Anger over changes to Teachers' Council

LIAM HYSLOP
Last updated 14:24 07/05/2014

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Teachers could strike if changes are not made to the Education Amendment Bill.

The bill will see the New Zealand Teachers Council scrapped and replaced by the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand, but there will be no guaranteed positions on it for teachers.

The nine-member council will have at least five members and a chairperson appointed by the education minister.

It can have a maximum of five registered teachers on it, but teachers and their unions voiced concerns to the parliamentary education and science select committee that there could be none.

In a passionate submission to the committee today, Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said teachers would have to pay for the council and did not want to if they were not going to be represented.

"We're happy to take responsibility for it and continue to pay for it," she said.

"The taxation on the profession - nearly $7 million a year - we're comfortable with that to pay for its core business, but there is no taxation without representation."

Asked by NZ First MP Tracey Martin if there was a risk of industrial action, Roberts said "absolutely".

"People are asking how do we push back professionally?" she said

"This won't be our council. Why should we pay for a council that doesn't have a professional voice and will go off and spend the money on things other than what they should?

"People are challenging that and they are thinking about what's next. Cages are being rattled a bit."

New Zealand Principals' Federation president Philip Harding said teachers must have some form of representation on the new council.

"It's vital if teachers are going to fund this organisation and have high trust in it that they have a stake in the people who are representing them," he said.

Another sticking point in the bill was the introduction of a code of conduct to replace a code of ethics.

Jules Nicholas, a teacher with more than 16 years' experience in New Zealand and Britain, said a code of conduct was not needed.

"We already have an aspiration code of ethics that we value and set high standards for us in the profession," Nicholas said.

"I'm a teacher with three teenage children and expect that the teachers who appear in front of my children will adhere to the code of ethics.

"Do we really need a code of conduct? Are you saying that you don't trust the thousands of teachers that work in the thousands of classrooms every day in the thousands of schools?"

Nicholas expressed concern about the introduction of performance pay, saying it had a negative influence on the teaching profession in Britain.

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"The sharing starts to dwindle; people become less connected and less willing to share," Nicholas said

Teachers Council chairwoman Alison McAlpine said the new council would need greater powers to discipline teachers than it currently had.

"The new professional body should have the power to cancel a teacher's registration for competence reasons," she said.

Under the proposed amendments, a teacher's practising certificate could be cancelled but not a registration, although that could be done in matters of serious misconduct.

That needed to be changed so the new body could cancel registrations based on incompetence, McAlpine said.

There should be an increase in the maximum fine the new council could hand out for misconduct and incompetence from $5000 to at least $7500, she said.

Child witnesses giving evidence to the new council about a teacher should be afforded the same protections as in the Evidence Act, including the option to give evidence from behind a screen or via video link, McAlpine said.

"This would avoid opposition by the defence and allow vulnerable witnesses, especially young children and their families, the certainty of knowledge of how a hearing will be conducted," she said. 

- Fairfax Media

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