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Kiwis urged to take flight for home

Janet Rivers reports on an ironic twist in the staff shortage saga. Fed up with Britain? Tired of being blamed for declining school standards? Exhausted by having to teach ever bigger classes in crumbling buildings? Why not try New Zealand?

The country, long a source of staff to alleviate shortages in British schools, is now trying to lure New Zealand teachers home to solve a looming recruitment crisis.

British teachers will also be considered, with the prospect of a free flight and a relocation package to go with the job.

More than 1,000 extra teaching posts are on offer next year, most of them in primary schools, as a result of rising pupil numbers and a government decision to reduce class sizes.

To meet the demand, the education ministry has funded recruitment campaigns in both the UK and Australia, where there is a surplus of teachers. The recruitment drive is an ironic reversal of fortune. Such was the shortage of teachers in southern Britain in the late 1980s that several education authorities trawled the world seeking staff.

Prime targets were young Australian and New Zealand teachers looking to travel to Europe. One London education authority even advertised at the Munich beer festival, while the now defunct Inner London Education Authority targeted young Aussies and Kiwis working in bars and restaurants in the capital, searching for potential staffroom recruits.

The recession which began in 1990 ended the domestic crisis, but there are now signs of shortages in key subjects re-emerging as the economy picks up.

Last week the Teacher Training Agency announced a Pounds 10million incentive scheme to attract more people into teaching, targeted on subjects and geographical areas where shortages are emerging. Applications to PGCE courses are reported to be down in maths, sciences and craft, design and technology. The Government is keen to play down any suggestion of a looming shortage at a time when it is urging the School Teachers' Review Body to restrain salaries.

Sue Douglas, who manages New Zealand's government teacher supply project, said the Auckland-based Multi Serve Education Trust had been contracted to recruit 80 Australian teachers. It was now also signing up schools with vacancies that could be filled by suitably qualified New Zealanders and Australians living in Britain.

However, despite the measures taken to meet the demand for teachers, Auckland principals are concerned there will still be a substantial shortfall when schools open next year. Madeleine East, Auckland Primary Principals' Association president, said no exact figures were available, but principals were predicting as many as 200 vacancies could still be unfilled.

"Some schools are advertising up to 10 positions, and three to five positions is common," she said. "We could be as many as 200 to 250 teachers short in the new year."

The government has announced it will be reducing the length of teacher training for university graduates who want to become primary teachers.

Education minister Lockwood Smith said extra funding would be provided in 1997 for a one-year training course for graduates and "other very able students".

The funding would provide 250 training places, and was in addition to the NZ$ 4.1 million (Pounds 1.7m) boost for colleges of education to train 700 additional teachers in 1996. "Over the next decade, New Zealand is going to see big growth in primary school rolls, so we need to start training more teachers now," Dr Smith said.

Currently, graduates have to train for two years to become primary teachers, although those opting for secondary teaching only do a one-year course. Dr Smith said any one-year primary training course would have to be approved by the Qualifications Authority and the Teacher Registration.

Ms Douglas, however, said she was confident most vacancies would be filled by the beginning of the school year.

Iria Whiu, president of the the primary teachers' union, the NZEI, said the union warned the government as early as 1992 that teacher shortages were looming, but the warnings were ignored.

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