Here I stand Part 5: Begins with Kathryn Ryan and tricky ERO: ends as the posting that couldn’t be published and a shattering revelation

  1. ‘The media, even an outstanding representative like Kathryn Ryan, never gets even close to the heart of it. Below I will describe how, two days ago, Kathryn Ryan was trifled with by the education review office – it was disgraceful but, to us in education who care, it is our reality.’ (Part 1)
  2. ‘A recent example is the review office laying out the ‘new truth’ on the teaching of mathematics, well and good I suppose, but the ‘new truth’ is the exact reverse of the previous one. To back up the U-turn, the bureaucrats assembled some ‘evidence-based’ research which, in me, creates disturbing associations:  a collection and interpretation of unreliable numbers; a fable to deceptive ends; an idealised white picket-fence suburbia set for betrayal. But it never ends well, because the hierarchical system is a control system which means there is always a rapidly forming contradiction in the dialectic.’ (Part 3)

This posting ‘couldn’t’ be published because of what happened after I had completed it.

When I heard Stephanie Greaney in her discussion with Kathryn Ryan trying to account for the ‘the alarming maths decline’ (as Greaney put it), I was infuriated by her failure to make clear that maths may be in decline but the review office directly contributed to the practices that led to it. It was a case of piling blame on teachers. I was furious and decided to write a posting about it, but was diverted to something else which, eventually, became the posting I couldn’t publish. 

In preparation for commenting on the significance of the discussion between Kathryn Ryan and the tricky Greaney (RNZ 19 February), in which the education review office ‘urged action on the alarming maths decline’, I thought I’d look at the recommendations of the Picot report, the preliminary to Tomorrow’s Schools, to check out how the functions of the education review office were described.

As an aside, and after reading the Picot report, where we are in education today is cause for monumental paradox. All the problems supposedly found in the old system, many of them mistaken or exaggerated it should be pointed out, are to be found, or have formed, in technicolour, in the new. The Labour government employed the Treasury to produce the report, so it is undertaken through a Treasury prism. Lange, it is suggested, in an act of folly (remember that this was during his carousing phase), in response to his neoliberal economics ministers, proceeded to betray, in casual ignorance, the primary school education culture.

It is all a further reminder that in school education, Labour is a gold card member of the education establishment. In the present, all the key institutions of education remain as they were, no doubt to act in a kinder, more thoughtful way, but all in place to bare their teeth on a change of government – think education review office, communities of learning, and senior ministry staff devoid of classroom experience – leaving aside the brisk ‘I’m out of here’ by the primary trained Iona.

And then my eyes lit on it and this posting became and diverted, despite various unsuccessful attempts to get it back on course.

Within the Picot report was a matter of what seemed like considerable moment.

The Picot report, said about the ‘Review and Audit Agency’, ‘Those conducting reviews would not have another function. In particular, they would not take on responsibility for advice and guidance and instructions apart from any recommendation they wished to make on the progress of institutions.’

And by institutions, it doesn’t actually mean in the plural but one by one, if it did mean collectively it would have been contrary to the beginning of the sentence and to the ‘In particular’, in particular.

The pivotal point is the sentence beginning with the emphatic expression ‘In particular’, such an expression was put in to mean something, and it does, it means that under no circumstances should the education review office provide advice and guidance beyond recommendations to a particular institution.

If that legal section still stands, the review office is, and has been, acting significantly outside its legal brief and has been for years. It will no doubt say it is a fine line, but fine lines are the essence of the law, and crossing them is still breaking it. And the review office didn’t just cross the line, it mounted a prolonged onslaught, leaving it in near total control of huge swathes of education territory, now illegally occupied.

A recent official statement says ‘The functions and powers of the office are set out in Part 28 – sections 323-328 – of the Education Act 1989. The quote from the Picot report above is section 328 in Part 28, so there you go.

The education review office and their ministers, Labour and National, have ignored the out-of-control review office for years, to the ministers’ power advantage, but at considerable cost to primary school education. Probably the ministers even encouraged this power grab to enable them to make any changes they wanted to with impunity.

I could spit tacks.

The irony of my argument is that the origins of section 328 are from the neoliberal absurdity of insisting that assessment be kept separate from practice; a separation which is not just wrong but impossible. But the law is the law and, anyway, on consideration, if the review office’s wings were solidly clipped, the review office would be the better for it, and the education system significantly so. To reiterate, the education review office is the most powerful institution in primary school education, even more so than the ministry. The ministry proposes but the review office disposes.

Because schools know it is a waste of time organising advisory support for anything contrary to review office policy, private providers follow review office policy exactly; because schools want beginning teachers to fit in immediately with review office policy, universities follow review office policy or graduates will be shunned; unless the advisers proposed in Labour Party policy follow review office policy closely, especially in the basics, their use in schools will be restricted. That is how the aggrandisement of the review office works.

The review office is ministry of everything.

The review office is only responsible to the minister, so there is no other recourse for a school, and any school that doesn’t comply with the review office risks a career-affecting report. From the time Judith Aitken took over the review office (from 1991 following the gentle and primary school-informed Maurice Gianotti), the agency has had virtually complete control of the curriculum and organisation within schools, sometimes with ministry and political awareness, sometimes without. Because National was utterly set on snuffing out teacher knowledge it refused to consider an official syllabus review, so it used the review office to bring in any curriculum changes it was set on. A recent example: To bring in a new curriculum for the whole of the curriculum, the review office developed a set of indicators which is a curriculum in disguise. I believe Labour wants the same uncurtailed power and will not act to fundamentally change the review office or to curtail its existing illegal powers. [Oh boy and girl, was I right on that one.]

What the review office says goes in schools, who would or could demur?

To get back to the interview, I don’t want to spend too much time elaborating on this line of argument, but would like to point out that the education review office has been in decisive control of schools since 1991, so any faults in the system are largely theirs, and to be fair, as well, any successes.

But as a philosopher said after the French Revolution: Where is the success?

