Minister ‘delighted’ with enthusiasm for improvement strategy but unions divided over benefits it will bring.

The Government has signed up the first schools to take part in its flagship education scheme, but one union says relatively low interest shows teachers and parents are not on board.

Education Minister Hekia Parata confirmed yesterday that 11 "communities" made up of 90 schools would kick off the $359 million programme, which paid the best teachers and principals more to lift achievement across groups of schools.

Further details would be revealed later this week but the groups of schools included the full range of deciles, primary, intermediate and secondary schools and were all over the country, including Auckland.

Each of the communities would choose one problem to focus on and a principal and several teachers from within the group would be paid more to lead this work.

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In all, 71 expressions of interest had been received for the scheme since the application window opened three months ago.

NZEI national president Judith Nowotarski, who represented primary teachers, said this was a tiny proportion of the 2500 schools across the country.

"It is a real illustration that for the majority of sectors they are saying the Government needs to go back and talk to teachers and principals so that they can identify where best to help children specifically," she said.

Ms Parata said she expected to approve more communities early next year. She was delighted with the enthusiasm shown by boards, principals, teachers and parents.

The policy has divided teachers' unions. The NZEI voted to reject it - a position shared by Opposition parties Labour and Greens.

Of the NZEI membership which voted on the policy, 93 per cent expressed no confidence in it. Ms Nowotarski said the union wanted the money to be spent more directly on children.

The secondary principals' association and the secondary teachers' union, the PPTA, backed the policy after securing changes from the Ministry of Education.

These changes included scrapping the "change principal", "lead teacher" and "expert teacher" roles originally proposed by Cabinet.

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Instead, new roles were created for teachers who will mentor other teachers within their own school or in their wider communities. Similar roles were created for principals.

PPTA president Angela Roberts said the key difference from the original Cabinet proposal was that people in the new roles would no longer be paid on the basis of performance.

"Performance pay is about remunerating someone on outcomes. What this is about is paying someone for having greater responsibility."

Teachers who mentored colleagues within their own school would earn $8000 more a year and would be given two hours a week for their new responsibilities.

Those who worked with teachers in other schools would be granted 10 hours a week and $16,000 more a year.