Sun sets on Teachers Council

December 2013

 

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With the new Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand set to replace the New Zealand Teachers Council next year, teachers are anxious that their new independent statutory professional body truly is independent. JUDE BARBACK looks at how things are evolving.

The sun is setting on the New Zealand Teachers Council, with a new organisation, the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand, poised to become the new professional body for Kiwi educators.

The Teachers Council was established following the disestablishment of the Teacher Registration Board, at a time when

New Zealand education underwent major reforms, shaking up what was then a very fragmented system.

Now, change is afoot once again. Plans for the new council were announced by Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, at the beginning of November, including a controversial governing body appointment process and some predictable changes to the disciplinary framework.

The review process

The new council is the result of a “three year process of development”, according to Parata.

It all began with an Education Workforce Advisory Group’s report to the Ministry of Education in 2010, which recommended a review of the Teachers Council, calling into scrutiny the Council’s capability and capacity to effectively carry out all of its functions.

The group’s report, A Vision for the Teaching Profession, suggested that a “culture change” was needed to help bring stronger educational leadership focused on teaching and learning to the teaching profession. In order to support this change, the report recommended the Teachers Council needed to be refocused as the professional body. The group recommended strengthening the Council’s ability to take responsibility for entry into teaching, ongoing registration, professional development, ethical accountability, and promotion of the teaching profession.

The recommendations of the group’s report were coupled with those of the Ministerial Inquiry into the employment of a convicted sex offender. The inquiry brought about some immediate changes in August last year, such as tougher employment checks and improved information sharing, but of the inquiry’s 38 recommendations, 11 were directed at the Council, adding to the scrutiny of the Council.

The Teachers Council Review Committee – which comprised Pauline Winter (chair),

Dr Judith Aitken, John Morris, and Robyn Baker – had the task of investigating a number of aspects of the Council’s capability and capacity to lead the teaching profession. The team had to examine the Council’s powers and functions, its structure, and its status as an autonomous Crown entity, as well as taking into account the relevant recommendations from the sex offender inquiry.

The committee took into consideration 177 submissions, interviews with individuals and groups from throughout the education sector, input from the Ministerial Cross Sector Forum on Raising Achievement, and New Zealand and international research. It also looked at similar professional bodies in other sectors.

By the end of its investigation, the committee had made 24 recommendations, categorised into four key areas: a new professional body, the regulatory framework for teachers, the disciplinary framework, and resourcing to support a strong, professional body.

The overarching message was that the status quo isn’t an option going forward. The committee concluded that the Council “as it is currently structured, governed, and positioned, can’t effectively set and enforce standards for entry, progression, and professional accountability with the full support of the profession. It lacks a distinctive brand or effective public voice.”

Consequently, the Ministry released a document for a Ministerial Advisory Group, headed up by

Dr Graham Stoop, entitled A 21st Century Body for the Education Profession, outlining the proposals based on the recommendations of the review committee. In May this year, the Ministerial Advisory Group led consultation on the proposed changes to the Teachers Council and reported to the Minister of Education at the end of July.

“Independent” – or is it?

The result is a council that the Minister says will raise the status of the teaching profession, establish a specific focus on education leadership, and “forge a new relationship between the profession and the Government to deliver on the public interests in education”.

The sector has been keen for the “establishment of a new independent statutory body”.

Teachers Council chair, Alison McAlpine says the formation of an independent statutory body is the next step in building on the current Teachers Council.

“Independence from Government will enable us to build on the significant gains we have already made to enhance professional leadership and establish strong regulatory and disciplinary processes for teachers in recent years.”

However, some feel the Government needs to step back from the appointment process of the new council’s governing body if it is to be truly independent.

The new council will comprise a governing body of nine members appointed by the Minister through a mix of direct appointments and appointments following a nomination process. However, there has been some uncertainty as to what the board appointment process would entail.

New Zealand Principals’ Federation president, Phil Harding, says there needs to be clarity on the selection criteria and process if the Ministry is to win the confidence and support of teachers.

