IES: a sector dividedAugust 2014
The investing in Educational Success (IES) initiative has divided New Zealand’s education sector. JUDE BARBACK reports.
The Post Primary Teachers, Association (PPTA) and the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) Te Riu Roa are typically united in their stance on educational policy changes. However, the Government’s $359 million Investing in Educational Success initiative has created division between the teacher unions and other educational organisations.
The big ticket item of this year’s Education Budget, which will see the introduction of ‘expert’ and ‘lead’ teachers and ‘executive’ and ‘change’ principals as a means to raise student achievement appears to have gained favour with secondary school associations but not with their primary counterparts.
Primary school sector: money needed elsewhere
NZEI president Judith Nowotarski says primary principals and teachers see a tension between the policy’s objective of increased collaboration and the model being proposed. She maintains there is already considerable collaboration and sharing of skills across and between primary schools in both formal and informal clusters.
“Rather than working out ways to better support and resource this genuine ‘bottom up’ collaboration, the IES imposes a top-down model based largely on topping up individual salaries.”
She points out that more than 90 per cent of the investment is going to be going into the individual salaries of only 10 per cent of the teaching workforce.
Nowotarski says the union also takes issue with using National Standards data to help select or appraise people for the proposed new roles.
“Many believe the IES model of removing ‘executive principal’ and ‘expert teacher’ roles from their schools two days a week is unworkable and could have negative impacts on children's learning and undermine stability in primary schools.”
She says NZEI members believe there are numerous ways the $359 million could be spent to directly affect student success, such as smaller classes and more teacher aides to work with special needs children.
The New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) has also signalled its opposition to IES. At a recent meeting in Wellington of around 100 principals and senior teachers, it was discussed that the increase in salaries was not the best use of the money.
Secondary school sector: an end to competition
Meanwhile, the PPTA takes a very different view on IES, perceiving the initiative as part of a wider solution to end the competitiveness that has permeated the secondary schooling sector in New Zealand.
President Angela Roberts says the PPTA is confident that secondary teachers and principals and their members in intermediates and area schools support the union’s engagement in IES.
“We have been in close contact with our members throughout this, taking every opportunity to share information and test their views.”
Roberts says their members are looking forward to having the chance to put the new IES roles, and the resourcing that they bring, into the collective employment agreements.
Similarly, the Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (SPANZ) strongly supports the IES initiative. President Tom Parsons believes sector organisations would be better working together to support the policy.
“I agree the funding for this initiative has been unexpected – the times they are a-changing – is it so hard to put effort into what will be the best thing that has happened to New Zealand education in over a century?
“Let's not waste our energies on negative responses but put our energies to better use by building trust and transparency with each other, and in turn, with the Ministry. This is our best chance to make absolutely sure we take the biggest possible part we can in being the most vital change agent in this whole exciting scenario,” says Parsons.
Why the differing stances over IES?
So why are primary and secondary groups so divided over this policy?
Angela Roberts says she can’t understand why the policy would affect primary schools differently from secondary schools.
“I don’t see why that would be the case. Really good research from New Zealand and overseas, such as the Best Evidence Synthesis, shows that robust, supported, and sustained collaboration between schools and teachers helps at all levels of schooling. Both the primary and secondary sectors have been arguing the case for better career pathways for teachers for many years.
Roberts says the PPTA’s approach to IES from the outset has been based on longstanding PPTA policy, but she cannot say why the NZEI is taking a different stance.
“I don’t want to speculate on what NZEI’s reasoning is, except to say that they, like us, will be doing what they think is best for their members and the students that they teach,” says Roberts.
In a recent opinion piece in Scoop, Martin Thrupp, education professor at the University of Waikato, discussed how the primary sector was less infected by the ‘managerialism’ that has crept into secondary schooling. He describes the secondary school sector as competitive and likens secondary school principals to chief executives of large businesses.
“The environment of collaboration implied by IES is also seen as a good thing by the PPTA, given the competitive climate within their sector. In contrast, the membership of the NZEI will see little merit in IES for the culture of the primary sector. Their concern will be its potential for being controlling and divisive and many will see it as yet another blow to the work they are committed to.”
Meanwhile, Rose Patterson, research fellow at New Zealand Initiative, shares a very different opinion in her piece on Stuff.
