National has managed to win praise from many of its usual critics for its latest policy to try to lift student achievement - even the teacher unions have refrained from strong criticism of the plan to pay the best teachers and principals more to help colleagues or struggling schools.

So far the strongest criticism has been from the primary teachers' union, the NZEI, whose President Judith Nowotarski said similar policies overseas had failed, and there was a risk "parachuting" principals into struggling schools could result in a climate of competition instead of co-operation.

She said there were other areas that the $395 million new funding could have been put towards, such as helping students with special needs, and criticised National for failing to work with the unions on that policy.

However, she said the NZEI did welcome the recognition of the importance of quality teaching.


She was reluctant to liken it to performance pay, but said the new positions differed from the union's preference of a new grade for expert teachers on a higher salary which the union was talking to the Ministry of Education about.

But the secondary schools' Post-Primary Teachers' Association welcomed the initiatives.

President Angela Roberts said she was wary about how it would translate into practice but welcomed the Prime Minister's promise to include the sector in developing the programme.

Principals' Federation President Phil Harding also said the announcements were a pleasant surprise and he was certain principals would be keen on it although aspects of it still had to be worked out.

"It's hard for me to say it but I'm pretty damned impressed," he said.

"It's exactly what the system needs, to enhance collaboration between schools."

The leadership of New Zealand schools has been overhauled, with the Government creating new roles including 'executive principals' and 'expert teachers'. The change was announced today by Prime Minister John Key in a state of the nation-style speech in Auckland

Labour leader David Cunliffe said although there were merits in the proposal, the announcement was "underwhelming" because it was narrow in scope and did not address wider issues that affected student performance such as inequality.

"Just paying bonuses to a few teachers on its own won't change that."


Labour was also planning to announce a policy that included financial incentives for good teachers as part of a wider education package, and would now assess whether elements of National's would be retained as part of that.

He said National was clearly trying to make up some lost ground for previous measures in the education portfolio, such as charter schools and National Standards.

NZ First's education spokeswoman Tracey Martin said the extra $359 million was laudable, but believed the funding should instead be used to employ more teachers.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei also said the policy did nothing to address poverty as a cause of underachievement.

She stopped short of criticising the actual incentives for principals and teachers involved, saying she supported professional development, but it would depend how it worked out.