24 Jan 2014

School groups welcome new roles

9:48 pm on 24 January 2014

The Government's plan to create highly-paid jobs for the best performing teachers and principals appears to have hit the right note with the education sector.

About 6000 teachers will be appointed to expert and lead teacher roles requiring them to share good ideas across clusters of schools.

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The policy would cost an extra $359 million over four years, with the full-year cost rising to more than $150 million a year by the end of that period.

Groups representing secondary and primary principals, school trustees, and secondary teachers say the new roles have great potential. Secondary Principals Association president Tom Parsons said new positions will change the way schools work, from competing to sharing best practice.

Principals Federation president Philip Harding said the changes have the ability to transform the whole system. "This is the cutting edge of modern professional classroom development and to be given a resource like this was the last thing we expected."

However, some educators are warning the plan will do little to raise student achievement.

Primary teachers' union NZEI says the Government needs to address the underlying causes of poor performance at school such as poverty and poor health.

Its former president Ian Leckie said factors that affect students' results, like societal issues and poverty, are being ignored.

Mr Leckie told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme the Government has taken the high ground on the issue and imposed on the sector what it thinks is the answer, while cutting across 10 years of previous work to raise achievement by the Ministry of Education and school trustees.

Visiting US education expert David Berliner said outside influences account for about 60 percent of children's performance, and school factors 20 percent. He said it is very difficult for principals who have improved one struggling school to repeat their success somewhere else.

Some education professors are critical of the Government's plans to create high-paid jobs for top teachers and principals. Speaking at an Educational Institute conference in Wellington on Friday, they believed the positions could be divisive and a role that will pay top principals to rescue struggling schools is unlikely to work.

The academics from the United States, England, Australia and New Zealand said the $359 million earmarked for the new positions would be better spent alleviating poverty or giving more resources to schools in poor communities.

Prime Minister John Key told Morning Report that schemes like breakfast in schools are helping address underlying causes of poor performance, and education is the best way by far to deal with social problems.

"I'm a great example of that. I came out of a state house, brought up by a solo mother, but because I was privileged enough to go to a very high performing school like Burnside High School and indeed Cobham Intermediate, I was able to get an education that allowed me to go to university and one day become Prime Minister of New Zealand."

Mr Key says creating an egalitarian society is more about a good education than giving more in welfare.

New roles for top teachers, principals

Announcing the policy on Thursday, Mr Key said the Government would create a new role of change principal who will be paid an extra $50,000 a year to go to a struggling school and turn it around.

In addition, three other new roles would be set up, of executive principal, lead teacher and expert teacher.

About 250 executive principals will be appointed to mentor and support principals of other schools nearby. They will be given two days a week off from their main job and be paid an extra $40,000 a year.

Lead teachers will be paid an extra $20,000 a year to act as role models for teachers within their own and other local schools. Their classrooms will be open to other teachers to observe how they work. Expert teachers will also earn an extra $20,000 a year and will work with executive principals, particularly to lift achievement in mathematics, science and literacy.