“This is all symptomatic of a broader issue in New Zealand education: the NZEI wants to have their cake and eat it too. They want to ensure that the allocation of education funding is controlled centrally, and they want to have control over education policy. Yet, they are not the ones accountable for education funding, so they shouldn't be expected to make those hard decisions.”
Consultation – a contentious point
Part of the NZEI’s and the NZPF’s opposition to IES stems from issues with the consultation process.
The Ministry maintains it has undergone clear and fair consultation with the sector. The PPTA has stated that they have found consultation over IES to be “comprehensive, robust, and genuine”.
However, the NZEI sees it differently.
“IES was suddenly dropped on the sector fully formed. While there has since been confidential consultation with sector groups over details of the policy, NZEI does not believe that being invited to have input into minor details of the biggest change to public education in 25 years counts as genuine consultation,” says Nowotarski.
The difference in opinion between the unions does not appear to have weakened their relationship.
“Although our views frequently align, there will be instances when we see things differently,” says Nowotarski. “The leaderships of the two unions are in frequent contact and the relationship is stronger than any single divergence of views.”
“We’ve had our differences in the past, too, but they have not got in the way of working together on what we hold in common,” she says of the PPTA’s relationship with the NZEI.
“What people often fail to see is that while we may be taking a strong stance against one policy – charter schools, for instance – we continue to work productively on something like the Positive Behaviour for Learning Action plan. This is how we try to work with all the organisations and agencies that we deal with.”
There has been some speculation that NZEI has lost members as a result of its stance on IES. However, the union’s Member Services team has advised that no members have mentioned this as a reason for resigning. Similarly, the PPTA reports that its membership is stable, with no reported changes on the basis of the union’s position on IES.
More teachers and smaller classes won’t mean more learning
STEVE THOMAS comments on Labour’s alternative to National’s IES policy and twhether it is likely to have an impact.
In an attempt to revive its popularity among middle New Zealand voters – rather than the moa – the Labour Party has announced that it will employ 2,000 more teachers. According to Labour, this would enable schools to lower the staff-to-pupil ratio from 1:29 to 1:26 in Years 4 to 8, and from 1:26 to 1:23 in the secondary years, by 2018. Labour will pay for the extra teachers, and a suite of associated professional development measures, by axing the National Government’s $359 million Investing in Educational Success (IES) programme. IES will see communities of schools established, in which expert school leaders and teachers will have more responsibility for school leadership and professional development. It is unlikely that Labour’s proposals will solve the problems that it claims National’s has. Moreover, employing more teachers to reduce class sizes does not necessarily mean that pupils will learn more.
Are Labour’s proposals different from IES?
When it launched them, Labour claimed that its proposals were different from National’s because they would give schools more resources and free teachers from being ‘managed’ by super-principals and teachers. However, both parties’ policies are variations on the same approach, which has gained popularity among OECD-country educationalists – that the quality of an education system can be improved by improving teaching quality. The strategy is to make teaching more attractive to high quality prospective and current teachers by offering more opportunities to progress as a classroom teacher, to improve teacher quality, and by providing teachers with more professional development opportunities, in order to enhance teaching quality.
But Labour’s proposals would increase, not reduce, the amount of control outsiders would have over individual schools and teachers. For instance, Labour would introduce a school advisory service that would ration schools’ centrally-provided professional development spending and be able to second high quality teachers and school leaders for as many as three years, to share best practice. Its proposed school leadership college would also have the power to second 100 school leaders to be mentors.
Presumably, these institutions would need some way of identifying which teachers and school leaders should be seconded. Does this mean Labour wants them to use some sort of benchmark or standards-based appraisal scheme to differentiate between good and bad teachers? This might be an issue for the teacher unions, which believe using appraisal schemes this way can turn teachers into managed professionals. The unions are concerned about aspects of the IES for this reason.
In short, under Labour’s proposals, teachers would not be liberated from the alleged managerialism of the IES; in fact, they could experience even more. Schools would be forced to let their best leaders and teachers go for a mandated period and they would have less freedom to decide how to spend money on professional development. This is a worry, because the OECD’s PISA test has consistently shown that education systems that let schools have more freedom perform well. While there are still big questions about how much freedom schools will have under IES, it at least assumes that communities of schools should be free to decide how best to collaborate and use resources.
Will Labour’s proposals improve educational quality?
The degree of central control is an important point because it illustrates a philosophical difference between National and Labour about how they believe New Zealand’s education system can be improved. Labour’s proposals – especially when considered alongside its other recent announcements, including spending $120 million on laptops for every Year 5 to 13 pupil and refurbishing school buildings – show that it believes quality can be improved best by increasing spending on educational inputs that the Government can control.
