It seems hard to believe the New Zealand Teachers Council has been in operation for nearly a quarter of a century. Time does indeed fly. It was established in 1989 following the disestablishment of the Teacher Registration Board, at a time when New Zealand education underwent major reforms, shaking up what was then a very fragmented system.

Now, it appears, change is on the cards again. A review of the Teachers Council has found that it is in need of transformation.

The current Council

The New Zealand Teachers Council currently regulates over 100,000 registered teachers; around 70 per cent are fully registered, with the remaining 30 per cent some way towards full registration.

The 1989 Education Act, which embodied the new direction for education, defines the Council’s purpose as providing professional leadership in teaching, enhancing the professional status of teachers in schools and early childhood education, and contributing to a safe and high quality teaching and learning environment for children and other learners.

To achieve this purpose, the Council has a number of functions; the most important surround setting and maintaining teacher standards, carrying out teacher registration, providing professional leadership, dealing with competence and discipline issues, approving initial teacher education programmes, and commissioning research to support quality teaching.

Under scrutiny

However, an Education Workforce Advisory Group’s report to the Ministry of Education in 2010 recommended a review of the Council, calling into scrutiny the Council’s capability and capacity to effectively carry out all of its functions.

The group’s report, A Vision for the Teaching Profession, suggested that a “culture change” was needed to help bring stronger educational leadership focused on teaching and learning to the teaching profession. In order to support this change, the report recommended the Teachers Council needed to be refocused as the professional body. The group recommended strengthening the Council’s ability to take responsibility for entry into teaching, ongoing registration, professional development, ethical accountability, and promotion of the teaching profession.

The recommendations of the group’s report were coupled with those of the Ministerial Inquiry into the employment of a convicted sex offender. The inquiry brought about some immediate changes in August last year, such as tougher employment checks and improved information sharing, but of the inquiry’s 38 recommendations, 11 were directed at the Council, adding to the scrutiny of the Council.

The Teachers Council Review Committee ─ which comprised Pauline Winter (chair), Dr Judith Aitken, John Morris, and Robyn Baker ─ had the task of investigating a number of aspects of the Council’s capability and capacity to lead the teaching profession. The team had to examine the Council’s powers and functions, its structure, and its status as an autonomous Crown entity, as well as taking into account the relevant recommendations from the sex offender inquiry.

The committee took into consideration 177 submissions, interviews with individuals and groups from throughout the education sector, input from the Ministerial Cross Sector Forum on Raising Achievement, and New Zealand and international research. It also looked at similar professional bodies in other sectors.

By the end of its investigation, the committee had made 24 recommendations, categorised into four key areas: a new professional body, the regulatory framework for teachers, the disciplinary framework, and resourcing to support a strong, professional body.

The overarching message was that the status quo isn’t an option going forward. The committee concluded that the Council “as it is currently structured, governed, and positioned, can’t effectively set and enforce standards for entry, progression, and professional accountability with the full support of the profession. It lacks a distinctive brand or effective public voice.”

Consequently, the Ministry released a document for a newly appointed Ministerial Advisory Group entitled, A 21st Century Body for the Education Profession, outlining the proposals based on the recommendations of the review committee. The public have been given until mid-July to give their feedback on what has been proposed.

The Advisory Group is headed by Dr Graham Stoop, seconded from his role as chief executive of the Education Review Office, to lead the next phase of consultation with the sector and the public. Stoop’s appointment to this role has been welcomed by many.

“For Dr Stoop to have been appointed to undertake such a role even though the Minister could have enacted these recommendations without setting up such an advisory group is an extremely positive sign for our Sector,” says Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (SPANZ) president Tom Parsons in his newsletter.

However, not all have viewed the process in a rosy light. Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) president Angela Roberts says that from the outset consultation with the sector has not been as inclusive as the Government has led the sector to believe. She says that the initial report A Vision for the Teaching Profession was developed in secret by a group hand-picked by the Ministry.

Roberts says the ministerial inquiry into the employment of a convicted sex offender also found a number of “irrelevant and oddball recommendations” including that there should be no union representation on the Council. She says it appears the goal of the inquiry was to fit the Council to the crime.

“Given the shabby and undemocratic history of the exercise, it should come as no surprise that the proposals out for consultation involve the creation of a Teachers Council fully appointed by the minister with no accountability to teachers and without any certainty of a teacher voice,” says Roberts.

A new professional body

While there is bound to be locked horns over some of the proposals, there appears to be vast support from all sides for the current Teachers Council to be replaced with a new independent body for the teaching profession.

The Review Committee has recommended a three step change from the current Autonomous Crown Entity, to a transitional development body, to a professional teaching body independent of ministerial direction by 2015, bringing the Council more in line with the arrangements in place for the councils of other professions. The early childhood education sector is proposed to come under the umbrella of the new professional body.

Minister Hekia Parata says her vision is for a strong New Zealand professional body that provides leadership and is owned and driven by the education profession.

“The proposed new body would drive changes to improve the quality of teaching and education leadership and ensure robust processes are in place to protect children.’’

Current Teachers Council chair, Peter Lind is supportive of the direction the Council is taking. Like Parsons, he believes it is “very positive” that the Minister is giving the opportunity to the sector to have its say on changes to the Council and give the option of going forwards as an independent statutory professional body.

Lind thinks this is the inevitable next step for the Council. He points out that the teacher registration body of the 1990s, when registration was voluntary, eventually transformed into a professional body in 2002, which started to focus more on professional leadership.

“Now we’re heading towards an independent statutory body – we’ve evolved over time,” says Lind.

Many in the sector, particularly the teacher unions, feel strongly that the body would need to be completely independent of the Government if it is to have teachers’ confidence.

