Our newly sworn-in Government has about 1000 days to deliver on its campaign promises.

Fixing the education system will take more time. Too many fundamental aspects are in need of reform.

So it was encouraging to read in the coalition agreement about a planned 30-year strategic plan for education.

The long term outlook should enable strategic prioritisation of incremental and transformational changes.

And so working backwards we should outline the kind of system The New Zealand Initiative envisions 30 years from now.

We want a system where teaching is a prestigious and rewarding career. It can be achieved by acknowledging the teachers’ professionalism through a supportive and rewarding performance framework.

New Zealand’s teacher shortage crisis is exacerbated by the low status and low pay in the profession. Not only is the teachers’ pay here largely based on the number of years they have worked rather than their efficacy, but their earning potential is also lower than the average potential of their OECD counterparts.

The current practice serves neither good teachers nor students. New Zealand would do well to look to Singapore, Finland, and Washington D.C., where teachers can enjoy high salaries commensurate with demonstrated quality teaching.

We also need a system where gaining a school qualification holds real meaning and value, rather than mask significant variation in performance. It may require abandoning the 21st century skills bandwagon and reforming the curriculum and assessment systems to expose all students to a rich core set of knowledge on which they can build further skills.

And we envision a new deal for parents. They deserve better information about the quality of teaching and learning happening in their children’s school. Assessment information is a necessary feedback mechanism to let teachers and parents know what and how students are learning.

Finally, we look to a landscape where low performing schools are identified early, and their leaders supported to improve. When the Initiative analysed school performance in 2015, we found too many poorly performing schools persisted with little improvement, and too many high performing schools were unable to systematically share their practice.

Better performance information will not only help parents choose a school and teachers adjust their approach, but it will also help policy makers understand what works and what does not.

Thirty years is a long time to imagine, but policies that transcend party politics and focus on an ambitious education system for all students will be most welcomed.


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