GUEST BLOG: Peter Hughes – Listen to our Teachers I say


Primary school teachers across the country are striking for the second time in 3 months.  This is Historic.

I think it’s fair to say that Teachers, particularly Primary school teachers are generally a conservative lot when it comes to being union militants. It has taken a lot to get them agitated enough to focus on their own personal needs. That’s not because they don’t care about themselves. It’s just the nature of the profession and the personal responsibility they take on when they get in front of those children. But there is a limit for everyone and their patience and their professional dedication has been pushed to the limit.

Driving the teachers determined stand has been more than a decade of neglect in public education funding and a raft of ideologically driven changes under the previous National Government. There are now  40% less applicants to the profession and 40% of those are leaving before they complete registration. The Teacher shortage crisis is upon us and is negatively affecting all schools ability to deliver good teaching outcomes to our children. It has forced teachers to put down their chalk and close their chrome books. Many principals are leading publicly around this issue.

It’s great that the so called National Standards has now been binned along with the Charter School experiment. It’s great that the political appointments only to the NZ teachers council has been reversed, and rightly so. All steps in the right direction but all at minimal cost compared to what is needed to set NZ education back on track.

That track is clearly understood by the practitioners in this profession and it’s time politicians now allow the profession to guide the solutions we so desperately need.

What is not being addressed by this government and is being publicly ignored by Chris Hipkins, is the workload and class size issue teachers have been stressing since this campaign began. The word is out both here and overseas that NZ teachers are over worked, undervalued and underpaid so attempts by this government to fill over 600 expected teacher vacancies with foreign teachers will be a failed strategy. Even if partially successful it will create a raft of new difficulties as senior leadership teams have to grapple with integrating overseas trained teachers into our schools and familiarize them with our curriculum.

Smaller class sizes and more time provision for teachers to plan and prepare for the many and varied students they encounter will cost more money. Having 600 Specialist teachers in roles to assist with our increasing special needs children will help some students but still does not address more fundamental issues. It will require hundreds more teachers that we currently do not have but desperately need to restore this profession to a place where creative and intelligent people will again see teaching as a worthwhile and viable occupation. It is this issue that teachers feel strongest about when we talk about the future of education. It is this area that that teachers feel that the government needs to front up on and acknowledge they are willing to address urgently.

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Our teachers have seen the incremental decline of NZ education to the stage where we are now at breaking point. This government needs to be bold and embrace the challenge of future proofing education in Aotearoa instead of stigmatizing teachers as being greedy and unreasonable. Teachers will discuss and vote on the recent offer over the next few weeks. The early indications are that they are both angry and upset at what they are seeing as a derisory offer to them at a time of crisis in education.

Teachers across the country appear to be hardening their resolve to win a more robust and holistic settlement from this government and are fully expecting negative criticism from the education minister. The public can expect more and escalating industrial action in the new year if this government is not prepared to make a more realistic offer to settle this bargaining round.

Teachers have helped to elect this government on their commitment to redress the social spending imbalance of the previous government. Parents of hundreds of thousands of children across Aotearoa are backing teachers who are fighting for better education outcomes for all Kiwi kids. Those parents are watching what this government does closely and will judge them harshly if the children of Aotearoa are not the big winners in this dispute.

Peter Hughes

This is contributed in an impendent capacity. These are my personal views and observations as a field officer for NZEI for over 12 years. I do not claim to represent the institute in the opinions I have expressed here.



  1. Teachers have been losing ground in terms of social status and income for decades and ultimately it’s their own fault.

    Nobody other than government and the teachers have been involved in pay negotiations so as regards money, there is nobody to blame other than themselves.

    In terms of social status, they’re now definitely ‘lower middle’ class and once again there’s nobody to blame but themselves. Sadly teaching has become the job people get when they’re no good at anything else. It’s bad for them, bad for the kids and bad for the nation.

