Herald on Education

Today’s Herald Editorial looks at the recent report on student success:

The number of children in a school classroom is obviously important to the each can receive but for many years now we have been led to believe it is the single most important element. Class sizes, or teacher-pupil ratios, have been the profession’s explanation for every deficiency discovered in the service it is providing. Reducing class sizes has been its suggested solution to every problem.

If I was cynical, I would look at the loop – / advocate for more teachers, more teachers = more NZEI/PPTA members = more money for NZEI/PPTA.

Governments have generally accepted the profession’s advice and the ratios have been reducing, though the teacher associations always want them lower. When the Herald invited the main political parties’ education speakers to summarise their policies in the recent election campaign, Labour’s minister Chris Carter, began: “I would continue to support teachers, as we are doing with lowering class sizes, by dealing with the issue of pay.”

National’s spokeswoman, Ann Tolley, made no such commitment and now that she is Education Minister she must be glad she did not. For the results, just published, of an important research project by an Auckland University professor of education, John Hattie, have challenged the notion that class size is the most important factor in a pupil’s progress.

The 15-year study, drawing on results of 50,000 items of research on pupils’ performance around the world, came to the unsurprising conclusion that the quality of a teacher’s interaction with pupils, particularly the “feedback” they received for their efforts, was most important.

So the answer is better teachers, not just more teachers. And that means better pay for the better teachers.

Pay for performance may always be too hard for national negotiations that would need to find agreed measures of excellence. But it would present little difficulty if left to school principals and their boards. Principals have to know which of their staff make the effort to interact well with pupils, which of them the pupils readily trust to ask for help and receive a useful response. Dr Hattie says the desired level of trust is very rare.

The new Government appears to have no interest in challenging teachers’ national pay negotiating system but it may have to if it wants to encourage and retain the best. At least it now knows that the quantity of teachers is much less important than their quality. Ms Tolley says the Hattie research will have a profound influence on schooling. Let us hope so.

I’d have the national “award” as a guidline for schools, but let each board and principal pay teachers what they determine they are worth. The best teachers should be on over $100,000 – without having to become departmental heads.

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