Hekia Parata, the new Minister of Education, has an agenda. She appears to want to tackle the problem of poor teachers.

It is time, she announced to principals, for them to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Teachers are important. Last month, Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf referenced an OECD report that confirmed class size matters less than teacher quality and improved education has an impact on GDP.

He also made the point that in New Zealand, social-economic background has more of an impact on education results than in most other OECD countries, which is a polite way of saying our education regime favours white and Asian students at the expense of the brown and poor.


Parata is talking about performance pay for teachers and publishing league tables for schools based on National Standards. This is, as Sir Humphrey would say, courageous.

Teacher unions are opposed to both policies. To bolster their argument the NZEI recently brought Australian academic Professor Margaret Wu to our shores. Wu was quoted in the Otago Daily Times as saying that "we need to look at education more broadly than just students' academic results".

It is hard to imagine a more incredulously stupid comment. We pay teachers to teach - not to eat their lunch. We can and should assess success by comparing what the class knows at the end of the process from what they knew at the start. A competent principal will know which teachers are effective and which are not.

A system that does not reward success encourages failure. Poor performers stay, talent leaves, children remain uneducated. Our education industry has become a sheltered workshop for useless teachers and a frustrating workplace for good educators.

The problem with the NZEI and the PPTA is that they are unions masquerading as education think-tanks. Unions exist to advance the cause of their members. This is honest work in a free society and teacher unions have been remarkably successful at shielding their members from any form of performance scrutiny. They are so good I suspect they have convinced even themselves that it is not possible to tell a good teacher from a bad one and that students learn by osmosis rather than by anything a teacher actually does or does not do.

Thirty per cent of students leave school without passing Year 12, or NCEA 2. This is a shocking result and it is worse for Pacific Island and Maori students. We are condemning a third of our students to low-paid, unskilled futures to shield lazy teachers.

Rumour has it Parata harbours grander ambitions. If she can tackle and defeat the teacher unions she should invest in a set of pearls and a black leather handbag.