The first reading of the Education Amendment Bill in Parliament marked another step along the yellow brick road to Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand (EDUCANZ). Like Dorothy’s journey to Oz, the path to EDUCANZ has been full of twists, turns and unexpected surprises.
The independent statutory body, poised to take the place of the New Zealand Teachers Council, began its journey in 2010 with the Education Workforce Advisory Group Report and eventually saw the release of the 2013 Ministerial Advisory Group report, which outlined its recommendations for the replacement for Teachers Council.
Along the way there has been widespread consultation, a huge number of submissions and much discussion about what a new professional body for teachers should look like.
Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, says the Bill, which was referred to the Education and Science Select Committee for public submissions and is due to be reported back to Parliament in July, will improve teacher registration, enhance reporting requirements, and provide a greater range of options when dealing with disciplinary matters.
The separation of registration (which recognises membership of the profession) and practising certificates (which are focused on assessing ongoing competence of teachers) is a welcome change.
Similarly, the move to strengthen the disciplinary framework by opening its proceedings to enable matters to be investigated on its own motion, as well as developing a Code of Conduct, has been generally well received by the sector, however some are dubious whether the new legislation will be any better at identifying offending teachers. NZ Educational Institute national secretary Paul Goulter believes that no matter what measures are put in place, it will still be extremely difficult to catch offenders, who are often “very, very cunning.”
The decision to lift name suppression has also been a polarising one. However, many appear to subscribe to the opinions voiced in the Dominion Post: “It’s not about naming and shaming offenders, it’s about giving children, their parents and the education sector confidence that rules are adhered to and that there are consequences for actions.”
Decisions regarding appointments to EDUCANZ have attracted more criticism. All appointments will be made by the Minister through a combination of sector nominations and direct appointments – a majority of members will be selected through an open nomination process.
The teacher unions in particular have voiced their concerns at the Bill’s proposal to remove the right of teachers to directly elect their own professional body.
NZEI Te Riu Roa president, Judith Nowotarski, describes it as a “missed opportunity” to create a truly independent professional body.
“How can it be independent when all of its governance is directly appointed by a politician? There will be a lack of ‘ownership’ by members.
“Extensive consultation last year showed the sector clearly wanted an independent body whose members were directly elected out of the profession by the profession, along with appointments made in the public interest.”
The transition to EDUCANZ is being overseen by a transition board, of which John Morris is the chair.
Morris’ position has been called into question by the PPTA. The union voiced concerns that in Morris’ New Zealand Initiative report Teaching Stars – Transforming the Education Profession (which he co-authored with Rose Patterson) he fails to distinguish between his position as chair and his personal opinion; the PPTA claims this serves to undermine the “integrity of the reforms and process to be followed by the Board”. The criticisms were made largely on the basis of concerns that a performance pay policy would be introduced for teachers without consultation or agreement.
The report proposes a performance-related pay system in which teachers would need to apply to ascend levels on a pay scale, moving up when certain standards were met. It also indicates that EDUCANZ will have the potential to breathe life into such a scheme.
Parata, who was aware Morris had co-authored the report and was “confident any potential conflicts of interest could be managed”, said Morris’ report rightly pointed out that the appraisal and feedback of teachers’ performance needed to be “consistent and rigorous”.
Morris says the transition board has no role in policy-making. However, given that his main role as transition board chair – as articulated in his letter sent to all schools – is to lead the development of a vision and mission for EDUCANZ in discussion with the sector, and to develop the EDUCANZ strategic plan, it is understandable why the PPTA is anxious about Morris’ publicly stated vision for New Zealand’s education system.
The initial cheers at the announcement of an independent statutory board have faded somewhat as it transpires the ‘independence’ may not take quite the shape many sector groups had hoped for. On the tin, EDUCANZ promises to be a ‘strong professional body that provides leadership to, and is owned by, the profession’ and one that has ‘the needs of children and young people, and the public interest at its heart’.
There are some groups already questioning whether it can deliver on these promises. Meanwhile the Education Amendment Bill continues its journey through Parliament, the Transition Board fleshes out the vision for EDUCANZ, and the sector braces itself for more change.