The Government's controversial multimillion-dollar schools success scheme, Investing in Educational Success, has caused concern among school leaders throughout the country, including Manawatu. LUCY TOWNEND looks into the scheme.
Say you're going to spend $359 million on anything and you're bound to raise some eyebrows. But the Government did just that when it announced plans to pour millions into its flagship education policy, Investing in Educational Success (IES).
It was the big ticket item of this year's Budget, but it's been largely rebuffed by education leaders who say it's the right idea but the wrong way to go about it.
The prospect of such a large sum of money being injected into the education sector has been applauded, but there's been questions about the funds going mainly into salaries for just a few teachers and principals. Some have suggested that the greatest need is for the money to be paid directly to schools to support children's learning.
The Ministry of Education, and Education Minister Hekia Parata have assured naysayers there's a lot still to be worked out, but money is being put in the right place and schools will be able to see the scheme's success in the long run.
IES in a nutshell The details of the multimillion-dollar plan were outlined in a recently-released 41-page report. The aim is to improve outcomes for students, encourage co-operation between schools, create better leadership pathways and support teacher-led innovation.
The initiative will introduce four higher-paying roles, including "executive principals" and "expert teachers" who will receive bonuses to spend two days a week working in other schools in their community.
There will also be "change principals" tasked with intervening in failing schools and "lead teachers" encouraging good practice in the profession.
There will be about 250 "Community of Schools" made up of a mixture of about 10 primary and secondary schools.
Schools will form their own communities, set goals to help students do better and share teaching resources and leadership methods, with the Government footing the bill.
The aim is to "give every child in New Zealand a better education", create new career opportunities for teachers and principals, as well as attracting top-quality graduates.
"No need for myth
and rumour" The Education Minister called in on Palmerston North to talk IES with more than 70 school principals, parents, teachers and board of trustee members last week.
Parata was questioned on the fine print of the policy plan, asking whether the "one-size-fits-all" scheme ignored schools' individual circumstances.
The minister says the policy is a systematic approach, which in the long run will "make a child's journey through the education system easier".
"We have a world-class education system in New Zealand, and that doesn't happen by accident, and nor will it continue without attention, nor will it continue to grow without incorporating changes based on evidence, experience and feedback that will work better for all of New Zealand's children," she says.
There is a "relentless focus" on making sure children get the most from the education system.
"There isn't a one size fits all, because every community has its own particular characteristics. But if you keep in mind the operating principle underneath it [IES], the question is how do we smooth the transition for kids? How is their education story understood by their community and how do we make sure the shift from early childhood to primary to secondary is as easy as possible, and that's what we're talking about."
More conversations between parents and professionals need to happen about what a particular child's needs through their "educational experience" are, she says. A key way to do this is by lifting the quality of teaching and leadership.
IES will be tackling common challenges, not displacing school-specific achievement standards. There will be no hierarchical roles, but "horizontal positions", with school leaders still reporting to their boards and school communities, and the Government will cover the costs.
"It's about common across-community initiatives, but in a systematic way," Parata says.
"[We] will be working out how together, collaboratively and professionally those articulated achievement challenges will be addressed," she says.
"This is a quantum shift and lift of the system ...[but] there's no need for myth and rumour, the facts are up online and your energy should go into where you see things could be improved, rather than dealing with things that aren't true about it."
"Right idea, wrong way" Since the IES scheme was first suggested, Manawatu school principals have raised a multitude of concerns about it.
And they're not alone. More than 80 per cent of Kiwi principals agree the plan's not fool-proof, with some "totally opposed" to it.
There's no doubt school leaders welcome the conversation circling education, with a resounding cheer for the amount being put aside to help the sector, but some say there are better ways to spend $359m than what's been floated, with calls for money to be moved closer to classrooms and children.
If the Government wants the sector to collaborate more, why impose an "experimental and untested model", school leaders say.
There are concerns about principals and teachers being taken out of their classrooms, disrupting student learning, ruining relationships with families and affecting the stability of schools.
Fears national standards data may be used to appraise and appoint leaders have been raised and school staff say there's little evidence that the method has been mulled over anywhere else.
Principals want to know if there are other ways to use the money and has the Government considered this?