The review office, ministry, and universities need to apologise to teachers. Teachers should not be blamed and condescended to in the way Greaney condescends. The class practices that characterise the Numeracy Project have been led by the review office, ministry, and contracted university trainers. These three groups placed huge pressure on teachers to group children in maths according to the stated Numeracy Project stages and levels; as well, if a child didn’t achieve a certain stage or level, the received instructions were to hold them back, which often meant the whole class was held back, leading to difficulties in getting children through the prescribed syllabus. There was also pressure to concentrate on number strategies rather than number patterns. Professor Doug Clarke (Melbourne) who researched the mathematics’ stages of development children pass through in their learning never intended his research to be used as the basis for grouping children but for teachers to be aware of children’s stages of development.

[In Attacks! 15, 28, 29, there is a detailed description of a non-grouped, problem-based way to undertake maths. There are other ways of taking maths, but they all have problem-solving at their heart as the way to discern and understand patterns.

Attack! 15 Holistic mathematics Part 1

Attack! 28 Holistic mathematics Part 2

Attack! 29 Holistic mathematics Part 3]

The real problem in maths, also the real problem in reading, writing, science, and social studies, and all the curriculum, is that the bureaucratic mind has a hold on teachers and the curriculum. While the bureaucratic mind will allow fragmented change it won’t allow cohesive for fear of losing control. The following is an example of the bureaucratic mind at work; it might seem inoffensive but is demoralising to teachers: ‘Students are aware of their progress and achievement and are able to identify their next learning steps’, but you see, good learning does not occur in steps, the mind is not a pair of legs – it is all so clinical and distant, like bookkeeping as teaching. (And to put that particular absurdity on to children and from them on to teachers is double horse feathers.) Children’s learning should not be a pair of legs but an albatross flying freely but with control, continuity, and purpose; sometimes speeding with the currents, at other times slowing with a steadying flap of the wings, diving and soaring, or gracefully turning and changing level for more favourable current. Anything the review office writes has that awful John Hattie feel about – sort of variations on WALTs – and the devastating thing is the review office will never change, it can’t, because it is the quintessence of bureaucracy, and so we are condemned.

No matter how good bits of review office advice are, it cannot get it right because it would have to let go of some of its control, and that, by bureaucratic definition, cannot be allowed. The indicators (as referred to above) are a perfect way of demonstrating the manner the review office went about usurping the New Zealand Curriculum and everything near it. The ploy to structure the indicators as an evaluation framework is a deft move as the term ‘evaluation’ is always a neat way to catch the curriculum tiger by the tail.

So Stephanie Greaney get off the air you are breaking the law. And while you are about it, get those publications off our shelves with their prolix jargon-laden words, nauseously sanitised tone, obsessive assessment policies, and woolly ideology.

But it became a posting I couldn’t publish because, on checking the Education Act, I found this, enacted on 02 January 2018.

Quelle horreur!

Chief Review Officer to perform certain functions

The Chief Review Officer shall—




when directed by the Minister to do so; or


notwithstanding section 32 of the State Sector Act 1988, of the Chief Review Officer’s own motion,—

reviews, either general or relating to particular matters, of the performance of applicable organisations in relation to the applicable services they provide; and


administer the preparation of reports to the Minister on the undertaking and results of such reviews; and


give the Minister such other assistance and advice on the performance of applicable organisations as the Minister from time to time requires.

Section 325: inserted, on 25 June 1993, by section 25 of the Education Amendment Act 1993 (1993 No 51).

A review office licence to education mayhem.

Whether something like this had been enacted earlier I do not know; I’ll leave it to someone else to determine whether the review office has been acting illegally in the time leading up to 2018.

But then, for me, the shattering revelation: note the date when it was enacted – 02 January 2018 – the Amendment Act began under Hekia Parata but was allowed to continue under Chris Hopkins, probably to his considerable satisfaction.

What is it with the Labour Party and school education?

Chris Hipkins is deeply committed to the review office as are all members of the education establishment, and to quantitative academics and their so-called evidence-based research – 27 years of review office domination of school practice and research, and failure, but for Chris Hipkins the failure lies elsewhere. He has committed himself to a radical change of the institutions of Tomorrow’s Schools except the one most representative of neoliberalism. But, then again, Hipkins will be one of those naïfs who think Tomorrow’s Schools was a matter of Treasury coming up with some efficiencies that simply occurred to them.

It has been open slather for years for the consummately non-democratic education review office to take over school education, ministers of education of whatever ilk have thrived in it. I know the clubby Wellington establishment refuses to accept that Lange’s changes undertaken by Treasury were based on the neoliberal philosophy, which conveniently allows the supposedly left-wing part of it to enjoy in untroubled conscience, the untrammelled power the review office allows them to indulge in.

Chris Hipkins, you are condemning whatever changes you make, no matter how good, to failure, and another generation of children. Oh yes, condemn me as a Wildman, no doubt to the supportive noises of the establishment around you, including the teacher organisations, but I can’t write what I believe to be right, as I have for three decades, and not coincidentally been right, and make it sound like a memo.

Oh darn it, even though the posting is now redundant, I think I’ll publish it anyway.

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Here I stand Part 4: The education phenomenon that has had an even more baleful effect on education than the review office

The review office is the major structural reason why primary education is in decline, but there is a phenomenon that has had an even more baleful effect (unsurprisingly, it is directly connected to the review office in function and ideology). It is a phenomenon that has made many principals and teachers strangers in their own vocation but, while pervasive and powerful, not easy to isolate for effect or to eschew.

That phenomenon is the jargon-based organisation and leadership ideology that flourished and established itself as a public and corporate truth from the 1960s.

The effect on Tomorrow’s Schools education reforms, which were considerably an expression of that phenomenon, was one of alienation and dispossession. Tomorrow’s Schools was influenced by that phenomenon’s call for separation of function, especially between administration and practice, and practice and assessment.

Attendance at leadership courses and the burgeoning jargon dispensed by them now became key criteria for principal appointment resulting in a proliferation of such courses. Bureaucratic appointment similarly rested on organisation and leadership knowledge, with teaching experience and knowledge, especially in senior positions, given no weight. Education appointment priorities were turned on their head, serving to intensify the general failure of leadership throughout the system.

On the basis of appointments to the bureaucracy over the last decades, it seems bureaucrats with little or no teaching experience were favoured, presumably so their loyalty to the hierarchy would not be tested by such experience. The developers of Tomorrow’s Schools imposed a corporate structure on the administration and practice of education. Certain leadership manuals and books were treated like given doctrine but they, yes, I’m including Tom Peters here, invariably contained a very good narrative and a very bad truth. And the system structure became a rampant feast for the bureaucrats (no longer Janus-like, so why should they care) and quite a few principals – but a famine for teachers and children.

