Principals cry poor

PETRA FINER AND YVETTE BATTEN- TARANAKI STAR
Last updated 10:00 26/06/2014
Normanby
PETRA FINER
From left, Normanby students Peysha Hawira, Megan Ogle, obscured, Oceahana Low, Finlay Embling and Maharlya-Rose Wall, all 5 years-old, practise "sound, letter, word relationships" with their teacher Jude Sklenars.

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A new government policy for schools is being decried by some as a band-aid solution to the social problem of child poverty.

Investing in Educational Success (IES) is a new $359 million government plan hoped to be in full effect by 2017. It aims to improve student achievement.

Ministry of Education spokesman Dr Graham Stoop said there would be communities of up to 10 schools led by an expert principal and four lead teachers.

Funding will go towards wages, providing inquiry time for teachers to learn from their colleagues and establishing a teacher-led innovation fund.

Stoop said IES would bridge the gap between low- and high-performing students.

"Too many Maori and Pasifika students, students from low socio-economic families and those with special education needs, continue to be under-served by the system."

The scheme was met with concern from Taranaki principals, the New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) and the New Zealand Principals Foundation (NZPF).

Normanby School principal Linda Jefferies said a lack of support at home was a major hurdle.

"We have no control over that do we? So is the money better spent in social services for those families and those children who are at risk."

Jefferies believed the money would be better spent providing schools with resources and more teachers to lower class sizes.

"Trust me that I know how to do my job", she said.

Marfell Community School principal Janet Armstrong was unhappy with the initiative.

"I just feel that it's another one of the National Party's rail-roaded schemes that really is being forced upon us without really engaging in true consultation."

She believed the money would be better spent addressing poverty and inequality within the community, proper health care and making families more accountable.

"If you put those foundations in place you will see student achievement rise naturally."

She worried the plan would compromise the integrity of the profession too; it shouldn't be about the extra money.

NZEI national president Judith Nowotarski said the package allowed for 250 principals to be paid $40,000 more per annum and 1000 teachers to be paid $20,000 more.

Nowotarski said the Government had not provided evidence to show the new model would improve learning outcomes.

"In fact there could be an adverse effect on children because of the removal of a principal and / or teacher out of the school and classroom for two days a week".

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Hawera High School principal Hans Konlechner was cautiously optimistic about the plan.

He said that while student outcomes were affected by support at home, his faculty did the best it could.

"The world is not a perfect place and we have to be concentrated on the difference we can make with the resource that we've got available," he said. "That has to be our focus."

Frankley School principal Damon Ritai said focus should be on the children's needs first and had plenty of ideas how to do it.

"The first thing that comes to mind is resourcing special needs children in schools through teacher aides with professional learning opportunities," he said.

"Right now my school is underfunded and we struggle to support challenged learners due to the lack of funding we receive."

He thought smaller class sizes would be helpful.

NZPF national president Phil Harding said the opportunity to share best practice among schools was positive.

"It has to come from the ground up and not be imposed from above," he said. "And of course this model has been imposed from above."

New Plymouth Principals' Association president Roz Miller said there needed to be clear evidence that the plan worked before it was implemented.

"When principals are unwilling to take up $40,000 pay rises because they don't believe the money is being directed to where it will have the biggest impact, then the politicians need to listen to the professionals' concerns."

She believed the money could be better used helping gifted students and those who have special education needs.

"Some of our most vulnerable and challenging children work with the poorest paid staff - the teacher aides."

She said that making a few people wealthy will not have a significant impact on raising student achievement.

- Taranaki

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