Student teachers Casey Ireland and Jana Rall-Baardsen have been working hard to become qualified primary school teachers.

They are both in the second year of a bachelor of education at Tauranga's Bethlehem Tertiary Institute (BTI).

While working as a swim instructor, Miss Ireland, 24, discovered her love for teaching children.

"When I teach someone something, and when they finally get that concept, it's so rewarding," she said.


Miss Ireland felt three years of training was not enough to become an adequate teacher. However, BTI's courseload was heavier than at other institutes so she felt this made up for it.

Miss Ireland said some younger students seemed to choose teaching because they had finished high school and liked children, rather than any real desire to teach.

Being able to get a job after graduating was a worry for Miss Ireland, who hoped to remain in Tauranga.

"There are so many qualified teachers who can't get work anywhere. Apparently the way to go is skip New Zealand and go overseas."

Mrs Rall-Baardsen said the quality of her course was preparing her well for the classroom. "I feel like everything gets covered, I feel like the uni is doing a really good job of setting us up."

Statistics from the University of Waikato showed students enrolled in a bachelor of teaching (primary) at the Tauranga campus had dropped from 143 in May 2015 to 125 at the same time this year.

There were three students completing a bachelor of teaching (primary) with either a bachelor of arts or communication studies in 2016, and none last year.

Teaching students' grades lag behind

Students accepted into teaching degrees have some of the lowest entrance scores across all bachelor programmes, prompting calls to mandate post-graduate entry to lift teacher status and quality.

Education leaders from seven New Zealand universities wrote a joint letter to Government last week recommending the move, in a bid to get the "best and brightest" graduates into classrooms.

The push comes amid an NZME investigation into stalling achievement levels at primary schools, which found a variety of issues linked to the status of teaching.

New Zealand Council of Deans of Education chairman Roger Moltzen, from Waikato University, said the deans group had come up with seven recommendations on how to lift the prestige of the profession.

These included requiring a post-graduate qualification before registration, and raising entry requirements to teaching courses.

"I think we can always improve our performance and improve the quality of teachers going into the profession, but I don't think there's a message there the profession is failing. The vast majority of teachers care deeply about their students and work incredibly hard."

Data sent to NZME by two universities with large teaching intakes highlighted the issue around entry scores, showing while scores were rising they lagged behind those of other degree entrants.

At AUT, for example, the average grade-point entry, calculated from NCEA scores, was 208. For primary teaching applicants, it was 198.

At the University of Auckland, which used a different calculation, teaching entrants scored 4.1, compared to those entering a Bachelor of Arts who scored 4.2, and those doing a Bachelor of Science on 5.3.

The university said a "4" was equivalent to B- while "5" was equivalent to a "B".

The other five universities either did not require a grade-point average or refused to release the data. Waikato and Otago both required university entrance, but had no further academic criteria. They highlighted the importance of disposition and attitude for teachers.

However the dean of education at the University of Auckland, Graeme Aitken, said teacher entry shouldn't be a trade-off between intelligence and personality. "Grades matter. And interviews matter," he said. "We want warm, positive, optimistic, determined people.

"No, we don't want people with a high grade-point average who can't communicate. But it's not a dichotomy."

Professor Aitken said a shift to a post-graduate profession would be in line with international standards. Several universities were already offering master's programmes as part of a Ministry of Education pilot, now in its third year. However, numbers were capped and most of the 4450 students studying this year still took the undergraduate path, data showed.

The Government's chief education scientific adviser Professor Stuart McNaughton argued the evidence supported the idea of mandatory post-graduate qualifications, but warned there were risks to be considered.

There could be an immediate negative effect on enrolments from some groups, for example, Maori, Pasifika and students from lower-income backgrounds. Those students were more likely to have lower entry scores than their peers enrolling in teaching, but their presence was "significant" in schools, he said.

Even more attention to scholarship and internship pathways, and retention in first degrees, would be needed to ensure those students were able to choose teaching as a career.

Lifting the status of teaching was considered a key to lifting capability, and in turn lifting achievement, he said.

The Education Council, the new teacher body, has been tasked with raising the status of teaching. Chief executive Graham Stoop said it had a "comprehensive work programme" to do so, which included working closely with the Ministry of Education and the profession to design a learning and development model.

The Ministry said it had established the Prime Minister's Education Excellence Awards, created new career pathways through the Communities of Learning initiative, and it was overhauling professional learning and development.

- Kirsty Johnston
Teaching degrees:

* Students accepted into primary teaching bachelor degrees post lower university entry scores than other undergraduate degree entrants on average.

* The number of people studying teaching has dropped by 25 per cent in five years, putting pressure on universities to maintain numbers.

* Just 3 per cent of 15-year-olds in New Zealand want to become teachers, compared with 5 per cent across the OECD.

* In a recent survey of prospective teachers, the attitudes of graduates was to consider teaching a "Plan B".

* Studies have found huge variability in teacher capability across the sector, including in maths and literacy, with some unable to make the most of government programmes designed to lift achievement.