Minister explores 'fast-track' teachers

17:00, Sep 06 2009

Prospective teachers could skip specialist university training and be fast-tracked into the classroom under a plan to cope with an ageing workforce.

Under the scheme, anyone who already has a master's degree could bypass teacher's college and learn on the job.

The suggestion follows a high-level meeting between Education Minister Anne Tolley and controversial United States schools leader Michelle Rhee.

The Washington DC schools chancellor has caused debate with proposals to give star teachers huge pay rises, fire ineffective ones and introduce a voucher system that gives pupils from low-income families thousands of dollars to attend private schools.

The fast-track idea has been greeted with caution by the principals' union, which describes it as an "interesting shortcut".

Mrs Tolley arrives back in New Zealand today from a nine-day North American tour and is keen to learn more about the idea after talks with Ms Rhee.

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"They would be trained on the job with a mixture of practical and theory, but actually working in schools," Mrs Tolley said. "Michelle Rhee is going to dig out some more information for us because we did not have time to explore it in any great detail.

"We have an ageing teaching workforce and need to think about how we replenish it. It is one of the issues we are looking to address.

"It is just to try and get some of those top graduates to come into teaching. We know that good, high-quality teaching makes the greatest different in student learning. Being able to attract into teaching and retain really top-quality students makes a hang of a difference."

She acknowledged special skills were needed to be a teacher, but it was just a matter of how those skills were taught.

"Some people have had four or five years at university in a speciality and it's whether you send them off for more years at university, which some are unlikely to do. We need to find different ways to attract them."

Principals Federation president Ernie Buutveld was wary of the plan because it might put a strain on schools' resources.

"I appreciate we want to improve the numbers of teachers, but a master's degree or having academics in the classroom is not the total answer.

"Teaching is a craft and if we make it too academic then I think we're putting the subject ahead of the pedagogy of teaching.

"It might have more fish-hooks than you might think at first glance. No idea should be discounted out of hand, but it needs to be put in the New Zealand context."

Ms Rhee has also attracted lots of attention for setting up an American-first voucher programme, which gives pupils from low-income families thousands of dollars to attend private schools.

Associate Education Minister Heather Roy has already announced 250 low-income children would be offered independent school scholarships.

Teachers' unions were concerned Mrs Tolley would discuss the voucher system and performance pay during the meeting. However, they were not on the agenda, she said.

"It was not mentioned at all and I never intended to discuss it."

The Dominion Post