Education policy holds promise for teachers

Last updated 08:34 28/01/2014

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OPINION: Change in education policy is constant. Any new policy will reflect beliefs about education that may or may not be informed by evidence. Whether a new policy achieves its aims depends on the implementation.

The prime minister recently announced that the Government planned to implement a policy designed to strengthen the teaching profession and school leadership, by paying more to exemplary teachers or principals who will lead change in schools.

The aim of this initiative, as stated in the announcement, is to increase the academic achievement of children or young people compared to other OECD countries.

Part of the new initiative is to develop greater collaboration across schools. It is planned to introduce executive principals who will lead about 10 schools or kura while remaining a leader in their own, and to have exemplary teachers leading learning across the schools in focus areas such as mathematics and science.

An optimist might believe that this collaboration will lead to a seamless educational experience for students if the cluster of schools are geographical and include primary, secondary and intermediate schools.

In the future this could also include early childhood education providers.

This community-focused education could provide a number of exciting opportunities as the educators work together, such as sharing of expertise and resources across the schools.

This level of collaboration is a significant change from the existing Tomorrow's Schools model of individual schools managing themselves and competing for students. This competitive model was underpinned by the notion that parents should be able to pass judgment on the effectiveness of the teaching profession at a school level without the necessary knowledge of education to make such a judgment accurately. Policies based on this premise led to schools prioritising superficial aspects to enhance or maintain the image of their school which diverts the focus from student learning.

While the policy is based in research about how to strengthen the teaching profession and schools, the difficulty will be the implementation of the policies. The process of selecting exemplary principals or teachers can be fraught.

How are such people identified and by whom and what criteria will be used? Teaching is a complex process and context is very important. What support will they have to develop their coaching and mentoring skills they will need to work with their peers? How will they be supported?

How will schools that have been competing be able to collaborate and accept an executive principal from a competing school? For this initiative to be successful, the implementation process will need to be informed by the research about effective professional learning, learning in a digital age and the support and learning of those taking on the new roles will need to be funded.

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This initiative is promising as the aims align with what the research suggests will strengthen the teaching profession in New Zealand; effective leadership and context-based collaborative learning. It is heartening to see policy that is informed by educational research. However, research is not static and the implementation of the policy should be examined closely so the results are shared to inform policy direction of the future.

- Louise Starkey is associate dean primary and secondary at Victoria University's school of education policy and implementation.

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