A fateful characteristic of organisation and leadership jargon is the position of superiority immediately assumed by those attending on the basis of the course name alone. For those participants there was a sense of initiation, of a shaman-like experience, of gaining special knowledge that set them apart from the uninitiated. In abiding ways, leadership courses were divisive in schools especially between principals and teachers, and principals and the real curriculum. For politicians and bureaucrats, organisation and leadership knowledge, in being generalised knowledge could, with equal calamity, be effortlessly applied across all education organisations by those who, in reality, didn’t have a clue about learning or school or classroom functioning.

If one talked or wrote about the curriculum, the real curriculum, tried to get a conversation going, tried to persuade others to take the curriculum seriously, tried to point out the intriguing complexities of the curriculum, it was a world that looked on blandly then moved on as if to say I don’t really understand what you are saying and even if I did I wouldn’t be interested. It was a world in which the curriculum, the real curriculum, was absent, replaced by leadership jargon intended to organise a curriculum to suit in the form of whatever was handed down by the hierarchy.

How many times over the decades have I written that an education system should begin with the principles of, for instance, reading, that ultimately, if the system is a child-centred one, extends to the secretary of education and the minister? There are three provisos for that quality of system to be achieved and sustained, first, the better the quality of those principles of reading, the better the decision-making of that minister and secretary; second, open, democratic structures are in place to encourage that better decision-making to occur; and third, the minister is willing to listen, and the secretary and most other appointments below have had successful classroom experience to be able to grasp the significance of what has been transmitted.

The year, 1990, the setting the Waipuna Conference Centre; the occasion an Auckland Principals Conference; I had an hour to say whatever I wanted to say. I launched into it in impassioned tones. I titled my talk: ‘Knowing who we are, knowing the new reality: then getting on with the real curriculum.’

The emphasis was on the characteristics of the New Zealand way. I talked of Clarence Beeby, Elwyn Richardson, Sylvia Ashton-Warner, developmental teaching, the balanced reading system (‘I can read’), drama (potentially life changing), the arts (responding to the environment as a place in the South Pacific), social studies (interaction of knowledge and the affective), science (investigative), mathematics (problem solving), and writing (sincerity). Particular attention was paid to the need to engage the affective as the basis for learning, to teachers having the freedom to pursue children’s interests freely and imaginatively; and to the availability of choice (carefully set-up following a series of open-ended activities) for children in their learning. At the end, I was satisfied with what I’d said and the reception received.

When, however, I was in the morning tea line, two principals in the coffee one headed directly to me; one of them spoke, the other nodded in agreement.

‘Kelvin,’ the principal said, ‘that was good, but we are past that now, the curriculum is not our real interest, administration is.’

This already in 1990.

The comment was tellingly germane to when the role of principals in relation to the curriculum changed. It was at that moment I fully comprehended that the role of the New Zealand principal had, indeed, changed and in a desperately wrong direction.

And 17 years on from that course … surprise … surprise.

A ministry publication, Kiwi Leadership for Principals, 2007, reported that ‘most principals had lost touch with the curriculum’.

In other words, had lost touch with the purpose of schools, and had replaced it with leadership and organisation ideas.


Since then, matters have only worsened. All largely unrecognised, of course, because to recognise it you need to know curriculum. In this lies the tragedy of New Zealand primary schools. The jargon of organisation and leadership had done its undermining worst. Only the steadfastness of some classroom teachers and a rapidly reducing group of principals staved off an even sharper decline in performance as demonstrated in international tests but even more marked to the informed observer in the wider curriculum. The 2007 ministry publication said school leadership in the future would have to be fundamentally different from school leadership in the present and then followed-up, forlornly, with even more administrative jargon. All futile, because the answer lies not in administrative jargon but the curriculum, the real curriculum. After having attended the first leadership course, what else is there to learn? Nothing … what is essential would have been delivered (after all, it is not complicated unless someone wants to make it so) and then for principals to take it from there.

I could go through every part of the education system and predominating classroom practice and find pervasive error. The present education system is unsuited in every respect for education in a democracy. It is proceeding in headlong pursuit of hierarchical, narrow, and technocratic ends. An analysis of what is, and what could be, in relation to an encompassing and dynamic system main aim, should be undertaken. A rule of thumb could be everything is askew below an appearance of normality. Fundamental and cohesive change should be undertaken with an emphasis on teacher knowledge and system respect for it. The present value system of what constitutes a good education system and good teaching practice is engrained in the values of Tomorrow’s Schools, after all, it has been in place for 27 years, and many teachers, principals, politicians, and bureaucrats know no other. Values take years to change beginning first with a recognition that change is even needed, to then being open to change, and finally to valuing and acting on that change. I fear a big bang approach to, or expectations of overnight teacher change. In the end, authentic and lasting teacher change finally takes place in private reflective moments. I don’t want change, no matter how good, forced on teachers and, in regard to the system, I don’t want only one kind of change to be tolerated. I want a democratic education system that, after the appropriate circumstances have been established, trusts teachers to do the right thing.

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Here I stand Part 3: By a series of circumstances, the truth of education in a democracy was struck

The File and this writing is predicated on the main aim for school education in a democracy being to prepare children for life in a democracy and to support and protect it. What else could the main aim for school education in a democracy be? But nothing like that main aim is ever even whispered by the hierarchical establishment (John Dewey having been lost in the mist of the education history), let alone declared, because the establishment, at this juncture, wants the main aim to be about employment and computers or whatever the power elite wants it to be.

In the 1940s, the New Zealand education system, by a series of circumstances, struck on the truth of education in a democracy which, of course, revolved around the education of the whole child. The social and political contexts for the gaining of that truth were favourable but its discovery was not inevitable, it took leadership; it took people to bring it together, to inspire, to effect clarity. Clarence Beeby was the director of education with a philosophical background and a strong commitment to broad conceptions of education; Peter Fraser was a slightly cantankerous prime minister who believed in the power of school education to make society more equal and to shift it in enlightened directions. They worked together to urge teachers to take up that broader conception of education; in effect they were considerably ahead of many teachers in their vision, sometimes resulting in them expressing their frustration at teachers’ unwillingness to change. The key person was Beeby who not only held those conceptions of education but also had a grasp of the practice to go with it. He is the model: those in charge of education in a democracy must value the curriculum, because all decisions from central policy to individual classroom planning need to be consistent with it.