Ross Intermediate principal Wayne Codyre says the money being given to educators is the wrong focus and paying some teachers more runs the risk of decreasing collaboration.
"Why line our pockets? Give the money directly to schools and clusters to best meet the needs of their communities," he says.
"It needs to be invested into schools directly, or into schools to resource programmes and professional development - it should not go to teachers and principals who are already paid a fair salary."
It takes time to get to know a school and build a level of relational trust within the wider community, something that will be lost with the IES and leaders leaving the classroom, he says.
"As a parent, why would you want your ‘top teacher' who takes your kid's class, out of there two days a week? It just simply does not make sense ... simply popping in now and then is not going to work."
Palmerston North Girls' High School principal Melba Scott says the nature of four new roles draws attention to the streams of work still required to give effect to IES.
"The emphasis on ‘Communities of School' reflects the need for these roles to be collaborative," she says.
"There has been considerable discussion over years as to the best approach to teacher professional development - usually always pointing to collaboration among professionals.
"A great deal could be gained from professionals who regularly collaborate within their schools to also discuss their professional practice across schools."
Ashhurst School principal Nick Reed says the education fraternity is cautious over the implications of the new positions, with the "real bone of contention" surrounding spending.
"Is it the best use of public money? That is the million-dollar question," he says.
"The disappointing thing for me was there was no initial consultation with key stakeholders - are schools wanting their ‘change principal' or ‘expert' teacher released from their schools for large chunks of time? I know as a parent myself I want my child's teacher in front of the class as often as possible."
Until the policy is fully rolled out, it is difficult to judge if or how it will work, but that would be a gamble, Reed says.
"The indications are collaboration will take place across sectors, which seems perplexing," he says.
"While any form of collaboration is good, surely the majority of this should be with sector groups; research suggests collaboration is most effective when groups are self selected rather than being thrust upon us."
Queen Elizabeth College principal Michael Houghton says there is a "generally positive" feel about the broad aims of IES.
"But the details of how this may be introduced, implemented, will be a lot more telling, especially how what is proposed would work in practice and the specific expectations and support for the roles that are being proposed," he says.
"There is clearly a push for collaborative environments and while schools do work together to various degrees, there is sense in increasing this to wider collaboration, particularly between sectors, for instance from primary to intermediate to secondary."
Some primary school principals could have salaries boosted up to $200,000, Colyton School principal Colin Martin says.
"The volume of money being spent in remuneration for individuals with no clear understanding of how or if the system will work is concerning - there are no trials or precedents.
"Schools can always do more and we want to do better, but the funds could be spent in so many better ways, let's spend it on the kids rather than experiment on paying the adult leaders more," he says.
"We'd all love to see kids doing better, especially those under-achieving and from lower socio-economic backgrounds [but] I'm sure this could be done a lot cheaper, and free up resources for children and their families."
There's other areas of children's lives that money could be poured into which would have better outcomes for children and a flow-on effect into classrooms, Martin says.
"Stronger family relationships, books and technology in homes, medical and counselling resources that many miss out on, in many cases nutrition is the issue, and it falls increasingly on schools and charities to plug these gaps."
Sanson School principal Jude O'Keefe says the funding could be better spent providing a teacher-student aide or fixing social problems schools encounter every day. "There's kids coming to school with insufficient or poor quality food, no money for books and stationery," she says.
"Some kids are not able to cut a straight line, colour in or draw pictures, some don't know their colours and numbers or have a concentration span of no more than a minute and being able to follow simple instructions without ‘packing a hissy fit' [is hard]."
Shannon School's principal Murray Powell says the policy seems to be about the management of schools. "If this was really about raising the level of learning for children, shouldn't the money be spent more directly for them?
"There is concern that the present funded services provided to schools for literacy and numeracy will be watered down.
"We already know that a school advisory service no longer meets the school's needs for all curriculum area such as the arts, social studies and health and physical education."
Manawatu principals' concerns are shared by school leaders throughout the country, according to a New Zealand Principals' Federation survey published last week.
The federation's sample of more than 1000 principals shows more than half, or 54 per cent, are "totally opposed" to the policy.
