Education Minister Hekia Parata was one of the guest speakers at the National Party’s Mainland conference. I heard her again at the Lower North Island conference last weekend.
One point she made very clearly both times was that the quality of teaching and leadership at a school make the biggest difference to pupil outcomes.
Another was the problem of the tail of under-achievement in New Zealand.
Every country has a tail but ours is bigger and the gap between the head and tail greater.
Our pupils are ranked 7th in the world but when they’re divided into ethnicity Pakeha are 2nd, but – and I’m going from memory so these figures might be one or two out – Maori are 34th and Pacific Islanders 44th.
This must be addressed and the extra $511.9 million towards new initiatives over four years is designed to do that.
“We have an education system that is amongst the best in the world. Four out of five kids are successfully getting the qualifications they need from school and we must celebrate their success and the professionals in the education system who make that possible every day.
“But our education plan is about getting five out of five.”
Evidence shows the single most important thing we can do to raise achievement is to improve teaching quality.
“In Budget 2012 we are not investing in more teachers we are investing in better teaching,’’ says Ms Parata.
“We will invest an extra $60 million over the next four years to boost new teacher recruitment and training.
“This money is in addition to the $304 million we are spending on professional learning and development for teachers in primary and secondary education over the next four years.
“By making this additional investment in quality teaching, we will ensure that initial teacher education is improved and stronger mentoring and coaching is provided.
“A post-graduate qualification will be introduced as a minimum for all trainee teachers, and schools leadership will be improved through the introduction of a new pre-principalship qualification.
“We want to create a flexible, skilled, culturally intelligent and professional workforce through these initiatives to support the development of teachers and principals.’’
To raise teaching quality we have to identify who is delivering successful practice and make that common practice, says Ms Parata.
“We will collaborate in the development of an appraisal system focusing on driving up quality teaching and quality professional leadership. Performance pay is but one of a basket of options to reward and recognise that.’’
This comes at a cost which has understandably raised concerns:
Ms Parata says given the current economic climate in order to invest in quality teaching, the Government has had to make some trade-offs.
“We will be making a small change to teacher/student ratios in the mid-years of a child’s education.
“These ratios are a funding formula – they are how we as a Government fund schools. The actual number of children in a classroom is set by the school.’’
Ratios will remain as they are for new entrants at 1:15, and for students sitting NCEA in years 11-13, will be standardised at 1:17.3
In the middle years, 2-10, there is currently a wide range of ratios, ranging from 1:23 to 1:29. To give schools certainty about how they manage their resources, we will standardise this ratio to 1:27.5.
These changes will free up just over $43 million, on average, in each year over the next four years, which will be reinvested back into education.
“About 90 per cent of schools will either gain, or have a net loss of less than one Full Time Teacher Equivalent (FTTEs) as a result of the combined effect of the ratio changes and projected roll growth. These changes will take effect over the next five years.
This is a very small change and is based on research that shows the quality of teaching makes a much bigger difference than the quantity of teachers.
The system, and people, which serve the majority of pupils well also fails far too many.
What happens out of school plays a big part in that but that’s not in the Minister’s brief. Her responsibility is what happens at school.
Addressing the quality of teachers and rewarding the better ones will be controversial but it should also make the important difference to pupil outcomes which is so desperately needed.