Getting answers from Council’s new CEFebruary 2016
Education Review asks Education Council’s new chief executive DR GRAHAM STOOP about his priorities for the Council, his response to Council opposition, his views on Communities of Learning and his hopes for the Education Act review.
Q: Your resumé is impressive! I note that you started out as a secondary school teacher before embarking on a number of high-profile leadership positions, including chief executive of Education Review Office and within the Ministry of Education. Could you please give some insight into how experience gained from your previous roles will assist you in your new position as chief executive of the Education Council?
A: I am a teacher by profession. I worked in secondary schools for 22 years – as a teacher, head of department, deputy principal, and principal. The Education Council is a professional body for teachers. I understand the work of teachers and school leaders. I believe in the power of teaching and I want to play a role in a greater public awareness of what teachers do and the contribution they make.
I have headed up two Initial Teacher Education (ITE) institutions – as chief executive in one outside the university system, and as pro vice-chancellor inside a university context. An important part of the Council’s work is the approval of initial teacher education programmes. And so I understand the issues in ITE (early childhood, primary, and secondary) and speak the language and know how to engage with the tertiary environment. This part of my background will be important in my CE role here at the Council.
I have also been a public servant – chief executive at the Education Review Office and several deputy secretary positions at the Ministry of Education. This public policy experience and the big picture of education that it has given me provide an overall context for the functioning of education in our society.
Q: What are your first priorities for the Education Council?
A: The Education Council is a new body. It is an independent statutory body. It is not a Crown entity. One key priority is to identify key public policy issues and to lead professional public debate on their implications for high-quality teaching and educational leadership practice. The Council needs to publicly represent the voice and face of the teaching profession. It can do so without fear or favour.
Q: What do you ultimately hope to achieve as chief executive?
A: The Council has two main functions: a public interest function and a professional function. The public interest function is very important – assuring the public with respect to the quality of the teaching profession and the processes that point to that quality. Those processes include initial teacher education, registration, ongoing certification, competence and conduct. I want to make sure that the Council’s processes meet these expectations.
The Council, as I have already noted, also has an important role in the promotion of the professional practice. In the three years I have in the role, I want to give weight to both of these functions. And the legislation that set up the Council outlines several pieces of work that must be completed in two years – including a review of standards and work on a code of conduct. Clearly I will be focused on that work.
Q: What are the main challenges currently facing the Education Council as it beds in, and how will the Council address these?
A: The Council is a new body with new functions. Teachers have knowledge of the Council’s work in its roles of registration and practising certificates. Universities and other tertiary providers understand our work in ITE. We now need to engage with teachers and leaders on the new strategic and professional functions and initiatives. We have an engagement process in place. This involves regular stakeholder meetings and we have a survey of teachers planned and we are working with key education peak body groups on this survey and on the Council strategic direction.
Q: The Education Council has been criticised for removing democratic membership, with many stating that the process of appointments was political rather than democratic. Do you think these are valid concerns for the sector?
A: The former Teachers Council was a Crown entity and could be influenced strategically by the government of the day. It had some elected members – with all members, including the elected members, appointed by the Minister of Education. The new Council is completely independent of ministerial direction. The appointments to the Council are made by the Minister of Education through a nomination process. It is a different model with a different balance of interests.
Q: The PPTA has expressed some opposition to the Council’s approach to teachers’ professional learning and development (PLD). In addition to their concern that it is inappropriate for a ministerially appointed Council to make decisions on PLD priorities, the union also believes that combining the developmental purpose of PLD with the compliance function of registration and deregistration within the same body creates a major source of role conflict. What is your response to such objections? What are the Council’s plans for managing teachers’ PLD?
A: The Minister of Education has not made a decision on the future of PLD in terms of a possible role for the Council. That decision will be made in 2017.
Q: It has been a long road to getting the Communities of Learning initiative off the ground since the Investing in Educational Success (IES) initiative was first announced. Do you feel the initiative has now achieved the necessary support and engagement from the sector for it to be truly effective?
A: The Council’s interest is not in Communities of Learning per se. IES was a policy initiative that was developed before the Education Council came into being. But social capital (how well teachers work together) is just as important as the human capital of what teachers are able to do in their own classrooms and centres. And so commitment to strong professional communities is important. There could be quite a few ways of strengthening social capital. Communities of Learning may be one good way. I hope so. But they will need to truly build strong professional communities if they are to make a difference to the functioning of social capital.
Q: How will the Centre for Leadership Excellence support the CoL initiative? How do you envisage the centre working?
A: The centre will not be a bricks-and-mortar centre. But the Council has set as one of its early priorities to support leaders and develop leadership capacity. The leaders of the Communities of Learning will need support as they develop a new way of working across centres and schools. A new type of leadership is required. It requires leaders to think, engage and act differently from their roles as leaders of a school, kura or early childhood service. The Council will work with sector bodies to develop the sort of leadership approaches that will support the collective endeavour.
Q: There appears to be a sense of excitement at the opportunity to make changes to New Zealand’s education legislation. What are some of the key changes you would like to see emerge?
A: There is a great deal of knowledge held in centres and schools about effective leadership and teaching known to have a positive influence on learning. The revision of the Act provides an opportunity to enable this expertise to be more easily shared.
The revision of the Act is an opportunity to structurally re-gear the system from a competitive approach to one that is based on collaboration, while keeping the best of the community-led approach to schools and services.
The revision of the Act should provide the enabling conditions for teachers and leaders to use their professional expertise to support the learning of their students; and it should provide the enabling conditions so leaders and teachers can share and build practice, and are supported to try new ideas.
Q: Much of the enthusiasm from the sector around the Education Act review stems from having the chance to be involved. It strikes me that where policies have not been initially well received it tends to be due to a lack of genuine consultation with the sector. Do you agree? What is your view on sector consultation with regards to decisions made by the Education Council going forward?
A: I completely agree. Education is a shared endeavour. Further, public servants working in government agencies aren’t the only ones with policy nous. Practitioners can contribute so much to the educational debate and to the solutions to seemingly intractable problems. And so the Council is running quite a few exercises, right now, with significant sector involvement. And that will continue for sure. The leadership approach from the Council must itself be collaborative and appropriate for the development of social capital.