The idea is that if a country builds more schools, employs more teachers, or reduces class sizes, for example, it will have a better education system. This is attractive to politicians, since expanding inputs shows voters they are doing something concrete to improve education. It may also be easier for them to show success. Politicians can claim their country has a higher quality education system once every school has more inputs. But this logic only follows if there is a strong link between the inputs that have been funded and what is most likely to improve pupils’ learning.
There are two factors that will determine whether funding more of an input will improve pupils’ learning: the likely effect size and the scope for expanding the input. Whether reducing class size has a meaningful effect is a disputed area of educational research. It partly depends on whether researchers mean a reduction in the staff-to-pupil ratio or how teachers choose to teach when they have smaller classes. Econometric research, such as Eric Hanushek’s, does not find a statistically significant relationship between reducing the ratio of teachers to pupils and better educational outcomes. That said, teachers may be able to teach different pupils better in smaller classes if they change their practices. Pupils’ age and stage may also affect whether they benefit from smaller classes. For example, average to good secondary pupils may not benefit as much, if at all, as new primary school pupils with poor literacy and numeracy. All things considered, John Hattie’s 2009 meta-analysis found the effect size of a reduction in class size, from 25 to 15 pupils, could be between 0.1 and 0.2 standard deviations, or between one and three months’ worth of learning, per year.
Labour’s policy would see class sizes fall by three pupils, depending on how each school decides to allocate its extra teachers. A rule of thumb estimate, based on the expected effect above, means an impact of between 0.03 and 0.06 standard deviations, or less than a month’s worth of improvement in their child’s learning, could perhaps be expected. That is not very much gain for $340 million of spending over four years. Further, these figures probably overestimate the impact, since a teacher teaching 29 or 26 pupils is unlikely to teach a class with three fewer pupils much differently. Class sizes would have to fall below 20 pupils before teachers could make a difference. This means there would be little scope for Labour’s class size reductions to have much of an impact. The true effect could be miniscule or no difference.
Given the evidence – that Labour cited in its own policy document – that smaller classes can have a positive impact on lower socio-economic status pupils and ethnic minority group pupils, Labour would have been better to propose larger, targeted reductions in class sizes at low decile schools, for example, rather than small universal reductions. This would mean lower decile schools would not have to fund more teaching positions than their normal entitlement from their operational funding, as they appear to do.
Labour is also promising to spend $25 million over three years on teacher professional development. But this is only 13 per cent of what it would spend on reducing class sizes over the same period. National is spending money on educational inputs too, such as $111 million of operational funding in Budget 2014 for school property development and maintenance. However, it has made developing teachers and school leaders throughout all schools a major priority. National will also invest part of the $359 million for IES in financial incentives to help attract and retain excellent teachers. Again, PISA results have shown that, among wealthier countries, those which invest in improving teacher quality, rather than smaller classes, tend to have higher performing education systems. Given that the effect of a high quality teacher could be as much as half a year to a year’s learning, improving pupils’ access to excellent teachers is more likely to improve educational quality, in terms of effect size and scope, than spending money on reducing class sizes.
Labour’s proposal to employ more teachers to reduce the staff-to-pupil ratio is popular among teachers and some voters. It appeals to what politicians think intuitively makes sense. Having more teachers should improve the quality of New Zealand’s education system and outcomes for their children. However, just spending money on expanding educational inputs will not necessarily lead to major improvements in the quality of teaching or learning. Smaller classes would not make a difference unless teachers take the opportunity to better tailor their teaching to their pupils’ needs.
The effect should be greatest for pupils earlier on in their schooling or those who have difficulty learning in larger classes. Moreover, Labour’s proposal is unlikely to make much of a difference, as the marginal decrease in pupil numbers would be small. This would make it a poorer investment of taxpayers’ money than IES or targeted decreases in class sizes. Labour’s proposals indicate the perils of spending more on educational inputs without fully considering the likely impact on pupils’ learning. As polling day approaches, it would behove all political parties to explain well what the likely impact of their education policies would be on pupils’ learning. That way, New Zealanders could see the links, if any, which may exist between spending on inputs and educational quality.
Steve Thomas is a New Zealand PhD Scholar at The Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy, studying the impact of New Zealand educational entrepreneurs.