I am going to slightly betray a confidence. I was in a teacher union meeting recently where we went “into committee”. That means no external reporting about what was said. So I will try to keep that confidence and just write about what was said afterwards.

Several young teaching colleagues were upset that the latest teacher pay round gives the highest percentage pay increase to teachers at the top of the scale. They felt they were ” sold out”. They were correct. The bulk of union members are at the top of the pay scale. So they voted for the latest government pay offer, despite the protests of younger teachers.

But what most teachers missed in the recent pay round  is that performance pay for teachers is already a reality.  A capable young teacher could attract significant extra pay for his or her performance.

A large element of the money that is spent on teacher salaries is allocated according to the discretion of school principals. Management units are a misnomer. They are allocated by principals on a largely discretionary basis. They are performance pay. A principal could use these units to reward and retain an outstanding young physics or maths teacher if they choose. Sadly, in recent decades, some secondary principals have used these units to create a plethora of fellow senior managers. The management pyramid of past decades has become somewhat inverted.

The Community  of Learning initiative, of the previous government,  has been rebranded as Kahui Ako. Despite this rebranding it is still a badly flawed policy. The tangible outcomes don’t warrant the huge amount of  taxpayer money being spent on it.

Some principals are using the big money that this scheme generates to reward and retain those staff they regard as high performers. They would be foolish not to. They risk losing good staff to other schools that are part of the scheme and could pay more.

What grates is that these systems of de facto performance pay for teachers are not bring honestly acknowledged. There is some serious money being dished out at the discretion of school principals. There are many needless hoops and pointless meetings that are part of the facade that schools are required to jump through to access this funding.

Teachers and the wider public need to appreciate that  performance pay for teachers is already here. So let’s be honest about it. This facade also makes teacher pay negotiations more problematic because the public fails to appreciate that there is already a large degree of performance pay in teaching. If teachers are unwilling to acknowledge this, how can we expect the wider public to appreciate it.

Funding for management units and Kahui Ako positions should not necessitate the pretences and facades that currently exist.

This funding should be given directly to all schools. There is also a nasty inequality here. Those schools that have not joined Kahui Ako are missing out on this lucrative source of funding for their staff. They are more likely to be low decile schools or rural schools that have struggled to tap into this initiative. These are the schools that could most benefit from this additional funding.

The stated outcomes of Kahui Ako are poorly defined or quantifiable. If schools do want to use these funds to implement cooperation and the sharing of data and strategies with other schools that should be up to them. They will do so if there are real benefits in it for them.

We already have performance pay for teachers in New Zealand , but in a poorly disguised and cumbersome way.

Peter Lyons teaches Economics at Saint Peter’s College in Epsom.


  1. And here’s a comment that is sparked by the comment in this article about the Union’s role.

    Having taught in four countries in Southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand and travelled to other countries during my +40 years as an educator, we have to also ask the important question today: do we have the right school system?

    We are supposed to be teaching, coaching, mentoring, guiding and equipping our young people to become positive, creative, innovative and entrepreneurial members of the global community. There is plenty written about the need for transformative leadership as well. Transformative leadership is totally contrary to the command and control leadership we see all too often in New Zealand schools and amongst politicians, especially those from the left.

    In reality, schools need to undergo positive change and the development of a new mindset. The Union is really as outdated as the hierarchical way in which so many schools are run.

    What is needed are visionaries who look beyond their own leadership bubble and imagine what a school environment promoting and developing the skills and qualities mentioned above will look like. It involves allowing teachers to teach and get rid of the bureaucratic paperwork that takes them away from their key role of interacting with young people. One does not need ‘performance’ pay, but rather the motivation and inspiration most of them entered the teaching profession to undertake.

    I reference again the work of retired UK Principal, Peter Barnard, over the past 26 years which shows how transformative leadership has been developed in schools through the Vertical System – start simply with a holistic education journey in high schools, with every student in a multi-age Tutor group of no more than 20 and include a Co-Tutor. EVERY student then feels a sense of belonging and connection to the school, the parents are forced to participate in their child’s education journey ….

    This small country has the potential to lead the world in positive education change which offers an exciting and relevant education journey for the amazing students who attend our schools, too many of whom slip through the cracks partly because the old factory system so many schools still operate under continues to be propped up by Unions and others trying to stifle development.

    There are positive solutions, doable, inexpensive, cost effective – where are the visionaries? We don’t even need performance pay discussions if we have an effective education system!


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