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President’s 2006 Annual Conference Speech

PRESIDENT’S 2006 ANNUAL CONFERENCE SPEECH

Embargoed until delivery at 11am, 26 September

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

I’d like to welcome you all here today, and to extend an extra special welcome to you if your waka to this hui was an aeroplane. The air around Whanganui-a-Tara can be a little moody at this time of year. Descending to earth while strapped to a machine that lurches wildly up, down and sideways is an act of courage, not to mention blind trust. So, to those who’ve joined us from the skies … He iti wai kōwhao waka e tahuri te waka (A little storm and then a rainbow appears - Worry over small difficulties is often found to be needless when a successful outcome follows.)

First up. A big thanks to all of you. Judging by the numbers, this is to be one of the best attended Annual Conferences in recent PPTA history. Business is booming, you might say.

So, I’d like to extend a special “kia ora and thank you” to all delegates and observers for this turn-out.

I applaud your commitment to our union. I applaud your giving up a chunk of your “tween-term” time to be here, because with out you the PPTA executive, regional networks and staff wouldn’t be the sturdy waka we know they are.

I applaud your willingness to fight the good fight, which is what belonging to a union has always been about after all.

In 2004 we settled a three-year Secondary Teachers Collective Agreement. This has given us the opportunity, through a series of work streams, to focus on a range of professional and industrial issues that give support to quality teaching, and there have been some important gains in the past 12 months.

In this year’s Budget, Cabinet approved just over $25 million dollars’ in funding for four very significant initiatives for secondary teachers:

- A new medical retirement provision for secondary teachers that will enable teachers to retire with dignity if they are too ill to continue teaching

- Senior subject advisers to build our capacity to assess accurately, validly and effectively. Twenty four teachers will take up these positions in a trial scheme next year.

- Workload relief for those middle managers responsible for beginning teachers in their departments. This will see one hour per week for each first year teacher allocated to the HOD to ensure beginning teachers receive adequate support.

- A second G3 diploma is also being funded and is expected to be ready for 2007. It is good to see that the Minister is determined that the G3 problem will be resolved once and for all through this diploma and I am confident that the current difficulties around the number of credits allowable in part C of this diploma will be resolved really soon.

We have also seen the fifth hour of non-teaching time make a considerable difference for many of our teachers – to cite our membership survey, more than three-quarters

(77%) of members see the non-contact time as valuable or very valuable.

Finally, we’ve successfully introduced two initiatives that were negotiated in the 2004 Collective Agreement: specialist classroom teachers, and teacher sabbaticals. Feedback from these pilot schemes has been overwhelmingly positive. To quote one specialist classroom teacher, the SCT role is “the biggest development in teaching since Tomorrow’s Schools.

“It is giving power back to the professional (teacher) to work in a professionally supportive way with their colleagues, rather than the top down model that doesn’t work.”

These very significant initiatives stem from a long-term approach underpinned by the recommendations of the Ministerial Taskforce on Secondary Teacher Remuneration in 2003. The Taskforce said there had to be a better way of working to ensure a supply of high quality and appropriately qualified secondary teachers.

There can be no doubt that up until now the Ministerial Taskforce pathway has been a better way to achieve long-term gains for secondary education and for teachers, as well as make incremental improvements for secondary teachers outside the traditional bargaining process.

Our members have signalled that we should continue along the Taskforce path for the moment. In terms of the collective agreement, this would imply another three-year agreement with a comprehensive package of conditions improvements, annual salary increases, staged new initiatives, and with many smaller claims sorted.

But this approach requires genuine, open and ongoing commitment from all parties, and our support for the process will be conditional on progress being made during the course of the agreement. We should not expect to have to always wait for an industrial round in order to make gains.

Delegates will have the opportunity to reflect on this further during this conference.

As always, pay is likely to be a big discussion point for the next collective agreement. It will probably be no surprise to you to learn that more than a half of the teachers who responded to our membership survey are dissatisfied with their pay.

But when the subject of teacher pay comes up, some politicians immediately resort to the catch-cry that you should pay good teachers more - i.e. performance pay.

Members feel very strongly about this: two-thirds are opposed to it, with only 15 per cent in favour.

What members see is the inherent unfairness of trying to judge teachers on students’ results when the classes they teach are radically different; the impossibility of rewarding all those who performed well; the subjectivity of any measurement system and the potential for division and resentment in the staff room.

Teachers commented: “The level of student ability in a class is the luck of the draw, not necessarily a reflection of teachers’ abilities.”

Another one: “It is impossible to evaluate this with any integrity. I have taught very successfully/profitably in this system but found it divisive and destructive. Too many variables.”

And another one: “Teaching is a very collegial profession. We work together and help with resources and ideas. Performance pay would destroy this.”

