Judith Nowotarski: Govt must engage with teachers

Judith Nowotarski calls for a real commitment from the Government to teacher quality.

Teachers are taking to the streets to protest against charter schools. Photo / APN
Teachers are taking to the streets to protest against charter schools. Photo / APN

Many people assume that sending their child to a private school will boost their academic achievement. That assumption is wrong. As Treasury noted in a report to Finance Minister Bill English about increasing the use of the private sector in education in 2011, recent analysis by the OECD of school performance has found that "public schools tended to outperform private schools in New Zealand after controlling for the socio-economic background of students and schools" (Education at a Glance 2011, analysing 2009 PISA data).

In the report, Treasury advised that it was "sceptical" of the "student achievement benefits that could be gained from introducing more actively competitive mechanisms into the New Zealand schooling system, such as vouchers, removal of zoning arrangements and increasing financial support for private schools. Systems that have pursued these policies have not gained systematic improvements in student outcomes".

It also advised against accepting unqualified teachers in charter schools and pointed out that systems that create a more competitive environment, including using charter schools, do not systematically produce better results for students (Report to the Minister of Finance Treasury T2011/2380: Increasing the use of the private sector).

So what does the evidence show does work to improve education systems?

Key components in high-performing systems are the valuing of teaching, high trust in the profession, collaborative learning between schools and individualised learning that meets every child's unique needs.

Prime Minister John Key has said education is one of his top three priorities, and the Minister of Education acknowledges teacher quality is the most important factor "in school" in lifting children's achievement (socio-economic status and family context - things outside a school's control being the most significant variable). So why does the Government insist on policies that undermine those very objectives?

As the representative union and professional body of more than 25,000 primary and early childhood teachers, NZEI is totally focused on teacher quality.

We have advocated for 100 per cent qualified and registered teachers as the minimum requirement in schools and ECE centres so that every child in every classroom and centre can be assured of having a skilled and trained teacher. We have promoted a career pathway model to the Ministry of Education so that great teachers can be recognised for their knowledge, skills and expertise, and stay in the classroom, rather than go into management.

We have proposed tougher entry requirements and more practicum for teachers in training. We have suggested reform of the Teachers Council to make it a truly independent statutory body, like the Medical Council, free from the taint of political appointments and able to truly advocate for teachers as a profession.

What the Government has delivered is cuts to funding in ECE so that centres are only funded for up to 80 per cent qualified teachers, rushed implementation of dodgy National Standards, which labels kids as young as 5 as "below standard"; the threat of linking this invalid National Standards data to teacher pay, charter schools with unqualified people acting as teachers, experiments with "super schools" in Christchurch and further support to private schools.

More than 10,000 marched this month to say these policies are wrong and will not be good for our children. It's time for the Government to genuinely engage with teachers and school communities and listen to what the profession and parents know is good for children.

Judith Nowotarski is national president of NZEI Te Riu Roa, a teachers' union.

- NZ Herald

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