IES: a sector divided

May 2014

 

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Investing in Educational Success (IES) initiative has divided New Zealand’s education sector. JUDE BARBACK reports.

Education Minister Hekia Parata

The Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) and the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) Te Riu Roa are typically united in their stance on educational policy changes. However, the Government’s $359 million Investing in Educational Success initiative has created division between the teacher unions and other educational organisations.

The big ticket item of this year’s Education Budget, which will see the introduction of “expert” and “lead” teachers and “executive” and “change” principals as a means to raise student achievement appears to have gained favour with secondary school associations but not their primary counterparts.

Primary school sector: money needed elsewhere

NZEI President Judith Nowotarski says primary principals and teachers see a tension between the policy’s objective of increased collaboration and the model being proposed. She maintains there is already considerable collaboration and sharing of skills across and between primary schools in both formal and informal clusters.

“Rather than working out ways to better support and resource this genuine ‘bottom up’ collaboration, the IES imposes a top down model based largely on topping up individual salaries.”

She points out that more than 90 per cent of the investment is going to be going into the individual salaries of only 10 per cent of the teaching workforce.

Nowotarski says the union also takes issue with using National Standards data to help select or appraise people for the proposed new roles.

“Many believe the IES model of removing "executive principal" and "expert teacher" roles from out of their schools two days a week is unworkable and could have negative impacts on children's learning and undermine stability in primary schools.”

She says NZEI members believe there are numerous ways the $359 million could be spent to directly impact student success, such as smaller classes and more teacher aides to work with special needs children.

New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) has also signalled its opposition to IES. At a recent meeting in Wellington of around 100 principals and senior teachers, it was discussed that the increase in salaries was not the best use of the money.

Secondary school sector: an end to competition

Meanwhile, the PPTA takes a very different view on IES, perceiving the initiative as part of a wider solution to end the competitiveness that has permeated the secondary schooling sector in New Zealand.

President Angela Roberts says the PPTA is confident that secondary teachers and principals and their members in intermediates and area schools support the union’s engagement in IES.

“We have been in close contact with our members throughout this, taking every opportunity to share information and test their views.”

Roberts says their members are looking forward to having the chance to put the new IES roles, and the resourcing that they bring, into the collective employment agreements.

Similarly, the Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (SPANZ) strongly supports the IES initiative. President Tom Parsons believes sector organisations would be better working together to support the policy.

“I agree the funding for this initiative has been unexpected  – the times they are a changing – is it so hard to put effort into what will be the best thing that has happened to New Zealand education in over a century?

“Let's not waste our energies on negative responses but put our energies to better use by building trust and transparency with each other and in turn with the Ministry. This is our best chance to make absolutely sure we take the biggest possible part we can in being the most vital change agent in this whole exciting scenario,” says Parsons.

Why the differing stances over IES?

So why are primary and secondary groups so divided over this policy?

Angela Roberts says she can’t understand why the policy would affect primary schools differently to secondary schools.

“I don’t see why that would be the case. Really good research from New Zealand and overseas, such as the Best Evidence Synthesis, shows that robust, supported, and sustained collaboration between schools and teachers helps at all levels of schooling. Both the primary and secondary sectors have been arguing the case for better career pathways for teachers for many years.

Roberts says the PPTA’s approach to IES from the outset has been based on long-standing PPTA policy, but cannot say why the NZEI is taking a different stance.

“I don’t want to speculate on what NZEI’s reasoning is, except to say that they, like us, will be doing what they think is best for their members, and the students that they teach,” says Roberts.

 In a recent opinion piece in Scoop, Martin Thrupp, education professor at University of Waikato, discussed how the primary sector was less infected by the “managerialism” that has crept into secondary schooling. He describes the secondary school sector as competitive and likens secondary school principals to chief executives of large businesses.

“The environment of collaboration implied by the IES is also seen as a good thing by the PPTA given the competitive climate within their sector. In contrast, the membership of the NZEI will see little merit in the IES for the culture of the primary sector. Their concern will be its potential for being controlling and divisive and many will see it as yet another blow to the work they are committed to.”

Meanwhile, Rose Patterson, research fellow at New Zealand Initiative, shares a very different opinion in her piece on Stuff.

“This is all symptomatic of a broader issue in New Zealand education: the NZEI wants to have their cake and eat it too. They want to ensure that the allocation of education funding is controlled centrally, and they want to have control over education policy. Yet, they are not the ones accountable for education funding, so they shouldn't be expected to make those hard decisions.”

Consultation – a contentious point

Part of the NZEI’s and the NZPF’s opposition to IES stems from issues with the consultation process.

The Ministry maintains it has undergone clear and fair consultation with the sector. And the PPTA has stated that they have found consultation over IES to be “comprehensive, robust and genuine”.

However, the NZEI sees it differently.

“IES was suddenly dropped on the sector fully formed. While there has since been confidential consultation with sector groups over details of the policy, NZEI does not believe that being invited to have input into minor details of the biggest change to public education in 25 years counts as genuine consultation,” says Nowotarski.

Relationships intact

The difference in opinion between the unions does not appear to have weakened their relationship.

“Although our views frequently align, there will be instances when we see things differently,” says Nowotarski. “The leaderships of the two unions are in frequent contact and the relationship is stronger than any single divergence of views.”

Roberts agrees.

“We’ve had our differences in the past, too, but they have not got in the way of working together on what we hold in common,” she says of the PPTA’s relationship with the NZEI.

“What people often fail to see is that while we may be taking a strong stance against one policy – charter schools for instance – we continue to work productively on something like the Positive Behaviour for Learning Action plan. This is how we try to work with all the organisations and agencies that we deal with.”

There has been some speculation that NZEI has lost members as a result of its stance on IES. However, the union’s Member Services team has advised that no members have mentioned this as a reason for resigning. Similarly, the PPTA reports that its membership is stable, with no reported changes on the basis of the union’s position on IES.

Where does Labour sit?

While relationships between education sector groups apparently remain strong, all eyes are looking to see what stance the Labour Party takes on IES. The division in sector opinion makes it more difficult to navigate its way on this issue.

Labour spokesperson for education, Chris Hipkins, confirmed to Education Review that the party will not go ahead with the IES programme in its current form. He promised announcements would be released very soon. However, a recent statement shows Labour’s clear support for the stance taken by NZEI and NZPF.

Certainly, with education proving to be one of the more problematic portfolios in recent years, the prospect of an upcoming election only serves to intensify the back-and-forth debate that continues to rage over IES.

 

Click here to read PPTA President Angela Roberts' analysis of the changes to the IES policy since it was announced in January, and why the education sector should support IES.


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