The National Party’s obsession with data and targets has lead to its proposed IES policy at the expense of child-centred learning. Michelle Nixon reports

In January the government trumpeted what looks like the biggest policy change in education for 25 years” $359 million to create new teacher and principal roles, aimed at sharing expertise across schools to “raise student achievement”.

It’s been greeted with suspicion by the primary sector. NZEI Te Riu Roa and the Principals’ Federation see Investing in Educational Success (IES) more as a move to control education than a way to lift achievement.

A series of after-the-fact meetings with the sector set up a working group which has now released its report, but despite widespread opposition, only superficial changes have been made to the original policy.

End of child-centred education

The scheme will continue the undermining of child-centred, holistic learning, with a push-down of secondary-school style teaching and assessment onto primary schools. It appears likely secondary schools would control most of the new clusters, or “Communities of Schools”.

The secondary teachers union (PPTA) is largely in favour of the new policy, welcoming opportunities for collaboration that already exist for primary schools.

Waikato University professor of Education, Martin Thrupp, says the policy is really about investing in educational control. “[It] will undoubtedly allow for greater government steering of schools. The briefs for the new roles and the criteria for undertaking them successfully will require close adherence to government perspectives, policies and targets.”

He says many primary teachers fear that the people assigned the new roles will be pushing bad policy into schools.

Their wariness is understandable” it’s the latest in a fusillade of unpopular policies and reforms: National Standards, charter schools, PaCT, EDUCANZ, the review of the Education Act, and data-driven performance measures” at the same time as schools face greater demands on stretched budgets for things like special needs education as child poverty rises and new technology.

Thrupp says these policies are all too similar to the disastrous educational reforms unravelling public education in countries such as the US and the UK. These reforms have been driven in large part by moves to privatise the public education dollar and have, in fact, led to declining levels of student achievement.

No input from sector

One of the main criticisms of the IES is that the proposed new roles and structures will have a major impact on teachers’ professional practice, but teachers have effectively had no say in the process.

The policy will see the government give more money to those with new roles of executive principal and expert and lead teachers to work two days a week in other schools or classes.

Opponents say it would be very disruptive to take experienced teachers out of their classrooms and principals out of their schools.

Many see it as another costly experiment, an extra layer of bureaucracy rewarding individuals, rather than directly funding children’s education.

Resounding rejection

In early June, the Auckland Primary Principals’ Association voted overwhelmingly against the controversial policy. When they widened the survey to the rest of the country, 187 out of 188 principals were opposed to the new roles.

Among their comments were a dismissal of the policy as extravagant and divisive, and fears it would lead to schools that “failed” National Standards being corralled into a separate structure.

The Ministry of Education is negotiating with unions over the new roles being added to their collective contracts. NZEI will be holding combined information meetings for principals and teachers once any claim is received from the government.

If re-elected, the National-led Government plans for the first of the new roles to be appointed next year, and wants to roll the scheme out fully by 2017. The Minister of Education has also hinted at changes to how schools are funded, should National win