Genuine consultation is the key



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Patrick Walsh says IES, the Education Council and a new school resourcing model all have the potential to build on the high standard of New Zealand’s education system.

Patrick Walsh, Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (SPANZ)

Patrick WalshBefore discussing the future of the New Zealand education system, it is appropriate to pause and celebrate the outstanding contribution of our teaching workforce in 2015. The academic results and standing of New Zealand students still rank highly on international measures, such as PISA. Overall NCEA results have improved year on year; priority learners are enjoying more success, and stand-downs and suspensions continue to decrease. Recent media polls also indicate a high level of confidence by parents in their children’s teachers and the contribution of teachers to extracurricular activities in sports and the arts remains very generous.

The establishment of the Government’s Investing In Educational Success policy (IES), at a cost of more than $360 million, has the potential to mitigate the destructive, competitive nature inherent in the Tomorrow’s Schools regime, allow for the sharing of best practice between schools and ultimately provide a conduit to raise achievement of all learners across the schools with additional resource. Regrettably a ‘good concept’ is being sucked dry by bureaucratic red tape, squabbling by unions and unreasonable delays in implementation. The Government will have a small window early in 2016 to get some runs on the board with IES or it runs the risk of failure by inertia.

It was universally agreed that the teaching profession needed an independent professional body to regulate and champion teaching. The legislative mandate of the new Education Council is bold and far-reaching. The decision by Minister Parata to appoint all members of the council, usurping a democratic process, has meant, however, that the Council has struggled, and will continue to struggle, for credibility and a mandate from the profession in 2016.

School resourcing, and in particular the decile system, have dominated debate in the media, PTA and board meetings. It is accepted that the current model is cumbersome, inefficient and inequitable. Principals take no joy in spending precious time away from leading teaching and learning, asking for donations and completing applications to Pub Charities and Trusts, or chasing international students. Schools also understand the frustrations of parents asked to pay for the take-home element of their child’s work and to contribute to school camps.

Minister Parata’s review of school resourcing puts her in a difficult position. Invariably, with a limited resource there will winners and losers. The Minister would be wise to engage in an extensive and genuine consultation with the sector so that at least there will be buy-in and ownership on whatever model is developed. To its credit, the Ministry of Education, under Peter Hughes’ leadership, has been more responsive to the needs of the sector and its consultation has been genuine and transparent. There are many hard-working staff who have a passion for education.

2016 promises to be an exciting year for policy in education, fraught with opportunity and risk. What will be constant, however, is the professionalism, hard work and goodwill of teachers and principals.

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