David Hodge has gone to extraordinary lengths to fill teaching vacancies at his Auckland secondary school. The Rangitoto College principal flew more than 18,500km for a whirlwind recruitment session in Britain, completing 26 interviews in eight days in five cities in England and Scotland.
Hodge said the school usually recruited local teachers, but in subjects such as technology and physics there were not enough to meet demand.
The school advertised three times to fill a vacancy for a technology teacher, without success. "In many cases we won't get any applicants."
Hodge said he visited the UK each year to fill the gaps, and he's not the only one. On his last trip he interviewed a technology teacher who had a job offer from Auckland Grammar.
"It's bizarre. We are over there and we are competing with schools in New Zealand for the same people."
Hodge wants the Government to address teaching shortages by making the profession attractive again to young people.
An increasing number of principals are scrambling to fill vacancies in time for the new school year.
A Post Primary Teachers Association staffing report, released earlier this year, found the greatest demand was for English teachers, followed by technology and maths.
The report found about three-quarters of advertised jobs weren't filled because only one person applied. Sometimes there were no replies.
Schools are using five times as many overseas teachers as they did in 1999 but the Education Ministry disputes claims of a staff shortage.
Using trade paper the Education Gazette, the ministry surveys vacancies fortnightly. For the two weeks ending September 22, there were 539 secondary vacancies, down from 647 for the same period last year.
There were 495 primary vacancies advertised, down from 705 for the same period last year.
Education Minister Chris Carter said that while vacancies were down, "technology and Te Reo are certainly areas [where] we are short".
Carter said the Government had introduced policy that made international qualifications more quickly recognised, particularly for teachers trained in the UK.
Since 2001, the Government had invested in an estimated 6024 extra teachers above those required for roll growth. However, Post Primary Teachers Association president Robin Duff said the shortage of technology teachers was "critical".
He described Government steps to attract people to teaching as a "glorified wait-and-see. There are no initiatives or programmes."
Duff said the drop in the percentage of jobs being advertised did not necessarily reflect a drop in demand for technology teachers.
Many jobs were being re-advertised because they were not being filled, showing the technology pool had "more than dried up in New Zealand".
In Wellington, Rongotai College principal Graeme Jarrett was looking forward to his retirement at the start of next year, after seeing the number of good teachers decrease during more than 17 years at the helm.
His final challenges include battling a "chronic" shortage of maths teachers. An advertisement earlier this year attracted a trickle of unsuitable applicants.
"I didn't have anyone I could offer the job to. If [the Government] says there's no shortage, how come we hardly get any applicants?"
Jarrett said he had one word to solve the problem - money. "Because of the rate of pay, the very top young people are not going into teaching."
The principal of Hamilton's Hillcrest High, Kelvin Whiting, struggled to fill a vacancy for a Maori teacher, despite advertising twice.
Howick College principal Bill Dimery also refuted the minister's claims and said the Government needed to make teaching "more attractive for graduates" by making it a more valued profession.
National Party education spokeswoman Anne Tolley said it had yet to release its education policy but was "mindful" of the burdens facing principals looking for staff.