A desperate shortage of te reo Māori teachers threatens the ability of some schools to offer the language next year, despite calls to make the language compulsory.
At least three secondary schools have so far been unable to fill vacancies for their sole teachers of te reo next year, and are competing for only a handful of teachers qualifying this year to teach te reo at secondary level.
Their experience backs up a new report finding that the language is "fragile" in many schools, depending on a single teacher and liable to collapse if that person leaves.
The Green Party called this week for making the language part of the core curriculum in all schools by 2025 - but schools say there simply are not enough teachers to teach it.
Glendowie College principal Richard Dykes said his sole reo Māori teacher was leaving at the end of this year and he was struggling to find a replacement.
"We have been looking since the start of this term," he said.
"It would be premature and incorrect to say we are not running te reo next year, but what I am saying is that we are struggling to get it.
"I have flown a person up from Wellington, and offered incentives in terms of a relocation grant, but got no bites. At this stage we have zero applicants."
Rosmini College headmaster Nixon Cooper, who is also losing his sole Māori language teacher, has had only one applicant since the job was advertised on August 27.
"We are going into the universities to see what we can find," he said.
"We have used [the current teacher's] contacts and the contacts of whānau throughout the school. We thought we might have had someone from up north, but he didn't seem very interested."
Timaru Boys' High School rector Nick McIvor, whose sole reo Māori teacher is retiring, said he had had "some interest" in the job but would not appoint anyone until he found the right candidate.
"If we need to, I'll find ways to improvise going into next year," he said.
"The Correspondence School is an option to buy some time, and I do have some staff who have some rudimentary Māori as their secondary teaching option who could probably cover to keep us functional."
Auckland University's director of secondary teacher education Dr Ngaire Hoben said there was a "critical shortage" of trainees preparing to teach te reo Māori.
"We have one student in the graduate diploma programme who is a science major with te reo at junior level and we have two students graduating as teachers of te reo Māori in our postgraduate diploma in teaching (secondary field-based)," she said.
AUT deputy head of education Dr Ross Bernay said AUT had one graduate who qualified to teach te reo Māori at secondary level in July, but no one in the group graduating at the end of the year.
Massey University Professor Huia Jahnke said 30 Massey teachers would graduate this year for kura kaupapa Māori at primary and intermediate level and several of last year's graduates actually ended up teaching at secondary level.
Victoria University associate dean Dr Andrea Milligan said four trainees would qualify at Victoria this year to teach te reo in secondary schools, and Canterbury University's acting dean Dr Stuart Wise said one would qualify at Canterbury.
The Ministry of Education offers 60 teacher training scholarships a year for te reo Māori at secondary level and 65 at primary level. But its $1,442,000 budget for all teaching scholarships was underspent, with only $1,045,000 actually spent, indicating the difficulty in attracting trainees.