Opinion: Looking underneath the hood of a name change

The Education Council now has a new name. Legislation passed in the House last week that renames the Education Council to the Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand. Seems simple enough. A re-positioning of the organisation to have a teacher-focused name, rather than the broad-brush education-related name, would seemingly align it better with the current government's plans and policies.

The Education Council, to become known as the Teaching Council, is the professional organisation for all teachers working across the New Zealand education sector. They are responsible for setting and leading the teaching standards, and also for administering the registration and practising certificate processes that teachers undertake once they have qualified.

The name change was decided as part of the Education (Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand) Amendment Bill that became law last week. In addition to changing the name, the Act increases the size of the Teaching Council Board to 13 members (instead of the nine it was before).

The name change alone is estimated to cost taxpayers $220,000*. There will be collateral to change, branding, banners, letterhead, social media and websites. All to change a name but not to change focus… Well, not yet anyway. While they have said there will be phasing in of the new name, or new branding, or a new logo and letterhead, likely to come over the next 12-months, and after the election and appointment of new board members, this is a costly exercise and these are costs that would equate to a few teacher’s salaries.

Change processes, either structural or re-branding, can be costly and here, in our opinion, it is unclear where the cost benefit lies in rebranding.

Other costs were estimated to include paying an additional $105,000 a year* towards the board member meetings (with the board increasing in numbers from 9 to 13 under the changes).

And then there’s the $150,000* estimated for electing the new board members, and then additional funding to train them up. We wonder when these changes, and the cost, will lead to efficiencies, improvements and or better processes and leadership for teachers in New Zealand? In an environment where school teachers are simply unable to reach agreement on pay negotiations with government, where we have significant teacher shortages across the sectors, and where the complexity of rules and regulations, especially in our ECE sector, adds to never ending layers of bureaucracy, cost, and compliance – we ask: when does the cost of change reap the benefits desired? All the while the education sector is meant to keep delivering high quality care and education until further notice while trying to find and maintain a fully trained and qualified compliment of teaching staff.

It’s great to get a new shiny outer layer to dress up the front of shop, but underneath the new name and boosted board membership, the machinery of the Teaching Council will, for now, remain the same.

Elections for the new board members are expected to take place in March next year, with yet more consultation happening in October to decide what that election process should be. The new board is expected to include seven members elected by the profession (elected members to include a teacher and a professional leader from the ECE sector, a teacher and a principal from the primary sector, a teacher and a principal from the secondary sector, and a registered teacher from the initial teacher education or continuing teacher education sector). The Minister of Education then appoints the additional six board members after the election. The idea behind this is to ensure better representation on the board.

It’s always good to see ECE included as an equal and we are happy to have representation of the ECE teaching profession on the board to compliment the rest of the sector leadership here. But, this will take time. The pace of change is often gentle, with many unknowns along the way, and the final destination uncertain. Meantime, work as usual goes on until further notice. The current board will continue to oversee the running of the Council until a new board is in place – sometime next year.

So what would we like to see change underneath the logo?

The Teaching Council has an important job, ensuring that teachers who apply for registration and practising certificates, do indeed meet the high standards of the profession once they are on the job. There are complexities, and there are some shortcomings, which add to the strain of teacher shortages.

For example, we think the Teaching Council should be asked to introduce caveated practicing certificates. This would enable any (ECE) teacher seeking registration and certification who needs additional training to meet the Council’s full requirements to be awarded provisional certification subject to the completion of that training, and within a specified time. To meet the Council’s concerns regarding standards, we agree that such a teacher should not be able to act as a Person Responsible role for that duration.

There are rules for ECE services that the Person Responsible at all times needs to be a fully registered and certificated ECE-qualified teacher. That includes for tasks such as always being on the floor when children are at the centre. This can be difficult in a teacher shortage situation, where it is not always easy to have a full complement of teachers and also ensuring the fully registered, certificated and qualified teachers you do have – are available all the time. That can be difficult when faced with annual leave, sick days and ensuring your compliment of staff always meets the requirements, even when you are a small or rural service.

In addition to the above flexibility around provisionally registered teachers, we ask what is the purpose and role of a Person Responsible in today’s ECE world? In practice, the functions of this role are frequently carried out by a number of people, not one. The Person Responsible appeared to serve a purpose when qualified ECE teachers were first introduced, but now seem a redundant requirement serving an increasingly bureaucratic purpose. Perhaps in these times of an ECE teacher shortage, now is the time to discuss the future of this role?

We also want to see the eight-week stand-down before registration/certification removed with immediate effect. This is a bureaucratic policy that stops teachers being employed quickly. This disadvantages not only employers, but also the teachers wanting to get into their roles. This two-month stand down is also really challenging when you have teachers shortages and there is high demand for good candidates. Two-months is a long time to start looking at other job options.

We think the Teaching Council should review the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) policy, particularly as this applies to overseas teachers who have studied in English at secondary school and above; and paying particular attention to Pasifika teachers. We have accumulated almost 800 signatures supporting an IELTS review for Pasifika ECE. They have huge shortages of qualified ECE teachers, and the IELTS test, both the stringent level of it, and the costs of sitting it, put many off the process. This means that children in Pasifika emersion language ECE settings will miss out.

We are watching the changes, and the cost of these changes, at the Teaching Council with interest.

We look forward to seeing what happens next after the appointment of a new board. We are hopeful that the machinery and some of the bureaucracy inside can be tweaked to better support the ECE sector during a time of teacher shortages, and just in general to aid efficiency all the while upholding the high standards that we expect from our teaching standards and the professionals who work as teachers.

Peter Reynolds

Chief Executive Officer

Early Childhood council

*Source: Simon Collins New Zealand Herald (4 April 2018) Changing Teaching Council name would cost $220,000 https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12025868