For more than a decade the populist view around the education sector has been that “there is a shortage of teachers”. Accordingly, the Ministry of Education’s teacher recruitment policy has been focused on attracting a higher quantity of teachers to the profession, by investing millions in TeachNZ recruitment marketing, and incentives for new graduates and overseas teachers. But since 2010, the alleged “shortage” has been called into question by a string of anecdotal evidence that suggested an over-supply of teachers. But the ministry lacked the robust data-driven evidence it need to consider a step-change in teacher recruitment policy. Was the teacher shortage over or not?
In 2010 we began an external analytics study was commissioned by TeachNZ, to forecast teacher supply and demand five years into the future. Supply and demand is influenced by a huge range of independent factors, and this was the first time just an ambitions and broad-ranging study had attempted to quantify all of them together in a holistic way. And it also broke new ground by accessing the richness of the teacher payroll database, which had never been data-mined to this extent before.
A year later, we have shown that the teacher shortage is indeed over, thanks to a crucial insight. The Ministry was unaware of the scale, importance and contribution of its flexible teaching workforce. This pool of 27,000 temporary, part-time and relief teachers had grown to become a powerful buffer, allowing the workforce to naturally flex to meet changes in demand. Only a few thousand full time teachers leave permanent roles each year and flexible workforce easily fill the gaps, thanks to constant replenishment from new local graduates.
This has freed the Ministry of Education to act decisively. In October 2011 they announced that step-change in their teacher recruitment strategy to focus on quality rather than quantity. Which is great news for NZ, because they aren’t many things more important that the education of our children.