Pathway-ED: Pondering on pay and pathways

Stuart Middleton
EdTalkNZ
18 March 2011

It is always good to hear that industrial disputes involving teachers have been settled and agreement reached on pay issues. Such drawn out issues are disruptive, distracting and distressing for teachers who want to get on with the job. They are also critically important. The quality of a settlement is a key factor in teacher recruitment especially of young New Zealand potential teachers and although there are other factors that impact on recruitment the promise of a fair and competitive remuneration is a big influence.

Details are yet to be announced but media reports suggest that the settlement is based around a simple equation that says that a degree of any kind plus a teaching qualification will pull a greater salary than simply a teaching degree.:

$ [(Degree) + (Teaching Qualification)] > $(Teaching Degree)

Media reports also suggest that this is intended by and large to head off primary teachers and restore the advantage secondary teachers had prior to the introduction of pay equity. This is surely simplistic analysis because the formula will apply to quite a number of primary teachers (probably as many as 30%) and we can expect their next pay round to attempt to secure the same conditions for that group in the interests of pay equity.

I must comment on the restoration of the importance of the Christmas Holiday that separates primary education from secondary education. What is it about a 50 day break that requires distinctly different qualification profiles on each side? The excessive emphasis on qualification type and on remuneration based on shoe size and the number of Christmas holidays were all argued against in the days of the quest for pay equity. Now it’s back to the future or is that buck to the future?

No one can argue against the value of a degree in general regardless of the fact that a portion of any degree will be unrelated to the disciplines subsequently taught. My degree qualifications include English, French History, Philosophy and Anthropology. I taught French (briefly and badly) and English (rather better I think). I have never formally studied business but I teach on an MBA programme and supervise doctoral students on a range of topics some related tangentially to education. There is a general value to general degree education that is greatly to be encouraged – a liberal education indeed demands it.

But to claim that this should trump a degree in teaching is a big call (and rather denigrating of such degrees). Has enough thought been given to the place of a teaching degree for secondary teaching? When there is such an inexorable drift towards vocational degrees in the university it might well have had a valuable place.

And there may be some unintended consequences to this settlement if it has been portrayed accurately.

We are inevitably going into a phase of development in secondary education that will require the senior secondary school to expand the pathways available to students.  There is a call for much more opportunity for students to engage with career and technical education at an earlier point. Conventional academic education designed to get students to the starting gate for a university / degree programme remains important but finally there is a realisation that a growing number of students are not well served and in many cases not at all by this single focus. This raises the issue of who then is needed to teach in the secondary school of the future?

If secondary schools are to have an increased capability in the delivery of the trades and career and technical programmes then the degree + teaching formula qualification doesn’t work. The people required for this will be those undertaking teaching as a second career. Does that ring a bell?

One of the historical, clear and hurtful divisions within the secondary teaching community was between technical teachers and the rest simply because their experience and qualifications were not given equity with the degree qualified teachers required for subjects of the conventional academic canon. I taught many technical teachers in my early years as a teachers college lecturer. They brought a wealth of experience from the world of work and life in general into the classroom. More importantly they taught applied subjects on the basis of long experience in applying them outside of the classroom – real teaching about real world activity. We know that large numbers of students responded to this and were able to access secure futures from it.

But we solved all that – a points system awarded them degree equivalence and promoted them into G3 to get equivalent pay (on reflection that was quite patronising). We then stripped a huge amount of the technical education capacity out of the school and looked for degree-qualified teachers to teach technology (which might have been much better served by attracting technologists who often don’t have degree qualifications – this does go around in circles.)

If an unintended consequence of the increased focus on degree + teaching qualification as the entry ticket to secondary teaching is a more constrained ability to provide that expanded set of pathways to students, the only way open to students will be to access those options outside of the school system (in polytechnics or private training providers or industry based training for instance). Alternately, the capability to provide for that group of students will need to be brought into the school through the development of innovative pathways to tertiary and industry-recognised qualifications. Trade Academies and suchlike developments are already starting this process.

Finally, I am again wondering whether teacher pay and student pathways are both impacted on negatively by the continuation of a sector-based approach to education. But that is another story.

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