Opinion // 13.12.2015 // Curated by Ed.

Putting Learners First: Teach First NZ

Teach First NZ is a widely-lauded non-profit which aims to “tackle educational inequality by developing top graduates into highly effective teachers and inspirational leaders in all fields”. They do this by putting these graduates through an intensive 6-week training programme before putting them into salaried positions in schools, allied to a learning programme with the University of Auckland which leads to completion of a Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching.

Last week, the Post-Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) won a legal challenge to this approach with the Employment Relations Authority ruling that these Teach First appointments are unlawful as they have been deemed to breach the Secondary Teachers’ Collective Agreement and aspects of the State Sector Act 1988.

While the unfortunate consequence of this is a challenging period of uncertainty for the programme, it is important to note that the PPTA was within its rights and doing its job (representing the employment interests of its members) and doing it well.  They aren’t bad people – as with the rest of us, they have a right to enforce the employment agreement of their members and they have exercised it.  Like it.  Don’t like it.  It is what it is.

Ok, but does Teach First work for the children?

In general, the evidence from studies around the world indicates that it does – especially in science and maths.  A detailed literature review commissioned by the PPTA and published in 2012 states:

“Perhaps most critically, the few well‐designed, larger‐scale studies that have been conducted to date on balance seem to demonstrate that TFA‐prepared teachers are at least as effective in fostering student learning as compared to their traditionally‐prepared colleagues, and perhaps more so in subjects like mathematics and science.”

This success is more likely where there is a close partnership between the Teach First programme and a university/college of education – as there is here between Teach First NZ and the University of Auckland.

Right-oh, but that’s overseas. What about in New Zealand?

Evaluative research produced by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research shows that the first cohort of Teach First participants coming through the programme performed very well.

“Most of the cohort was perceived to be teaching as well or better than a ‘typical’ first year provisionally registered teacher (PRT). Two of the 16 participants were reported by VCSs and school mentors in September to be finding the transition into teaching more difficult than the other participants. All participants were enjoying positive relationships with some or all of their classes.”

As is to be expected with any new initiative, this finding (along with a wide range of other positive observations) was not without qualification and a number recommendations for improving the operation of the programme were made.  However, overall, Teach First participants were seen to be delivering for the children and had earned the respect of their peers and Principals.

The Principals like it?

Jim Luders, a Principal and educator of 30 years standing was quoted as saying:

“Every single Teach First candidate we’ve had has just been outstanding, they are so thorough, so hard-working and so resilient, it’s unbelievable. Our kids get major benefit from them.

“I put my kids first, and for my kids, these guys [Teach First trainees] are outstanding. This is the best thing for kids in low decile kids and this system works.”

Deirdre Shea, Principal of Onehunga High School is has said:

“Onehunga High is a proud supporter of Teach First NZ.  On a local level we are working together for the benefit of our community and on a broader level we are working together to address the critical issue of equity in New Zealand.  The critical issue of young people not achieving equitably in our society, the critical issue of a shortage of quality teachers in hard to staff curriculum areas felt heavily by schools serving low-decile communities and the critical issue of top graduates not routinely considering teaching as a career.”

It also seems that Principals gave evidence in support of Teach First NZ to the Employment Relations Authority viagra en ligne quebec.

Ruby Knight - Teach First NZ
Ruby Knight, from Christchurch, did her Teach First training at a low-decile Manurewa high school. (Image originally from this Stuff article)

Principals support it. Research supports it. What’s the problem?

The Employment Relations Authority has ruled that it breaches the Secondary Teachers’ Collective Agreement by providing paid positions in schools that are not advertised and available only to Teach First participants.  The Authority also ruled that it breaches sections of the State Sector Act 1988.

While the ruling strays a little into value judgements on the relative abilities of the Teach First participants that it is simply not qualified to make (particularly in the face of educational research and evidence given by respected educators close to the programme), it seems that characteristics of the programme either breach or at least tip-toe along the lines set down by the Collective Agreement.

In order to move forward, this will need to be fixed.

Is that really it?

An interesting observation from the report commissioned by the PPTA regarding the Teach First model states:

“…many traditional teacher education stakeholders have observed TFA’s apparent alignment with the rise of deregulation, choice and marketization, key planks in a neoliberal/neoconservative educational reform agenda.”

All we can say for sure is that the action taken by the PPTA through the Authority was positioned as an employment dispute.  However, the statement above suggests that opposition to Teach First could also have grounding in perceived ideological differences.

Ironically, depending on how things go from here, their action may provoke some deregulation.  We’ll see.

What next?

Given the weight of the evidence and opinions of education leaders appears to line up behind Teach First’s ability to deliver for learners, we would argue that the barriers to their legal and effective operation should be removed.  This may be through a combination of changes to one or more of the key factors – the State Sector Act 1988, the Secondary Teachers’ Collective Agreement and perhaps some small structural changes to the programme itself.

What should matter most in all of this are the outcomes for the learners.  Despite protests to the contrary, inevitably this ends up not being the case as they are the ones who end up becoming the political football.

With the evidence in hand you’d have to say that Teach First appears to work for the learner – including the participants.  We hope both the Ministry of Education and the PPTA will sit down and negotiate in the interests of the children – as they have indicated they are prepared to do.  The Authority have handed the PPTA a powerful bargaining counter for their negotiations and they will no doubt use it to its fullest.  Like it.  Don’t like it.  That’s their job.  For the sake of the learners and Teach First NZ, we just hope both parties make it quick.


For those who want to do the reading (and it is interesting) links are provided below.

Literature review commissioned by the PPTA
NZ Council for Educational Research evaluation of Teach First NZ
Full Employment Relations Authority judgement