Education Armageddon

September 14, 2018
Iain MacLeod

Earlier this week the unions that represent primary school teachers agreed to consider an ‘across the board’ pay rise, with something going to all public sector primary level teachers, but more going to those with greater experience. Teachers will vote on it next week.

Reaching some agreement with the primary teaching sector is critical if the Government is to make any dent in the projected 3000 teacher shortfall expected by early 2020 which would be less a crisis as much as an education armageddon.

I cannot give you the exact numbers, but currently graduate primary teachers start around NZ$47,500 per annum and this will increase to NZ$52,980 by 2020. The teacher union was demanding $55,567 by next year. This is fairly typical of entry level post University roles for many other occupations.

Things are better for those with more experience – those with a Bachelor of Education degree and at least seven years of post-grad work experience will see their basic salary increase from $75,949 today to NZ$82,999.

Those teachers with more experience who also take on additional responsibilities could soon be earning close to $100,000. I am uncertain whether the numbers released publicly include or exclude the 3% employer contribution on top of the salary that employers pay toward a teacher’s retirement savings with Kiwisaver (should they choose to be part of it).

When you consider the median salary across the country is around $62,000 and around $75,000 in Auckland, these teachers with a few years under their belt aren’t doing too badly. And, yes, I will say it – with 13 weeks off a year it isn’t the worst pay packet going. Of course, it can be a stressful job but show me one that isn’t…

The crisis in teaching numbers has been brought about for four principle reasons:

Around 40% fewer teachers graduating from University today than five years ago
Auckland population growth – we are up 200,000 people over four years ago when projections had us at about 50,000
Auckland house prices at almost double the rest of the country and with a national pay scale teachers can earn as much outside of the city with much lower living costs
Teaching salaries relative to other occupations are not high
This salary increase may go some way to alleviating these pressures; particularly in Auckland.

Negotiations between government and unions continue for the separate secondary high school teachers award. Secondary/high school teachers traditionally earn a little more than their primary counterparts.

The approaching ‘armageddon’ was brought home to me recently by the number of teaching clients of ours getting jobs without teacher registration (although they must have it before they can secure work visas and residence) and without being in New Zealand. There was another only this morning.

The fact that a foreign teacher who works for one term is eligible for a one off grant of NZ$5000 might be adding the sweetener the Government hoped it would to migrate to New Zealand.

The government really only has itself to blame for what was an evolving crisis that is now nothing short a disaster.

When, in opposition, they stupidly campaigned during last year’s election for the 75% subsidy on University study to become 100% for the first year at a projected cost of around $2 billion a year. They promised over the next few years all university will be totally free and up from the current 75% per year subsidy on course costs. While the previous Government had that surplus, most of it has now been spent on university students.

They could have offered and afforded teachers at all levels the (modest) 3% per year for three years they were asking for. In fact they could have been significantly more generous but they dug themselves a deep hole and jumped right in.

They’d have had lots left in the kitty for secondary teachers and that other sector that is poorly paid (by NZ standards): nurses. They wanted power though so they made a number of grossly irresponsible promises and the country is now going to pay a price. They have ruled out tax increases, for now at least, but they made so many spending promises last year all the projected surpluses for the next three years are already accounted for. Good luck working that through.

It is a great thing that with inflation running around 1.5% these pay settlements represent real extra money in the hand (just in time for petrol prices to rise as oil prices remain high!) and not effectively just a cost of living adjustment. Rewarding those that stay in the profession and have more experience and are better at their job (one hopes) is a sensible move and offers an incentive to teachers to stay in the game.

There is no doubt that even in Auckland, if it is as a second income and the primary teacher has a partner earning similar money, it does make Auckland affordable once again.

I just wonder where the Government plans to get the money from for the no less deserving secondary/high school teachers. But that’s another story for another day.

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