Trainee teachers lack classroom experience due to Covid-19

The Teaching Council is allowing hundreds of student teachers to graduate with less practical classroom experience than usual because the pandemic has disrupted their school and early childhood placements.

School classroom (file picture). Source:

By John Gerritsen of

The council has reduced its minimum practical experience requirements by a quarter and is working with the Education Ministry on a special programme to help this year's graduates when they are in their first jobs next year.

The council's deputy chief executive, Pauline Barnes, said many students had not been able to complete the usual practical placements.

"One of the things that we discovered pretty quickly even before lockdown happened was that the schools and early childhood centres were busy trying to organise how they were going to respond to covid and so they asked if those students could be put on hold," she said.

"Obviously, when we went into lockdown many of those practical experiences had to be delayed."

She said student teachers on one or two-year courses could graduate with 10 weeks of practical experience rather than the usual requirement of 14 weeks, while those on three-year programmes would need at least 15 weeks instead of 20.

Barnes said 1200 to 1700 students would benefit from the changes and they would be eligible for a special induction programme to help them in their first year of teaching.

"Everybody that we've spoken to is pretty confident this is the right way to go," she said.

Students spoken to by RNZ said they did not have any information yet about the support programme and some felt poorly prepared for teaching next year.

"Right now we've only had about five weeks teaching actually in a school. Obviously it's very daunting only having that much time," one said.

"Many of us haven't had the opportunity to practice much teaching in the schools we were placed in because the teachers were racing to catch up on the lost lessons in time for exams," said another.

The chair of the Council of Deans of Education, Letitia Fickel from the University of Canterbury, said universities were confident their students would finish the year with enough experience to meet the council's new requirements.

"We are all in conversation about how we night have to react if we have to go back to a level three or four. But overall, at least within the university sector, we are ticking along with getting sufficient practicum and practice-based experiences for our candidates."

Principals Federation president Perry Rush said the lack of classroom time would not stop principals hiring new-graduate teachers.

However, he said the ministry's support programme for those teachers must not put extra responsibilities on their schools.

"It's absolutely vital that trainee teachers get time in schools to practice their craft, and so any loss of time as a consequence of Covid and the lockdowns, it's very important that that time is made up and there is sufficient resourcing to ensure that practice is occurring," he said.