Members ended last year on a high, thanks to a new agreement with the Ministry of Education prompted by a firm rejection of the flawed Investing in Educational Success scheme. Michelle Nixon reports.

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After months of opposing the IES, NZEI members have won an agreement from the Ministry of Education to build an alternative that is child-centred, allows for flexible models of collaboration and builds from the grassroots up.

The agreement came after 93% of members voted No Confidence to the government’s $359 million plan, which it had announced as its flagship education policy for 2014.
The new framework will be driven from the bottom up with collaboration at its core. rather than a one-size-fits-all policy imposed from the top. The joint initiative is student-centred, with collaboration critical to building a community of learning that supports every child’s transition from early childhood through primary and secondary and on to tertiary education.

It supports the NZEI Te Riu Roa Better Plan for the $359 million by identifying what resourcing and roles needed for successful collaborative practice and successful transitions that support children’s learning, including support staff and special needs requirements.

Fantastic opportunity

The hard work is yet to come but the new agreement is a significant victory and gives renewed confidence about the future of quality public education in New Zealand. Willowbank School principal and president of the Auckland Primary Principals Association Deidre Alderson says it’s a fantastic opportunity to have an impact on the way forward.

“We’re very excited by the prospect of being able to work through and come up with solutions that promote collaboration and student learning in our schools, by way of collegial work through both the ministry and NZEI.”

What’s next

Joint MoE/NZEI working parties will be set up early this year to lead the engagement with each sector, review the research, and identify and establish the new roles and funding needed tto develop flexible, locally determined communities of learning. The focus is on raising education achievement for the success of all students. Education success is as set out in the vision of The New Zealand Curriculum. The communities of learning will expand and build on existing collaborative networks and any new roles will be linked to and be part of existing career pathways within the collective agreements.

Principals and teachers are being encouraged to identify what works locally. Members are building a comprehensive view of what successful collaboration and transition looks like for students, and especially for priority learners.

A joint governance body and working groups will be set up in January. The working parties will meet at the start of 2015 and work through to the end of May, although further work will be needed, given the scope of the initiative.

Skulduggery” or “coalition of the willing”?

But the original IES plan hasn’t gone away – the ministry says it will implement the plan for CoS leaders and other pay-based, top-down roles with “willing” schools, though it seems to have drawn a long bow as regards the meaning of “willing”.

For many schools, their inclusion on an official list announced in December of the first 83 schools to sign up to a Community of Schools was a bolt from the blue.

In December, Havelock School principal Ernie Buutveld told Radio New Zealand he’d gone to meetings about the possibility of creating a local cluster, but hadn’t agreed to join. “We hadn’t in any sort of official capacity or otherwise given notice to the ministry that we were putting our hand up.” Several of the other 83 schools named also said they’d not yet committed to joining the scheme.

Other schools were mentioned as having expressed an interest despite never even being approached, including Auckland’s Willowbank School. Principal Deidre Alderson says even if they’d been asked they would have said no.

“In that expression of interest, it didn’t stipulate that the boards had to agree, all it said was˜who would you like to have’ in the cluster. It didn’t say anywhere that you must have negotiated this with those schools.”

“It just said the board and school know yes/no’. It was ticked no’ for the five primaries that had been listed but actually all that is, is an expression of interest.”

No negotiation was needed at that point, and Alderson says that’s not a wise way of developing and bringing about collaboration.

“A better way would be to sit down and talk about what is it you’d like to see within a cluster,  what do we – as a community of schools – represent, what is the way forward, then as a collective decide you’re ready, and then put in an expression of interest.

“You can’t say we want to work collaboratively if actually you’re not working collaboratively right at the beginning.”

EXTRAS

See videos, survey results and more about the initiative here:
http://www.nzei.org.nz/joint-initiative
Read the terms of reference here: http://tinyurl.com/ld5lzyn