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.
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 the policy 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," she said.
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.
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."
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."
Telecom chief executive Simon Moutter welcomed the initiative, saying the company believed strongly in the link between technology and better education outcomes.
"It's a link that we believe will only grow in importance."
Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly said research showed the quality of school leaders and teachers had a big impact on student achievement.
"A resulting outcome of higher skilled people and a more competitive economy would benefit everyone."
Care would need to be taken to ensure the additional investment equipped students with skills that were valued in the labour market today and in the future, he said.
Ian McCrae, chief executive of Auckland software firm Orion Health, who has urged better teaching of information technology in schools, said the spending looked like a huge and "long-overdue" step in the right direction.
Schools would need to be prepared to pay six-figure salaries to digital technology teachers. Average salaries in the software industry in the private sector were $105,000 and climbing, he said.
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