NZ Herald: Teacher strike: Please Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, invest in education

Article originally published on  NZ Herald 15/03/2023

As parents stare down the barrel at more interruption to their children’s education this week, it is clear the Government’s response to our teachers has been a failure.

So far this year, many children in Auckland have missed five days of school in addition to Thursday’s looming strike. School has begun to feel optional rather than essential, with some parents at breaking point.

The Prime Minister washed his hands of the strike, referring questions back to the Ministry of Education. Which seems inadequate considering the ongoing interruption to education already this year. How many days off should parents be planning for?

Please Prime Minister, all we want is for our children to go to school!

There’s no surprise the issue underpinning Thursday’s strike comes down to a matter of pay with the cost of living at a 32-year-high.

The gap between the new minimum wage and qualified teachers is appalling. How is it possible newly qualified teachers will only earn $1.99 per hour more than someone on minimum wage?

So, what are our teachers asking for? They are asking for the Government to meet inflation at 7.2 per cent per annum, while at the same time making concessions around teacher-student ratios.

On Monday the Government announced a benefit boost with main benefits going up by inflation (7.22 per cent). It seems inconsistent that we can’t do the same for our teachers.

In the last six years the Government has increased the minimum wage by 44 per cent. Could you imagine if we had done the same with teachers’ salaries?
Why do we continue to devalue the critical role of our teachers who carry a load that goes well outside the classroom?

How many other professionals do you know of who manage 25 customers (students) for six non-stop hours per day, alongside 50 or so stakeholders (parents and caregivers)?

Outside of these six hours per day – also known as after-hours – there is admin, professional development, attending school-related activities and responding to parents thrown in the mix.

A few weeks ago my eldest son headed to camp. At camp the teachers are constantly “on call” for four days, working from daybreak, well past sunset and through the night with homesick kids.

How do we value our teachers’ time for this additional work? An additional $25 per night($75) is all that’s allowed.

So, what do we need to do to improve outcomes in our education system?

Well firstly, we must invest in our teachers. We must, as a nation, transform our view of education and begin to invest in our teaching workforce and our schools. If we don’t, we will continue to see downstream effects.

We also need to value early childhood education as a core enabler for education success. As one of the most expensive countries in the world to access early childhood education, we need to improve the pathway for children entering school.

National’s recent election promise to increase the investment in early childcare education needs to become the future baseline and something we as a country should commit to.

We also need to listen to the concerns of our teachers (and parents!). Teacher-studentratios are a key enabler for teacher satisfaction.

Many schools have moved to the new learning environment with 70 plus students andtwo to three teachers. Anecdotal feedback tells us that this isn’t working and bothparents and teachers are dissatisfied.
On the other hand, the evidence actually shows that “teacher looping” e.g. the student having the same teacher for multiple years, is more beneficial for the student and leads to better academic and participation outcomes.

Instead of an oversized classroom with limited teacher resources, schools should instead be encouraged to move to “looping”, enabling the teacher to have the same cohort for two years.

Much like in healthcare where we talk about ‘continuity of care’, this would see the students, parents and teachers benefit from a continuous long-term relationship.

And lastly but most importantly, we need to ensure that we make teaching a desirable occupation where teachers are well rewarded for their contribution to our society.

In an election year it is critical that we as the voting public shine a light on the key issues that will move the needle for our country. The education system should be at the heart of this.

Alongside healthcare and the economy, education needs to be a pillar of this year’s election cycle. And the change starts with respecting the role teachers play in our children’s development.

As a foundation for the future, education is an essential part of life and after three years of disruption, we’re standing at a precipice we can no longer ignore.

So please Prime Minister, invest in education.