Political Corruption and an Independent Teachers' Council
The recent survey carried out by Colmar Brunton revealed that New Zealand may no longer regard itself as the least corrupt country in the world. In 2012 we were ranked first equal as the least corrupt country, along with Denmark and Finland, based on public perceptions. According to the latest survey we would now be ranked much further down, below Spain and similar to Portugal (which were 30th and 33rd in 2012).
The five institutions within New Zealand society that are listed as the most affected by corruption are political parties, the media, Parliament, business, the private sector and religious bodies. Those perceived as less corrupt include the judiciary, the education system and medical and health services.
It is ironic that we currently have the situation where decisions regarding our education system are being made by the institution regarded as our most corrupt. The Government, the Minister of Educaton Hekia Parata and John Banks have struggled with ongoing challenges to their honesty and ability to follow good and transparent process. Despite this, they have continually refused to meaningfully collaborate with the education sector, who include (according to the Readers Digest) some of our most trusted professionals (politicians were ranked between insurance sales people and sex workers). Treasury and economists are now regarded as providing the most valuable education advice even though I struggle to see what understanding they would have for the developmental needs of 6 year old children.
One of the most drastic changes to our internationally regarded public education system is the introduction of Charter Schools, or Partnership Schools (as the Minister insists they should be called). This system had no political mandate and will allow business interests and religious groups to have a greater involvement in education. Again there is great irony in the fact that both of these groups are in the top five for perceived corruption and the Government has blocked any scrutiny of their operations by having them exempt from the Official Information Act. The Civilian, a satirical blog, was able to cleverly highlight the flaws in a politically determined and business led education system by putting into a medical context.
There is ample evidence outside the corruption survey to demonstrate that politicians may not be the best informed and most reliable people to determine what is best for education and our children. There would be merit in having an independent professional authority that could stand outside politics and the industrial concerns of unions and provide informed educational leadership. Our current Teachers Council has the potential to fulfill this leadership role.
Our doctors have a Medical Council that is a respected authority, dedicated to maintaining the professional credibility of our medical practitioners. It is in both the profession's and the public's interest that they are beyond political interference and ensures that a doctor's prime responsibility is serving the needs of his/her patients. Politically determined protocols and treatments are not likely to improve patient care and the same would be true of education.
At present the Teachers Council is an underfunded crown entity that is responsible for teacher registration, professional standards and discipline. It has already done some good work in developing induction and mentoring programmes and supporting educational leadership. Even this Government accepts that increasing the capability of the teaching profession would make the biggest difference in raising achievement and the most effective way of doing this would be to lift the professional status of teachers. In Finland teachers are regarded as equal or above doctors as a profession and they have around 6,000 applicants for 600 training positions each year. A well resourced and professionally supported Teachers Council would be the best way to advance teacher capability and credibility.
The Government has recently completed a review of the Teachers Council, driven in part by disciplinary concerns, and has come up with some politically slanted recommendations that will actually diminish professional credibility and the status of well qualified registered teachers. One of the most concerning elements will be licensing untrained instructors and giving them the "Authority to Educate". Despite the explanations given, this would be a dangerous precedent and it is unlikely that the medical profession (using the Civilian's context) would allow untrained people to have the "Authority to Medicate".
While the Government has created this opportunity to look at how a future Teachers Council may operate it is important that any developments will actually have a positive effect on the profession and improves what is delivered in classrooms and what is provided for our children. Four important things need to be emphasized:
- That the professional capability of a teacher is recognised as something that overarches all sectors and levels. With the medical profession, the initial qualification gives doctors the broad skills to practice in any field. It follows therefore, that "a teacher is a teacher" and it is experience and further professional development that allows them to specialize. The ability of teachers to be able to work across sectors is a strength (this currently happens). A qualified teacher with a background in any one sector should be regarded for any sector above untrained laypeople.
- The Teachers Council must have a high level of professional representation on the governing body. It would be unthinkable to have laypeople dictating to the medical profession (although the presence of some on the governing board would be useful) and it is important that decisions are based on professional knowledge and ethics.
- The status and integrity of a profession is established by the professional knowledge and capability that is built over time. Comprehensive initial teacher education, mentoring and proven capability are required to allow someone to be a registered professional. To give untrained lay people the "Authority to Educate" will only compromise the standing of the profession as a whole.
- The main focus of the Council would be to increase the individual capability of teachers and strengthen educational leadership within schools and centres. Every school and every teacher should be trusted to operate in a professional manner when teaching children and prioritising their needs. A high trust culture would provide much better outcomes than one of centralised, data driven accountability that is well removed from the realities of different communities and varied needs. A one size fits all model of teaching and learning does not work in a society that is increasingly multicultural and with growing income inequities.
Submissions on the Teachers Council Review proposals can be made up to the 14th of July. Our children deserve an education system that is driven by professional considerations not constantly changing political ideologies and expediency.