A relief teacher agency has told schools it can no longer meet all their requests for relievers for the first time in its history.

Oasis Education, one of two main agencies authorised by the Ministry of Education to recruit teachers for state schools, says it is at "peak demand" for relievers due to winter sickness on top of the worst teacher shortage in years.

"For the first time ever, we are now declining requests due to 100 per cent teacher unavailability," the agency said.

Chief executive Martin Strang said in the email: "After almost 15 years in this business I have never known the supply of relief teachers to be so critically low."

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The email confirms a survey by the NZ Educational Institute, released yesterday, which found that only 10 per cent of primary school principals nationally agreed that it was "easy to find suitable relieving staff this winter".

Ninety per cent either disagreed (42 per cent) or strongly disagreed (48 per cent).

The survey also found that 52 per cent did not have all the teachers they need this term, 30 per cent reported no suitable applicants for vacancies, and 34 per cent had to divide children between classes when their teacher was sick at least five times so far this term.

Shirley Maihi had nine teachers away on Tuesday but could only get one reliever because of the deepening teacher shortage. Photo / File
Shirley Maihi had nine teachers away on Tuesday but could only get one reliever because of the deepening teacher shortage. Photo / File

Shirley Maihi, principal of Finlayson Park School in Manurewa, said she had nine teachers away on Tuesday and could only get one reliever.

She and her three deputy principals all stepped into classrooms and she cancelled small groups for English as a second language and for Reading Recovery, putting those teachers into mainstream classrooms.

She has been looking since last year for a teacher who can speak te reo Māori, and has been trying to recruit two beginning teachers since March.

"I've had people applying from Canada, South Africa and Fiji, but no beginning teachers have applied," she said.

Papatoetoe North School principal Peter Conroy said he had five teachers sick on Monday but could not get any relievers from Oasis.

"Knowing the problem we have getting relieving teachers, the first teacher rang me at 5.37am and I forwarded a request for a teacher to Oasis," he said.

"All the other teachers rang between 6am and 6.15am and I rang Oasis. Oasis were unable to supply a single teacher."

Like Maihi, he filled the gaps with two deputy principals and three teachers who normally took small groups for Reading Recovery, writing and extending gifted learners.

Helen Varney worries that children are missing out on extra help with reading, English as a second language and extension learning because of the classroom teacher shortage. Photo / File
Helen Varney worries that children are missing out on extra help with reading, English as a second language and extension learning because of the classroom teacher shortage. Photo / File

Auckland Primary Principals Association president Helen Varney said many relief teachers had been snapped up to fill permanent roles because of the general teacher shortage.

She said principals were concerned that students were missing out on specialist teaching for reading, English language and extension learning because specialist teachers were being drafted into regular classrooms.

Richard Dykes says there were more principals than students at Otago University's recent recruitment day for its trainee teachers. Photo / File
Richard Dykes says there were more principals than students at Otago University's recent recruitment day for its trainee teachers. Photo / File

Auckland Secondary Schools Principals Association president Richard Dykes said Auckland schools were struggling to recruit from other parts of the country because of Auckland's high housing costs.

"We have got one [newly trained teacher] from Otago University, starting next year, but that came at a cost," he said.

He said there were more principals than students at Otago's recent teacher recruitment event.

The other main teacher recruitment company, Education Personnel, said it also had requests for relievers that it could not fill on "most days at the moment".

A smaller company with an app on which relievers can register for work at multiple schools, StaffSync, said it handled 16,500 school requests in the past three months in Auckland and 55,000 elsewhere. It filled 82 per cent of the requests in Auckland and 92 per cent elsewhere.

Ministry of Education acting deputy secretary Pauline Cleaver said schools around the country have reported increasing difficulty finding relievers over the past three years.

"The Ministry of Education is currently developing a set of teacher supply and demand projections to help us understand how primary and secondary workforce numbers are likely to change in the future," she said.

"The work is not yet complete. However, we expect the information to be available shortly."