PLD overhaul welcomed

May 2014

 

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Education Review checks in on the Ministry’s review of professional learning and development for the schooling sector.

Professional learning and development (PLD) was high on the agenda at last year’s PPTA conference. In a paper presented to the conference, it was suggested that PLD provision was “inadequate, piecemeal and incoherent” and questioned whether the Government’s investment of $70 million into PLD each year was being well spent.

The PPTA’s claims, in addition to Ministry of Education’s reports on the state of PLD, prompted the Ministerial Cross-Sector Forum on Raising Achievement to address the issue and in December last year the Ministry announced its decision to formally review its PLD expenditure in the schooling sector.

Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, says the long-term level of underachievement in New Zealand’s education system will not be shifted by doing what has always done.

“We are determined to raise achievement for five out of five young New Zealanders and to do that we must ensure that the PLD resource is targeted to back our teachers,” said Parata at the announcement of the review.

“This review provides the opportunity to ensure that our teachers are getting the right level of support for their development needs and are being challenged to raise the achievement of all students.”

An advisory group, chaired by Albany Senior High School principal and member of the Ministerial Cross-Sector Forum on Raising Achievement, Barbara Cavanagh, was established, comprising representatives from a wide range of educational organisations and unions. Professor Helen Timperley, from the University of Auckland, is positioned to provide expert advice to the Advisory Group, having developed the Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) on PLD.

The Advisory Group’s main tasks are to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current PLD, to investigate how the PLD impacts on teaching quality and student achievement, and most importantly advise on what improvements should be made and how they should be implemented.

Many are heartened that the Advisory Group includes professionals and stakeholders from across the educational sector.

News of the review has been welcomed by most, including the PPTA, which was instrumental in bringing about the announcement.

“The PLD review presents an opportunity to radically improve professional learning,” says PPTA president Angela Roberts.

The PPTA have some clear ideas about what PLD should look like and the conference paper raised some possible alternative approaches, including recommendations about how the creation of special positions in schools can improve the ability of schools to respond to PLD and how subject associations can be better positioned to support teachers with PLD.

“The professional needs a nationally consistent, locally trusted state model of professional learning delivery. It is time to move past private providers driving PLD design and delivery and towards an infrastructure that we believe should be university based and available to all schools,” says Roberts.

“The best profession learning must learn from the best evidence to stay sharp. It should be available to every school, rural or urban, on a planned and secure basis. Professional learning can then truly be said to promote equity, support professionalism and guide practice.”

However some concerns have been raised about where the funding would eventually be channelled.

“In order for [the review] to actually have an impact, we need a vast majority of the funding to be at the chalk face, where it can make a real difference,” Otago Secondary Principals’ Association president Rick Geerlofs told the Otago Daily Times.

Otago Primary Principals’ Association president Stephanie Madden agreed PLD funding needed to be less contestable, more accessible and have a wider focus.

“The Ministry has had a very narrow criteria for acceptance into PLD programmes, usually driven by decile rating, National Standards data and the percentage of Māori and Pasifika students attending the school,” she told the Otago Daily Times, “Many schools have simply missed out on Ministry-funded professional learning and have had to fund it themselves.”

However, Barbara Cavanagh says the Advisory Group is making good progress. She says it is excellent that the group takes into account so many different perspectives, although it can be challenging at times to balance the views of such a wide array of stakeholders involved in the process.

“We had to find somewhere to work from and we decided to rely on the evidence base. Whenever we veer off track we keep coming back to the evidence to guide us.”

Cavanagh says Helen Timperley’s input has been especially useful in this regard, as she has helped extract and analyse evidence from the BES, the Ministry’s milestone reports and other sources.

“Our discussions have centred on the coherence of the system and building capabilities of the schools to enable leadership and self-review.”

In a paper submitted to the Minister of Education, they have identified strengths and weaknesses of the current system and possible futures.

By the end of April the group hopes to have a report identifying a set of principles and a vision; by mid-June a report on leadership, and by mid-July, a report on accountability.

So it would appear the PLD review is ticking along according to plan. Whether it will satisfy everyone’s notion of what PLD in the New Zealand schooling sector should look like is questionable, but evidence-based research is a surely a solid place to start.


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