14 Sep 2018

Principals fear for future of flagship education policy

11:34 am on 14 September 2018

Growing pressure on education spending is raising expectations the government will bankroll its education plans by trimming some of the $150 million-a-year set aside for one of the previous government's flagship policies, the Communities of Learning.

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School principals expect the government will reduce spending on the Communities of Learning scheme. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

School principals have told RNZ they expect the government will reduce spending on the scheme, which pays expert teachers and principals more to lead work in groups of schools.

The government has said it won't make a decision on the initiative until it has finished reviewing the Tomorrow's Schools system of school management and governance.

The principal leading the Mid-Bays Community of Learning in north Auckland, Ken Ward, said schools were worried about the future of the scheme.

"There is some nervousness because like everything we do in education when we're given these initiatives and projects we work really hard to make them work. So our worry is the communities of learning will go," he said.

Mr Ward said schools could try and maintain the closer relationships they had built through the communities of learning but that would be difficult without the funding that supported the scheme.

In Rotorua, secondary school principal Patrick Walsh recently stepped down after two years leading a community of learning for Catholic schools in the area.

He said the scheme was good, but it needed changes including reducing the sums paid to the teachers and principals appointed to lead the groups.

"The premise was that status and money was going to drive people to be part of communities of learning, and talking to other teachers and principals they would prefer that resource actually to be put into professional development and resources for students rather than paying project leaders and across-school-coordinators a whole truckload of money," he said.

Mr Walsh said schools would appreciate a clear signal from the government about the future of the scheme.

The leader of another Rotorua community of learning, Lorraine Taylor, said she too wanted to retain the scheme, but with less money for the lead roles.

"At a time when we are asking for a pay rise I think teachers would unanimously say hey we need to put some of that resourcing back in to be able to release teachers to attend professional development sessions and to work on new concepts and new programmes that would support student learning, and putting all that money into salaries is a problem really," she said.

In Renwick near Blenheim, the head of one of the first communities of learning, Simon Heath, said the extra pay for lead teachers and principals should not be changed.

It recognised the extra work required of those roles and it would be a mistake to redirect that money elsewhere, he said.

"These teachers are being expected to pick up a workload, an extra workload, because of the expertise they have," he said.

Mr Heath said schools were worried the government would try to trim money from the scheme and that would be a bad idea given because the scheme was working well in his area.

"It's lifted teacher capability and we have evidence of that, it's shifted teacher pedagogy and practice and we have evidence of that and it's changed the way we lead our schools," he said.

"It's been a game-changer for us and so I think anything from the current government that's going to take away those key changes for us we would see as negative."

National Party education spokesperson Nikki Kaye said the government appeared to be preparing to cut funding for "expert partners" that provided advice and guidance for communities of learning.

She said the organisations were being given one-year contracts for 2019 and it was not clear what would happen in 2020 and beyond.

"That means schools don't get this long-term certainty to build their community of learning so they need to know what's happening," she said.

The government needed to be transparent and tell schools if it was planning to change the scheme, she said.

But Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the government had not yet made any decisions around funding for Kahui Ako.

"We are waiting for the outcome of the Tomorrow School's Review to determine what impact it might have," he said.

However, Mr Hipkins indicated some change is likely.

"This government supports collaboration between schools, early childhood services and other parts of the education system. We don't, however, want to see the collaboration focus on a very narrow range of measures, which is one of the criticisms by the profession about Kahui Ako/CoLs."