“The profession funds the Teachers Council and would continue to support it only if the board was dominated by appointments that have professional knowledge and credibility, enjoy the respect and confidence of the profession, and are not politically determined,” he said.

Harding believes confidence will grow if the number of professionals on the governing board makes up the majority and if the profession gets to nominate who represents them.

Similarly, teachers union NZEI says the sector wanted members directly elected out of the profession by the profession, along with appointments made in the public interest but it notes there isn’t even mention of a requirement for the majority of members to be teachers.

“They have created a council which they claim is going to provide leadership to, and is owned by, the profession, but in fact, the Minister gets to make all the appointments onto the governance body,” says national secretary Paul Goulter.

(At the time of writing this article, the Ministry of Education had advertised in Education Gazette that information about nominations would be advised through a New Zealand Gazette notice).

The PPTA has also expressed its dissatisfaction with the new council. The union says it wants to see a majority of registered teachers on the council, elections of teacher representatives, the right of teacher unions to nominate representatives, and statutory authority status. The new council, it claims, fails to meet all of these requirements.

The PPTA annual conference paper Teachers Council: Teacher Ownership or Government Takeover? suggested that the purpose of the government’s review of Teachers Council was actually a takeover of the Council, with the intent of turning it into an agency designed to control the teaching profession.

Minister Parata confirms that the new teachers’ professional body should be independent of Government, but she says the Government still needs to be accountable and therefore balance is needed in establishing the new organisation.

“The education of our babies, infants, children, and young people – the Government of the day will still be held accountable for that public interest. In making that body statutorily independent, the Government of the day has to have some levers to ensure they can be accountable for that public interest,” says Parata.

As it currently stands, the council’s governing body consists of 11 members; the Minister of Education appoints four members directly as well as a further three members nominated by the NZEI, the PPTA and the NZSTA; the remaining four are elected by registered teachers to represent early childhood, primary, secondary and principals respectively.

Lind thinks it sensible to keep the number of members on the professional body relatively low, between eight and 12 members. He points out that the General Teaching Council of Scotland has 37 members, and as a result, has councils within councils making decisions.

Other key changes

Parata says the new council will broaden its scope to invest in leadership as well as teaching, and ensure that “professionals in the early childhood sector are also fully embraced”.

Among the other key reforms introduced with the new council will be the separation of registration from the issuing of practising certificates, which currently certify the ongoing competence of teachers. This change will place more emphasis on renewal of the practising certificate as a way to assess the continued competence of teachers.

The Limited Authority to Teach (LAT) will also now be able to be issued to a person as well as a position, in order to better meet more “student-centred pathways”.

There have also been changes made to the disciplinary framework, following criticism of the Teachers Council disciplinary tribunal, which some believe has been too slow to act in cases where teachers had been convicted of serious offences. The council recently moved to disclose teachers’ names in disciplinary tribunal reports and was in the process of consulting on a shift to opening up hearings to the public.

Under the new council, it will be compulsory to refer serious misconduct complaints to the disciplinary tribunal. Disciplinary tribunal proceedings will also be opened up to the public unless there is an order preventing it. 

There will also be the introduction of a code of conduct for the profession.

Next steps

So now that it has a name, and the key points of difference from the current Teachers Council have been announced, the real work in establishing the new Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand can begin.

A new board has been appointed to manage the transition over the next year. Chaired by John Morris, the board will include Nancy Bell, Hon Steve Maharey, Paul Matthews, Hoana Pearson, Richard Newton, Professor Graham Hingangaroa Smith, Dr Margaret Southwick, Arihia Stirling, Linda Tame, and Allan Vester.

In addition to ensuring continuity between the existing and new councils and keeping the Ministry in the loop, the transition board are responsible for developing the vision and mission for the new council, as well as proposing its strategic plan. The board must also recruit an interim chief executive.

Parata has confirmed that a bill will be introduced to Parliament to make relevant changes to the Education Act, which is expected to come into effect during next year. The current Teachers Council will continue until legislation is enacted to establish the proposed new council.

Meanwhile, teacher unions and organisations are preparing to fight hard to have teachers fairly represented on the new council via the appointment process in an effort to ensure their new professional body is truly independent.


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