Cold, hard cash settled the teachers’ dispute, even though there had been many high-minded claims from the union over teachers leaving the profession because of the stress of the job, and the lack of classroom support.
Even in the wake of the settlement some leaders within the profession were wailing the new pay scales would do little to attract fresh talent into the profession.
And let’s face it: that’s what NZ schools need.
There are still enormous gaps in the education system between high-performing schools and those at the lower end of the scale. Critics say standards in NZ schools fall far below those in advanced economies like Singapore and Japan. The government kicked in another $271m on top of the original $1.2bn over four years to bring the pay dispute to an end. Under the settlement teachers will get an average pay increase of 3% over three years, a new top step of $90,000 and pay parity between primary and secondary teachers. Union members also receive a one-off lump sum of $1500.
The maximum base salary for all teachers with teaching degrees will be $85,490 per year.
The new top step of $90,000 is to be available to teachers with teaching and subject degrees.
The Ministry of Education estimated at least 24,000 teachers – 46% – will be on $90,000 from July 1 2021.
The new teachers’ agreement will take effect from July 1, with a three-month delay in the terms and conditions coming into force for non-union members.
NZEI president Lynda Stuart is “immensely proud” that teachers now had a significant pay increase and a unified pay scale with their secondary counterparts.
However, she says the government failed to address to address the need for primary principals to have pay parity with their secondary colleagues.
“Complex workload issues remain, and the improved offer to teachers also amplifies issues around pay relativity for principals of smaller schools”.
As teachers celebrated the end of protracted negotiations, primary principals across the country are said now to be now gearing up to fight again for better pay and conditions.
NZEI lead negotiator Louise Green worries the offer did little to retain current talent or attract new principals into the profession.
Principals of rural schools are also at a disadvantage, Green said.
“Potentially principals in these smaller schools will be earning less than teachers in larger schools in leadership roles.I think communities all around our country are going to be worried because the vast majority of schools in our country are smaller schools,” Green said.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins was “disappointed” principals ignored the union’s recommendation to accept the latest offer.
“We were very, very clear with both unions [three or four weeks ago] that this was a final offer.If they want us to reconfigure the offer within the amount of money that’s available … we are always open to talking about that. Always have been. But there will not be any more money for principals in this round”.
The minister said principals were among the highest income earners in their communities, the majority of them earning over $100,000 a year.
He said pay parity was a long-established policy for primary and secondary teachers, but the issue of parity for primary and secondary principals was “a longer-term issue” that would be discussed through an “accord” agreed as part of the pay settlement.
The accord notes that a unified pay scale (UPS) has been confirmed for teachers and says:
“The extent to which a UPS relates to principals will be a matter for future discussion.”
“We put it in the accord because we know we have got some work to do.“
He said the next step would be for primary principals to
” … get back around the table with the Ministry of Education.
“Of course we need to keep talking to them. There is goodwill, I think.“
Let’s hope Hipkins can build on that goodwill to ensure a reciprocal improvement in teaching standards, particularly in the drive to close the gap in education performance among Maori and Pasifika children.