“Teachers will want an assurance that they keep a direct say in who is on the Council,” says New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) president Judith Nowotarski. “Teachers pay more than 95 per cent of the cost of the Council themselves currently. It is critical that any new body that is ‘for teachers, by teachers’, that there is direct representation of teachers on the Council.”

Nowotarski says NZEI would welcome community members joining the new body, but that teachers should form the majority.

As it stands, the Council’s governing body consists of 11 members; the Minister of Education appoints four members directly as well as a further three members nominated by the NZEI, the PPTA and the NZSTA; the remaining four are elected by registered teachers to represent early childhood, primary, secondary and principals respectively.

The PPTA says the right of certain groups within the sector, such as the teacher unions, to nominate members of the council and to have those nominations accepted by the minister must be retained. It also believes the current size of the council must be retained or increased in order to ensure an adequate breadth of knowledge and experience.

Lind thinks it sensible to keep the number of members on the professional body relatively low, between eight and 12 members. He says it is wise to avoid the trap of representational bodies that appoint so many people it is difficult to achieve anything. He points to the General Teaching Council of Scotland as an example, which with its 37 members, has councils within councils making decisions.

Naturally, a new professional body will need a new name. The proposal document offers some suggestions including Council of New Zealand Educators, Education Council of New Zealand, and Aotearoa Educators and Leaders.

The review committee also recommended clearer separation between becoming registered as a teacher and the issuing of practising certificates, which certify the ongoing competence of teachers. According to the proposal document, this separation of registration and the authority to practice is consistent with other professions and “would place more emphasis on renewal of the practising certificate as a way to assess the continued competence of teachers”.

It is also proposed, based on the review committee’s recommendations, that the right to practice be specified within a clearly identified scope of practice, for example early childhood, primary, secondary, or Māori medium teaching.

Under the current system, teachers’ competence is assessed against the Council’s Registered Teacher Criteria and their assessment is largely based on the testimony of their principal. The review committee questioned the robustness of such a process and suggested the teaching profession should look to other sectors, in which the professional body tends to take a direct role in the attestation process. The suggestion is that those assessing competence should undergo specific training so they are accountable to the professional body.

Lind agrees that training for appraisal purposes is important.

“We are currently running workshops on this. They have been very well received. The best strategy is to empower,” he says.

While Lind says that believes he and other Council members were properly consulted during the review, he does express some concern that the review committee has underplayed the Council’s growth in professional leadership in recent years. He says the Council’s work in this area, especially around induction and mentoring hasn’t been adequately reflected in the review.

Lind says the large number of submissions – 177 in total ─ have no doubt driven the committee’s verdicts. He expects many of these submissions were likely to have raised concerns that the Council should be taking more a stand on professional leadership issues.

Lind feels the media have possibly had a part to play in tainting public opinion toward the Council. There has certainly been more emphasis on negative aspects ─ like controversial cases involving individual teachers, the ongoing battle over name suppression ─ rather than the more positive, bread-and-butter elements of the Council’s current scope.

Moreover Lind is pleased with the general direction the review has taken and the opportunity to focus on governance as well as skills and ongoing professional learning. He says the Teachers Council will be preparing its own submission on the proposals.

Controversial recommendations

Increasing fees seems inevitable, especially in light of the recommendations. The New Zealand Teachers Council currently operates on a budget of around $7.3 million funded through fees paid by members of $220.80 every three years, the equivalent of $73.60 per annum, to maintain a practising certificate. This is the lowest professional fee in New Zealand and the committee has recommended that the level of fees is reviewed.

Roberts says any proposed changes to fees needs to be treated with caution. She says the proposals mask a number of “slimy things”, such as teachers being asked to fund increased auditing and surveillance through their registration fees.

Also of concern to many in the sector is the recommendation to introduce an Authority to Educate. At present, the Council can authorise an unregistered person to teach on a temporary basis by issuing a Limited Authority to Teach (LAT) for a specific position. The review committee recommends a broader Authority to Educate is introduced to allow individuals with proven expertise to complement the teaching workforce.

Nowotarski of NZEI is among those sceptical.

“Children’s education is too important to be left to people without professional knowledge and expertise about how children learn. The current ‘licence to teach’ (LAT) framework aims to provide a transition arrangement for unqualified people and we would oppose any loosening up of standards in this area.”

In a parliamentary debate, Green spokesperson for education, Catherine Delahunty, said that the broader authority to educate could potentially make it possible for a former teacher who has been deregistered, possibly for serious misdemeanours, to now apply for a broader authority to educate if they have “proven expertise”.

Delahunty voiced her concerns that charter schools would possibly end up with a mixture of registered and unregistered teachers, which would likely create division, confusion, irregularity, conflict, and inconsistency.

Lind says that he can understand the rationale behind introducing Authority to Educate, pointing to the Youth Guarantee scheme as one example that could potentially benefit from such individuals. However, Lind says what is proposed already exists in the legislation and it would have been relatively easy to incorporate into the existing LAT system. He thinks that the professional body’s job should be focused on those who are on the register, and not place too much emphasis on those groups outside of this.

The review also endorsed a move to postgraduate entry to the profession for school teachers, something which initial teacher education providers have been pushing for some time.

Many have questioned how the move to postgraduate teacher education fits with the proposed authority to educate model.

In recent parliamentary debate, Chris Hipkins, Labour’s called the Government’s decisions in this area contradictory, with the push for charter schools ─ which will allow unqualified teachers ─ at odds with the evidence for teachers to hold a postgraduate teaching qualification.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the consultation process and what eventuates. The changing face of Teachers Council is significant. It marks the next chapter for the teaching profession and the chance for fundamental change.


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