Another 27 per cent of principals say they support parts of the policy but have concerns about other aspects, and only 4 per cent are behind the scheme. The federation says it "strongly supports" the notion of bolstering collaborative practice within New Zealand's schools and investing in Kiwi children, but says the IES policy is the wrong model to achieve it.
For the policy to succeed, the support of principals is "critical" and the survey shows there is little confidence IES can do that, president Philip Harding says.
"It's vital that Government doesn't steamroll another flawed model over the top of a profession holding significant and legitimate concerns," he says.
"Our opposition is not due to the policy's intent, which we support, [but] principals are quite clear that it is the proposed design that is the problem and it will not land well in the diverse contexts in which schools sit."
"Nothing could be further
from the truth" The backlash about the Government's flagship scheme hasn't sat well with the Ministry of Education.
It's taking active steps to talk to schools and work is ongoing to put together the next phase of the IES package, says deputy secretary on assignment to Investing in Educational Success Dr Graham Stoop.
Criticism from the wider school community that the scheme wasn't well consulted was invalid - he wrote to the Manawatu Standard to share his concerns saying "nothing could be further from the truth" surrounding the woes some school leaders have raised.
Education groups have been sitting at the table with the ministry since February designing the policy and the groups were made up of representatives of the teacher unions, principals, schools, trustees as well as Maori and Pasifika representatives.
Stoop has also been travelling the country chatting with educational communities about how the policy will pan out, already clocking up more than 50 visits.
"It is a policy premised on schools working together collaboratively," Stoop says. "The sector and community voice is important as the design and implementation continues."
The ministry has also sent out "back-pocket facts" on the scheme, take-home tips and hosts online feedback sessions.
It says only half of the $359m package goes on extra teacher and principal salaries, which will be shared over the four new roles.
The remaining funding will be put into a teacher-led innovation fund and make up extra teaching resources, giving staff release time.
Just how the spending is balanced is an ongoing consultation matter with education groups and is the subject of collective bargaining.
Despite the sector's fears, the ministry says: "Students aren't going to find their best teachers are missing two days a week."
Lead teachers, about one in 10 teachers, won't be leaving their classrooms but the expert teachers, one in 50 teachers, will have "on average" of two days a week out of the classroom.
The lead teachers, of which there will be about 5000 in the county, will open their classrooms to colleagues to share good practice, and expert teachers, of which there will be about 1000 in the country, equating to about 2 per cent of the total teaching force, will work across a cluster of schools leading sessions with other teachers, or moving from class to class to observe teaching practice and give feedback.
Schools will have the option to form themselves into groups of about 10, which will usually include primary, secondary and intermediate schools to make a "Community of Schools" - which is completely optional.
The communities will have a principal who acts as a "project facilitator" and, while the numbers are yet to be finalised, each community will receive a number of expert teachers, up to five, and lead teachers, about 20, depending on the number of and size of the schools in the community.
"Our role is to give them whatever support they need to come together, and to facilitate some of the conversations that might make that happen [but] if a school doesn't see any benefit in belonging to a Community of Schools, it can stand to one side and carry on as usual," the ministry says.
Policy is still being detailed by the working group and by a second newly formed advisory group made up of academic experts.
On the to-do list for the next few months is determining how to form "sector reference groups", who will be working in schools and will give advice on how the proposal will work.
How the "Communities of Schools" will be formed and run, how the school leadership roles are to be appointed and appraised and an assessment process for the roles are being worked on.
Palmerston North-based Massey University Institute of Education senior lecturer Dr Jenny Poskitt, who is on the academic experts advisory, says she's hopeful the policy will pan out despite the initial resistance.
"We're working more on the overall principles and guiding factors to ensure that it's successful and effective for teachers, schools and therefore learners," she says.
"I find [it] really sad that there is such controversy and resistance, because it's an opportunity for schools, and their communities, to decide what they want to improve.
"It gives them flexibility to decide how they're going to do it, who they're going to involve, what target they want to reach and they're being given financial support to do so," Poskitt says.
"Change is scary, time-demanding and energy-sapping, especially when it's hard enough as it is to keep schools ticking, but my sense is there's goodwill to work with schools to do this well and in a way that's going to work."
- Manawatu Standard
Did you celebrate at least one local sports victory at Labour weekend?Related story: Manawatu 'right up there'