Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Devil is in the Details...


Let me begin by making it very clear that I support more money into the Vote Education budget, and on the surface of it, I like the idea of recognizing leadership and best practice, and I am an advocate of supporting those schools/teachers/principals who need additional support to enable success for students.   The research shows that high quality leadership and teaching makes a difference.  

Todays post relates to my wonderings on the new policy initiative announced today – and for now they are just that – wonderings.  Until I have seen – or have been a part of developing the detail, the jury will remain out and I will remain cautiously optimistic about how this might play out.   On the surface of it, the idea seems to have merit, but sometimes policy and policy ideas can be a little like an iceberg – you never really know what is silently lurking below the waterline.   The devil, after all, is in the detail!

What is this new fangled policy?

Today the Government announced a pre election bribe for the Educational sector.   Touted as a ‘game changer’ and as a ‘major overhaul’ by some, they have set aside $359 million over 4 years to implement a process that is designed to overhaul the leadership in NZ schools.  They have created 4 new management structures, designed to support teachers and principals. 

They are:

1. Executive Principal

A super principal who will work across a cluster of schools, of around 10.  They will be expected to work in their own school 3 days a week, and work across the other schools in the remaining 2 days.   For this they will earn an additional 40k per year.  They will be selected from a panel of ‘experts’ who will be trained over the next year for this selection role. 

What we don’t know:

Who runs their school on the two days they are released, and if the people in their own school are remunerated for taking up the additional workload whilst their principal is supporting other schools.  We are also unsure of what exactly this principal will be doing with the cluster of schools, who the clusters will be, how they are determined (for example, is it expected that all schools will be part of this community or just selected ones, and if you are selected under what criteria?) or what they will be expected to do (let alone what will happen if they don’t do what it is they are expected to do – I wonder what kind of super leadership powers the Executive Principal might have?). 

2.  Change Principals

This has been set up for those schools determined to be struggling and performing poorly, so that they can attract a high caliber principal to their school.  These principals are expected to go into the school for a fixed term of 3-5 years and lift student achievement.   For this they will get an additional $50k on top of the salary offered by the school. 

What we don’t know:

What constitutes a school that is struggling or performing poorly?    Who decides that?  Are these new fixed term principals expected to meet certain objectives and if so, what will these look like?  As these positions are only implemented as current principals leave, will there be any initiatives for schools who can’t recruit a new principal? 

Expert Teacher

These will be highly respected, proven educators who will be expected to work alongside Executive Principals and be experts in particular fields.   It is understood that these teachers will work with other teachers within their schools and within other schools.  They will be freed up for 2 days a week to do this.  For this role, they will be remunerated an additional 20k.   This is a fixed term role for 2 years. 

What we don’t know:

How these teachers are chosen, or what the criteria will be.  I expect this will be developed over the following year.  Who will decide on how this teacher is determined as an expert, and what steps they will need to take to keep this ‘label’ – a warrant of fitness, if you like, will also need to be determined.    I already have these kinds of teachers in my school who share their practice and support their colleagues.  I wonder how the funding to release them to assist their colleagues will work, and who will take their class while they are doing so.   Apparently they anticipate this will apply to about 2% of teachers in the country.  I believe there are far more than this in our schools. 

Lead Teachers

These will be proven teachers whom are effective classroom educators.  As a lead teacher they will be expected to be a role model for others in the school and wider educational community.  They are expected to have their classrooms open for other teachers, to showcase exemplary teaching practice.  For this, they will be provided with an extra 10K.  Every 3 years they will be reassessed to ensure eligibility.

What we don’t know:

What these teachers will be expected to do, how they will be determined, and what the assessment process will be.  I expect it will be similar to the process NZEI developed, and is now being touted as new.   Like the Expert Teachers, there is no mention about how schools will fund the release needed for them to support other students. 

Anything Else?

Well, apparently yes.  According to the MOE information sheet, there will be additional release time provided to schools – there are no details but I expect it will be funded and this may answer some of what I was wondering above. 

Teacher Led Innovations Fund

There is 10 million set aside for innovative practice to support schools and communities.  I would like to be hopeful that this particular fund could be a godsend and used to fund brilliant practices that enhance student learning.  Once again, not a lot of details have been provided and I will wait with bated breath to see how this one pans out.  I would like to be cautiously hopeful that finally there may be a pathway to implement innovative practices.  (fingers crossed)

The Wonderings

So, that is the policy.  As previously stated, on the surface of it, it looks promising.  But, as always, I do have some wonderings.

1. It has been sold to the public and sector as needed because our statistics show us dropping in performance and the tail of underachievement is growing.  Don't get me wrong - it is important to address underachievement, BUT, what data are they using, have the inequality issues been taken into account, and what does it do to address equity? 

2. It states that they will be working alongside the education sector to sort out the details.  Firstly, I applaud that because the lack of consultation in recents years has been appalling.  But, I would be curious to know who in the sector they will consult with and how.  Will it be a cherry picked team or an open consultation?

3. I wonder where they got the policy from (I heard Shanghai but that could be incorrect, and if its not - well that gives rise to many more wonderings which I shall leave for the moment).  I wonder what the briefing papers that sit behind this paper say?  Is that where we will find the real drivers and agendas?  I wonder if groups that look out for the interests of our young people have started the ball rolling already and asked under OIA (official information act) for a copy of those papers?  I sure would like to see them.  

4. I wonder what the trade offs will be?  I heard someone say the Minister said there would be trade offs.  It is a lot of money.  It can't all be from the selling of our assets.  So, what trade offs were made?

5. I wonder if it is a precursor of things to come.  Is this the start of performance pay, voucher systems, bulk funding and all manner of alternative methods of funding and renumeration?  

6. I wonder what the sustainability of the Expert Teacher, and Executive/Change Principal is, and if anyone has designed what that might look like?  When you implement a new policy, for it to make a long term difference, sustainability must be a factor.  When these people are employed to work with schools, what consideration to sustainability will there be?  What resources will go alongside them working with schools?  

7.  I wonder if this is enough.  What about equity (as eluded to above).  With rising numbers of students in poverty, where does food, shelter and safety (physical and emotional) come into play?  Its all very well to have an expert teacher come into a classroom and play advisor, but a fat load of use if half the students are truant, sick, hungry or emotionally spent.  Imagine if that teacher had the 'wider picture' resources to assist them meet all the needs of these students.

8. I wonder what would happen if this initiative was backed up with what schools really need.  Imagine this combined with the following.  You see, some schools already have these amazing staff who fit the expert and lead teacher criteria.  What would assist them in working with at risk kids who often fall into the 'priority' learner category are things like a school counsellor, better special needs funding and resourcing, adequate resourcing and TA time for students with behaviour issues (oh for good mental health resources…), and professional development freedom.    

So, in summary, I applaud more money in the Vote Education pocket, and I applaud efforts to utilise and reward principals and teachers who are expert educationalists, to assist the profession and support those who need it.  I will remain cautiously optimistic because I have too many wonderings that have not been addressed, and as the title of the post says, the devil is in the detail!


MOE resources 


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