The truth struck on by Beeby and Fraser, supported by a wonderful group of curriculum advisers, and taken on by a reasonable number of teachers and principals, was carried on best through the decades by senior teachers of junior classes (stjcs), establishing a tradition that is still marginally there today. The academics involved in education in the ‘40s and ‘50s were qualitatives who worked seamlessly with the curriculum advisers who were predominantly in the arts. In contrast, over recent decades, the academics involved in advising governments have been almost exclusively quantitatives, a good number from overseas, paid to fly in to confirm politicians and bureaucrats in the correctness of their system’s hierarchical structures.

Quantitative academics wield like a weapon the idea that the knowledge they produce is the unchallengeable truth, unchallengeable because it is evidence-based and in being evidence-based the sole source of education truth. When the numbers have spoken the world must fall dumb. In the value-laden area of education with its complexity of aims, the idea of evidence-based data being the sole source of truth is preposterous.  Most evidence-based data is distortingly confined data, lacking in magnanimity and cognisance of humanity. But in being the only data politicians and bureaucrats find useful for their hierarchical purposes, quantitative academics succumb to the power opportunities available and provide data to suit and, at times, rampant advocacy; while quantitatives take their place at the apex of education power, qualitatives are isolated and ignored and teacher knowledge nowhere. It has the feel of a pyramid scheme in which certain groups – the quantitatives with their government contracts; the politicians with their ideological satisfactions; the bureaucrats with their power; the private providers with their commercialised knowledge; and the corporates with their classroom intrusion for inculcation and riches – buy into the scheme, but don’t carry the penalty, children and teachers do.

No quarter is given to teachers as producers of knowledge, they are categorised as technicians and, as such, of little account.

At the moment New Zealand school education is firmly placed in the Western hierarchical model. In the ‘40s, though, it was within the Western shared-control of knowledge model and it was during that time the New Zealand education system developed the curriculum truth about education in a democracy. After the ‘40s, up to the Tomorrow’s Schools, it remained partly within that model. Certainly, New Zealand was visited and talked about as being different and was looked to as a source of inspiration and a break from the Western hierarchical model. At that stage, in international tests, New Zealand was at the top in reading and writing and middling in mathematics. Schools had considerable curriculum encouragement from those in the education bureaucracy to be imaginative and creative, often in opposition to strident calls by National ministers of education to return to the 3Rs. Towards the end of the ‘80s, evolutionary change was, indeed, needed (especially for Maori and Pacific Island education) but while schools and professional leadership were open to progressive change, the political leadership was either confused, that was Labour, or set on neoliberal ends, that was National. In the end, Treasury took advantage of the situation and convinced the Labour government that Tomorrow’s Schools was about freedom, when, in reality, as teachers found to their bitter cost, it was about establishing hierarchical structures.

Come the ‘90s, ‘new truths’ for education were produced. I accept that in the use of the word ‘truth’, it should properly always be contained in speech marks but I remain firm in my confidence of the Beeby truth as a truth, attached as it is to the expression ‘education in a democracy’. But in the ‘80s, ‘new truths’ were latched on to by David Lange, ‘new truths’ that accompanied the ‘economic truths’ of Roger Douglas. But in education in a democracy, an education truth that supports democracy is timeless, not bounded by technological or social change, so there can be no valid ‘new truths’. New Zealand, having had the good fortune to strike upon the education truth for democracy early, only required evolution of that education truth to circumstances as they arose, while remaining resolute to principles. The ‘new education truths’ of the ‘80s, because they were undemocratic in origin and purpose, by definition, are inappropriate for education in a democracy.

A note: because education truths based on supporting democracy, better harness the enthusiasms, ideas, and energies of its participants, an education system gets better value from those truths; an education system based on ‘truths’ less supportive of democracy, to keep up, needs more money to be spent on it. Recently, New Zealand primary education has had the worst of both worlds, ‘truths’ far less supportive of democracy and only 33 per cent of the OECD average in funding.

Whoever controls the knowledge, controls the system – the boon of controlling the system by the controlling of knowledge is its exquisite surreptitiousness. In all the decades of the media talking about education, not once has control of knowledge been discussed as a concept for how the education system works. That’s how exquisite it is for the controllers, and pernicious for the controlled. But teacher knowledge won’t occur under current education structures because the acceptance of teacher knowledge would be lethally disruptive to a hierarchical education system. When a government introduces hierarchical, anti-democratic education structures into an education system, the first light they put out is teacher knowledge. A hierarchical education system is of little ideological satisfaction to the hierarchical overlords if there aren’t substantial numbers at the bottom to be hierarchical over. Even though children’s achievement in international tests has plummeted and the lack of stimulus to imagination and creativity is an education disgrace, the hierarchical education establishment is largely indifferent, simply blaming teachers and coming up with non-solutions like communities of learning, different education targets, open plan architecture, special courses for teachers, and more computers.

Occasionally, the failure of some part of the system or curriculum becomes so overwhelmingly obvious that bureaucrats, fearing a weakening of their hold on the system, conjure up a breath-taking reversal of policy reminiscent of a totalitarian regime, especially with their point-blank unwillingness to acknowledge the centrality of their role in that failure.  A recent example, is the review office laying out the ‘new truth’ on the teaching of mathematics, well and good I suppose, but the ‘new truth’ is the exact reverse of the previous one. To back up the U-turn, the bureaucrats assemble some ‘evidence-based’ research which, in me, creates disturbing associations:  a collection and interpretation of unreliable numbers; a fable to deceptive ends; an idealised white picket-fence suburbia set for betrayal. And it never ends well, because the hierarchical system is a control system which means there is always a rapidly forming contradiction in the dialectic.

