Education overhaul targets top teachers
TRACY WATKINS, HAMISH RUTHERFORD AND STACEY KIRK
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Labour leader David Cunliffe says Prime Minister John Key's new education initiative is "underwhelming" and a "six-page apology for [Education Minister] Hekia Parata".
But he signalled that Labour agreed with the idea of rewarding teacher excellence.
Key's plan includes a $359 million carrot to establish specialist teaching roles, but Cunliffe said Labour would go beyond that.
"We too will be looking at rewarding and incentivising the best teachers but we have a package that goes much beyond that as part of a whole package of measures around helping opportunity in our society," Cunliffe said.
Key announced the plan in his annual state of the nation speech to a business audience in Auckland today.
It includes lucrative allowances for a raft of newly created positions in schools, including executive principals, expert teachers, lead teachers and change principals.
Under the changes four new positions have been created, but they won't be installed in every school.
* An executive principal who would provide leadership across a community of schools while remaining in their own school. About 10 schools on average would be involved and executive principals would be paid an additional allowance of about $40,000 a year. They would have to be proven performers and would be freed up for two days a week to work with the other schools in their community.
* Expert teachers who would include experts in areas like maths and science, digital technology and literacy. They would work with executive principals. Expert teachers would also be appointed on a two-year basis and would receive an extra $20,000 a year in additional allowances. About 1000 expert teachers would be appointed once the scheme was fully under way.
* Lead teachers would be what the Government labels "highly capable" schoolteachers, who would act as role models for teachers within their own schools. They would be paid an additional allowance of $10,000 a year in recognition of their status. About 5000 lead teachers would be in place eventually.
* Change principals would be employed to lift achievement in schools that were struggling and would be paid an additional $50,000 a year on top of their salary to encourage the best principals to take on the challenge.
The positions would be offered on a three to five-year fixed term.
Cunliffe said today he would give a speech on Monday that would set the broad direction for Labour's plan.
Education could not be seen in isolation from issues of poverty, the cost of living and the variation in standard creeping in because of national standards and charter schools, he said.
Of National's plan, he said: "This is probably good in so far as it goes but it is not sufficient to address the challenges in our education system. It's a part of what we want to do."
'A REALLY GOOD THING'
Post-Primary Teachers Association president Angela Roberts said she welcomed Key's announcement.
"If these roles support and enable schools to better collaborate, and for teachers to better collaborate and share best practice, then we believe that's a really good thing."
She said the policy also sounded promising, because it was being resourced.
"Teaching and learning and providing teachers with the time, and enabling them to teach and share their practice and have the time to do that, is vital to enable something like that to be sustainable and happen systemically."
She said it was a good direction to move toward – away from a system that was struggling with teachers who were "stretched to capacity".
"To be asked to do anything extra [without the resourcing] just wouldn't work."
In his speech, Key signalled there would be consultation with the unions over how the policy would be applied and rolled out at more than 1000 schools in New Zealand.
"When he said unions would be involved in how these things land in schools and in the system, I think that is actually crucial.
"You have to have the intent – these new roles have been announced, that's great. They have to be resourced, and that resource has now been committed, which is wonderful."
She said the next step was to make sure the roles are developed with the profession, "not done to the profession".
Roberts said the PPTA was pleased the policy announcement didn't incorporate performance pay – a system the unions have vocally opposed.
"This isn't about recognising and rewarding our best teachers, what it is, is about recognising and enabling those teachers who have got something to offer."
Secondary Principals' Association president Tom Parsons called it a "wonderful initiative".
"It's super, what a game changer, what a tremendous thing.
"They've taken the politics out of this and are just looking at the welfare and the benefits for every New Zealander at school now, and in the future."
Parsons, who is principal of Queen Charlotte College in Picton, has been a critic of many Government policies in the past two years, including the introduction of national standards.
But he joined the PPTA in its view that industry involvement was crucial and the new policies would lift student achievement.
He said $359m was a "big deal" and would do away with the "real competition between schools for bums on seats".
The Green Party said the new roles would not address the reasons behind declining educational performance, linking the problems to inequality.
"Growing inequality in New Zealand is negatively impacting on our kids' learning," co-leader Metiria Turei said in a statement.
"Sick and hungry kids can't learn. This policy does nothing for kids and families living in poverty.
"The best teachers and principals in the world can't feed or heal the hungry and sick kids that show up to school each day."
Turei said lower decile schools would "at best receive helicoptered-in help a couple of days a week. The policy is not a blueprint to address the real needs of kids in lower decile schools to help them learn".
NZ First welcomed the additional funding, but noted that it would not lead to a single additional teacher.
"We support the sharing of best practice, but we are not confident that rewarding a few will assist with growing the profession as a whole," education spokeswoman Tracey Martin said.
"[It] could create more competition rather than the collegiality required for our students."
Right-wing think tank the New Zealand Initiative said the announcement was a "huge step" towards lifting educational performance of schools.
"Schools have long been encouraged to lift the performance of their own students but there has been little incentive for them to share their practice with other schools," research fellow Rose Patterson said.
"This results in the bizarre outcome where our top performing students rank among the best in the world, but at the other end of the scale we see too many young people leave school without the basic skills needed in the modern workplace."
EDUCATION AN ELECTION-YEAR FOCUS
Key said education would be the Government's big focus this year "because I believe every New Zealand child deserves the best education possible".
"There's no doubt we have a good education system. But it's not as good as it could be. We need to make some changes," Key said.
"For some time, the Government has been looking at what international research and evidence in education tells us, what the best performing countries are doing, what teachers and principals are saying they need, and what initiatives have been working here in New Zealand."
Key said the Government wanted "to keep top teachers in the classroom rather than having to go into management positions" or leave altogether to further their careers.
"At the moment, our best teachers work their way up the career ladder by doing less teaching, and that shouldn't be the way it works.
"We want to support a culture of collaboration within and across schools. That means the really good principals and teachers spending a lot more time sharing what they know, and how they work, with other principals and other teachers."
Parata said the new system would be in place by 2017 and would cost $359m over four years.
The changes were the next step in the Government's plan to raise student achievement in schools.
"While our education system is doing a great job for many kids, on an international scale our achievement ranking has been gradually declining since the early 2000s," Parata said.
"We need to enhance the teaching and leadership in the system to raise achievement for five out of five young New Zealanders."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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