Cautious pass-mark for Govt plans

Last updated 05:00 25/01/2014

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OPINION: Prime Minister John Key has made an emphatic attempt to wipe the education slate clean, pitching a $359 million package to boost student performance.

Labour leader David Cunliffe has labelled the proposal a "six-page apology" for Hekia Parata's reign as Education Minister, but he also couldn't find much to fault in the policies announced this week.

Whether National's specialist teacher scheme, which would offer lucrative allowances for newly-created positions in schools as a way of keeping the country's top talent in the classroom, is enough to make voters forget how badly the Government bungled the education portfolio in the past three years remains to be seen.

But the inclusive tone of Mr Key's speech and the positive reaction from teacher unions, cautious as it may be, is enough to suggest National is learning from past mistakes.

From National Standards to Novopay and the closure and amalgamation of Christchurch schools, the Education Ministry has earned a bull-headed reputation for firing off orders and shunning advice from within the sector.

The new scheme is expected to take three years to develop and roll out across 1000 schools and Mr Key has made it clear the unions will be involved in the process.

It would target top teaching and administrative talent in our schools, charge them with leadership responsibilities and reward them accordingly.

"Lead teachers" would act as role models for other teachers within their school and be paid an additional allowance of $10,000 a year in recognition of their status.

Some critics may sense a whiff of performance pay, to which the unions are staunchly opposed, but so long as a robust model for measuring teachers' proficiency can be agreed to - one guided but not bound by the results of their students - the scheme demonstrates plenty of common sense and encourages greater collaboration within and between schools.

That the Government is willing to resource this culture shift has the Post Primary Teachers Association excited.

As its president Angela Roberts astutely observed, the next step is to ensure the changes are developed with the profession, "not done to the profession".

Mr Cunliffe said National's plans were underwhelming. But until voters can make a comparison with Labour's ambitions, National's teacher initiative makes for an appealing apology.

Whatever entails, the Government need make no apology for the promotion of good leadership in education. As we in Taranaki understand, a good, strong principal, with the support of good teachers, can make a big difference.

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Jenny Gellen played an important role in turning around the flagging fortunes of Waitara High School and disillusioned staff and students.

If that is the kind of impact the Government is seeking to encourage at other under-performing schools around the country, then that deserves some support.

Parts of this editorial have also appeared in the Manawatu Standard.

- Taranaki Daily News

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