Submission of the Tertiary Education Union Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa
On the Ministry of Education’s terms of reference for
“The review of the New Zealand Teachers’ Council”
7 September 2012
The Tertiary Education Union Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa (TEU) welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Ministry of Education’s Terms of Reference provided to the Review Committee for “The Review of the New Zealand Teachers’ Council”. As the largest union and professional association representing staff in the tertiary education sector (in universities, institutes of technology/polytechnics, wānanga, private training establishments, OTEPs and REAPs), we have a significant number of members who work as teacher educators, and who therefore have an interest in the outcomes of this review. Additionally, we are a professional association as well as an industrial union, so seek to contribute to consultation and policy development that relate to our members’ professional interests.
The TEU appreciates the role that the Teachers’ Council has taken in the sector. The Council has taken a strong leadership role in setting standards of professionalism for the sector, in an environment that can be highly politicised and at times contentious. We have valued their insistence on maintaining a set of standards that contributes to the quality and professionalism of our teachers, and their application of the necessary regulatory functions to achieve this.
Review Terms of Reference
The review will investigate:
The capability and capacity of the NZTC to lead the teaching profession with respect to:
Developing and promoting the professional community of teachers
We would consider the core leadership responsibilities of the New Zealand Teachers’ Council to relate to its primary functions in terms of setting standards for initial teacher education, beginning teachers, registration, ethics, competence and discipline, and setting qualification standards for the sector. If in the future the Council achieved greater independence from government, it might be appropriate to extend this leadership role. However at present the legislative requirements that the Council must work within limit its ability to fulfill a more critical leadership role.
Within its legislative limitations, the Council has provided strong leadership in terms of “developing and promoting the professional community of teachers”. Examples of their success in this aspect of their work include a number of research projects undertaken in the areas of initial teacher education, early childhood education leadership, and Māori medium programme delivery, amongst others.
Promoting effective teaching practice and engaging meaningfully with membership
Currently the Council undertakes research and other projects in areas relevant to its functions to support the teaching profession. Of note in this regard is the wide acceptance by the profession of standards and criteria developed by the Council that set out descriptions of good teaching practice. These standards and criteria are developed after extensive consultation with the sector, so reflect its views on current best practice, as well as being informed by recent research.
Teaching practice however, covers a very broad range of specialised areas, and it would be unwise to expect the Teachers’ Council to offer support to the profession beyond its scope of ITE, beginning teachers, registration, ethics, competence and discipline, and setting qualification standards for the sector. Other parts of the sector have responsibility for these specialised areas and the TEU believes it is appropriate for them to continue to do so.
Leading and promoting public discussion to raise the status, interest and informed debate of education issues
As we indicated in the previous section (Developing and promoting the professional community of teachers) a more critical role for the Council is difficult at present, given its legislative status as a Crown Entity. The requirement to “have regard to government policy when directed by the responsible Minister” in our view conflicts with a public leadership role, because Crown Entity status implies a significant role for government and the relevant minister in terms of potentially constraining what the Council can and cannot say or do.
However despite these legislative constraints, the Council has worked diligently to take an active leadership role in significant areas of the profession. A notable example has been the Council’s insistence that initial teacher education programmes must retain the practicum component of their curriculum, despite some pressure from universities in particular to reduce this provision. The Teachers’ Council will also require (from 2013) that all staff responsible for visiting students on practicum must be NZ registered teachers. This approach further supports the value of practicum as the integration of theory and practice, and firmly centres the preparation to teach within the profession of teaching.
This advocacy on behalf of the sector has ensured that the quality and integrity of ITE qualifications has been maintained, because providers have been required to retain practitioner experience and knowledge and enhance connection with communities of practice by (in this instance) increasing the requirements for practicum visiting. However the Council needs greater independence so that it can more actively critique government policy and strategy without ministerial constraint. Legislative arrangements that allow high levels of direct government involvement leave our education system and learners vulnerable to the vagaries of political ideology, rather than protected by sound practices based in robust understanding of pedagogy and curriculum.
Setting robust standards for entry to the profession
This is a crucial function for the Teachers’ Council and one for which the organisation has developed comprehensive systems that it continuously evaluates. The recent case of Henry Te Rito Miki has highlighted areas where Council systems could be improved, however these should be viewed in the context of failings in other parts of the sector where responsibility for checking the veracity of information supplied by an individual wishing to be employed as a teacher also lies (see our further comments in the section dealing specifically with the report’s findings).
The ability for the Council to set entry standards must be vigorously protected, supported by comprehensive information-sharing systems between agencies, and appropriate support and training for boards in relation to employment matters. We therefore do not support government initiatives such as charter schools that will permit untrained and unregistered individuals to teach. The ability for the Teachers’ Council to insist on compulsory teacher registration is fundamental to maintaining a world-class profession – anything less than this undermines the status of teaching and the quality of the profession.
Setting and monitoring standards for registration, on-going performance appraisal and professional development
There are currently very extensive policies and procedures developed by the Council to manage each of these areas and we see no need to make changes to how these functions are performed, other than as part of on-going reviews the Council undertakes as part of its normal operations.
The day-to-day implementation of the policies and criteria relating to performance appraisal and professional development lie with individual schools, depending on the provisions in policy and/or employment agreements that have been negotiated between employer and employees. The Council will only become involved in performance issues, for example, when concerns arise that are beyond the capacity of the parties to address, or where the issue is such that it requires notification to the Council – this is appropriate.
However school boards would benefit from greater support and funding in this area, and we would agree with the recommendation in the Ministerial Inquiry Report to review school governance, with a specific focus on their capacity to undertake appropriate checks to employ teachers and other staff, and their broader role as employers.
