A teaching revolution that's helped turn around some of the world's toughest schools has come to New Zealand - but not everyone is laying out the welcome mat.

Teach For All - a network of international programmes that seek to get ambitious university graduates into low-income schools after six weeks of training - will hold its global conference in Auckland today.

Hosted by the local iteration of the controversial on-the-job teaching model, called Teach First NZ, the conference will involve 200 overseas delegates mixing with local education experts.

Presentations on work done here, particularly to lift achievement among Maori, will be a highlight.


"We have been impressed with what the New Zealand community has done to reduce the opportunity gap for Maori kids," said Wendy Kopp, co-founder of Teach For All.

"We are excited to learn about cultural responsiveness, about how relationships are at the heart of teaching here."

So far, around 50 teachers have gone through the New Zealand programme, with chief executive Shaun Sutton hoping to increase the intake to 60 incoming participants a year by 2020.

But despite the organisation's commendable goal - to close the gap for disadvantaged kids - not everyone in the sector believes the programme should be in New Zealand schools.

Critics have labelled it a "crash course", and this week primary teacher union the NZEI said it believed disadvantaged students deserved experienced and qualified teachers, and should not be treated like guinea pigs.

President Louise Green said the money behind the organisation - which in New Zealand comes from philanthropies such as The Aotearoa Foundation as well as the Government - also hinted at an additional agenda: privatisation.

"In the past few years, New Zealand has started drifting down the path of neoliberal education reform," she said. "We only need to look to America to see how far it can go - and they have by no means finished their privatisation of public education."

We have been impressed with what the New Zealand community has done to reduce the opportunity gap for Maori kids.

Ms Kopp said that wasn't the case, and that in most countries Teach For All worked by supporting the public education system.


So far, reviews of the New Zealand programme have been good, with evaluation reports finding the teachers were having a positive impact in their schools.

Internationally, results have been mixed, but a UK study identified Teach First there as one of four factors that helped bring about a turnaround in London's education system.

Teach First UK founder Brett Wigdortz said results in London meant schools with a majority of low-income students were performing better than the national average. In 2003, none of those schools were better than the national standard.

"The norm has always been that kids from less wealthy backgrounds don't achieve at the same level. If there is a shift, usually it's just the wealthy kids doing a lot better," Mr Wigdortz said. "But that has been consigned to the dustbin of history. In London, everyone is getting better and the gap is getting smaller."

Mr Wigdortz said that unlike the UK, where poor students tended to be from underprivileged white families where parents hadn't worked since industries such as shipping and mining fell over, New Zealand had culture it could build on.

Teach First

• Takes high-achieving university graduates for its on-the-job training programme.

•Begins with a six-week intensive residential programme.

• Graduates then move in to low-decile schools.

• Mentoring is ongoing.

• Had 300 applications for its 20 places for 2016.

• Applicants must meet a range of achievement, leadership and attitude criteria, as well as having a bachelor degree with strong subject knowledge in the topic they wish to teach.