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Gordon Campbell on Govt’s plans for incentivising teachers

Gordon Campbell on the government’s plans for incentivising teachers

By Gordon Campbell

24 January 2014

It may still be only January, but the first of the election year goodies has just been unveiled.

Hard to argue with an extra $359 million for teacher pay, spread over four years. No doubt, this helps to explain the guarded optimism with which the PPTA has greeted the education reform package announced yesterday by Prime Minister John Key. Thankfully, the government has committed itself to working out the details of the proposed changes with the education sector unions and with school trustee organisations. Good. Because for all the rhetoric of sharing the expertise and creating career pathways for good teachers, the proposed rewards will be very unevenly distributed. If not handled properly, the business of who will get the extra pay now on offer, how the qualifying criteria will be applied, and how schools will cope with the extra consultancy roles envisaged for the education system’s best performers could all amount to a highly divisive process.

At face value, the competition that the new pay incentives will engender to qualify for the elite positions ( and for the $10,000 - $50,000 annual bonuses they carry) seem ill suited to what has always been a highly collegial profession, which depends heavily on teachers helping each other for the mutual benefit of teachers and children alike. Paying good teachers more to become consultants at poorly performing schools is all well and good, on paper. Yet it will stretch a finite resource. There will also be an obvious potential for friction at the school where the teacher in question is routinely based - in that those who will pick up the slack while the elite are engaged elsewhere will not be so handsomely rewarded for doing so - as well as at the needy schools into which these top teachers will be parachuted. Ring fencing high pay and bonus packages for an elite group may do the trick as an incentive in banking and in the finance sector. It remains to be seen whether it is the best mechanism - better say, than boosting the operational budgets of schools - for fostering job satisfaction in the classroom and for improving educational outcomes. It would be interesting to see the research evidence for yesterday’s proposals.

The changes have four key elements, as described by Education Minister Hekia Parata :

1. Executive Principals. These, Parata says, will be highly-capable principals from across the country, with a proven track record, who will provide leadership across a community of schools while remaining in their own school. Each will work with around 10 schools, on average, from primary through to secondary, and support and mentor the other principals in these schools. This role will be offered on a two-year fixed-term basis and be linked to specific objectives for student achievement across the community of schools. Executive Principals will be freed up for two days a week to work with the other schools in their community. They will be paid an additional allowance of $40,000 a year in recognition of their new responsibilities.....It is anticipated there will be around 250 of these roles when the rollout is completed.

2. Expert Teachers. These will work with Executive Principals, and will include experts in areas like maths and science, digital technology and literacy. They will work inside classrooms, including in other schools within their community of schools, with teachers to help lift teaching practice and improve student achievement. This role will be offered on a two-year fixed-term basis and be linked to specific objectives for student achievement. They will receive an additional allowance of $20,000 a year in recognition of their new responsibilities.... There are likely to be around 1,000 Expert Teachers when the initiative is fully in place.

In both cases, there is some recognition of the problems this will create at the teacher/principal’s normal home base. As Parata says, “ Their own school will also receive funding to backfill their role for the two days a week they are working with the other schools in their community.” The extent of that compensatory funding - and to whom it will be given - remains to be seen. To move on :

3. Lead Teachers – These will be highly capable school teachers, with a proven track record, who will act as a role model for teachers within their own schools and the other schools in their community of schools. Their classroom will be open for other teachers, including beginning teacher, to observe and learn from their practice. They will be paid an additional allowance of $10,000 a year in recognition of their status and new responsibilities. It is anticipated there will be around 5,000 Lead Teachers when this initiative is fully implemented. And finally -

4. Change Principals – These will be employed to lift achievement in schools that are really struggling.  Many schools that are performing poorly want to recruit an outstanding principal to turn their results around. Principals appointed to these roles will be paid an additional allowance of $50,000 a year on top of the salary the recipient school offers. This will encourage great principals to select schools based on the size of the challenge rather than the size of the school. The roles will be fixed term (3-5 years) and will be particularly focused on lifting student achievement. It is anticipated about 20 of these roles will be needed each year.

As an election giveaway, this will go some way to repairing the damage done by Parata’s ill judged gambit to increase class sizes, and by the Novopay fiasco. In the process, the management of the new system and its eligibility criteria will create a new tier of bureaucracy in the education system, with related administrative costs - “ a proven track record” for elite teachers and principals is not something that is self-evident. Even so, these matters are of less concern than how the changes are intended to fit within the government’s overall strategy for education.

To date, and as the charter schools experiment has shown, the government appears to have an ideologically-driven readiness to monetise and to atomise aspects of the existing state education system. In similar vein, yesterday’s changes can validly be seen as a performance pay scheme disguised as a rescue package for schools in need. The public is being asked to embrace this approach to education. Labour, for its part, has already said that it believes in incentivising teachers and rewarding teacher excellence. In his speech on Monday, it remains to be seen whether Labour leader David Cunliffe can deliver an education reform package that does so while better recognising the collegial nature of the teaching profession, and while better preserving the long term interests of the children in their care.

ENDS

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