Teachers have given an overwhelming No Confidence vote to the government’s proposed Investing in Educational Success policy, which is a GERM version of what many already practise. They say the $359m of IES funding would better spent on students. Michelle Nixon reports

After months of debate on the proposed policy, NZEI members met to vote on the IES and 93 percent voted “No confidence”.

The policy proposes a one-size-fits-all, top-down management structure across “communities” of 10-12 schools, creating the most radical shift in schooling since Tomorrow’s Schools in 1989. It was proposed without involving schools or parents and with no evidence that it would boost student learning. “Giving some principals and teachers huge pay rises but taking them out of their schools and classrooms for two days every week is more likely to disrupt children’s learning,” says NZEI Te Riu Roa president Judith Nowotarski.

Many primary schools already work collaboratively (see below), and the government has been unable to shift the impression that the IES is designed around National Standards, and that it will undermine child-centred learning. It fits with the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) agenda of more  accountability and competition at the expense of high quality public education.

Despite government claims of consultation, its discussions with the sector between January and April were confidential, with no opportunity for wider talks. The final model presented in June was the same in substance as the original policy it announced out of the blue in late January.

In contrast, before members voted on whether and how to support the IES, there were weeks of discussion and debate, based on research. Teachers and principals were given comprehensive information on the pros and cons of the policy, including the government’s Cabinet papers and the final report of the Ministry IES Work Group.

As a result of the vote, held by secret ballot, NZEI Te Riu Roa has withdrawn from all consultation groups associated with the IES and will lobby the government to start from scratch by genuinely consulting with the profession and parents about how to spend the $359 million for the benefit of the children.

NZEI is encouraging members to talk about the IES proposals with their school communities, fellow teachers, support staff, principals and Boards of Trustees. It is likely that the government will now attempt to push ahead with the policy, regardless of opposition. The Ministry of Education has issued “expressions of interest” forms and officials are approaching individual schools to try and persuade them to join a Community of Schools (CoS) cluster.

The new executive principal and lead teacher roles may also be offered by way of individual contracts. However, if schools refuse to participate in the policy it may be problematic for the government to try and impose it.

After the NZEI vote, Prime Minister John Key said, with apparently unconscious irony, NZEI  should “come back to the negotiating table and embrace National’s plan”. The ministry is also circulating a survey about the Teacher Led Innovation Fund, which is open to all teachers, not just those in CoS. Although it is technically part of the broader IES policy, members are not boycotting the survey.

The secondary teachers’ union, the PPTA, has an interim agreement on the IES, but members have not yet been voted on it” that will happen this term. NZEI says the very fact secondary and primary organisations have taken different views of the IES shows that it is not the right model for the whole sector, and needs re-thinking.

On 5 September members protested against IES and in favour of the “Better Plan” outside MPs’ offices across the country. They called for the $359 million to be spent on programmes that more directly help students: smaller class sizes, 100 percent qualified ECE teachers, more funding for special needs and sustainable funding for support staff.

Read the Better Plan

Principals cluster in Upper Hutt

Most teachers already practise collegiality and many primary schools work together in “clusters”. Teachers and principals say genuine collaboration and sharing of effective practice can happen in more authentic and sustainable ways than the top-down IES model and they don’t believe the new roles will benefit their collaborative work.

North of Wellington an Upper Hutt principals (pictured) cluster gets together one day a month, with other sub-groups such as deputy principals meeting from time to time. Pinehaven School principal Kaylene Macnee says there’s not a lot of support necessary to have cluster group meetings. “It’s just the will, if you’ve got something there to model it from.”

She says primary principals have talked a lot about IES. “In our schools we need the funding to go to the kids” not to our pockets. We feel very strongly about that.”

Principals says that a programme, which ran between 2005 and 2009, called Extending High Standards, effectively supported and developed clusters until its funding was cut.

Read more about clusters at www.educationaotearoa.org.nz