Editorial: Picking winners in education

18:58, Jan 26 2014

These new teaching positions the Government is creating seem to be less like appointments than anointments.

The overhaul Prime Minister John Key announced yesterday will devote an extra $359 million to, in effect, get more widespread benefit out of principals and teachers identified as the best.

From the ranks of the nation's principals will be chosen about 250 "executive principals" who will stay in charge of their own schools but be released for two days a week to work with, on average, nine other schools; passing on the insights by which they developed their own "proven track record in raising achievements".

For this they will receive an extra $40,000.

It will be be much the same for the new category of about 1000 "expert teachers", who will be paid an extra $20,000 to spend two days each week working in other schools to spread their insights and techniques among the, well, let's call them their inexpert colleagues.

Then you've got your 5000 new "lead teachers" picking up an extra $10,000 while their classrooms are opened for other teachers to see how it is done. It is not immediately clear what distinguishes this role from the existing category of specialist classroom teachers. And about 20 "change principals" will pick up an extra $50,000 to go to identified struggling schools and turn them around.


Immediately there will be acute interest in the criteria under which these best and brightest will be selected.

Performance based? That is easier said than done, given the subjective judgments that potentially come into play.

Will it be exam results? The acclaim of their peers?

Pet status with the higher-ups? The benediction process has the potential to be not only painful, but divisive.

This is a massive investment to spread expertise more widely as part of what Mr Key portrays as an enhanced culture of collaboration - an enhancement sorely needed, you would think, given the scale of the undertaking.

Certainly it does appear to be a scheme that has received serious resourcing, including extra funding to allow schools to backfill the work of principals and teachers when they are out and about elsewhere.

Some will say the best teachers are not motivated by money. In some respects, the Government is trying to prevent the best teachers being demotivated by a lack of money. Mr Key said (phrasing it a tad insultingly) that at the moment "our best teachers" worked their way up the career ladder by doing less teaching.

He can now argue he is increasing the incentive for teachers to stay in front of classrooms and for New Zealand talent to stay in New Zealand.

The cry will issue that the extra money should have been spent on just increasing the numbers of teachers.

This ignores pretty strong research showing it is the calibre of teaching, not class sizes, that matters far more.

And spare us the criticisms that this policy does not address such core issues as poverty. Obviously, poverty-related problems worsen the prospects for children receiving a good education. Equally obviously, improving education increases the odds of escaping poverty. The real question is how effective and significant a role this initiative will play.

There is scope for this project to deliver. Or for it to turn into a nightmare of reproach and recrimination. It would need to be implemented with a degree of collaborative care that goes way beyond the operational norm of this Government. Significantly, however, the Labour Party's criticism is less that it is wrongheaded than that it does not go far enough; so it is also looking at serious incentivising.

The Southland Times