The International Summits on the Teaching Profession are unique. There is no other International Forum where Governments and Teacher Unions sit down together and discuss policy on the future of the teaching profession. The previous three had focussed exclusively on teacher policy issues such as recruitment and professional development of teachers, school leadership and teacher evaluation.
However the themes considered by this year’s Summit in New Zealand were wider covering such areas as how schools with the greatest needs could be supported, how learning environments could address the needs of all children and how equity could be achieved where powers are decentralised to schools.
They are real Summits. Education International and the OECD are the ongoing sponsors. This bipartite relationship has to be reflected in the planning committee where this year the hosts included both New Zealand Government Officials and the two school teacher unions; NZEI and PPTA. The press are not allowed in for the actual debates.
Ministers and teacher union leaders are expected to publically announce joint objectives for action in the coming year having had separate side meetings. The EI pre and post meetings were particularly successful this year. Linda Darling Hammond gave expert advice. EI’s Unite for Quality Education campaign underpinned the discussion.
A successful summit
Was the Summit a success? The simple answer is yes although there are always lessons to be learnt such as how to create a more free flowing dialogue. What couldn’t be faulted was the New Zealand hosts’ determination to create the most ambient conditions for debate. It took place in New Zealand’s Parliament. All the apparatus for productive Summit discussion was in place.
Curiously, the most potentially controversial themes were the least debated probably because the EI and OECD Background Documents and presentations on how to support schools with the greatest needs and creating equity in devolved systems were largely accepted.
While some of the discussion on funding was inevitably sharp, (as EI President Susan Hopgood concluded, the mantra, ‘more for less’ is not enabling!), the thirteen governments there accepted that education systems had to be supportive and coherent even if there was potential disagreement on how they should be organised. Governments which might have been embarrassed by these concepts such as the English Government chose to stay away.
The overarching theme which emerged was the importance of collaboration; collaboration between teachers; collaborative rather than top down management, collaboration between schools and collaboration in the system. It was framed theoretically by Michael Fullan, a Summit expert witness, who argued that the development of individual human capital, while important, was less effective than the development of social capital.
This theme was reflected in some of the agreed union/government country objectives. Canada agreed to promote collaborative cultures that support the teaching profession and distributed leadership. Germany came to a similar agreement.
Scotland representing the UK chose to pursue outcome agreements for young people facing the greatest challenges by collaboration between governments, unions and other partners. Perhaps most profoundly, given the recent aggressive lockout of teachers by Danish employers and Danish Government hostility, Denmark’s unions and government agreed to ‘re-establish the dialogue and cooperation between the government and teacher unions’.
Collaboration is an extremely fertile theme particularly in countries which have resisted social dialogue with unions. Indeed the country objectives which can be accessed on the Summit website, www.istp2014.org indicate that the Summits can create real opportunities for unions to enhance the quality of their members’ professional lives. This might seem an obvious comment but worth asserting since some governments have yet to fully understand that teacher unions are the authentic voice of the profession.
The good news is that the New Zealand Summit finally embedded the Summits for the foreseeable future. Canada and Germany have committed themselves to hosting the next two Summits with Hong Kong and Scotland expressing an interest in the two Summits after that.
By John Bangs, Senior Consultant to the EI General Secretary