14 September 2011

Governments in the UK, Australia and New Zealand are not alone in proposing different accountability standards for teachers as a tool to support improved educational standards. The China Daily reported yesterday that there is a crisis of ethics in China’s education sector, indicating that the Ministry of Education will require teachers’ ethics to form part of performance evaluations, appointments, promotions and rewards.

“Teachers whose behaviours run counter to social customs or established norms should not be allowed to go unpunished. In other words professional ethics should be given priority above everything else and teachers found lacking in it should be disqualified.”

China has adopted a system of test scoring children structured around the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment.  The programme was piloted in Shanghai.  In a 2009 survey, Shanghai was the world leader in Maths (NZ was 13th), Sciences (NZ was 7th) and Reading (NZ was 7th).   Shanghai processes, described by the OECD as “a pioneer of educational reform” , are being rolled out elsewhere in China.

The Chinese approach is that professional ethics are a primary requirement for a teacher’s qualification. This statement has some juxtaposition with the results of a Fudan University survey of teachers published before “Teachers’ Day” last week.  A finding was that more than 94% of Shanghai’s teachers were feeling pressured by the test score process,  heavy workloads,  preparatory work and perfomance assessments that were closely linked to their pay.

Initial consideration which the New Zealand State Services Commissioner gave in 2010 to extending the State Services standards of integrity and conduct to teachers met with opposition from teaching unions. They saw integrity standards as a method of constraining the freedom of teachers to criticise government policy. The unions wanted teachers to be distinguished from other State servants covered by the code of conduct and the obligations of loyalty and fidelity to their employer of every other NZ employee (who is prevented by law from undermining their employer’s business).

Regardless of the Commissioner’s standards, teachers, as employees in the State sector, are required by the Cabinet Manual to be “fair, impartial, responsible and trustworthy”.  Being impartial is the challenge. What are the political neutrality duties of teachers who are motivated to oppose education law and policy?