What Is New Zealand Doing to Hold Teachers Accountable? | Richard Wells | 2 Min Read

America and other countries are finally waking up to the unfairness and thus meaningless nature of standardized testing. The sad part is how predictable it was that it would take something like a worldwide pandemic and 2 million deaths to change thinking. Multiple states and countries are announcing that COVID-19 has shown them that high-stakes exams might be unfair and they currently can’t ‘guarantee a level playing field.’ This is very strange in that inequality in preparing for such tests has always existed in extreme terms — the ’playing field’ has always been on a hillside. When the wealth, education, and stability of the parents have always defined results around the world (with or without a little bribery), why run tests when we already knew the results? The only standardized test all parents, teachers, administrators, and students should be forced to take is one that contains just one question: What’s the difference between equity and equality? 

If innate talent or the classroom had anything to do with academic ranking in standardized exams, rich wouldn’t always beat poor, girls wouldn’t always beat boys, and my own school with 300 students per grade level might not have awarded its top annual academic award for the last three years to its only Muslim (2020), its only German (2019), and its only Israeli (2018). 

If COVID-19 has made a star of inequality and in doing so questioned the validity of standardized tests, then making judgements of teachers based on these scores sounds even more ridiculous. 

New Zealand, where I am fortunate to live, not only acts as a 2020 example for COVID-19 response but continues to be a beacon for how to run education. In a country where university is much more affordable, it might be shocking to discover that all kiwis can obtain entrance, including to a world top 100 university without sitting any standardized exam! It, therefore, goes without saying that we also have a more equitable approach to teacher accountability and development. 

In NZ, a strengths-based approach means teachers are held accountable only to their own development in 6 practicing teaching standards. Every three years, teachers renew their registration to teach by showcasing their development in all six areas to the school’s principal. Principals are then audited for their decision making. Each of the six standards has specifics listed but in short, they are:

  1. Te Tiriti o Waitangi
    • Teach with recognition to NZ’s bicultural status (Māori + English)
  2. Professional learning
    • Teaching informed by best practice research
  3. Professional relationships
    • Educational relationships with teachers, students, and community.
  4. Learning-focused culture
    • Individual development over comparative ranking
  5. Design for learning
    • Design activity and resources based on the individual learners and current research. 
  6. Teaching
    • Respond and adapt during teaching to meet needs.

Accountability is to support significant individual professional development and not irrational judgments based on students’ results that are clearly defined predominantly by student homelife. New Zealand, like Finland, knows quality education comes from having quality teachers who can develop strong learning environments. Teachers officially assisted and encouraged to grow their professional skills makes for a happier workforce which in-turn makes for happier and more successful classrooms. 

Richard Wells

Richard Wells is a world-recognized educator, author and blogger on future education trends. He has presented around the world and has been rated in the top 50 world influencers for educational technology use. He currently works in school leadership and is passionate about moving schools forward to better represent the needs of the 21st century. Richard is an EdTech influencer who founded EduWells, a top 10 education blog. He is the author of A Learner's Paradise, a book in which he explains how education can operate without classrooms, lessons, subjects, and tests. Richard proudly started his career with a degree in Fine Art from Manchester in England. He worked in IT before contracting to work in schools, digitalizing their workflows in the late 1990s. He became an educator in 2003.

4 thoughts on “What Is New Zealand Doing to Hold Teachers Accountable? | Richard Wells | 2 Min Read

  1. I am surprised at your Polyyanaish praise for the NZ Education system given your background. Are you not aware of the Tail of Underachievement? The reasons for this are not a mystery to those like me whose advice was implemented under a Code of Practice and ‘Consultancy Model’ (implemented by a trained SENCO after each school visit). Now routinely ignored or given lip service due to ‘Too Hard Basket’ that occurs in absence of structure. One sentence explanation for Tail by a teacher who ignored my advice for a bright but vulnerable Maori boy, “If he want to sit at the back doing nothing with his (Maori) mates, that’s his choice”. Could this happen as a teacher in Manchester? Certainly not when I was a teacher in London, with lesson plans, frequent observations and ‘walk throughs’ by SMT. All anathema in NZ as the system is too often arranged around the needs of staff. We all hated the demands of the Code until good practice was embedded. Students and parents didn’t complain as they were the intended recipients. NZ Teacher Standards? Typically never used

    1. Kia ora Rob,
      I’m sorry your experiences have been seemingly predominantly negative and I’m wondering about what time period you’re referring to and interested into which area of NZ you’re working. Like any country, there are poor practitioners and any system like the code takes time to embed. All NZ schools are at different stages of implementing the modern, professional culture outlined by the code. In fact, I often highlight that professional behaviour (being constantly connected to, aware of, and engaged with the profession) is a relatively new concept for many teachers, who traditionally were trained and the expected to work out the job over years inside their classroom – a reason why acting on the code seems alien or “too hard basket” for some. The schools that are well led and accepting of a need to move the professional forward by adopting the code are making “world-leading” progress in student cultural and academic outcomes. There are obviously some school communities who are more reluctant to change from traditional approaches that often let students “decide to sit at the back with their mates.” I can reassure you from the perspective of the conversations taking place at meetings between principals in NZ, that professional and progressive expectations are becoming normalised – such as a removal of class streaming. In my school where I still teach Year 7 and 8 every week, we have professional learning groups meeting monthly on improving practice targeting nationally identified ‘priority learners’ (Māori, Pacific Island, and other traditionally underserved groups). I hope this offers some comfort.

  2. I see that you are not trained as a teacher, so like many in the Ministry of Education upper management regard Education in the abstract, and don’t meet the “That’s not my job” Too Hard Basket reaction of teachers under a typical absence of standards and accountability

    A Reality Check in the website box

    1. Kia ora Bronwyn,
      I’m not sure where you read about me but I can reassure you I and a trained and practicing teacher currently teaching Year 7 and 8 every week. I am a Deputy Principal with a Masters in Education. Please see my response to Rob above and I’d be keen to chat further.

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