Teaching Stars: Transforming the education profession

Rose Patterson
1 February, 2014

Teachers are our most important educational asset – the single biggest influence on student achievement in schools. Teaching must become a profession of status so that New Zealand can attract the best and brightest and keep them, and ensure that teachers are always improving their practice to lift student achievement. This report is the final in a series of three. The first report World class education: Why New Zealand must strengthen its teaching profession identified some of the main problems preventing New Zealand’s teaching profession from developing further. The second Around the world: The evolution of teaching as a profession looked at policies that the world’s best education systems have put in place to transform teaching into a profession of status. This final report recommends policies adapted from international best practice for New Zealand’s unique context.


Create an aspirational career path

Prime Minister John Key recently announced in his State of the Nation speech (January 23, 2014) a major policy – ‘Investing in Educational Success’ – to create four new tiers of teachers. Positions for 5,000 Lead Teachers, 1,000 Expert Teachers, 250 Executive Principals and 20 Change Principals will be created. Lead Teachers will be employed at each school and will have open classrooms for other teachers to observe and learn from their practice. Expert Teachers and Executive Principals will work across a group of around ten schools to offer support to teachers and principals in those schools to lift achievement.

This career model has several benefits. First, it could retain the best teachers in the system as they now see a path of progression. Second, it sends a signal to prospective teachers that teaching is an aspirational career. This may increase the number of candidates for teacher training, allowing Initial Teacher Education (ITE) providers in turn to be more selective about who they admit to teaching. Third, it opens up classrooms and schools so that teachers can learn from the best. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, it allows ‘star’ teachers to lead the system - recognising teaching as a true profession.

Currently, the government’s proposal is that Executive Principals and Expert Teachers work from their base school and work 40% of the time in other schools. The authors’ major concern here is the tension between accountability to the employer – the Board of Trustees – at the base school, and accountability to government for lifting student achievement across the group of ten or so schools. We propose that these roles become standalone.

Pay on merit, not time served

Currently teachers automatically move up one of the most truncated pay scales in the world, reaching the maximum point after eight years. ‘Investing in Educational Success’ will enable further progression. However, more can be done. We propose that teachers apply for promotion for each step up the pay scale. This would be standards based and the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand (Educanz - to be formed this year in place of the New Zealand Teachers Council) would reform and extend the pay scale and create the framework for accreditation and certification. Accreditation could be based on a range of performance factors including student achievement, relationships with parents and students, and contribution to the whole school.

Select the best, and lift the quality of teacher training

Creating an aspirational career and signalling the professionalism of teachers will help attract the best and brightest to teaching. However, more can be done to solve some of the quality issues identified in our first report for selecting and training teachers:

  • The authors support the government’s gradual move towards post-graduate qualifications for primary and secondary school teachers. 
  • A body should be made responsible for gathering better quality and more timely information on teacher demand. 
  • Educanz should be charged with lifting the quality of ITE programmes in the next five years. It would accredit providers based on entry standards and processes, curriculum, and teacher graduate standards. Educanz should explore the possibility of developing a nationally consistent screening tool to select candidates with the right intellectual abilities and personal dispositions for teaching. 
  • At the same time, Educanz should start collecting employment data for teacher graduates. This could be an appropriate proxy for quality because it indicates how adequately ITE providers have readied their graduates for the real world of teaching. 
  • The role of Educanz to lift the quality of ITE provision should be evaluated after five years to assess whether the quality of teacher graduates has improved. At this point, policy makers should determine whether to continue with this model, or to investigate a model of funding providers partially based on their outcomes of graduate employment (as noted in the point above). This would provide a powerful incentive for ITE providers to train teachers ready for practice. 
  • A clinical teacher education programme based on the University of Melbourne’s Clinical Teaching Programme should be piloted with the aim of narrowing the gap between academic training and practical classroom experience.

Open pathways to teaching

New Zealand needs to be more selective about who is admitted to teaching, yet at the same time we will face a shortage of teachers in the coming years as the ageing workforce moves into retirement. As such, the pool of potential teachers should be expanded to encourage both young enthusiastic people to teaching but also to encourage mature professionals to change careers.

A school-based training programme should be initiated and potentially a national network of training schools could be developed. This would put the autonomy back into the hands of schools to choose their own teachers before they even begin training. As schools are motivated to get the best into their schools, they will be highly incentivised to put in place rigorous recruitment and selection processes. If schools are short on maths teachers, for example, they would align their procedures accordingly. Schools would partner with universities to ensure teaching is still rooted in theoretical foundation. There is also potential for one school to become the lead training school within their group of ten schools under the ‘Investing in Educational Success’ policy.

Produce strong and courageous leaders

After teachers, the most important in-school factor for student achievement is the principal. School leaders create the school cultures that attract excellent teachers and encourage them to thrive. Principals must be organisational and pedagogical leaders with a complex set of competencies. As today’s principals begin to move into retirement, it is essential that the job of school leadership is an attractive one. The newly announced Executive Principal and Change Principal roles will go some way towards this by creating a path of progression for school leadership.

Our recommendations are also to improve procedures for identifying teachers with potential for principalship, and to develop more effective principal preparation programmes and ongoing professional development. There is potential also to look into developing a national web of support for principals in the form of a national leadership college. Principal salaries should also be reviewed to attract the people with the right qualities for the job.

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