Trouble in our schools

By Genevieve Helliwell

Bay primary teachers have slammed education reforms as tensions rise between the sector and the Government over issues such as performance pay and league tables.

Some schools closed early and others were left with skeleton staffing as hundreds of teachers took their first step in a potential showdown with the Government over their collective contract yesterday.

The teachers held a New Zealand Education Institute union meeting in the afternoon to discuss the Government's offer over their contract - and another meeting was planned today.

Details of the offer are confidential but it has been revealed issues discussed at the meeting included performance pay, league tables and standardised learning.

New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) Te Riu Roa national president Ian Leckie said there was huge concern the Government's offer would damage New Zealand's world-class public education system.

"The ministry has made an offer which we believe is linked to a business model of education driven by cost-cutting and competition. What's at stake here is our world-renowned public education system based on equity and providing good education for all children," he said.

At yesterday's meeting, attended by about 400 teachers, Mr Leckie said the Government's policies were based on an agenda known as the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), and research showed the agenda had already failed to improve students learning in other countries.

"The Government says these measures will lift student achievement and teacher quality but in countries where this is already in play - USA and UK - they have significantly dropped in the OECD rankings."

Mr Leckie said there was evidence the reform movement was creeping into New Zealand's education system through national standards, league tables and charter schools and proposals of performance pay for teachers.

"These offers are not just an attack on teachers but the whole of our education system as we know it."

At the end of the meeting, teachers unanimously rejected the ministry's offer.

NZEI Bay of Plenty field officer Rachel Chater would not speculate whether industrial action would be taken if the agreement was not settled.

The last major industrial action undertaken by teachers was in 1994.

A Ministry of Education spokesperson said a fair offer had been made and it was "keen to get back to the bargaining table and work towards settlement".

Asked if New Zealand still had a world-leading education system, the spokesperson said: "The system is still under-performing for Maori learners and Pasifika learners, and learners from communities with significant social and economic challenges. While our education system continues to under-perform for these learners, we are not entitled to call ourselves world-class".

The ministry did not believe there was any cause for industrial action, however if a union decided to take action, it must give schools and the Secretary for Education at least 14 days' notice.

Mrs Chater acknowledged the afternoon union meeting inconvenienced some parents but said the situation was serious and the organisation needed as many teachers as possible to attend the meetings and the best way to do this was to hold it during the day.

"At the end of Term 2, we held a paid union meeting after school so that it wouldn't affect the public but we've had to up the ante because the Government haven't been listening to our concerns," she said.

"They're doing this all for the sake of saving a bit of money but education should be seen as an investment, not as a cost.

"For us this is not about the money. We are fighting for our children and maintaining the quality education system we have."

Three union meetings have been held in the Western Bay this week and another was to be held today for Te Puke region teachers.

Outside Otumoetai Primary School yesterday, parents spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Times showed overwhelming support for the teachers, with many saying they were not inconvenienced by having to pick up their children early from school.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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