quality counts – except when it doesn’t

A few weeks ago, writing about the ‘great class size debate’, I also touched on the question of quality teaching. There’s no question – at least, there shouldn’t be – that children deserve the best possible learning experiences, and one of the requirements for that is quality teaching by excellent, expert teachers. It’s quite tricky to pin down just what defines that excellence, but at least our current system of state sector teacher training and subsequent registration goes some way to ensuring that the people teaching our youngsters have been trained in how to go about the multitude of tasks that teachers encounter every day: planning, classroom management, assessment, pastoral care & general admin, and have gained experience in said tasks…. (and that’s before we even get to the actual teaching!).

But a couple of days ago, Minister of Education Hekia Parata & Act MP John Banks announced that charter schools – oops, sorry, ‘partnership schools’ – would be able to employ at least some non-registered teachers, along with setting their own curricula & deciding on things like the length of the school day, term dates, & teacher pay rates. This is strange – to say the least! – following as it does on a recent meeting of the Ministerial Cross-Sector Forum on Raising achievement, which "discussed… improving teaching practice with a focus on priority learners." As well that discussion, the meeting heard from the Chief Education Review Officer, who 

presented the latest Education Review Office findings on how to raise the quality of practice in New Zealand Schools.

His remarks focused on three dimensions: assessment for learning; student centred learning; and responsive school level curriculum.

Minister Parata, who chairs the Forum, commented that 

The Forum will continue to discuss ideas around how we can achieve quality teaching practice.

It’s not exactly clear how allowing charter schools to use some unspecified proportion of non-registered teachers will achieve this. Concepts and practices related to assessment for learning and student-centred learning are best acquired before arrival in the classroom, not on a learn-as-you-go-when-you get-there basis. (Yes, state schools can already employ non-registered staff, under a ‘limited authority to teach’ provision, but that’s temporary and for a limited period.)

Some real contradictions here…


The freedom of charter schools to set their own curriculum also concerns me somewhat. We already have ‘special character’ schools which teach creationism in their classrooms, for example (see here, here, and here, for starters). It is rather irking to gain the impression that state funding could support the same in charter schools – and to date I’ve heard nothing to say this will not be possible.



4 thoughts on “quality counts – except when it doesn’t”

  • Wow, I’m astounded! I thought the K12 teaching of creationism was limited to the US. I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised, we had a family discussion after some alternative extra-curricula teaching at a club the kids attend. Junats next year I think 😉

  • Alison Campbell says:

    Unfortunately no, it’s here too – so far restricted to the special character schools, but as you’ll have seen the worry is that ‘charter’ schools may be the wedge in the door of state schools. (& I use the word ‘wedge’ advisedly…)

  • “may be the wedge in the door of state schools. (& I use the word ‘wedge’ advisedly…)”
    – heh. Especially that last.
    Makes you wonder what Banks’ driving motivations really is, too. The objectives and the ‘details’ don’t don’t seem to fit, eh?
    This sounds increasingly like throwing away something that has been good for the country. For one thing, a stable core curriculum, vetted by people knowledgeable in the respective subjects, applied universally is valuable. Individual schools are (surely) free to extend on that (e.g. offer extra classes for those wanting to attend, say, biology olympiads) or, for that matter, ‘alternative’ views (as I’m sure some religious-oriented schools do).
    Similarly, having teachers more qualified in a subject than the pupils is fairly obvious. That you need an undergrad degree in the broad area you teach (at high school) is self-evidently valuable; this way teachers understand the material from the curriculum deeply enough to pass it on accurately. (Or at least, not too inaccurately.)
    The role-model thing that the ministers point too doesn’t make sense to me. Schools have always held up role models – via presentations at assemblies, school visits, etc. (I can remember Arthur Lydiard, coach to Peter Snell and others and renown in the athletics world, visiting when I was a kid.) I’m willing to bet that few role models, not trained as teachers, would stand up to extended exposure to any one class/pupil, however, so the suggestion that people like that fill these roles doesn’t make sense to me. What does makes some sense, and already happens (to whatever extent), is people teaching within their specialist area.
    I’m not well versed in all this, but I know that (lack of) both the qualification standards of teachers and a solid core curriculum get raised in discussions of poor teaching quality in “Dixie” USA. So when I see government trying to offer options to walk around these things, I’m left wondering “why?”

  • Alison Campbell says:

    I was going to say ‘cost-savings’, but since the proposed charter schools will still be funded by the government, maybe not.
    The other thing is, the evidence for the effectiveness of charter schools is actually rather mixed. So while the Minister spoke of ‘international best practice’, I have my doubts.

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