Upholding education: Why we need unions AND the council


It has been disappointing to see over the last couple of weeks that the education sector has become increasingly divided, with the unions and the associations coming out (for the most part) as adversaries against the Teaching Council and the fees increase announcement. I totally get teachers being upset about having to pay more, but the vitriol being thrown around online is massively disappointing from a sector who wears their professional status with pride.

I think the thing that makes it most disappointing is that it simply doesn’t make sense. In order to uphold the sanctity and the status of the education sector in New Zealand we actually need both - we need the unions and we need the council and we need both to be independent and independently funded so as to ensure they function effectively. Both the unions and the council have an important part to play in ensuring that we have safe classrooms with competent teachers and teachers who are well protected, well supported and paid what they deserve.

Unions are both powerful and important within the teaching profession of New Zealand. Both PPTA and NZEI play an important role in looking out for and looking after the teacher workforce. The unions are integral in providing a collective voice that represents the teacher. They are responsible for negotiating pay increases and they are responsible for protecting teacher well-being by ensuring robust contracts that demand fair and equitable working conditions.

The Teaching Council plays an equally important role. In a sense I see the council as providing the flipside of a very important coin - the unions protect the rights of the teacher to have a well paid job with good working conditions, the council protects the right of the child to have competent teachers who conducts themselves appropriately and experience training that is fit for purpose. In doing this they also play an important role in protecting the status and the sanctity of the teaching profession. As a school leader there is no way I would want one without the other, and as an educator I appreciate the role that each party plays in ensuring that I get the privilege of being part of such an important regulated and well supported profession.

And what about the money? I totally understand no one ever actually wants to pay more, but if you understand the details, the pay increase is pretty fair and reasonable. I joined the Education Council back in 2015, even back then it was clear that the council that we had been handed was underfunded and had been struggling to operate for some years. The books were terrible and with an infrastructure and way of working that looked like something out of the 1950s (think Gliding On with fewer cigarettes) it was clear that radical change was needed. In the four years that the Education Council existed, designed and delivered radical change and saw an absolute overhaul of systems and processes, and a massive review and rewrite of the Standards for the Teaching Profession and The Code of Professional Conduct. Our Code | Our Standards docs were developed collaboratively and effectively, involving stakeholders and teachers from around the country. The council signaled the need for a fees increase early in the game, and it could and should have introduced increased fees, but alas it fell victim to a nervous pre-election government who blocked the increase and then the unions helped negotiate MoE intervention which delayed fee increases further. Whilst that was a gift for teachers at the time it, it only served to just postpone the inevitable. The reality is that the council has not increased the fees for 10 years and honestly, at $157 a year is comparatively reasonable when compared with similar regulatory bodies (nurses pay $650, social workers $950 plus per annum). And the unions coming out so harshly about the cost intrigues me. If they were genuinely concerned about the fees and the impact it has on teachers, why are they so comfortable taking up to $900 (PPTA) per annum out of their pockets? Yes of course, I know it is not comparing apples with apples, as you can choose not to be part of the union, but I do wonder if they should be so quick to throw stones from the comfort of their very well funded glass house.

I have also heard people stating they wished the council would “stick to their knitting” which is usually inferring that the council is making teachers pay for new and fangled areas such as the Leadership Centre. As far as I understand, the fees do simply pay for “the knitting” - the regulatory, professional and support services. The Leadership Centre is a separate entity and service that will be funded separately. And while we are talking about leadership, have you actually read the Leadership Strategy for the Teaching Profession, and the Educational Leadership Capability Framework for the Teaching Profession which was created in collaboration with NZCER? They are nothing short of phenomenal and make me more than confident that the Teaching Council is absolutely the right body to lead (in collaboration with all of the peak bodies) a national leadership centre - and no your fees are propping this project up.

And what about the yearly certification process? Is that going to mean painful yearly endorsement processes? To be fair it’s not super clear yet but from what I have heard it's more like an annual online confirmation that enables smaller annual fees rather than a three yearly womper of a fee in one go. I suspect the pros will outweigh the cons and the new online platform Hapori Matatū ( once you get through the painful initial login) is going to make all processes way easier. This isn’t about being low trust, it’s just about having a mechanism that allows yearly rather than three yearly payment. And believe me, if you had toured the council offices back in 2015 and seen the walls and mountains of paper forms you would appreciate just how far the council has come in just five years.

I have also heard people say they reckon we don’t even need the council. What? You don’t want teachers to be regulated and certified? We think anyone can teach? We don’t want students kept safe? We don’t care if teachers are even competent? Or is it that we think unions can do it all? Remember, when teachers are bought before “the council” because of concerns about competence and/or conduct those teachers are often represented and supported by the unions. It simply doesn’t make sense for one body to be doing both. I have heard people crying “the council doesn't speak for me” or “the council doesn’t represent me!”, well in a sense you are right. Your union very much represents and speaks for you, the council, in a sense represents and protects the system, in that it protects the child and the teacher by regulating the system and certifying the teacher. We need both and personally I want both for the sake of myself, my teachers and my students. We really really need to stop pitching one against the other. In fact, if we are ever going to attain the status we deserve, it will be because we have both bodies (all bodies) working in accord, with us and for us. And for that to happen, and for them to be independent, unfortunately, we need to fund it.

I have spent a lot of time worrying that many concerns are actually based on misconceptions, I actually spent more time worrying about how people have been airing these concerns and the impact of these actions. In the past week or so I have seen and heard “professional” teachers who have pretty much abused the council, the board, and the senior management online. I have heard and seen comments that quite frankly I wouldn’t accept in my classroom, or in my school, so am floored to see it enacted and modelled by educators online. I have absolutely no issue with thoughtful and forceful critique and questioning, but personal and nasty abuse, and trolling, has no place in this sector - you can’t be demanding respect when you can’t even treat people (your colleagues, your sector) with respect.

On behalf of my colleagues in the education sector I apologise to those who have been on the pointy end of any online abuse, or comments - you simply don’t deserve it. Yep, the council has work to do in winning over and connecting with the sector, however I know those people don’t speak for all teachers and I do believe all teachers are ultimately good people and I reckon, given time they will hear you out and simply give constructive feedback when needed. I hope, really hope, our associations and unions can all recognise the opportunity they have in working with you, the council, rather than against you, because a divided sector does our teachers and our teachers no favours. Over these last two months we have learned, first hand, the power of two words - be kind. Being a team of five million and being kind (and listening) has seen New Zealand achieve phenomenal things in just over eight weeks, imagine what our team of 105,000 could achieve if we did the same.

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