College job losses of concern

Principals share union concerns job losses at the University of Otago College of Education may lead to poorer-quality teacher trainee programmes and graduates less prepared for the classroom, the president of the Otago Primary Principals Association, Jenny Clark, says.

The university announced on Wednesday a proposal to ditch 23 teacher educators and four general staff by the end of 2012 and fill seven of those academic positions with staff with different skill sets. The move has been made to save money and to build up the number of "research-active" staff.

Teacher educators teach early childhood, primary and secondary-level teacher trainees classroom practice and supervise their work placements.

Mrs Clarke said she received an email from college dean Prof Helen May on Wednesday saying it was imperative the college still produced "outstanding teachers for New Zealand communities".

"It is hard to work out how this will be achieved by reducing the financial resources to the college and making significant reductions to staff, many of whom provide the expertise related to the practical dimensions of teacher training such as practicums, basic classroom management techniques, and literacy-numeracy expertise."

The college had "a fine reputation" for producing quality teacher graduates who were sought after by employers because of their balance of theoretical and practical skills, Mrs Clarke said.

Principals and employers wanted reassurance that research-active staff, who might not have teaching experience, would have the capability to continue to pass on both theory and practical skills to trainees.

The university has called for submissions on the proposal by June 11. Education sector groups would be making their views known, Mrs Clarke said.

The Otago Daily Times was unsuccessful in gaining an interview with Prof May yesterday to find out what impact job losses and the employment of more research-active staff might have on teacher training programmes.

In a statement, she said all academic programmes would be retained and maintained, although there would be "some streamlining of some courses in terms of taught hours and class size".

The former Dunedin College of Education merged with the university at the start of 2007. About 30 positions were lost at that time, most of them through natural attrition.

Prof May said staffing needed to be reduced because the dual teaching degree programmes running at both institutions at the time of the merger had ended.

"While everyone has felt busy, there have been staff without full workloads."

Tertiary Education Union southern organiser Kris Smith said yesterday "a handful" of staff might have low workloads but there were other staff with more than full workloads.

"Job losses for a handful of staff may be justified, but not 27 - this is philosophical."

This week's concerns echo union and education sector comments made at the time of the merger that teacher training would gradually change from being practically focused to a university academic and research model.

Mrs Clarke said the university entered into the merger knowing the college would not fit the university model.

"I am curious about how [it could do that] and very soon afterwards be reshaping."

Otago Secondary Principals Association chairman and Blue Mountain College principal Kevin McSweeney could not be reached for comment yesterday.



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