The main aim of a school education system should, by definition, be explicit and dynamic (but rarely is under a hierarchical education system because those controlling a hierarchical education system usually want to conceal the real main aim); it should be decisive in ordering what is in and what is out and allocating the various degrees of significance. Consider again the main aim I am suggesting: school education in a democracy is to prepare children for life in a democracy and to support and protect it. The question then becomes: how do you prepare children for life in a democracy and to support and protect it? The neoliberals and conservatives try to make their aim along the lines of preparing children for employment and a technological future and tie collaboration and creativity tightly to that. But the main aim allows only part of that. There is so much more to preparing children for life in a democracy beyond employment and technology, and note that the main aim also requires much more than passive, restrained compliance, it requires children to be active in supporting and protecting democracy. That means understanding democracy with all the monumental thinking and attitudinal qualities that demands.

Because in my writing I use words like ‘holistic’, ‘developmental’, and the ‘affective’; I recommend informality in programmes and flexible timetables; and I refer back to Clarence Beeby, Peter Fraser, Elwyn Richardson, and Sylvia Ashton-Warner, some interpret that as leading to a somewhat vague and soft learning. Just the opposite, I refer to the affective because if you are going to press the children hard cognitively, aesthetically, and attitudinally, you must gain their deep involvement. Commonsense tells us that as well as neuroscience. National standards have gone, leaving many classroom programmes as simply the same minus national standards – what is going to fill the curriculum vacuum? If the education review office retains its present structure with its capricious and judgemental review office reports on which principals’ futures depend, then, irrespective of advisers and some other changes, the matter is decided. (I do accept that the review office under Labour will be more enlightened but my interest in education goes well beyond the electoral terms of a particular government.) If the review office doesn’t retain its present structure, then the curriculum possibilities open up.

If this sounds as a lead into commercialisation, well too bad. But it ties directly to the theme of Beeby’s truths. I have produced a publication called The File which, in effect, amongst my system advocacy and such like, presents all the curriculum areas as a version of how Beeby’s truths might appear today. The publication is a beautiful object, in many respects handcrafted. It will be available in slowly produced batches from next week. I imagine it sitting on the staffroom table with teachers flitting through it, perhaps finding something of interest. (Total cost $50.00) To be very direct, my main purpose in producing it is for it to be my final statement, but if schools would like to purchase it, that would be lovely. The purchaser of The File will be sent further entries as they are written, so don’t think I’m at last shutting up.

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Here I stand Part 2: Labour as part of the establishment won’t tolerate any diminution of establishment power

  1. What goes around with hierarchical education comes around.

Two or three years before the implementation of Tomorrow’s Schools I was given a lift in a taxi from Wellington Airport by Noel Scott, Labour mp, former district senior inspector of secondary schools, in the course of which he proudly scribbled out for me on the inside of a cigarette packet the Treasury-inspired Tomorrow’s School’s structure. I was horrified by what I read and told him secondary might scrape through, but it would be a disaster for primary. (As described in networkonnet: ‘Who can teachers rely on?’)

And, on the whole, secondary education has largely been left untouched by Tomorrow’s Schools and its prolonged aftermath, protected as it was by its examination-based curriculum (bureaucrats and politicians understood secondary education better and took it more seriously so were loath to take risks with it), its departmental structure, the size of its schools, the fact that far more of the bureaucrats and decision-makers involved in Tomorrow’s Schools came from secondary (note that primary education in New Zealand receives 33 per cent of the OECD average; secondary education is on the OECD average). Early childhood was protected by its iconic and beautiful curriculum Te Whariki and by the strong women both in the universities and in the system who protected it like maternal warriors. Anyway, delving and experimenting with education policy in early childhood was not so emotionally, ideologically, and politically gratifying as doing so with primary school children. In all these characteristics, Labour was little better than National, but Labour, in being the originator of the primary school neoliberal education tragedy labelled Tomorrow’s Schools – meant primary school teachers and children were stripped of their natural political ally and left bereft and isolated. Tomorrow’s Schools was directly aimed at primary schools and it shows, one of the many pointers being the poor performance in the latest international tests when, at the beginning of Tomorrow’s Schools, especially in reading and writing, New Zealand was at or near the top. It is with primary education that politicians of both parties have played their games. The especial tragedy is that the primary school system, in comparison with other education systems, as a result of the education truths (Part 3) established by Clarence Beeby and Peter Fraser, had been the jewel in New Zealand’s education crown.

In the same networkonnet posting (‘Who can teachers rely on?), I describe the response on national radio of a Maori woman when asked about Tomorrow’s Schools: ‘How can I know?’ she said, ‘but it is their last chance.’

Labour failed that woman and, of course, Maori children, and is set to repeat that failure again.

  1. What goes around with hierarchical education comes around.

A major justification for Tomorrow’s Schools the Treasury artfully propagandised, also quantitative academics and the implementation committee, was to lift Maori achievement – to be enabled they said by new research identifying the reason why Maori children weren’t succeeding: that reason was teachers failing to make children feel culturally safe. Teachers were having dropped on them the responsibility for the education effects of social poverty and neglect. At the time of Tomorrow’s Schools, I had been going into classrooms in an official capacity for 21 years and had experienced many of the same comments and situations those researchers experienced but, on the whole, I came to a very different point-of-view. I saw teachers overwhelmed with the behavioural and learning problems, large classes, children only sporadically in attendance, and an unsympathetic teaching environment. I largely interpreted teachers’ reaction as a very human response to a near impossible situation. Of course, as I always do, I had taken the time to have respectful discussions with the teachers.

I want to say here that all in primary education, and in society, need to develop a Maori world view – it is a democratic right and responsibility (Attack! 132) – but that can only be done by appointing to schools Maori language teachers, not by fly-in courses on making children culturally safe. Fly-in courses can be useful in introducing curriculum change but not changing world views. The loading of Maori learning problems on to teachers, despite the vehement denials by the bureaucracy that this is what they had done, makes all teachers guilty until proven innocent, but which teachers have no way of escaping. Well only by ex machina, in which case the bureaucrats would still claim the credit, and if not at all (which is the case) continue to blame the teachers. The beauty for the bureaucracy – a harbinger for how the education review office was going to work – no lift in achievement could occur, in this case, because cultural safety was not the main issue, the real curriculum is, the one that makes both children and teachers feel safe.

