Good teachers forced out of teaching

DEREK CHAPMAN
Last updated 08:06 11/02/2014

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OPINION: In the last of our series of commentaries evaluating recently announced education policies, DEREK CHAPMAN questions how teaching professionals would be graded under National's plans to create executive principals, expert teachers, lead teachers and change principals.

So extra money is the answer to our education woes and National policy is to put millions into the "best".

Sounds impressive and simple, but who is going to make the selection and how will this largesse be distributed?

Once upon a time, those involved with schools actually trusted the Department of Education inspectors. Drawn from the profession, most inspectors were held in reasonably high regard by teachers and principals. But they themselves were restrained mathematically and artificially.

All teachers were "graded", but they had to fit within a bell curve of distribution. So, regardless of talent at any particular time, the numbers were preset. This created tensions between districts resulting in a deal of horse-trading and, certainly within schools, jealousies and tensions existed. It was the old case of "lies, damned lies, and statistics".

The Education Review Office could not do it now. It lacks the practical skills and the officers are not sufficiently trusted by the teaching profession. Indeed not all of the officers were good teachers themselves, therefore they are in no position to judge.

Then we have boards of trustees. They do not universally have the skills or ability to do this. One only has to look at the disputes and personal agendas that have been generated to date. Many of the expensive disagreements have finished up in the employment courts and tribunals. Far too often boards have got it wrong.

So the question has to be asked again: who is going to administer this? Perhaps another committee!

Extra money is definitely needed for the salary budget. Recent surveys with principals have shown them to be grossly under- remunerated when compared with outside equivalencies.

In 1998, principals from their pockets contributed to the Hay Report. It showed significant discrepancies but this was ignored by the ministry and by the minister of the time, Wyatt Creech.

There were no talks, no discussions, just a diktat from the government.

Successive governments have ignored this anomaly for whatever reasons.

How many secondary principals actually "retire" and how many move on to more profitable positions within the community?

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The case for "master" teachers is undisputed. Far too many excellent teachers are lost to the classroom each year as they seek a higher wage with a position within administration.

These excellent teachers are forced to this decision by economic reality and hence the pupils are not being taught by the best teachers.

So often these teachers turn out to be only mediocre at administration, so everyone loses, particularly the pupils. There is no doubt that an excellent teacher makes a difference: thousands of parents would vouch for this. But where is that teacher now?

The Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) had an excellent scheme some 40 years ago led by Stanley Newman for the concept of "master" teacher but it fell through the cracks, which is more the pity. It envisaged paying a premium to keep a good teacher teaching. It is certainly worth resurrecting if a way can be found to administer it because we need the best in the classroom.

The solution to the perceived education problems is simple: involve the home more!

When he was minister of education, Sir Lockwood Smith, had the right idea: families as first teachers. Many apologists say that this is too simple and won't work. Will it not?

There is no doubt that far too many young people turn up for school but are not ready for school. They have never been read to or cannot recognise any of the letters of the alphabet. Why?

There is no excuse for there not to be books in the home. They are so readily available, both new and second-hand, that there can be no economic excuse for not having some. People can afford to smoke and drink yet cannot afford a book or magazine - the mind boggles. Children need books and they need someone to read the books to them.

That is one of the main differences that schools see every day - one that is so easy to rectify. Communities and family can make this happen - now.

Education seems to have become a political football as each party attempts to outdo the other, whether or not we can afford this. It is not a case of mine is bigger than yours - it is about our future.

The future involves "trust". This must be central to any changes that are to be made. Trust between minister and the principals of whatever organisation.

This was lost at the time of Tomorrow's Schools, when the ministry became the minister's mouthpiece. Trust between then principals and the parents or caregivers. For some, this has not been working and it must.

Finally it is about a sense of trust between parents and their children. Children are at the centre of any solution - we forget them at our peril.

Derek Chapman was principal of Linwood High School from 1991 to 2000 and president of the Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand in 1998.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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