BUDGET 2014: Teacher incentives need broader target

Vanessa Black

People at the top of their game often talk about the impact great teachers and a strong education have had on their success. 

In this year’s State of the Nation address, Prime Minister John Key said the education he received opened up the world to him. He then went on to announce four new leadership roles for the education sector: executive principals, change principals, expert teachers and lead teachers.

These are intended to strengthen both the teaching profession and leadership within schools. Improving the quality of these two things is important not only for the children but also because this will drive future productivity. 

However, will these new leadership roles, and the extra $359 million the government will spend over the next four years to fund them, result in a higher achieving, more productive generation? 

The current system doesn’t accurately reward teachers and recent studies have shown students are falling behind other countries, especially in maths and science. A solution is needed that will increase students’ overall quality and inspiration levels.

For this to happen, the best teachers must be retained. Funding in the budget for salary incentives for the 6000 new teacher roles is an obvious first step but will the pay incentives that go alongside these new, more management focussed positions offset the added workload that comes with them? 

Or will these teachers simply be placed under even more workload pressures and result in them having less of a focus and impact in the classroom? 

Minister Hekia Parata has been under the spotlight for her comments around performance pay needing to be “consistent and rigorous.” But this is unlikely to be supported without the disclosure of how this would be measured. If performance-based pay, together with these new roles, are in place, the metrics for teacher performance would need to be fair and equitable. This is likely to prove difficult as how do you create a one-size-fits-all approach across a diverse profession?

Ludger Woessmann, of the Kiel Institute of World Economics, noted in 2001 that spending more money within an institutional system that sets poor incentives would not improve student performance. 

He concluded the only alternative that promises positive effects is an institutional system in which all people involved have an incentive to improve student performance. Perhaps the government should be considering ways to incentivise all teachers – no matter what their title.

Decreasing class sizes would also be a step in the right direction. Children thrive when they have more one-on-one time with teachers. 

If teachers are spread too thin, their ability to inspire pupils is sure to be distilled and watered down. Education will continue to be a focus right up to the election – and employers of the future generation should keep a close eye on this.

Vanessa Black is an associate, audit, at Grant Thornton New Zealand 

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