Saturday, 21 September 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Industrial action in the education sector

We are all aware that last week was a remarkable time in our education sector. For the first time in more than 30 years, teachers in schools across New Zealand (primary, intermediate, secondary and area school teachers) took direct industrial action - ie we were “on strike.”

The primary teachers have been in negotiations with the Ministry of Education for many, many months, along with the secondary teachers and, most recently, the area school teachers. Parents of the students in our kura will never have known teachers not to be at school, they have always been here. Strike action is something we do not undertake lightly as a profession. We know the impact it has on our communities, whānau, and children.

Some detail which is important to be shared is that over the last 10 years or so, teachers have had a minimal lift in their salaries at each bargaining round, in the order of $700 per annum for most, and in reality they have progressively gone “backwards” when considering the cost of living, etc. That is on the finance side alone - a significant adjustment is well overdue.

There has also been poor recruitment of teachers into our profession over the last 10 or more years. The scale of remuneration is fixed and inflexible, and salaries are capped and remain static. This does not provide an incentive for incoming teachers to see a 20-year commitment in education to be in parallel with any other roles in society, hence we lose many good teachers within the first five years of service. This now has the impact in our profession that the median age of our teachers is in the mid-50s and projecting forward 10 years or so, potentially half of all teachers and principals currently employed in New Zealand will have left the profession.

Clearly insufficient teachers for our growing young population is a national issue. Without more quality teachers, our classrooms will bulge in numbers, which is what we are seeing in bigger cities like Auckland and Hamilton.

We know that the number of students in our classes has a direct impact on the quality of relationships and hence learning, qualifications and education as a whole. Resourcing includes staffing resourcing too, alongside the other requisites (eg classroom and infrastructure resourcing, property and buildings) for effective learning. Much has shifted and changed in the last 10 years and we struggle constantly to “make ends meet” and to deliver what we believe we need to achieve so that all the students of our school - from our 5 year olds through to our school leavers -  are able to be the best they can be.

And let us not forget, it is also about nurturing and supporting our teachers. Alongside nurses, surveys show teachers are, as a profession, the most trusted members in our society.

It is critical that all of the above is reflected into the true value we see in our teachers, now and into the future. Our team at Mercury Bay Area School put themselves front and centre in the classroom, time and again. They are creators of powerful learning experiences, engaged and trained mediators, and supporters of our tamariki/rangatahi as they navigate the moving and challenging world of growing and developing skills around relationships and how to interact positively and respectively as a “society” within our kura. Our team is deeply engaged in the wellbeing of all our young people - a role we take incredibly seriously.

Finally we took industrial action because we have a profound belief in the moral imperative that our role is to help craft and create great Kiwis, who will be able to contribute into society and the wider world effectively as well-rounded, “confident, connected, lifelong learners” (the principle aspiration of the New Zealand Curriculum, 2007).

Your support is gratefully acknowledged. Thank you. 

Pictured: Many of the Mercury Bay Area School teachers marched peacefully through Albert Street in Whitianga during the nationwide teachers strike on Wednesday last week.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.