In relation to setting and monitoring standards, the Council has undertaken some useful work to support integration of the Registered Teacher Criteria, for induction and mentoring, and to support increasing skills in performance appraisal as this relates to the Criteria. We see this as very effectively responding to sector need in this respect.
Holding teachers to account in terms of competence and conduct
The Council sets policies and standards to which individual teachers and schools must adhere to. Therefore in the first instance, it is the role of teachers and schools to ensure that these standards are met, in accordance with the terms and conditions of employment agreements and school policies. The Council should not have a role beyond setting the standards or becoming involved at the points stipulated in its policies and standards. However retaining its responsibility for decisions on de-registration or other sanctions is crucial, as the sector needs an authority beyond the level of the school to examine the information leading to the complaint in a thorough and robust manner.
Quality assurance/approval of teacher education programmes and graduate outcomes, including the effectiveness of its relationship with the Universities and other providers of initial teacher education.
The Teachers’ Council is very effective in approving and reviewing programmes, encouraging innovation whilst maintaining standards. However the Council needs an enhanced ability to direct all providers of teacher education programmes to meet its requirements and a stronger set of consequences to apply when programmes do not meet these, particularly in regards to entry and assessment. The Council should also have a major role in ensuring that the right programmes are developed to meet the professional teaching needs of communities and to meet national requirements for the sector, including a greater role in determining the number of teacher education and graduate programmes and determining suitability of providers. For example, the Council should be able to veto government plans for charter schools, because they permit the employment of unregistered and untrained staff in teaching roles. In short, the Council must have the right to reject any initiatives which contravene quality assurance standards that the teaching profession demands and has agreed to.
The effectiveness of the current legislative and structural arrangements in enabling the execution of the functions outlined in (a) having particular regard to:
The powers and functions of NZTC and how these relate to the functions of other agencies
In line with our previous comments, the NZTC needs greater independence from government in order that it can fully function as a regulatory body and independent advocate for the teaching profession.
Whilst the Council needs greater independence from government, it also needs to have high-quality relationships with key government agencies – the Ministry of Education, the Tertiary Education Commission, New Zealand Qualifications Authority and NZ Police primarily. In order for all parties to be able to effectively engage with each other, greater understanding of the functions and work areas of each organisation and an enhanced ability to share information would be extremely beneficial.
The composition of the governing body and the approach to the selection/appointment of its membership, including representation of the broader public interest
The level of involvement by the Government in the governance of the Council, when measured against Government’s direct funding support is in the TEU’s view far in excess of what should be permitted. We recognise that this is as a result of the current legislative status of the Council, however we see a real imbalance between the small amount of funding provided by Government and the significant amount of influence and input the Minister and his/her ministerial appointees may have on the Council’s strategic direction. Such a high level of government/ministerial involvement potentially limits the extent to which the Council can fully act as regulator and advocate for the profession.
As we noted in our submission on the “Vision for Teaching” report, there is no evidence to suggest that direct representation by teacher unions’ on the Council’s Board has led to an emphasis on employment conditions and industrial matters at the expense of the Council’s functions as an organisation. We are concerned that this unsubstantiated view appears to have infiltrated some of the thinking in the Report on the Ministerial Inquiry as well. To our knowledge, the involvement of teacher union members on the Council’s Board has been very positive. These representatives can access a broad range of views from teachers with relative ease, and teacher unions have a long history as strong advocates for the professionalism of the sector. Teacher union representatives are able to provide real-life examples of the impact of Teachers’ Council policy and strategy, as well as professional expertise to assist in analysing the effectiveness of the Council’s work. Their role on the Board is a unique and vital one. We would be extremely concerned by any moves to remove or reduce representation from teacher unions on the Board, based on unsubstantiated opinion.
Given that the Council has a major role in setting standards for entry into the profession and graduation as a beginning teacher, the TEU’s view is that it would be appropriate to include a representative for teacher education (who could be elected by teacher educators employed in initial teacher education). We would also support continuing to ensure a balance of representation between sectors (ECE, primary, secondary) and more specifically sector representation for the principal positions on the Board. The importance of the inclusion of recent or current registered teachers on the Board, because of the contribution they can make in terms of “on the ground” knowledge should also be a priority for Board composition.
The status of NZTC as an autonomous Crown Entity
As we noted in previous sections, it is difficult for the Teachers’ Council to provide independent leadership because of the close links it must maintain with government and it’s Minister as an autonomous Crown Entity. The TEU’s view is that the Council would be able to be a more effective advocate for its members if it had greater independence from government. Therefore a change in legislative status to a body such as a Statutory Authority would ensure the Council could provide much more independent leadership to the profession, whilst still maintaining accountability to government.
The review will make recommendations in respect of these matters and any other matter(s) that the reviewer(s) consider relevant to the foregoing questions.
No comments in this section
The review will take account of the recommendations of the Ministerial Inquiry into the employment of a convicted sex offender in schools.
The recent and very shocking case of Henry Te Rito Miki has highlighted that even with a plethora of standards-setting and vetting devices in place, a highly motivated and extremely unscrupulous individual can manipulate the system. However it would be unreasonable to expect the Teachers’ Council to take sole responsibility for the success or failure of this system. The report on the Ministerial Inquiry makes clear that system failures at a number of crucial points allowed Miki to comprehensively thwart the checks and balances put in place by the Teachers’ Council – firstly and importantly the ease with which he was able to change his name and commit identity fraud, secondly at the level of the respective school boards, and thirdly through poor information-sharing at the level of government ministries and agencies.
The report makes a number of recommendations in relation to the Council, including an enhanced ability to track name changes. Our understanding is that a number of these recommendations are in progress or completed. However we would be supportive of any improvements in procedures that would assist the Teachers’ Council in acquiring the information it needs and that would provide greater assurance for the Council and the sector that external organisations can provide the level of detail required in a complete form and a timely manner.