The bureaucracy displays something like genius in setting up these Catch-22 situations. They serve a treble control purpose: they demean teachers in the eyes of the public; they make the bureaucrats feel superior to teachers so they can act towards them with ever greater arrogance; and they ensure no politician will have the courage to reduce their hold on teachers. This was exquisitely and terribly reinforced last week by Katrina Casey, deputy-secretary for education, who said to a select committee that the good thing about education now is that children are placed ahead of adults: translated that means that if the achievement level of children does not improve, the fault will be sheeted home to teachers who will pay for it with harsh review office reports, public tongue lashings, and increased bureaucratic power to command.

But guess what came around? Last week, Iona Holsted, secretary of education, formerly head of the review office, told a select committee that the reason Maori children weren’t improving in performance was the fault of teachers who, as new research showed (so she said), were failing to make children culturally safe. Nearly three decades on and the same spurious arguments are being put forward: all part of the unrelenting battle to put teachers down to the advantage of the bureaucracies.

  1. What goes around with hierarchical education comes around.

Recently, I wrote that for over the three decades of Tomorrow’s Schools I had studied Labour’s education policies and been taken aback by Labour’s errors of commission, omission, and motivation. Labour’s policies since Tomorrow’s Schools have been fragmented, always keeping clear of anything fundamental. Labour, as it is doing now, is cherry picking its policies being careful not to make any structural changes.

And the motivation for this? Labour in education is locked into the education establishment and is imbued with its values to such an extent it cannot, or refuses to, break free. Both Trevor Mallard was, and Chris Hipkins is, enmeshed both professionally and personally with that establishment: ministry, education review office, Treasury, NZARE, the teacher organisations, the Catholic Education Office, and qualitative academics. The fundamental, overarching purpose of an education establishment is to ensure that no substantial amount of power escapes from its control. If the reader examines Labour’s education policy throughout the Tomorrow’s Schools years, some sparkling little items have been let go, are being let go, but no power. And that is what will happen this time, Chris Hipkins will be all over the place, with some of the policy suggestions attractive, but where it matters – in the critical power structures and the interaction of teacher and child – very little will change.

It wasn’t national standards that has caused the deep swathe of failure that characterises primary school education but the education review office, national standards simply being a prime symptom of hierarchical education at which the review office sits atop. Yet, a reader might ask, why is the education review office getting off scot-free from the steep decline in primary education? that is easily explained, the power exercised by the education review office is the most formidable and potent power within the establishment, therefore the power it is most unwilling to relinquish.


The ‘Here I stand’ series of main policy messages:

  • The summit bun fights are a strategy to control and disperse any policies counter to those already decided by Labour.
  • The curriculum message in the Labour policy proposals is fragmented and incomplete: the curriculum is not to the forefront; the circle for producing school-sanctioned knowledge has not been completed.
  • The setting up of an advisory service is excellent but it needs to be part of a completed circle as referred to, and, above all, not obstructed or controlled, formally or informally, by the education review office: this is an exemplar amongst a host of others why the education review office must be radically and urgently reformed (see below).
  • Teachers and principals need a strong sense of creative freedom as part of moving from the present seriously failed hierarchical, national standards curriculum to a child-centred one.
  • Roger Douglas introduced neoliberal economics (Rogernomics) via Treasury (sold as efficiency); David Lange introduced neoliberal education via Treasury (sold as community and school freedom). The central tenet of neoliberal education is a stand-alone accountability structure – in New Zealand called the education review office – which is separate from policy formation and practice and which controls education through measurable outcomes derived from a curriculum organised for measurement of output. This stand-alone structure is given unfettered autonomy with responsibility only to the minister. Because education review office reports and judgements are not subject to any outside review, and because they have life-changing implications for the reputations, futures, and vocational prospects of principals and teachers, education review office control over schools is characterised by unthinking compliance, fear, and toadying. This school atmosphere is antithetical to the kind of programmes we want in our classrooms, impeding that delicate, beautiful and often fraught moment of teacher interacting with child.
  • Whatever is useful in Labour’s curriculum policies will be seriously reduced if the education review office is not fundamentally reformed, brought within the ministry, lightly staffed with secondary, primary, and early childhood teachers in sections (though movement between the three can occur), with the rest of review office teams made up of principals, senior teachers, and teachers, who, after training, undertake reviews of schools on a rotating basis. The changed review office’s role would mainly be advisory which would require the education review office to have personnel well equipped for that role.
  • Teachers colleges should be set up within universities, possessing their own separate funding and executive, and staffed by a mix of qualitative and quantitative academics and experienced people from schools.
  • Communities of learning should be set up as sub-committees of principals associations with no hierarchy beyond a rotating paid principal or teacher to oversee. The money saved should be distributed to teachers and schools for increased salaries.
  • On an urgent but staged basis (dependent on the availability of suitable resource teachers), Maori language teachers should be appointed to all New Zealand schools. (Small schools would share a teacher.) As a democracy we should all share in and be enriched by a Maori world view. Maori language teachers would, of course, be appointed with the local Maori community.
  • Staffing throughout the education system for professional appointments should have a criterion of successful school experience required.

Kelvin Smythe


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Here I stand Part 1: Teacher knowledge must be up there with all knowledge

Primary school education is about the curriculum, the real curriculum, developed in New Zealand in the 1940s, based on the interaction of the affective and cognitive, and evolved from teacher knowledge in shared process (see variously below, especially Part 3), not the one designed and imposed for hierarchical control.

Beginning with Elwyn Richardson and Sylvia Ashton-Warner, The File provides examples of the real curriculum (to be discussed and defined later in this series) including ‘In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education’ (Attacks! 107, 112-113), which ventures from the present to the future then reaches back to the ‘40s, giving close attention to a film made of a junior room in action. This Labour-government made film is analysed to reveal the principles of the real curriculum. In The File, all the curriculum areas, as examples of the real curriculum, are given detailed attention: reading, mathematics, science, writing, drama, art, and social studies. Of particular note are the descriptions of a junior and senior classroom. These provide extended accounts of modern classrooms based on the real curriculum (Attacks! 71-77 and 78-85). The classrooms are ones in which the teachers have worked towards their holistic goals over a number of years, so for teachers who want to start out or move further along, ‘A Threshold Timetable’ (Attacks! 87-90) is provided.