    Ask yourself, what ambitious, intelligent person would join a profession where your income and position is solely determined by years of service? Where no matter how hard you work or how brilliant a teacher you are, you’ll get the exact same pay as the drop-kick in the next classroom?

    The teachers chose to jump into bed with unions, so now they have lie with them.

    • So are you childless Andrew, or do you believe that the person who spends 6 hours for the next 12+ years with your child or the next generation, is suited to a “job people get when they’re no good at anything else”?

      That really is a low and totally ignorant comment.

      Hope you don’t need a doctor or nurse anytime soon because they have similar issues as teachers. Pay has not kept up with the amount of time it takes to get the degree with the amount of pay, status and compliance is needed in the role.

  2. Really well balanced article. +1000

    It is the previous National government that has vastly contributed to the problems facing teaching and Labour’s idea of overseas teachers are not going to address the fundamental problems facing teaching and in fact they could make it worse as it puts more pressure on existing teachers and more stress on kids who have teachers who do not understand the culture or do not understand the NZ curriculum. There are some fabulous overseas based teachers working in NZ, but having seen quite a few leave, it clearly is not a long term strategy!

    A couple of points that I also think are part of the problem.

    Regarding 40% of teachers that complete studies and do not go onto to register. Knowing someone who did this, part of the issue is that a lot of teaching jobs are compulsory advertised so it is disheartening to new teachers to go to a lot of interviews and fail to get the job because it has already been filled internally. It encourages Kiwis new teachers to go overseas without having taught in NZ after studying here, maybe it should be more transparent if there is a likely hood a job may be filled internally so that new teachers who are unlikely to get the job against an internal applicant, don’t waste their time.

    I also think it is false economy for the government to get 600 special needs teachers but as low paid teachers aids. Firstly it sounds like the teachers aids are not qualified teachers so it is a joke to put inexperienced unqualified personal on children that already are showing issues.

    Instead it would be better to help teachers with help that is professionally qualified specialist teachers aka, registered psychologists for children who have mental health needs or behavioural issues, qualified teachers for children with dyslexia, qualified occupational therapists for children with physical issues and autism etc, and so forth. Qualified nurses and speech therapists and health specialists, dental/hearing/sight/ etc going around and checking each student.

    Putting in 600 teachers aids for the kids who need the most help is a cheap strategy that is going to fail, as the kids falling through the cracks clearly need the most experienced and qualified help if they are going to succeed in the future and it is false economy for the governement to be cheap with unqualified teachers aids if it is aimed at children with learning or behavioural issues.

    Success is the most likely if children had access to professional help at age 5, 6, 7 and so forth so they do not get behind. I

    Once they are teens and have more access to drugs and alcohol, it’s pretty hard to bring those kids back if they did not get the professional help they needed when they started school, or when they could have been engaged at age 5-10 with a different outcome!

  3. I agree with what you say here. But this all begs the question, why was there no protest or action from the teachers under National. You clearly put the blame for the current situation on the National government, but they were in power ten years. This really annoys me that the teachers have waited until now for industrial action. Somewhat pathetic to let things get so out of hand.

    • That is a fair comment LONE COMET, not just the teachers but a huge amount of industries are only striking now.

      All I can think of, is that they were in fear of the Natz and the Natz put in their own administrators and so a climate of fear maybe existed…

      in addition it has become a lot clearer now how dysfunctional the wages vs living conditions are in NZ for many, even if you own a house, your problems are not over as increases in rates, power, water, insurance, food, petrol/public transport, maintenance etc have all gone up well above wages.

      Obviously just as bad if not worse if you rent!

      Apart from when that natural disaster hits homeowners, and then you deal with the insurance companies or you find our your house is leaking or has serious defects which will hobble you for years if not decades and you can be renting while paying a mortgage on your defected house…

  4. Andrew, there you go again. I agree with Garibaldi’s comments but simply add this. There is a saying, which you probably have not heard before because your head is stuck in such a dark place, and it goes like this:

    “It is sometimes better to remain silent and be thought of as a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”

    On so many levels you have removed all doubt.

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