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QPEC comment on education policy annoucement

QPEC comment on the government’s 2014 education policy announcement

First, QPEC welcomes the government’s intention to increase funding for education. However, we are concerned that the policy on school principals and teachers, while providing some potential positive measures, continues to miss the most important point.

Prime Minister John Key continues to state that “A mountain of evidence shows that the quality of teaching – inside the classroom – is the biggest influence on kids’ achievement.”
But this approach takes the focus away from what we know about student achievement.

As the OECD has made clear before:
“The first and most solidly based finding is that the largest source of variation in student learning is attributable to differences in what students bring to school - their abilities and attitudes, and family and community background.”
Source: OECD 2005 Report titled “Teachers matter: Attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers”.

So, while initiatives that may help improve teaching career paths and keep good teachers in the classroom are a positive step, they may not be sufficient to make a real difference to the students who need our support the most.

Much of the focus of the policy is on school principals. However, the research evidence demonstrates that the most important work takes place in the classroom. It is possible that these policies will offer some top-down skills that will help improve student learning in the classroom further. How widespread that effect will be remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, this is rather a banker’s solution – providing additional top-down expertise, and very highly paid at that, rather than a workforce development approach. As such, its success is not assured.

Much will depend on the quality and focus of the so-called experts. Another problem that comes to mind is location. Many of the schools that need a lot of support are not close to other schools where some of these experts will be based. And how much of the additional funding will simply find its way to the large, affluent urban schools that already post high achievement results?

What is a failing school and where will the Change Principals be deployed? The link between socio-economic factors, cultural factors and schooling outcomes are highly embedded and resistant to change. And what is it that the Change Principals are expected to change? The notion that one person can single-handedly overcome the power of social forces, social inequalities and community deprivation is a bit of a fairy tale.

QPEC strongly encourages co-operation and collaboration within and across schools. But we are concerned that so-called Executive Principals are expected to make a real difference in up to ten schools working only two days a week on this task. Who are these gurus, these exceptional people? Has To Sir with Love come to life in NZ’s education policy? Is this reasonable?

Any policy that values teacher skills and supports the development of their roles is heading in the right direction. But QPEC would prefer bottom up policies to trickle down ones.

We are sceptical of this policy but it may do some good work in practice. If so, it will largely be due to the dedication and determination of educational professionals on the ground.”

Ends

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