Teacher education in New Zealand 1974–2014

Nov. 01, 2014

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 40, No. 5, 447–460, 2014.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

New Zealand teacher education has been major changes since 1974: to policy, the locus of programmes, quality control measures, entry standards and governance.
Teacher education has been part of revolutionary systemic change to the school and tertiary sectors reflecting underlying assumptions about national direction.

1970s Consensus
Before 1974, initial teacher education was under Department of Education control.
In 1974, primary teacher education took place in eight stand-alone colleges, with staff recruited from the ranks of successful teachers.
From 1968, decisions on staffing, finance, curriculum and student numbers in colleges were made by the national Department of Education in Wellington.

The beginning of change
Social consensus began to be questioned in the mid-1970s.
Net migration losses during the 1970s, combined with a falling birth rate, led to a drop in demand for teachers.
Two teacher colleges were closed.
Two years later all colleges suffered significant losses of staff, knowledge and skill through redundancies, after student intake numbers were slashed by ministerial decree.
A significant long-term change occurred when the Department of Education in1979 accepted the recommendations of the Hill Report for a new qualifications structure for teachers, as an alternative to the degree route.

Government reforms and their aftermath
Educators initially welcomed the election of a Labour government in 1984, however, Education was not the government's immediate focus.
Meanwhile, unemployment was rising and the Education and Science Select Committee report (1986) concluded that too many students were leaving school without formal qualifications, too little was being done to bring unsatisfactory teachers to account and the influence of professionals needed curbing.

Education was a major focus during the government’s second term.
Significant reports addressed the compulsory sector (Picot Report 1988) and the post-compulsory )Hawke Report 1988).
The Department of Education was abolished and replaced by a policy-oriented Ministry; schools became self-managing entities governed by elected local Boards of Trustees.
As part of the changes in higher education, teachers’ colleges became autonomous.
They became subject to the competitive ethos espoused by government and in spite of their efforts to act collegially, as they were accustomed to doing, the new competitive funding model led to strains.

1996 saw far-reaching changes to teacher education provision made in response to a teacher shortage.
In a climate characterised by suspicion of professionals and belief in deregulation, competition and innovation, the Ministry of Education announced two significant changes.
The protected field of teacher education would be opened up to any institution willing to develop an approved programme.
The government would also fund intensive one-year courses for graduates wishing to enter primary teacher education.
The changing role of teacher educators:
In 1974, it was believed that successful teaching experience in schools would fully equip new staff to be teacher educators.
There was no requirement for lecturers to engage in research, which was seen as the preserve of the universities.
In 2014, with the bulk of teacher education carried out in universities, teacher educators are now expected to complete doctorates and take part in the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) quality evaluations.
From 1990 to 2010, the colleges/universities also had responsibility for the Ministry of Education (MOE) funded professional development for teachers.


While teacher education in New Zealand has changed markedly since 1974, it is difficult to isolate the relative importance of articulated policy and policy borrowing, research, and short-term responses to social, economic and demographic changes.
New Zealand makes systemic change relatively easy as the reforms of compulsory and post-compulsory sectors in 1989–1990 demonstrate.
Since 1990 institutions and their staffs have adjusted to changing conditions caused by policy assumptions and regulatory requirements sometimes with reluctance.
There are particular dilemmas for university teacher education staff.
On the one hand, they aim to develop students’ critical awareness about the status quo in education.
On the other hand, they must prepare students to work in a system that is constrained, where professionalism means questioning your own classroom practice but not the wider contexts in which schools operate and the factors outside the classroom that affect children’s learning. For example, the current government sees introducing national standards in literacy and numeracy from years 1–8 as crucial in lifting performance and providing information.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is balance.
New Zealand teacher educators have found a home in the university sector, albeit one that values theoretical research more highly than investigation and improvement of practice and rates international, rather than local, publication as key.
They must prioritise an enquiry-based practice, working with colleagues in schools.
There is need to develop balance between autonomy and intrusive control by state agencies set up to regulate teaching.
There is a need to balance the drive to raise standards of entry against the need for a varied intake of students.
Most important is the balance between narrowly defined achievement and the wider role of education and its purpose, which is embedded in the New Zealand curriculum document. Teacher educators must insist that students are not cyphers but individuals whose lives can be changed and enriched by their activities.

Department of Education. 1988. Administering for Excellence: Effective Administration in
Education. (Picot Report).
Wellington: Government Printer.
Education and Science Select Committee. 1986. Report of the Enquiry into the Quality of Teaching. (Scott Report). Wellington: Government Printer.
Hawke, G. 1988. Report on Post-compulsory Education and Training in New Zealand. Wellington: Government Printer.

Updated: Jan. 17, 2016