ADVERTISING, STATISTICS - AND FACTS

  • Wyatt Creech
Education

You may have seen the newspaper and TV advertisements that the PPTA has been running of late. The ads purport to answer what the PPTA calls the Governments misinformation campaign. I do not accept their claim for a moment.

Naturally a number of people have asked me what I think of these ads.

Lets begin at the beginning. The Government wants to pay teachers more - a lot more. We have been trying hard to persuade the PPTA to accept on average $5000 more.

The proposal currently being talked through by the SSC is clear proof that we do value teachers work. For the record, the current offer of $47,000 at the top of the basic scale would give teachers an average increase of almost $100 per week - thats a 12% rise. And using the PPTAs own data comparison, it equates to $US30,700 for a trained graduate after seven years of teaching - the average for OECD members at the same stage is less than $US23,000.

The ads publish a raft of statistics that are supposed to prove our pay rates are extra low. I think we all know statistics are easy to manipulate. Apart from Mark Twains famous remark about there being, in order, lies, damned lies and statistics, there is an old story about Winston Churchill asking an aide for some statistics on infant mortality. And by that, young man, he is reputed to have said, I mean I want figures that show fewer babies have died under our Government than under the previous one. Now that, young man, is a statistic!

Half a million dollars has apparently been spent on this campaign. That is a lot of money. I really wonder if it could have been put to better use.

Comparisons between countries are notoriously difficult - their value is minimal unless you are genuinely comparing like with like. In this case, that is not being done. Two points immediately come to mind.

Firstly, in most of the other countries mentioned, it takes a great deal longer to reach the equivalent of our top of the basic scale teaching position. In New Zealand, teachers get there in 8 years. In Italy it takes 40 years to reach that level. It takes 45 years for Spain. In America 16 years. Only Britain and Australia are near New Zealand in this regard, and Australian salaries are almost comparable to New Zealands - slightly lower if anything.

Secondly, the vast differences in school systems across counties are being ignored; as are any references to pay levels of other occupations in those countries.

Ive seen the argument advanced that not all teachers will get the $47,000. The Government has budgeted for 100% of teachers to be eligible for this salary step. All they need to do is prove competence by meeting agreed performance criteria - such things as keeping up to date with their subjects, reporting back to parents on their childs progress and so on. As long as a teacher is doing their job effectively, they will get the $47,000. It would not reflect well on the quality of our education system if teachers did not meet that standard. I certainly expect that most will.

By significantly increasing pay we are addressing the teacher recruitment and retention problem. We know we need to attract bright and enthusiastic young graduates into teaching and we want to retain the good teachers we already have. To that end we offer graduates with a 3-year degree a starting salary of $29,000. In addition, we have introduced salary units of pay that can be added to the basic salary to retain teachers in certain areas, or reward exceptional performance. As well, progress up the scale to the top position will be faster.

Teacher workloads and job satisfaction are part of the argument. The Government has agreed to set up a Ministerial Consultative Group, comprising teacher, principal and school trustee representatives, to discuss workload issues widely and come to a satisfactory conclusion.

There are a couple of other bits of misinformation floating about. The current loss rate of teachers has been quoted as 14% or more. In fact its 10% on average. Less that 3% of teachers are leaving to take up other occupations. Many who leave do so due to retirement, because of family commitments, to take up further study or travel overseas.

Another red herring being thrown up is that this contract has to last us for 5 years. This seems to be based on our commitment to a unified pay system - paying primary teachers on the same basis as secondary teachers - and hypothesises that secondary teacher wages will be frozen to allow primary to catch up. There is no agreement about this length of term. I would be surprised if the PPTA made no claim in two years when their contract expires. And an integrated pay system is a significant rethink about how all teachers are paid.

Finally, I re-iterate that New Zealand teachers are worth more. Our offer is a fair and reasonable one that will pay them more. What we need to do is negotiate a solution. I - along with the rest of New Zealand - want to see this damaging dispute settled and education move forward.