School principals are pushing for expanded, fast-track, on-the-job training programmes to help fix a desperate shortage of new teachers.

The Secondary Principals' Association has asked the Government to expand the existing Teach First NZ scheme, which provides only nine weeks of intensive training before giving trainee teachers control of their own classes.

It has also asked the Ministry of Education to investigate developing more on-the-job training schemes.

Briefing papers released to the Weekend Herald under the Official Information Act show Education Minister Chris Hipkins made an unsuccessful bid to include a contestable fund for new on-the-job training schemes in this year's Budget, and is still driving official work on the proposal.

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Domestic students starting traditional campus-based teacher training courses dropped by a third in the seven years to last year, from 4235 to 2790 excluding early childhood.

But 750 people applied for just 80 places in Teach First's latest intake who started their training this month and will start teaching in the new year.

Teresa Tolua, who joined the scheme a year ago and started teaching English at Massey High School in January, has two children aged 10 and 5 and could not afford to lose a year's wages.

Teresa Tolua, 29, is marrying her partner Luke Kanuta today. Photo / Michael Craig
Teresa Tolua, 29, is marrying her partner Luke Kanuta today. Photo / Michael Craig

The 29-year-old and her partner Luke Kanuta, a builder also with two children, were supporting their family and planning for a wedding - they are getting married today.

Tolua finished her Bachelor of Arts in 2012, but then worked in accounts for five years to support her children.

"I had always wanted to go into teaching but training college, with their year off and no income for a year, I just couldn't do it," she said.

With Teach First, she only had to take nine weeks off for the summer training, which requires trainees to live on site so that they can absorb biculturalism and cultural responsiveness - key values of a scheme which aims to be "a social change organisation" by placing high-achieving teachers into low-decile schools.

She left Kanuta with the four children, while she studied.

"It was really tough," she said. "But we planned for it. We even did meal plans."

The Ministry of Education is projecting a shortage of 850 teachers next year, and has launched a campaign to recruit 900 teachers from overseas.

Glendowie College principal Richard Dykes, who heads the Auckland Secondary Principals' Association, has not found any New Zealand teachers available to fill a vacant maths job in the new year, but has had 18 overseas applicants "many of whom are unsuitable".

"Principals are very unwilling to lower the quality of teachers in NZ classrooms," he said.

Massey High School principal Glen Denham, pictured (right) with students Eric Williams (rear) and Shakerah Zakeri, says he is involved in Teach First
Massey High School principal Glen Denham, pictured (right) with students Eric Williams (rear) and Shakerah Zakeri, says he is involved in Teach First "for the talent". Photo / File

In contrast, Massey High School principal Glen Denham said Teach First trainees like Tolua were "outstanding".

"We are involved because of the talent, there's a talent pool that you can't match," he said.

Teach First is a charity funded by sponsors, although the ministry pays the trainee teachers.

After the nine weeks of intensive training, the trainees teach for 0.6 of a normal week, which in Tolua's case means three English classes. She studies, marks and prepares lessons in the rest of the week and attends courses in the holidays.

The ministry also funds the schools to release a senior teacher to mentor each trainee for 0.2 of a week for the two-year training period.

The University of Auckland provided the training when the scheme started with 20 trainees in 2012, but pulled out in 2016 after then Education Minister Hekia Parata expanded the intake to 30 in 2016 and 50 in 2017. (Hipkins expanded it to 80 this year).

Professor Graeme Aitken, who was dean of education at the time, said only a few students had "the confidence and natural ability to begin teaching with reduced up-front preparation".

 Frances Valintine's Mind Lab at Unitec has picked up the role of training Teach First teachers in nine weeks over summer and then on the job. Photo / Warren Buckland, Hawke's Bay Today
Frances Valintine's Mind Lab at Unitec has picked up the role of training Teach First teachers in nine weeks over summer and then on the job. Photo / Warren Buckland, Hawke's Bay Today

Frances Valintine's Mind Lab at Unitec has now picked up the training role.

At Massey High School, Tolua worked alongside a traditional trainee who she said was "more prepared for the lesson planning". In contrast, Teach First's summer course focused on building relationships with low-decile students.

She picked up ideas such as passing a thread to each student in a circle, asking each student to talk about their cultural makeup and their hopes for the year, building a web with the thread, then throwing a cushion on to the web and saying, "If one of you drops this string, this space would fall apart."

Teresa Tolua says a trainee teacher from a university learnt more about lesson plans, but Teach First trained her to connect with her students. Photo / Michael Craig
Teresa Tolua says a trainee teacher from a university learnt more about lesson plans, but Teach First trained her to connect with her students. Photo / Michael Craig

"It helped heaps with the students' confidence," she said.

"I had a class full of students who thought they were dumb. They were like, 'Oh we are Islanders, Islanders are dumb.' I told them, 'If you can speak more than one language, you are smarter than a lot of people'."

All her students were below the curriculum level for their age at the start of the year, but 90 per cent are now at or above their age level.

Chris Hipkins is looking for
Chris Hipkins is looking for "future opportunities" to expand on-the-job teacher training. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Hipkins said Teach First "has proven that employment-based training can deliver excellent teachers in a timely fashion".

"This demonstrates that there is room for employment-based teacher training and the Government will continue to look for future opportunities where they can produce similarly positive results."

How it works

•Applicants undergo a nine-week intensive training programme.
•They are then allowed to teach three days worth of classes a week — with the rest of the time made up of marking, preparing lessons and attending courses in the holidays — over the next two years.
•During that time, a senior teacher is released for about one day a week to mentor the trainee.
•About 750 people applied for 80 places in the latest intake.