The teacher shortage crisis is only getting worse and the draft recommendations to change Tomorrow’s Schools are not going to help, says Macleans College Principal Steven Hargreaves. The proposed Education Hubs could negatively affect all parents and students, particularly here in Auckland, according to Mr Hargreaves.

Read on for the full part one of the interview.

Macleans has spoken out on the teacher shortages and specifically you have said earlier that “the biggest opportunity that the review committee have missed is the need for good teachers in every classroom.”

How can we avoid relying on recruiting overseas teachers, with limited knowledge of the New Zealand curriculum? How can we make teaching a more attractive profession within New Zealand?

And in your words, how can we get “a top quality, high-performing teacher in front of every child in New Zealand”?

That is no easy task. I’m sure that what we all want as students and parents, is a high-quality teacher delivering their very best for you day-in day-out, and then as a school manager that means a lot of the problems that come across my desk would disappear.

How do we get them? Pay. Teacher pay is important.

To the students, are you considering going teaching? No, and I ask that often of students who I think are top students. Why are they not going teaching?

Because you probably look at the conditions and you think, I can see tired teachers, stressed teachers, dealing with hormonal teenagers. I can see the car you drive, you’re not rich. You know, so I’d rather go into engineering, or medicine or law and earn a lot more money.

We need to elevate the pay and the conditions for teachers, and we need to promote that, make it abundantly clear that there’s a good viable pathway to a respectable living within the teaching profession.

When you say Macleans doesn’t really have any trouble recruiting teachers, is that really true? Because it’s very difficult to live in Auckland on a teacher’s salary.

Well it’s getting harder, we still do attract good teachers, but I’ll tell you what.

In terms of some of the recent appointments, the field has been really really small and that’s the difficulty. It’d be nice to have six or eight good teachers to pick from but the reality is last year with some appointments, we only had two decent applicants.

The number of students entering teacher training has dropped by about a third in the last three or four years, so if you think we’ve got a crisis now, just wait another couple of years.

And I feel really sorry for the schools south of here, because if you’re going to live in Auckland, then your first preference will be to teach here at Macleans, or Grammar or MAGS or Westlake Boys or wherever; it’s probably not going to go to South Auckland.

Some people do. I did it for my first job, I went to a low-decile school because I was going to save the world. And I’m pleased I did, but it’s really tiring, it’s a grind and you can’t do that all the time — certainly not do it all the time and be as good as you want to be in the classroom.

Can you give a layman’s summary of the proposed changes from the Tomorrow’s School’s Taskforce to the current system and how students, parents, and staff at Macleans would be affected by it?

The biggest change will be the introduction of Education Hubs.

Hubs are going to take over a lot of the responsibilities of boards. At the moment we have a self-managing school and a lot of the decisions are made at board level and senior management level.

Hubs will take over property, finance, HR, health and safety, liability.  They’re going to have strategic input at the curriculum and assessment; they will be responsible for decisions made about suspension of students.

The hub will be the employer of the principals and the teachers. So, the way that the proposals are written, the hub will have the authority to move teachers between schools, so we could lose… let’s say we have 30 teachers in our Science Department and a school down the road is struggling to attract science teachers.

I can see a time when they would just come to Macleans and say we need two of your Physics teachers to go down there to even things up.

You want to be able to choose to teach where you have the philosophical alignment with the values of the school – you relate to that community. Or it could even just be personal reasons: it’s a short commute from home, or you can drop your child off at daycare on your way to school, and then those things.

So, they are going to remove a lot of the autonomy that schools currently have.

One of the recommendations was to regularly review school zones, schools get a roll cap and then the hubs will move the zones on a regular basis to direct students between schools. So, one year you’re in the Macleans zone, the next year you’re not.

I’m sure that would alarm parents and students.

What they would say is that, for example, in 2019 we took 450-odd Year 9s; let’s say the school down the road has capacity because they only took 200 in, so next year they could say, ‘well Macleans you’re only allowed 300, and the school down the road is also getting 300’.

The head of this taskforce, Bali Haque, in response to some of the criticism raised by not only yourself but other principals and schools said: “It seems to me disappointing, the reaction from the principals of those schools that are clearly advantaged schools, …and I think they are failing to take a view of our education system and all the children in the system.”

