Primary teachers' union opposes funding

00:15, Jun 05 2014

This week the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, released a report on the details of the government's $359 million policy to create a new career structure for teachers (Investing in Educational Success) following consultation with the education sector.

The Beehive media release makes it sound as if everybody is happy as a result of the consultation, and most are, including the secondary teachers' union, the PPTA.

But the primary teacher's union is far from happy. The New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) say they have a better plan for how they would spend the funds. So, while the government line is that it's moving forward with the policy, it may come up against more resistance yet.

This is all symptomatic of a broader issue in New Zealand education: the NZEI wants to have their cake and eat it too. They want to ensure that the allocation of education funding is controlled centrally, and they want to have control over education policy. Yet, they are not the ones accountable for education funding, so they shouldn't be expected to make those hard decisions.

Let's explore this in a little more detail. First, most school funding is controlled from the centre. The lip service is that New Zealand has a devolved education system, and while each school receives a bulk operational fund and chooses how to allocate that funding, it's a small slice; three out of every five education dollars are spent on teacher salaries. Teacher salaries are not only negotiated centrally through collective bargaining, but are also allocated centrally via a bureaucratic formula that tells School-A that they are entitled to X number of teachers.

The union already does have a lot of control over funding from the centre, but they also want to be in charge of education policy. This is most evident in the deep resentment of, and resistance to, National Standards. Many primary school teachers up and down the country were not so keen to blindly follow the powers-that-be in Wellington (it's hard to tell whether this is because National Standards are flawed or because teachers simply don't like being told what to do).

And the most topical example is the Investing in Educational Success policy. The NZEI has called the Working Group report based on consultation with the sector 'disappointing'.

They have put forward some different ideas for how they would spend that money. And I have to agree with the argument that bureaucrats and politicians cannot possibly understand the educational needs of the children that teachers are working with every day. NZEI spokesman Ian Leckie says that the policy "is a one-size-fits-all plan and totally ignores the particular circumstances of each school."

But if you want to get away from the bureaucracy of centralised policy making, and give teachers the power to make their own policies and to allocate funding in the way that's best for the children in their schools, then by definition, you cannot also have a centralised model.

You would have to give schools full funding and allow them to negotiate their individual employment agreements at the local school level, and they would need to be fully accountable for that funding.

The problem with NZEI wanting decision-making power in education policy is that it's not the group accountable to the person footing the bill, AKA the taxpayer.

Policy making is an exercise in trade-offs between having your cake and eating it too, and the accountable party has to make those difficult decisions. The buck stops with government.

Teachers have a wonderful opportunity to work constructively with government on the execution of this policy. Let's hope the NZEI realise this instead of going into automatic resistance mode, because the $359m for teachers is icing on the cake.

Rose Patterson is a research fellow with the New Zealand Initiative.