A massive drive to recruit foreign teachers to fill gaps in schools is costing taxpayers about $10,000 for every teacher recruited.

The Ministry of Education has approved overseas relocation grants worth $1.3 million for 200 foreign teachers and 81 returning Kiwis since December 2017.

It is also funding schools to release the foreign teachers for half a day a week for three or six months to learn about the local curriculum and cultures, and is paying Otago University to deliver this training.

Some principals who have taken in the foreigners, such as Iain Taylor at decile-1 Manurewa Intermediate who has taken five of them, say they would be welcome even if there wasn't a desperate shortage of Kiwi teachers.

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"I like having some overseas teachers because our kids' worlds are quite small and it's really good for them to see five teachers from other countries who have had different experiences of different worlds," he said.

Iain Taylor says overseas teachers bring
Iain Taylor says overseas teachers bring "different experiences of different worlds" to his decile-1 students at Manurewa Intermediate School. Photo / File

But Principals' Federation president Whetu Cormick said he was concerned that their training would be "minimal", mostly online and too late.

"Some of them have just landed two weeks ago. They won't get this training for months," he said.

Pakuranga Heights School principal Fintan Kelly said: "In an ideal world we'd only have NZ-trained, highly confident teachers, but the reality is there is a shortage and we just have to make the best use of what's available."

The ministry said 225 overseas teachers have been recruited for NZ schools this year - 36 per cent from Britain and Ireland, 35 per cent from South Africa, 14 per cent from the US and Canada, 4 per cent from Australia, 4 per cent returning Kiwis and 7 per cent from nine other countries.

Grants are up to $5000 for foreigners and $7000 for returning New Zealanders, but they pay only actual relocation costs and average $4626 per teacher so far.

Schools also receive up to $3000 for the cost of recruiting each teacher. Taylor said he paid these grants to the recruitment firm, Education Personnel.

The cost of release time for training depends on each teachers' experience, but based on a $60,000 annual salary the cost of half a day a week for six months would be a further $3000.

Ministry deputy secretary Ellen MacGregor-Reid said Otago University had provided training for overseas teachers since 2010, but its contract has been expanded to include "more online modules, regional workshops and an online facilitator". The cost was "subject to commercial sensitivity".

Class photo, from left: Ian Svela (Canada), Shane Vallender (South Africa), Esther Kim (USA), Tom Morgan (Wales) and Joe Harden (England). Photo / Doug Sherring
Class photo, from left: Ian Svela (Canada), Shane Vallender (South Africa), Esther Kim (USA), Tom Morgan (Wales) and Joe Harden (England). Photo / Doug Sherring

Two of Manurewa Intermediate's five recruits are from Britain: friends Joe Hardern and Tom Morgan, both 25, who are boarding with a local Māori family.

"I really wanted to immerse myself in this new culture and use what it can add to me as a person and as a teacher," Morgan said.

Esther Kim, a 35-year-old Korean-American maths teacher, has taught in regular schools, in a private martial arts school and as assistant director of an after-school programme for families at the West Point military academy.

Her husband, also a martial arts instructor, visited New Zealand years ago and "has always wanted to come back".

Shane Vallender, 29, a former personal trainer and keen rugby player, has come from South Africa with his wife, also a teacher who has found a job at Belmont Intermediate.

Manurewa Intermediate's five foreign recruits, from left: Esther Kim (USA) Ian Svela (Canada), Shane Vallender (South Africa), Joe Hardern (England), Tom Morgan (Wales). Photo / Doug Sherring
Manurewa Intermediate's five foreign recruits, from left: Esther Kim (USA) Ian Svela (Canada), Shane Vallender (South Africa), Joe Hardern (England), Tom Morgan (Wales). Photo / Doug Sherring

Ian Svela, 38, has 12 years' experience in education and was training to be an assistant principal in Canada, but has sold his house and moved to Auckland with his wife, a neo-natal intensive care nurse at Middlemore Hospital, and their two boys.

"The reason why we came here is actually my kids," he said.

"This is a culture that is active, that cares about the environment, where kids have time to be active in the environment and to be active in sport."