At the beginning of 2014 the Prime Minister boldly announced the Government’s intention to invest an extra $359 million in funding over the next four years, and $155 million a year after that, to help raise student achievement through its Investing in Educational Success (IES) policy.
The IES policy was formed partly in response to New Zealand’s slide in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings. In search of answers, the Government turned to the man behind the PISA survey, the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher, who claims that countries with top-performing education systems place their most talented school principals and teachers in the most needy schools. IES was built heavily on this premise, with much of the investment pegged for paying the best principals and teachers more money to spend time in other schools.
The Ministry of Education claimed – based on the OECD’s and other international research – that the IES initiative would raise achievement by improving teaching practice, enabling better collaboration between teachers and schools, and helping all children benefit from the skills and knowledge of great teachers from across a group of schools.
The sector was caught off-guard by the Prime Minister’s announcement in January 2014. Scepticism towards the policy grew as sector groups began to question why they hadn’t been part of the discussions on how to spend such a significant amount of money to raise student achievement.
Two camps emerged. Broadly speaking, the secondary school sector – as represented by the Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) and the Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand (SPANZ) – supported the overarching aims of IES, but did not agree with the specific details of the policy, and actively participated in the consultation process to help shape it into something that more accurately reflected what it felt New Zealand schools needed.
Meanwhile, the primary sector took a more dissenting view. The primary teachers’ union NZEI Te Riu Roa and the New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) voiced some major objections to the policy and felt the money could be spent more effectively in other ways. They also were very unhappy with the lack of sector consultation and the lack of New Zealand-based research underpinning the policy. When put to the vote, 93 per cent of NZEI members were in opposition. The NZEI even went so far as to devise an alternative avenue for the money, ‘A Better Plan’ which enabled schools to compare different ways that funding could be spent.
And so, against a backdrop of strong opinions from the secondary sector and general opposition from the primary sector, a working group of education sector leaders was tasked to fine-tune IES and the policy underwent transformation.
Communities of Learning (CoLs) became known as the ‘engine room’ of IES. A CoL is a group of around 10 schools or kura teaming up to represent the ‘pathway’ for students from primary to secondary school.
Among the modifications were changes to the original terminology – executive and change principals, lead and expert teachers were replaced with Community of Learning (CoL) leadership roles, across-community teacher roles, and within-school teacher roles. The Ministry expects to see around 1,000 across-community teacher roles and 5,000 within-school teacher roles established. Inquiry Time has been written into the policy, with approximately 250,000 hours a year to be made available for teachers to learn from each other. Another key difference from the original proposal was that people in the new roles would be paid for having greater responsibility, rather than on the basis of performance.
Meanwhile, the NZEI and the Ministry began working together on an alternative to IES, known as the Joint Initiative which was all about “flexible models of collaboration”. Joint working parties were tasked with looking at existing and potential learning communities that encourage collaboration and transition.
There are now approximately 150 CoLs spread throughout the country. Over 50 per cent of all eligible schools are now part of a CoL, involving more than 410,000 students.
The majority of those involved in a CoL appear to be full of praise for the initiative, although it is too soon to see any tangible progress made on their achievement challenges. The achievement challenges are largely focused on National Standards and NCEA achievement – this appears to be a Ministry requisite.
It is this requirement that has the NZEI concerned. They view the data-driven achievement challenges as narrow and would like to see the challenges expanded to things like improving outcomes for at-risk students, engaging parents and whānau, and strengthening collaboration with other schools.
Getting the achievement challenges right appears to be one of the most important aspects to getting a CoL up and running. Many CoL are working with the Ministry on trying to get more flexibility into their achievement challenges to reflect the community’s broader goals beyond those focused on assessment. And then the real work can truly begin – that of achieving their goals.
More coverage in Education Review:
A sector divided: www.educationreview.co.nz/magazine/august-2014/ies/#.WCuPBWee3IU
Argument against CoL: www.educationreview.co.nz/magazine/august-2016/caution-needed-over-cols/#.WCuS4mee3IU