New "executive" and "expert" positions in schools could have wide-reaching effects - including more-energised teachers and reduced competition between schools.
The Government has promised parents that the radical roles will lead to happier classrooms and lift the achievement of a "huge" number of schoolchildren.
As part of his annual state of the nation-style address yesterday, Prime Minister John Key said the best teachers and principals will be paid thousands of dollars on top of their regular salaries to work across a number of schools.
An extra $359 million in Government funding over the next four years will help create four new management roles - executive principals, expert teachers, lead teachers and change principals.
The positions will not be put in place at every school, but the first will be rolled out next year and fully implemented by 2017.
Executive principals will be given time and money to provide leadership across an average of 10 schools while remaining at their own. They will work with their own group of lead and expert teachers, who will act as role models at their own and surrounding schools.
Struggling schools could apply to the Government for an allowance of $50,000 to add to the salary they can offer principals, with the idea to attract the best leaders to the schools most in need.
Potential fish hooks include how the best teachers and principals will be identified, with many wary of the usefulness of student achievement data such as National Standards, given the wide differences in student backgrounds and abilities.
Professor Graeme Aitken, the University of Auckland's dean of education, said those in and considering the teaching profession had been given an "inspiring message" about career progression. They would be energised because of the prospect of not having to leave the classroom to progress their career.
And high-quality school leavers would have more reason to choose teaching as a career choice, he said.
The biggest obstacle to student achievement remained societal inequality, but the new measures "are saying that teachers can lead change, they can make a difference".
Mt Albert Grammar School headmaster Dale Burden said sharing expertise with other schools - and receiving the resources to cover the time any staff were away - was something to look forward to.
"If the time and resource are provided, fantastic."
Mr Key said the focus on teacher quality would help address the "sinking" feeling some parents experience when they realise their child's teacher is not well regarded.
"We want to recognise excellent teachers and principals, keep good teachers in the classroom, and share expertise across schools and amongst teachers."
He said details of the new roles were still to be worked out, and that would be done in consultation with the education profession, including unions. An industry group would be formed to work through selection for the roles and ongoing performance appraisal of the selected teachers.
The group would also decide on how the top-up grants for new principals of struggling schools would be allocated.
Allan Vester, chairman of the NZ Secondary Principals Council and head of Edgewater College in Pakuranga, said the sharing of knowledge and ideas between schools was crucial.
Mr Key's address came after a report showed the gap between 15-year-olds who are excelling and those who are failing had widened.
His proposal has received cautious support from the teacher unions, although the New Zealand Educational Institute said it should have been consulted and believed there were better ways to spend the money if lifting achievement was the ultimate goal.
Labour and the Green Party said it didn't address other issues of student achievement, such as poverty. Labour leader David Cunliffe said his party had developed its own scheme for financial incentives for good teachers but he would consider whether it would also adopt some of National's system.
What are the new roles?
• Executive principals (250 once programme fully rolled out) - Principals with a "proven track record" who will provide leadership for around 10 schools, while remaining at their own school.
Offered on a two-year fixed-term basis and linked to specific objectives for student achievement - although what those are and how they will be measured is still to be determined.
Paid an additional allowance of $40,000 a year, their school will also receive money to fill their role for the two days a week they will work with other schools.
• Expert teachers (1,000) - Will work with executive principals and inside classrooms in the same "community" of schools, as well as their own. The positions will include experts in areas such as maths and science and literacy.
An expert advisory group assembled by the government is to work out how such teachers will be selected.
Paid an additional allowance of $20,000 a year, with their own schools paid money to cover the two days a week they work elsewhere.
• Lead teachers (5,000) - Another role that will work with an executive principal to act as role models in classrooms in a group of schools.
They will be paid an additional allowance of $10,000 a year. Like the other roles, it is yet to be determined how they will be selected, or how their progress will be measured.
• Change principals (around 20 each year) - Schools that are performing poorly will be helped to attract top principals by a government grant of $50,000 a year to add to any salary offered.
Designed to place the best school leaders where they are most needed.
At the moment the incentive is for principals to go to larger schools, where the salary is higher.
Roles will be fixed term of three to five years.
Education Minister Hekia Parata said it was expected that change principals would mostly fill vacancies, and not turf out existing principals. Final decisions will rest with boards of trustees, but an external panelist would sit in on the selection process and set criteria.
Leadership move seen as a way to share success
The Government's establishment of four new tiers of leadership within schools is an encouraging sign the education system is responding to the challenges of a rapidly changing society, says North Shore father of one Colart Miles.
The plan for high-performing principals to be responsible for multiple schools was a good one, which could lead to schools sharing successful methods, said Mr Miles.
"Frankly, I think it's encouraging. Part of the solution here is to build bridges between the schools so you get a bit more of a collective intelligence formed. So I like the idea. If it's cutting across different schools you hopefully get cross-pollination of ideas. Things that are working well in one arena that are proven and tested can more easily move their way around the eco-system."
Mr Miles did have some concerns about how schools whose principals took on responsibility for other schools could be affected.
"The downside for the tradeoff, I guess, is what about the continuity for the individual school? Are they going to have an exec that is distracted, that is spread across two or three schools and their focus is diluted? I'd be a little bit mindful of that."
After conducting interviews with teachers and principals the Miles family decided to send 5-year-old son Indigo to Willow Park Primary. So far they have been impressed with the school's approach.
"We are quite worried about the relevance of education at the moment," Mr Miles said. "We have been growing more aware that there is a crisis of relevance of education."
Our education system was based on a Victorian, factory-style model that did not necessarily encourage creativity, he said.
"We have seen quite encouraging signs that teachers on the front lines seem to be aware that things need to change.
"My first reaction to this announcement is that it's quite encouraging to see something in the system to respond to that pressure. There is a growing school of thought that creativity is more important than ever - being able to think laterally and be adaptive is more important than ever."