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Out in force . . . Teachers striking at George Jones Park on Wednesday are (from left) Anneke Catto, Jennifer Gower, Lyn McLennan, Rebecca May, Jason Kinnaird and Barbara Roundhill. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

School was out on Wednesday as North Otago teachers took strike action against the Government.

All 16 primary schools and three high schools in the North Otago catchment were closed for the day as about 170 teachers and supporters marched up Thames St to George Jones Park.

North Otago Primary Principals’ Association president Kate Mansfield said the teachers did not want to strike, but felt they were forced to.

“We want this to be resolved quickly so we can get back to teaching, but we have to take a stand,” Mrs Mansfield said.

The strike action was about more than just money, she said.

“It is about the children in our schools who cannot access support for their learning.

“At the moment our class sizes are too big and children never seem to meet the criteria to access funding.”

She said teachers today had to be nurses, social workers, providers of food and clothing as well as educators.

During her 25 years of teaching, Mrs Mansfield had noticed children having increasingly complex needs.

“Children are coming into school with less skills to make them able to learn because of the environment they are from.

“We just are not getting the funding to have people to support those children, and it means the other children in the class suffer as a result.

“The Government says there is not enough money to go around, but at the same time they have just released a wellbeing package.

“Wellbeing starts with the schools – we are picketing for the children of the future.”

Mrs Mansfield said as principal of Glenavy School, she found it difficult to fill positions.

“Projections are for an increasing shortfall of teachers as school roles rise.

“The average age of a teacher at present is 57 and many retirements are imminent.

“Something needs to be done now to ensure we grow and keep a quality teaching profession.”

New Zealand Educational Institute Waitaki Branch president Brent Godfrey said the Government needed to come to the table and support the teachers.

“Over 40% of new teachers are gone within five years – we have to make it an attractive proposition or we will have a lot of shortages,” Mr Godfrey said.