Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Trade Off - Bigger Classes for Better Teachers?

Yesterday, the student council at our intermediate sat down with me and wrote letters to the Minister of Education to express their concern about the changes to staffing, class sizes and their technology programme.  To my surprise, we received a reply this morning, although it did look like a very standard reply probably sent by her press secretary.  It included her speech notes and key facts from the Budget.

I absolutely agree that we need to do something about teacher quality - but by increasing class sizes?   Hekia says that we'll lose no more than two full time teachers per school and we'll only gain one or two students per class.  Somehow it doesn't sound like we're going the right way, does it?

I know that we are a little country and there isn't a lot of spare cash around.  The ratio of tax-payers to beneficiaries is very small.  The money has to come from somewhere.  But it does come hard on the heels of moves in the United States and England, to increase class sizes because "size does not matter."  Common sense and experience say it does.  The number of books to put feedback in, students to conference, bodies in the room...!

I've been aware for a long time that the quality of teacher trainees needs to improve.  When I retrained as a primary teacher twelve years ago, it was obvious that members of my cohort were there because it seemed a convenient thing to do when they had finished bringing up families.  With all due respect, and I'm generalizing, but there didn't seem to be the academic rigour that I'd expect in an educator leading a class with my children in it.  Literacy and numeracy standards weren't  always there, and sometimes not the professional ethics.  I remember the representative of one provider saying to me, "but that's all we can get." I took comfort in the fact that some of these student teachers wouldn't finish the course and others wouldn't get through the application or interview.

So how are we going to ensure this quality? Certainly not performance pay.  A lot has been said and written about how this might go wrong: principals who use it to make sure subject areas which are difficult to staff remain covered; teachers who get the credit for students who do well when the work had been put in the previous year.

  - Hekia Parata, speech notes, "Raising Achievement for All in Budget 2012", 16 May 2012.

The days and months ahead will be interesting.  We can take some hope that there will be a working party to look at the situation for intermediates. 

It's a shame the emphasis has been on where the money will come from, especially if the Minister is right and the effects will be minor (though I don't want to be one of the two teachers per school that might lose their jobs).  We will all benefit from raising both the quality and status of the profession, if that is indeed the end result.

Let's hope that it is the learners who are the winners.