Education

Lift in teacher status could breach Bill of Rights

It's a bid to raise the status of a profession under fire - but the move to formalise the title of 'teacher' could have consequences for the livelihoods of others. Farah Hancock reports. 

A bill the Attorney General has found to be in breach of the Bill of Rights could help raise the profile of the title 'teacher' and even help alleviate the teacher shortage, according to education leaders.

The Education (Protecting Teacher Title) Amendment Bill, now open for submissions, will allow only those with recognised teaching qualifications, such as a Bachelor of Education, a diploma in teaching gained with a bachelor’s degree, or a four-year conjoint degree, to use the title teacher.

Teaching industry representatives believe the bill will raise the status of teachers and hope it may help draw staff to a profession suffering from shortages.

The Member's Bill was authored by New Zealand First’s Tracey Martin and sponsored by Jenny Marcroft when Martin became a Minister. The explanatory note contained in the bill says the introduction of charter schools has made the perception of what the title of teacher means, unclear.

Charter schools have been allowed to refer to non-qualified staff as teachers. However, all charter schools are now required to apply to be designated character schools and will not have this ability.

New Zealand Educational Institute president, Lynda Stuart, said the institution welcomed the bill even though charter schools’ days were numbered.

“Over the last few years we have had attempts to undermine the professionalism of teachers. Charter schools is one of the really clear ways that you can see that. There was the ability to employ unregistered teachers and yet still call them teachers in those charter schools. We don’t debate the titles of doctor or lawyer, so I think the time for ensuring we are really careful around the use of the word teacher, is here.”

Stuart said raising the status of the title of teacher is important.

“At the moment we have a real difficulty in attracting and retaining teachers into the profession and part of that is around the fact many teachers don’t feel valued for the expertise and skills they have got.”

Schools are reporting difficulty in recruiting staff. One high-decile Auckland school received just three applicants for an advertised role lately, and all were based overseas. Five years ago it  received more than 200 applicants for positions.

In a newsletter to parents the school said its strategy for dealing with the teacher shortage was not desirable. The plans included increasing class sizes or taking specialist and special needs teachers and senior management staff away from their current duties and using them to fill shortages.

The Principals’ Federation president Whetu Cormick said measures like these were quick fix solutions but necessary to ensure children would not miss out on education.

“We’re not going to be able to solve this over the next year or two. This is, I reckon a 10-year focus. It’s going to be massive to get the shortage issue resolved.”

He also supports the bill.

“This is saying we need to protect the amazing things teachers do and we need to raise the status of the profession. I fully support what she [Tracey Martin] is trying to achieve.”

Paying respect to teachers he hoped would reverse what he said has been a tough nine years.

“We have a shortage of teachers now, and my strong belief is that has resulted because the teaching profession has been battered and bruised by the previous government with high levels of compliance, lack of funding and a lack of support for children with learning and severe behaviour issues. It’s become a very unattractive position. Young people aren’t going to it.”

While the bill could raise the status of the title teacher, the Attorney General has found it could also be in breach of the Bill of Rights.

In his report on the legislation Attorney-General David Parker found it significantly limited the right to freedom of expression.

The word 'teacher' had a wide ambit and individuals, however qualified, who represent themselves as teachers with an expertise in an area such as music, ballet or yoga were expressing their right to freedom of expression, the report said.

With the bill’s proposed change to the Education Act, any unqualified, unregistered person who “uses or permits to be used, in connection with the person’s name or business, the words 'teacher', or any words or initials intended or likely to make any other person believe that the person is a qualified and registered teacher” would be committing an offence.

Parker’s report said the restriction would limit the ability of people such as ballet or yoga teachers to conduct their business.

"The likelihood of confusion arising between teachers who are qualified and registered under the Education Act and specialist teachers who do not work in schools is low."

Submissions on the bill close on April 13.

Additional reporting by Shane Cowlishaw

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