And finally: “My experience in ERO and MoE is that (performance pay) is a subjective process and in essence not equitable as in the end there is only so much money so even if everyone performs well, only a few get real recognition.”

So Performance pay is about trying to rank individual teachers on the basis of student performance, and award some more pay than others. It is a very popular and simplistic catch cry that is made from time to time, but it is inherently inequitable and unreliable. It is an attempt to apply an inappropriate business model on schools and nowhere in the world of education has it ever worked satisfactorily when it has been tried.

PPTA firmly believes in the concept of an effective teacher in every classroom and we are only too willing to work with any government on processes to achieve this in every school in the country.

The way to guarantee that is not by dangling carrots in front of some teachers and not others; it is by ensuring that all teachers get the remuneration, professional learning and support and resources to be effective.

However, if MP’s voted to have THEIR remuneration assessed on their own performance then we might think about performance pay.

Yeah right.

Some of you may remember that in my speech to annual conference this time last year I very strongly defended the right of PPTA, in an election year, to articulate its position on what we thought were good policies for secondary education in this country. Nothing has changed since then. We must continue to be forthright in saying what is going right and what needs improvement in our education system, because we still have to tackle some major issues: dealing with challenging student behaviour, NCEA, teacher workload, class size and the role of the Teachers Council.

The issue of managing challenging student behaviour has been in the news recently, with the matter of just how teachers should cope with violence in the classroom, hitting the headlines.

On the one hand, this is a definite health and safety issue for teachers. I hear disturbing stories everywhere I go, with teachers in some schools reluctant to do duty or even walk in the corridors for fear of pushing, shoving and intimidation from students.

Of those who responded to our membership survey, 47 per cent – nearly half – believe that poor behaviour from students towards them has increased. Only 10 per cent say it is better. More than half say they are spending more time on motivation, control and dealing with challenges to authority.

One of the most interesting but unsurprising findings of recent research into people’s view of the teaching profession is that the way teachers are treated by students is deterring young people from opting for teaching as a career. I think that we have come to the point where we need to take a really hard look at what many teachers are putting up with in their daily working lives. Teachers must be able to work in an environment that allows them to feel safe doing the job they want, and are paid, to do.

How many professionals work daily in an environment where it is not unusual to be told to ‘eff off you dumb cow’, or ‘I know where you live you *&#@!*&^ (dot dot dot)?

On the other hand, teachers don’t want to isolate or alienate these students from our schools. Chief youth court judge Andrew Becroft has commented on the priority of keeping young people engaged with their schooling if they are not to end up in prison.

The reality is though that schools cannot serve these students well without the assistance and funding for the range of educational, psychiatric and social conditions that these students face.

A core concern is the need to strike a balance between the needs of individual students who have difficulties - which might have absolutely nothing to do with their school situation - that lead them to behave unco-operatively, against the requirement to preserve the safety and the capacity to learn of the other students around them.

Adequate staffing in schools is vital if these students are to be properly supported. The pastoral care staffing step was there in the 2001 Staffing Review Group Report recommendations but was removed by the previous education minister. And the point has to be made that all of the positive initiatives that could make a difference to the way we operate, like restorative practices, peer mediation and alternative education also require significant increases of staffing if they are to work effectively. There is simply no way around this if teachers are to continue to do their jobs in an increasingly fractious and risky environment.

We are pleased to note that the government has begun to recognise the problem with an allocation of $9.5m in new money over four years, but this money must go directly into supporting those students and their teachers.

NCEA is still regularly in the news. Let me be crystal clear. I am aware that we continue to be divided in our attitude to NCEA.

Judging from our member survey, more than a third of us wholeheartedly support NCEA, a third are ambivalent and slightly less than a third don’t approve of it.

The major reason for this is teacher workload. Many of us have seen a massive increase in our workload associated with NCEA and we haven’t seen it getting any easier or more manageable.

Talk to any HOD or principal’s nominee and you quickly realise the urgent need for workload relief. But despite improvements dealing with external variability, communication and consultation, government agencies have not adequately addressed the workload burden on schools from NCEA administration, assessment and moderation.

The Ministry and the NZQA and the government have been slow to provide the support when we spelled out what committed teachers needed at critical times. This has contributed to teachers’ excessive workload, and many conscientious teachers have become very stressed. We did not make over-the-top demands. My clear impression is that most of our members would be satisfied if their sincere and perfectly realistic requests for specific assistance had been listened to seriously, considered and responded to promptly and reasonably.

Speaking of workload, we welcome the reorganisation that is currently underway at the Ministry of Education. We hope that this will see an end to the breakdowns between the various silos in the Ministry that we have experienced in the past. We know that Ministry staff are as committed as we are to improving secondary education in this country.

