Prime Minister John Key is on to a winner with his big plans to financially reward excellent teachers and principals.

If the teacher unions oppose it - and the early indications are that PPTA at least will not oppose it but NZEI is sceptical - they will be going against a bold plan to help to lift teaching quality. Likewise for Opposition parties.

They will look as though they are opposing it for the sake of opposing it.

Key has identified an age-old problem in schools that really good teachers often leave the classroom to progress their careers.

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Credible research over the years has linked good teaching to good results by pupils.

Most of us know that anecdotally because we've experienced it.

We don't need credible research to know that good teachers can lift achievement and that good principals can have a huge impact on the school environment, the expectations and teaching quality.

The new incentives for executive principals, expert teachers, lead teachers and expert teachers, are not being called performance pay because that has traditionally been opposed by teacher unions.

But that it effectively what it is.

Teacher unions have found it difficult to accept performance pay because it necessarily implies some teachers are not performing well. They fear it could undermine the collegiality among teachers that is vital to successful schools.

But the way that Key has outlined the new teacher positions however looks less like a policy to divide and rule teachers and more like something all teachers should aspire to becoming. Hopefully it will also lift the status of the teaching profession in society.

The teacher unions need to accept that plans to improve teaching need not be an attack on their members.

The unions may feel a bit miffed that the Government has not involved them in the policy formation but now is the time for them to get on board and help work out the details.

Debate on this issue is now closed.