The Government changed the law in 2015 so that the Code of Ethics for teachers was changed into a Code of Conduct. This may seem a minor issue to those outside the profession. But for some teachers it has felt like another kick in the teeth from a Government that does not respect their professionalism and expertise.
A Code of Conduct could be used as a punitive measure, and to constrain educators’ ability to speak out. Teachers should have the right to speak out on education issues in the public interest against poor policy that may harm children’s learning. The Code of Ethics would ensure that there was some oversight, but not with a low trust model that the Government has promoted.
The new Education Council has attempted to side step the issue by drafting a Code and Standards without using the word “Conduct”. The Code has some good principles but I submitted to the draft on a couple of issues that still need addressing.
The first issue is Te Tiriti o Waitangi. They talk about the requirement to being “bicultural” with no definition. This is not what Te Tiriti commits us to. They require teachers to have high expectations of Māori students so they can succeed as Māori. This sounds great but ignores the fact that if many teachers knew how to do that, the school would already be working better for far more tangata whenua students. If the education of teachers does not help teachers change an assimilative western model of education, then they cannot meet the code. There is a way through this, reinstate and expand Te Kotahitanga, the programme that helped teachers get past their biases and recognise what students being Māori at school requires of them.
The second issue is inclusion for students with high learning needs. Again, fine words are in the new Code but without creating a culture of inclusion in every school, the requirement to be individually inclusive is damned. We do not teach trainee teachers how to create this culture, and we do not require experienced teachers to participate in compulsory professional development funded by the state.
The Code is a positive effort but it still reads as if our society is primarily Pākehā rather than multi cultural and multilingual and it asks individual teachers to embody principles around inclusion and Te Tiriti which the current system undermines. That is not fair on anyone!