Throughout the Pūaotanga review, the many voices of submitters told a story, often grim, of New Zealand schools in 2021. They described a primary school system where staffing and funding fall far short of being good, or even adequate. So, what would a ‘good’ staffing model look like? Let’s imagine.
Imagine that the government is persuaded by NZEI Te Riu Roa’s members to listen to the voices in Pūaotanga, and during the next decade those voices and vision guide it through changes that make our primary schools genuinely ‘good’ — even world leading.
Imagine it’s 2030 and you’re visiting a typical New Zealand primary school — any school, anywhere in the country.
Except there’s no longer a ‘typical’ school; the staffing and funding models of 2030 support the character and needs of each school, including the one you’re visiting.
As you walk around the school you notice many changes from the way things used to be. You step into a Year 7/8 classroom: you notice the teacher moving calmly among 23 highly engaged students.
It’s very evident that this teacher has the confidence and skills that come from a great initial training programme.
Her teaching partner is doing the same in the other half of this modern learning space.
Both are focused on their teaching, well supported by a couple of teacher aides working with small groups, and a third working one to one in a comforting break-out space with a student who’s been struggling with anxiety.
In an adjacent office another teacher is meeting with the school’s speech language therapist from the local Education Service Agency (ESA), something she’s been doing regularly on her weekly release day as she learns how to support the language development of a small group in her junior class.
Soon afterwards, you join these teachers and others at morning tea, where you hear an enthusiastic discussion among staff about how they’re contributing to their ESA supported network of Year 3-4 teachers and curriculum advisors, and the progress they’re seeing in their students as a result.
Strolling past the administration block you notice the school executive officer is also meeting somebody from the ESA, a business support manager.
They’re running over the annual accounts he’s prepared for sending to the auditor.
The principal checks in on them for a moment, but she’s not needed so continues to her daily briefing with the SENCO, where they discuss the transition plan for a new-entrant boy with complex health needs.
These days the principal, along with others in the leadership team, is free to focus on being a leader of learning.
They discuss the SENCO’s recent meetings with the boy’s parents and ECE teachers, and with the school’s dedicated specialist from the merged RTLB and learning support service. It’s a routine case, the boy’s funding and support transition seamlessly into the school — right down to his familiar teacher aide.
The SENCO goes on to join a group of teacher aides doing a training webinar during their PLD release time, part of their degree studies.
You’re drawn towards the uplifting sound of a kapahaka group practising outside the Māori immersion classrooms for the school’s upcoming multi-cultural festival.
They’re working with a couple of local kaumātua, whose previously volunteered time is now paid thanks to the government’s fund for community supporters in Māori immersion settings.
They enjoy being rewarded for their time and experience — and the kids love them.
You notice there are a lot more students in the Māori immersion stream, thanks mainly to the availability of teachers fluent in Te Reo Māori since the government’s significant investment several years ago.
One of the Māori immersion teachers who left teaching to work for a corporate has returned this year, drawn by the time he now gets to teach well, better pay, great resources, tons of support and the status of the job.
Hira, the school’s Māori co-principal, tells you he said to her, “Everybody out there wants to be a teacher these days. I’m stoked to be back in the best job in the world".
Then you see a group of children from the neighbouring school’s Samoan bilingual class arriving to join the kapahaka group for the multi-cultural festival practice.
Talking to their teachers you’re pleased to hear that the Pacific Immersion Teaching Allowance introduced back in 2022 has helped attract and keep teachers in bilingual classes, and that the huge improvement in curriculum resources in Pacific languages makes teaching and learning more rewarding.
They’re excited to see that the system changes have led to a steady rise in student achievement.
“I think our Pacific kids are really contributing to that rise in student achievement that’s happening across our primary schools,” one of the teachers beams.
Smiling, you head for the front gate, knowing that every child in this school, and in every school in New Zealand, is getting the best shot at reaching their potential. Just as you’re leaving a little girl runs up and hands you a piece of paper.
It’s an invitation. Tomorrow afternoon the parents and kids are hosting one of their regular afternoon teas for all the staff — just to show their appreciation.
We could go on with this vision, but you get the picture.
It will take a lot more than imagination, but New Zealand’s primary schools could be this good, or even better.