Two teachers and the principal of a decile 1 Tauranga school are asking why an incentive that could wipe $17,500 off some new teachers' student loans has not been promoted better.

The voluntary bonding incentive pays beginner teachers $3500 a year for up to five years if they teach in a decile 1 or isolated school for at least their first three years after graduation.

Teachers of hard-to-staff subjects such as maths and te reo Maori were also eligible until 2013.

Bonnie Hebenton is in her third year at decile 1 Merivale School but only found out about the incentive a few weeks ago.

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If her application was accepted, Ms Hebenton said she would be eligible for a lump sum of $10,500 at the end of this year and then a further $3500 in her fourth and fifth years.

"I was certainly never told about this when I started."

Ms Hebenton said the scheme should have been advertised to all teachers leaving their training institutions "as the whole point of it is to incentivise teachers to go to schools like ours".

Teaching in a decile 1 school had lots of challenges and the sum of money available through the incentive was significant, Ms Hebenton said.

Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti, who is currently on leave campaigning for Labour in the Tauranga electorate, said she heard about the incentive years ago when it was first introduced but at the time the school had no teachers eligible. She heard no more about the scheme after that time.

"I never thought about it again until I got a text from the NZEI [NZ Educational Institute] national president asking if I knew our school was eligible," Ms Tinetti said.

Eligible teachers should automatically be enrolled in the scheme, she said, or at the very least an eligible school should be alerted when a beginner teacher was employed.

Murray Borrows is also in his third year of teaching at Merivale School after spending his first year as a beginner teacher at Manurewa Intermediate in Auckland.

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Mr Borrows said he was signed up for the incentive while at Manurewa Intermediate, which was also on the eligible school list, but was not aware of the ins and outs of moving schools or if Merivale School was eligible.

He was disappointed at the lack of information and clarity about the scheme and said it should be automatic for beginner teachers at eligible schools.

The voluntary bonding scheme application guide said teachers could move schools and still qualify for the payments if the new schools were also eligible.

"I will be applying now that I am aware I am able to," Mr Borrows said.

Both Ms Hebenton and Mr Borrows were lucky they found out in time - both were still able to apply for their first payment, which had to be done within 12 months of completing at least three years' service in an eligible school.

But hundreds of beginner teachers in low-decile Auckland schools also unaware of the scheme were not so lucky and missed the deadline.

Pauline Cleaver, acting deputy secretary of early learning and student achievement at the Ministry of Education, said information about the voluntary bonding scheme and which schools were eligible was provided and updated annually through ministry websites such as TeachNZ, in material about becoming a teacher, and in recruitment information for schools.

"Schools are able to notify eligible positions in their advertising of vacancies and advise the beginning teachers they employ that they are able to participate in the scheme," she said.

"Eligible schools have recently also been sent a reminder the scheme is available to beginning teachers they employ who meet the relevant criteria."

Paul Hunt, the Bay of Plenty representative for NZEI and principal of Te Puke's Fairhaven School, said principals at hard-to-staff schools and areas were crying out for assistance and this incentive was flying under the radar.

Mr Hunt said it would have been helpful if the Ministry of Education had been more proactive in letting schools know.

"There needs to be more done to ensure quality principals, teachers and support staff are attracted to these schools."

Roger Reid, principal of Pukehina School, which became an eligible school with effect from 2016, said he also did not know about the incentive payment but that none of the school's teachers would have been eligible.

The incentive:

- Former Education Minister Anne Tolley said when the incentive was launched in 2009 that "close to 1800 teachers may be eligible this year".

- But the current minister Nikki Kaye told Labour MP Chris Hipkins in written parliamentary answers that only 283 beginner teachers received the incentive payment in 2012, and that number has dwindled every year since then to 131 last year and only 59 so far this year.

- Anne Tolley budgeted $19 million for the incentive for the first three years. But spending peaked at only $2.7m in 2012 and fell to $1.2m in 2013, $1m in 2014 and $560,000 in 2015. Spending figures since then have not been provided.

Source: New Zealand Herald - August 21, 2017