Schools struggle to find maths and science teachers, while middle management jobs go begging as senior staff retire.

A teacher shortage may be on the horizon with gaps already appearing in the maths and science fields, and a lack of desire from teachers to step into middle management as older workers retire.

Research from the Post-Primary Teachers' Association found a quarter of management jobs advertised early in the year had zero or one applicants, while the numbers of teachers applying for jobs overall had decreased for the third year in a row.

Both the survey and figures from teacher training organisations show a serious shortage of teachers in maths and science. The head of one teaching programme has written to the Secretary of Education with her concerns. "I think we are heading towards a shortage of teachers," Dr Ngaire Hoben, the director of Secondary Teacher Education at Auckland University, told the Herald yesterday.

"There is no financial inducement to go teaching, yet there are plenty of jobs. It is a very serious issue."

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In her letter, Dr Hoben pointed out the very low numbers of applicants to teach maths and physics, and suggested scholarships to attract more of those students to teaching.

Auckland University graduated just four physics teachers in 2014, and 39 maths teachers. AUT had no maths or physics teachers, with other universities also reporting low numbers in comparison with physical education (PE) or social science graduates.

Teach First NZ, a programme that aims to recruit high-flyers to teaching, said universities often wanted to keep maths or science graduates to do research, rather than encourage them to teach. Numbers completing those degrees were low to begin with.

Principals who responded to the PPTA survey, which involved 172 schools, agreed.

"Maths is hopeless," said one, noting they had PE graduates teaching maths - a finding consistent with the survey which said more teachers were being asked to go outside their specialties to make up for shortages.

Rangitoto College principal David Hodge said he hired a physics teacher from overseas, and then had to have an argument with Immigration to secure entry for him.

"It's ridiculous," he said. "You get 80 applications for one job [in PE] and then for science almost none."

AUT's secondary teaching programme leader, Dr Megan Lourie, said she thought there were too many PE teachers graduating. "I just think, 'go back and get a maths degree because you'll be a fabulous teacher'."

Dr Lourie believed part of the issue was that teaching wasn't seen as a high-status or high-income career.

PPTA national president Angela Roberts said in general, the survey showed fewer people were applying for each position - 4.8 per position advertised - and it could be assumed the overall supply was decreasing.

The study said the system was not yet suffering serious supply problems but it was "firmly on the downward curve of the cycle".

"That's a sign that trouble is looming," Ms Roberts said. "We are in bargaining for pay at the moment, and the minister understands that the status of the profession - and therefore pay and conditions - are critical to recruitment and retention."

She said there was also a concern about pending retirements - the profession had a huge bulge at the upper end - and the gaps that would leave in middle management, where applicants were few. Principals said such jobs had too much paperwork.

The Ministry of Education's head of student achievement Graham Stoop said it was "working on" a recruitment strategy to lift the number of teacher trainees in maths, science and technology.

Tertiary Education Minister Stephen Joyce said he had discussed teacher training in terms of strengthening maths and science teaching and said the new graduate scheme had lifted numbers in the "STEM" subjects - science, technology, engineering and maths. Education Minister Hekia Parata declined to comment.

Last cars a lesson

Middle management's long hours for little reward doesn't appeal to Birkenhead High School teacher Austen Pageau. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Middle management's long hours for little reward doesn't appeal to Birkenhead High School teacher Austen Pageau. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The last cars in the carpark at Austen Pageau's secondary school always belong to middle management.

It is part of what makes a dean's or head of department role unattractive to the 29-year-old Birkenhead High School history teacher, even if it does pay a little more.

"It's so time-consuming, it's an incredible amount of work for a very small amount of compensation."

Mr Pageau is one of a growing number of teachers who don't see middle management as desirable, with a quarter of such jobs drawing only one or even no applicants.

The 7th-year teacher would rather focus on teaching what he loves, or helping students with debating during extra-curricular time.

"I love being in the classroom," he says. "Every day is different for one thing, and you're always being challenged."

Management positions have come up but often they offer only another $4000 on top of his $69,000 salary, so he does not consider the extra hours worth it.

He may apply for new out-of-classroom roles proposed under education reforms, that don't have as much paperwork. "Being able to become a mentor to other teachers, that's attractive."