A controversial trainee teacher programme is scrambling to find a new partner after splitting with the University of Auckland.
Teach First NZ, a private training programme that places graduates in low decile schools, is in a race against time.
Based on a UK model, the New Zealand arm took its first intake of teachers with fanfare in 2013.
It aims to fill teacher shortages in subject areas like maths, science, and Māori, by paying trainees an on-the-job salary for two years following an initial eight weeks’ training.
As the first of its kind in New Zealand it was met with scepticism by many who were concerned about unqualified teachers in classrooms.
Since then, however, it has successfully put through groups of up to 20 teachers a year, with evaluation reports praising the high calibre of teachers.
The core programme was developed by the University of Auckland, which featured prominently in promotional material and media articles.
But that relationship has ended, leaving Teach First without a partner for 2018.
Late last year Teach First released a tender seeking a replacement.
It is understood that despite initial interest from several institutes, an agreement has yet to be reached.
Chief Executive Jay Allnutt played down concerns when contacted, assuring Newsroom an announcement on a new partner would happen “shortly”.
The split with the University of Auckland was not an acrimonious one, although he admitted Teach First would have liked it to have continued.
“Part of the challenge for the University of Auckland was to do with the upcoming changes in the ITE (initial teacher education) sector … they were aware there were going to be some changes so were reluctant to commit to continue to deliver our particular qualification in the medium term.”
He refused to say who Teach First was negotiating with, but says they are a quality provider.
“We’re working to a tight timeline, we do have a very specific timeline, but working with the various stakeholders including the powers that be we’re confident we can get it done.
“We are going to have to work pretty sharpish behind the scenes to work up a qualification and make sure it meets the standards.”
Auckland University’s Dean of Education Graeme Aitken backed up the comments, stating the decision to pull-out was fiscal.
The entire post graduate teacher curriculum was being reviewed for efficiencies and with the five-year Teach First pilot agreement ending the small programme had to go.
“The signals about the future of teacher education are not clear, but we’ve decided we just can’t wait any longer so we’re completely reviewing our programmes anyway.
“It’s not driven by the need to review but it is driven by the fact we know things are changing in the policy space.”
Hitch for Kaye (nee Hekia)
Teach First is strongly supported by outgoing Education Minister Hekia Parata, who has defended the organisation from criticism.
She also oversaw an Amendment to the Education Legislation Bill that allowed schools to establish a “trainee teaching” position in the classroom.
The move was forced after the Employment Relations Authority ruled it was illegal to appoint the Teach First graduates to jobs over qualified teachers who were excluded from the roles.
If the 2018 intake doesn’t go ahead it will be a blow to the Government, who has championed public/private partnerships.
Teach First now falls under Associate Minister Nikki Kaye’s delegation, who is tipped to take over from Parata once she steps down.
Her counterpart in the opposition, Labour’s Chris Hipkins, has serious concerns about whether Teach First should continue next year.
Despite the programme performing well since its inception, he believes a large portion of this success was due to the credibility of the University.
“I think there will be some understandable anxiety if they aren’t going to be involved in the programme.
“I think that does raise the question of whether the programme should stay and whether the Government should continue to fund it.”
PPTA president Jack Boyle also has fears about the loss of the University of Auckland’s experience.
There was undoubtably a teacher shortage in certain areas and subjects, so the potential loss of one of the programmes trying to address the problem was worrying.
“I also feel for these graduates who are thinking about jumping into this course, it’s still advertised on the website but there’s not even a provider yet.”
The Government was bullish in its response, with Kaye arguing it was “not helpful to scaremonger”.
She had been updated that the process was quite far through and she had no concerns at this stage.
“Obviously, there are a range of processes that have to happen in order for Teach First to get their money and be signed off in terms of quality and I think we do have to wait and see who that partner is.
“At the moment, I think people are jumping ahead a little bit and we need to wait and see who their partner is.”
Clock is ticking
Whether Teach First has time to get a new course up and running is debatable.
If a suitable partner is found, the programme will still need to be re-certified by the Education Council, NZQA and the Ministry of Education.
This is not a quick process and could make it difficult for the 2018 programme to proceed.
The Education Council would only say they were “comfortable” with Teach First’s timeline.
Pauline Barnes, professional services general manager, was aware of the hunt for a new partner and expected to see a programme proposal in the next few months.
A new strategy for ITE programmes was being developed, which would aim to raise the standards of entry, particularly in literacy and numeracy.
ITE could become a post graduate qualification under the strategy, which will be released in April for consultation.