All about the Antipodes

28th September 2007 at 01:00
As the chill of autumn takes hold, we daydream about outdoor lifestyles in warm places. If you can stick the low pay, New Zealand ticks some of the boxes for teachers. Mark Piesing explains

As the nights draw in, the mercury falls a degree or two and the summer holiday becomes a distant memory and an even more remote prospect, it's not surprising that the idea of working in far-away climes is at its most appealing. And with its beautiful countryside, balmy weather and a shortage of teachers, New Zealand can seem the perfect destination.

Low crime, cheap housing and an active lifestyle make it not just an attractive holiday destination but a tempting long-term base. But is the Antipodean paradise all it's cracked up to be?

Johnnie Richardson, a recently graduated sports teacher, spent his gap year as a ski instructor in Queenstown on the South Island and, for him, there is no question about it. "Who wouldn't want to teach in New Zealand?" he says. "The lifestyle is great and what's more, they need us."

The employment situation can sometimes seem too good to be true. With 400 vacancies a month in a country with a population smaller than London, the recent baby boom has played to the advantage of UK teachers. As staff numbers struggle to catch up with the rising number of children in the system, obtaining jobs and promotion has been a comparatively easy task.

Irena Lynch of Teach NZ part of the Ministry of Education says the other attractions for UK teachers are climate and lifestyle, including moving to smaller cities with lower crime rates.

But New Zealand is not all style over substance. It also has a successful education system, with its pupils ranked seventh out of 30 developed nations for reading, maths and science by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. A major issue for those used to the rigidity of the national curriculum in this country is that teachers in New Zealand have more freedom to pursue their passions and interests in lessons.

Anne Chisholm, a New Zealander who has taught at primary schools down under and in the UK, says: "You have the freedom to be creative in New Zealand and this is expected and valued. When I was teaching in the UK, we did the Great Fire of London and Florence Nightingale every year. In New Zealand, the topics change."

Anne left her homeland for a stint teaching in Tooting, south London, and although she has now returned to New Zealand, there are some things she misses about the UK. "You get paid more in England, even for the cost of living, and especially when it is converted back to New Zealand dollars," she says.

Primarily, though, it is the sun, sea and sand which attracts UK teachers, at least in the first instance.

Richard Watkinson arrived in New Zealand after six years of teaching at a Nottingham comprehensive and is now head of English at the 2,100-strong Mt Roskill Grammar in Auckland.

"I'm mad for rugby, love the outdoors and had great recommendations from my sister and her family who spent a year here in 1996," he says. "The parks and fields are full of people playing netball and rugby or jogging and walking. At the beach, people surf, windsurf, kayak and dive."

For anyone coming from the soggy playing fields of England, it is a tempting proposition. Richard, 29, also coaches the school rugby team. "Sport has been squeezed big-time in UK schools. So it's great to be somewhere where it plays such a large part in school life and the community," he says.

So what is the catch? Well, despite the number of jobs going spare, not every subject is in demand and the more popular areas have no shortage of teachers. There are more jobs on offer in science, maths and languages and vacancies are more likely to be in the inner-city or the remote bush than leafy seaside suburbs.

In addition, some subjects aren't directly transferable. In most schools, history and geography are taught together as a core curriculum subject called social studies until Year 11 when they are separated. Likewise, the sciences are taught together as general science until Year 11, so prospective teachers need to be able to handle all three.

Nor is pay anything to write home about. The salary for a newly qualified teacher in New Zealand starts at pound;15,000, increasing to pound;23,000 after seven years' experience, which, even taking into account the lower cost of living, is still unimpressive. House prices may be lower than in the UK but, at an average of pound;134,000, buying their own home is still out of reach for many teachers.

Nor, despite its enviable education system, is New Zealand immune from the sort of policy debates that bedevil British schools. Testing for primary pupils, class sizes and personalised learning can sound horribly familiar.

On the plus side, the process of applying for work, while not straightforward, is easier than for Australia or the US. And once the hoops have been jumped through, many teachers choose to stay more than 70 per cent of immigrant teachers, according to Teach NZ.

Johnnie Richardson, who spent his gap year in Queenstown, is already planning to return. And the reason? "The teaching will be good but the skiing and wine will be fantastic," he says


Look at (part of the Ministry of Education) for advice on employment, living and teaching in New Zealan

You need to have your qualifications assessed by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority This can take up to a month and all original documentation needs to be provided at a cost of pound;17

For your salary to be assessed, you need the authority's qualifications assessment plus a certified statement of all your teaching experience. This can be a signed letter on headed notepaper from your school

Register with the New Zealand Teachers Council A form can be downloaded from its website. You will also need proof of police clearance for this a new one if yours is more than six months old.

Completing the paperwork is proof to schools that you're serious about getting a job. Afterwards, start looking for posts at Check schools you're interested in on, the New Zealand Ofsted. Many headteachers are happy to do phone interviews due to the distances involved

It is easier to get a job in an urban area like Auckland which is growing quickly and is relatively expensive

Once you have done all this, apply to Immigration New Zealand,, either for a work permit, if you plan a limited stay of a year or so, or a work to residence visa, if you aim to settle permanently. If you're under 30, you may be able to go under the working holiday scheme, which also allows you to work as a supply teacher, allowing you to experience teaching without making a commitment. It is relatively easy to upgrade from a working holiday visa if you want to stay

You can do all this when you are already in New Zealand having entered on a visitor's visa. But this will delay when you can start earning money and there may be an extra delay if you have forgotten some vital piece of paperwork back in the UK.

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