Quantitative academics, education bureaucrats, and politicians want a hierarchical, measurement-based curriculum to organise and control the system – since Tomorrow’s Schools they have been viscerally opposed to the real curriculum because it works on the intertwining of heart and mind, therefore can’t be manipulated or controlled to further their ideological and vocational ends. The primary school real curriculum is a wonderfully complex and beautifully sensitive entity, continually vulnerable to the most delectable of discoveries – it cannot be contained in a box. If the real curriculum predominates in the system, teachers have an assured place in it; if the hierarchical curriculum does, the bureaucrats, politicians, and quantitatives will continue to dominate it – with teachers divested of power, ground down, and allocated only token voice.

If the hierarchical curriculum has success, which has yet to occur, so is only illusory and concocted, the hierarchy claims the ‘credit’; if it has failures, which are endemic, teachers are blamed, and the hierarchy, perversely, are rewarded with extra powers for even more of the same.

However, why am I writing this? Who is it directed to? Is it teachers and principals? Labour politicians? The media? The bureaucrats, especially the group in control of the system, the education review office? Yes, all of those, but in a desperate and melancholy way, very much the media, though it is near hopeless. To make the whole area of education so much simpler for themselves the media take at face value whatever the bureaucrats, politicians, the quantitative academics (introduced as ‘experts’), technology advocates, and academic faddists (for instance, the ‘Summer Slump’) bring forward. The media are immediately biddable to these groups. If the media took even a mildly sceptical view of all those involved in school education, that would require them to research, give thought, but what perilous territory they would find themselves in. How much simpler to believe in the unsullied motivation of authority. Except for some sentimental and patronising items, classroom teachers are invisible. The media, even an outstanding representative like Kathryn Ryan, never gets even close to the heart of it. Below I will describe how, two days ago, Kathryn Ryan was trifled with by the education review office – it was disgraceful but, to us in education who care, it is our reality. We just utter an internal scream, dismiss the impulse to jump from the bridge, hang in there, for what we are unsure, hanging in there, it seems, in the end, becomes an end in itself. Education, especially primary school education, is a battlefield. The propaganda production is typical of one of Orwell’s factories – the Education Success Factory or the Education Truth Factory. You would think that with the muddled-farce of NCEA so clear to view, and with the plummeting results in international tests as against the absurdity of improving national standards results, or the Dunedin Monitoring Group’s finding that national standards marks are about 15-20 per cent below their own findings – the media would sense something very wrong in education. But the media can’t find a way through to something even close to the truth. The media have mainly succumbed to the view that anything new in education is good and worthy of a bumf item, for instance, computers and open plan.  Last week an ‘expert’ on open plan schools was invited by ‘Breakfast’ to answer a viewer’s question on open plan schools. Even though there is now considerable research to show there is nearly always a large gap between the ideals of open plan and practices, only this ‘expert’ was invited and all he did was repeat the usual open plan clichés. He was no expert, as to be an expert you have to know the real curriculum, and he didn’t.

The ultimate victim in all this is the child.

In 1988, just prior to me leaving the formal education system to defend the real curriculum, I set out in considerable detail (Attacks! 93-95) why Tomorrow’s Schools would fail. It is confounding that the same system structure is being retained by Labour; one bound to fail for exactly the same reasons. Labour has, once again, gone for the bosses (explained below) as against classroom teachers. Labour, of course, will promise big change, but it won’t be fundamental.

If the overarching aim of school education in democracy is that it prepares children for life in a democracy and to support and protect it (as discussed and explained in Attack! 132), then the production and validation of knowledge must be shared amongst groups, with teachers major participants.

As my writing twists and twists and turns, it is quite understandable you might be a bit puzzled as to theme – there are four main ones: the present hierarchical system is about control mainly for subversive ideological ends; to counter this the main aim of education should be openly declared as being about supporting democracy; the way to get education right is to get the curriculum right; and education requires fundamental change. There are some related sub-themes: the first is my career-long love of, and respect for, classroom teachers, what they can do given half a chance, and have done. (To understand myself, my ideas, and my motivations, I have to remind myself that I never left the classroom, because I never really did – when viewing powerful people or in their company, I always looked at them through the eyes of a classroom teacher.) Then there are two interrelated sub-themes: school education is a battlefield, a fierce contest of will, ambition, and power rapaciousness. This may not be universal but it is widespread and, on the whole, a good rule of thumb for judging individuals in the hierarchy. This is why I identify with classroom teachers. The second interrelated sub-theme is that nothing in primary school education is as it seems, all is laden with complexity, layer-on-layer, and mystery – that is unless you happen to be imbued with knowledge of the real curriculum, then all is revealed. I’ll give you two examples: both open plan classes and computers, on the whole, are hindering real learning. How to tell whether or not? Well, when you are imbued with that knowledge, you can tell in a flash whether real learning is using the computer and the open plan architecture for its educationally valid purposes; or the computer and open plan architecture are using real learning for theirs, and compromising it. In the late ‘80s, when I was a senior inspector of schools, knowing the real curriculum told me in an instance, that Tomorrow’s Schools was going to be both an education failure, and wrong (in relation to the aim I set for school education – see above). I immediately sat down and set out my predictions and what adds up to a personal manifesto and made preparations to leave the formal education system.

Teachers are unsettled by the possibility of curriculum and administrative ideas being able to be passed quickly down the hierarchical chain without those ideas requiring teacher involvement at all stages of development. The best ideas for education come from teachers and those close to teachers. The part of the education system that is important to teachers is the part close to them. The part further away has the capacity to do much harm, but little capacity to do much good. The nature of the education system should protect teachers from hastily conceived ideas – no matter their potential benefits. Good ideas are only good if the process for their development has been good. The last thing teachers want is the kind of efficiency that has someone in the hierarchy having an idea and then using the chain of command to force it on them.

The following is how, in 1988, I described the power-sharing situation in the years from the ‘40s to Tomorrow’s Schools (Attacks! 93-95). There were, of course, fluctuations and flurries, but the consensus held fairly well. I saw it as ideal and still do.