I would like at this point to take this opportunity to farewell secretary for education Howard Fancy who has been at the helm of the Ministry for the past decade during a time of continuing change. I would like to thank Howard for his hard work, his selfless commitment to improving the system for students and teachers, and his willingness to listen to teachers concerns. That we have seen a lot of improvements in recent years is testament to his dedication.

I would also like to welcome Karen Sewell, who takes over from Howard shortly. Karen has been CEO of the Education Review Office for some time and she has done a great job in that role. But more people will recognise Karen from the very public role she had as acting CEO of NZQA until May this year. After the troubles of 2005, many would have seen that role as a poisoned chalice but Karen took it in her stride and front-footed it. I am impressed by her openness and honesty, and also her willingness to engage with teachers. Her skills and fearlessness will be wonderful assets for the Ministry and for New Zealand education.

Last year’s class size paper was the heaviest by weight and subject matter and this year’s paper is no exception. This issue is still exceedingly complex. Simply setting a maximum number of students for various levels and types of class is an attractive and simplistic solution, but evidence suggests that it would be hard to implement in practice.

However, over-large classes are another serious workload problem and one thing that would help would be the provision of the staffing promised by the Government in Stage Three of the Staffing Review Group Report. This would reduce teacher: student ratios by 2 at every year level. The situation would also be greatly helped if the government were to ensure that schools had enough staffing to adequately provide for pastoral care and to staff their senior management positions so that curriculum staffing was not being short changed.

We already have some requirements in the collective agreement about the negotiation of timetabling policies with principals. And because it is so important for branches to be involved in decisions about timetabling, we are proposing guidelines that will strengthen their capacity to be more involved in this area.

No doubt some branches would prefer to have a simple, centrally directed solution but under the devolved responsibility of Tomorrow’s Schools, this simply isn’t feasible, so it is a major responsibility for individual school branches.

The G3 equivalence paper, called for by last year’s Annual Conference, reports on this sad saga and for the sake of our members I do sincerely hope that we are getting to the end of it. As the paper points out, the process to rectify the unfairness has probably cost the taxpayer more than PPTA’s grand-parenting proposal would have done.

Unfortunately, the Teachers Council issue has also developed into a bit of a saga.

We support the idea of a teacher-led, teacher-owned Teachers Council and we have encouraged the Council since its inception to provide professional leadership and to raise the status of teaching.

There are some encouraging signs. Operationally, the Council is in a much better situation than two years ago, and they have also commenced work on a number of professional issues around teacher status and teacher education.

But when I have been talking to members in branches, and school principals, I am still hearing fresh examples of what amounts to the Teachers Council second-guessing professional judgements and processes that principals attest to having occurred in their schools.

Until that stops, the Council will have a reputation solely as a policing authority rather than a body that enhances the professionalism and status of teaching.

One example. We recently had a very successful meeting of young teacher representatives from every region in the country. They are not at all happy about the way the Teachers Council engages with them. The Council audits 10% of all beginning teachers who have been recommended for full registration, and checks a portfolio of evidence to see that they meet the requirements. However, if the teacher falls short because they have not met the standards, possibly because of the way the school organises (or does not organise!) the process, it is the young teacher who carries the can, not the school. We think it would be much fairer to have the school review its process and not blame and disadvantage the teacher.

Thankfully, I am pleased to hear that the Teachers Council has a paper on this very issue up for discussion at its own council meeting next month.

The matter of student loans was the subject of a paper to last year’s conference and the conference recognised the seriousness of the issue for many of our members by passing all the recommendations. The final recommendation called for some research into how student loans affect secondary teachers and there is a short report to this conference about this. There has certainly been a dramatic change with the abolition of interest on loans implemented by the government earlier this year, but we now need to focus on what will attract qualified people into teaching or retain them while they pay back the principal on their loan. The other options that were suggested in last year’s paper included a bonding allowance, using government-subsidised retirement schemes and getting reimbursement for new study costs.

We will also be receiving reports to conference on the role of the correspondence school, on immigrant teachers, on a new Turanga Maori position within PPTA, and on regional boundaries. All these papers are about attending to the representational and educational needs of our members and require our careful consideration.

The next three days gives us all an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to our profession and to reflect on the importance of what we as teachers do for our students and the wider community.

To conclude, in a recent column Joe Bennett talks about the importance of enthusiasm. That enthusiasm, he says, will have been generated by a teacher.

“You can name that teacher. Other pupils at the school at the same time would name a different teacher, but for each of you there was one that mattered. That teacher will have had a passion for his or her subject. That teacher will have lit a similar passion in you.”

So lets go together into this conference to debate the issues with an enthusiasm and commitment to making secondary schools great places for teachers and students. Kia Kaha.

ENDS

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