards for teacher education, it was another aspect of the Education Ministry’s budget proposals that would scupper these plans. The proposal to increase class sizes and reduce teaching staff at intermediate and middle schools provoked intense backlash from schools around the country. Under immense pressure from the public, Parata confirmed a complete policy u-turn of no teacher cuts or increases to class sizes.

The Ministry had hoped to save some $114 million through the unpopular proposals, which was to be channelled into strengthening teacher education and professional development, among other initiatives. At the time of the back-down on class sizes, Parata said the shift to postgraduate initial teacher education would still go ahead. However, in the aftermath of the fray over class sizes, the Ministry appeared to push away from the idea. A report released under the Official Information Act cited teacher supply and demand trends as a reason that moving to a postgraduate qualification will deliver limited results in the short term.

The fact that the Ministry has now regained traction with postgrad ITE, in spite of the current oversupply situation, is perhaps a sign of the Government’s commitment to raising the profile of the teaching profession. It also appears to support the prediction that in a few years time, more teachers will be needed.

“The Government is focused on strengthening the teaching profession as a central part of a larger strategy to lift overall education system performance,” said Parata upon announcing the initiative in October. “Improving the quality of ITE provision is an important element of that strategy.”

Teacher education providers will unsurprisingly be pleased by the move to postgrad. The news is less pleasing for those grads already struggling to find work.

Newly qualified early childhood teacher, Brent Amer, told the Dominion Post that he fears one year postgrad diploma courses are turning teaching into a fallback profession for graduates who don’t know what else to do.

“Universities are in competition with each other. They can easily fill these courses. It’s flooded the market big-time,” he said.

So while the shift to postgrad ITE is perceived to be in the future interests of the teaching profession, newly qualified teachers currently facing a fiercely competitive job market are perhaps a little more reluctant to celebrate the Government’s move.


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