For a period of time prior to coming to Macleans, which is a decile 9 school, you were the principal at Wesley College, a decile 1 school.

How would you respond to the notion that these proposals can help less advantaged schools? Do you think these proposals could have an actual effect on the nationwide disparity across schools?

If I was still principal at Wesley College, I would still be opposed to these reforms.

My feeling is that this is a grab for power, and the Labour Party wants a lot more homogenous schools and it’s all under the guise of equity: ‘we want to lift Maori-Pasifika performance, we want to lift the performance of poorly performing schools’. This won’t do it.

Bureaucracy does not lead to better equity – bureaucracy doesn’t improve performance of schools. What we need is good principals, good senior managers, good teachers.  

We need good resourcing, and we need people in the support structures for schools, like the Ministry, able to have the autonomy to make decisions — at the moment we don’t have that.

So replacing one bureaucracy, which is the Ministry regional offices, with hubs doesn’t help anything. Like I said before, I can’t see how adjusting the bureaucracy is going to lead to better equity or outcomes for Maori or Pasifika students.

In fact, I’m involved with a group of principals who are formulating some more publicity to push back against these reforms, on that group are a number of principals from decile 1 schools, because they can’t see the advantage of these proposals.

Read more (article continues below):
RNZ: Prominent Auckland schools unite to oppose education changes
NZ Herald: Schools launch $20,000-plus campaign against Tomorrow’s Schools reforms

Now, the taskforce do suggest one thing that probably will help. They are talking about more funding for lower-decile schools, so they’ve changed the equity component of the operations grant. So high-decile schools get a lower per student funding than lower decile schools and they’re going to be faired up at the bottom end.

So see this is the problem with the proposals, they’re turning the whole education system upside down and re-looking at everything from zoning, employment of teachers and principals, the role of boards.
Instead of just saying we’ve got a funding issue, let’s address it, we’ve got a learning support issue, let’s address that. Schools are not following their rolling rules, let’s address that.

Instead they’re pulling a wide-brush over the whole sector.

You talk about these proposals like they’re already being enacted, are they?

I’ve attended some ‘consultation’ meetings recently where the taskforce says they’re ‘listening’ to us. However, I’ve heard through the grapevine that the Ministry of Education is already aligning their internal structures to fit with hubs.

I’ve been to several meetings with Bali Haque and he talks about it like it’s going to be wonderful. He addresses me personally, saying, “Steve, you’re overexaggerating, it’s not going to be like that, that’s not what we intended”.

But when I say teachers are going to be employed by the hub, he says, “yeah but you know we’ll give you full right to do what you like with teachers, don’t worry about it”. But that’s not what it says Bali.

So in five years’ time when Bali is off doing his next review, somebody else will be reading the rules as Bali wrote them and that’s exactly how they’ll interpret them: ‘I can come and take your teachers, thank you very much’.

So although he’s downplaying it, I just am nervous that we need to read it as it’s written.

To what extent can Macleans challenging the government and teaming up with other principals actually challenge the proposals?

One of the best avenues we’ve got, is that we’ve got the ear of Nikki Kaye, the National Party spokesperson for education; and Chris Hipkins has said he wants to make this a cross-party reform, so that when and if the government changes, it’s not just going to be repealed.  

He wants to get National on board; he wants to make sure they’ll be long lasting changes. Nikki Kaye is opposed to the hubs model so if we can get her to hold firm on that then possibly, we’ll get some change that will be good news for us.

Read more:
The Collegian: Public meeting on taskforce recommendations hosted at Macleans
NZ Herald: Battle over school reforms begins this week as 70 public meetings begin

Interview by Grace Baylis and Justin Hu. Transcript lightly edited for enhanced clarity. Published on 11/04/2019. Header image courtesy Macleans College News Committee

Read more about the proposed education reforms:
NZ Govt: Tomorrow’s Schools Review — Full report and summary
Stuff: What is an Education Hub? Unpicking the new vision for NZ’s school system

Newsroom: Tomorrow’s Schools: Beware equity over excellence
Newsroom (opinion): Tomorrow’s Schools and fear of a one-size-fits-all system
Stuff (opinion): Education Hubs sensible and overdue
The Spinoff (opinion): Auckland Grammar principal: Education Hubs would be a disaster for schools

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