For a democratic, participatory education system, production and validation of knowledge should be shared amongst a number of groups. One of the reasons why New Zealand primary school classrooms function as well as they do is because of the checks and balances inherent in the system. Those checks and balances derive from the relative co-operativeness in the way groups relate to one another. No group can carry out its functions without the support of a number of others, and no group can force its will on another. Ultimately, though, it must be acknowledged that what the government wants, the government gets, but what the government wants can be modified by those outside the government educating the public to influence the government – success in this being the measure of teacher organisations. But that basic consideration aside, university lecturers, department of education, district inspectors, those delivering advisory support, publishers, school boards, research organisations, service organisations, and teacher organisations – all these groups are to some extent dependent on other groups for carrying out their functions. In the absence of the inevitable conflict and control behaviours generated by a strict hierarchical system, these groups have been able to remain mindful of the need to negotiate in a spirit of goodwill to proceed.

Through the 1950s to the 1980s this kind of knowledge and power sharing relationship functioned to a greater or lesser degree. Even when it functioned to a lesser degree, there was a characteristic inherent in the New Zealand education system that kept it going. That characteristic was that all parts of the education, from principals in schools to the head of the education department were staffed by people who had experience in the primary curriculum, knew the primary curriculum, and had a commitment to and respect for it. And then there was the productive connection between the head office of the education department and inspectors of schools and the cluster primary school professionals functioning in the regions: advisers, special education, and universities.

This is the pointer to where primary school education was most seriously undermined by the Tomorrow’s Schools’ philosophy and to where fundamental correction is required.

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A coherent analysis would require Labour to respond in a coherent way

Labour has made a timid, philosophically fragmented start to its primary school policy implementation; and one that looks destined to continue. From a consideration of its recent history we should not be surprised. It is a political party that ever since the Tomorrow’s Schools debacle (and the immediate lead-up to it, of course), while all the time putting itself forward as the party of education has demonstrated a lack of understanding of primary schools and what democratic education structures look like. It has taken decades to shake itself sufficiently clear of the neoliberal (Treasury-originated) philosophy to gain even a sliver of recognition that there was, indeed, a philosophy driving Tomorrow’s Schools, and one generally considered antithetical to Labour’s philosophy overall.

Readers of my postings will be aware of my predictions made in 1988 just before I left the system – all of which came true – predictions anyone in education could have made (though few did), requiring only an understanding of the curriculum, the real curriculum, and being an independent thinker. For those people it was as though written on a screen. But we were crushed by the Labour government, NZEI, NZPF, and the media.

Forty years before Tomorrow’s Schools, from a combination of favourable circumstances, New Zealand broke through to universal truths about primary school education. If 40 years seems a long time, I remind readers that the neoliberal philosophy has been in control for 27 years and, because of the dead-set determination of one government and the flabby-mindedness of the other, set to be a menacing presence for years to come.

Why hasn’t Labour undertaken a coherent analysis of why primary school education is in free fall and, in particular, why Maori and Pasifika education is in such a broken state? – the reason why is that a coherent analysis would require Labour to respond in a coherent way and, under Chris Hipkins, it doesn’t want to – Labour in education is still of the education establishment. It is still more with the education review office, the ministry, and teacher organisations than with teachers and children. I want to point out we are talking of children’s lives here. Labour has betrayed one generation of primary school children in which the vulnerable in particular suffered, and looks unlikely to be willing to undertake the hard thinking to avoid this happening to another? Labour has done well helping vulnerable families financially but is set to fail their children if and when they attend school.

Before the election I was walking to Clarence Street Theatre for a Jacinda election meeting and started chatting to a former Labour cabinet minister (I had published poems written by his ex-wife), in the course of which he said how grateful the Labour education caucus was for the contribution of a particular NZEI executive member. I sighed to myself, not because the ideas he put forward would have been bad, far from it, but because they would be lacking in philosophical coherence. And so it came to pass with Labour’s policy.

Where is the urgency: the understanding to recognise how trivial and misdirected so much of teaching in schools is?

Above all, NZEI needs to be reformed and made democratic. What an institutional disaster. An executive immune to challenge by its members; but an oh so willing partner to National in education injury. What has NZEI achieved in, say, school funding? In school funding per child, primary schools are well below the OECD mean across 33 countries while secondary schools are slightly above. And if we look at where that money is going, it is not, for instance, to children with special needs, but to a multiplicity of bureaucracies.  As well, NZEI has tied Labour to hundreds of millions in continuing with communities of learning (they will be useful in a minor way under Labour but, on the return of National, it will be the end of primary education as we know it).  What was NZEI doing? What were they thinking? Does NZEI automatically fall for neoliberal education policies because a label of collaboration or co-operation is attached?

Where, apart from media releases, was its part in developing a context for change? Too busy being cosy with the government. Where was the anger converted to political pressure?

We have plummeted in international test results, and if the arts and thinking and wider education are examined we would find that equally pathetic. All contributed to by successive governments, all with no intensive challenge by NZEI. Does it really think of the children? Did it compare the hundreds of millions of community of learning waste against what that money would have achieved meeting children’s special needs and more individualised teaching for children who came to school needing to catch up on learning capital?

Teachers since the change of government have been confused by the mixed signals Chris Hipkins has sent, and in the absence of a clear positive direction, they have retreated into their failed past. Labour (along with NZEI), having fallen dismally short in establishing a context for education change is, as a result, playing political scaredy-cats. It’s a shambles. National standards were abolished but Chris Hipkins felt it necessary to say that schools are free to continue with them if they like. I agree, I want schools to have choice, but such a prissy comment is a sure sign of a minister of education concerned more about political ramifications than benefit to children’s learning. Chris Hipkins should have said something inspirational about evaluation, for instance, that the only way for evaluation to really work for children is for teachers to further develop their curriculum understandings and from that gain increased clarity of purpose.

Above all, both NZEI and the government refuse to work from a coherent philosophical base – to do so, they no doubt fear, would lead them to being confronted with situations and decisions hugely uncomfortable to their establishment impulses and relationships.

  • In the indecisive context being established by Labour, national standards, now orphaned from being national – as standards, are drifting around trying to find a home. And with easy success because teachers, in the absence of any alternative, are hunkering down with what they know, with the curriculum practices they know, with the standards they know (even if bereft of being national), and with assessment they know. Jacinda Ahern said be ready for an education system of creativity and imagination and for the special advancement of Maori and Pasifika children, but what do we have? fumbling and indecisiveness.
  • The education review office is the essence of neoliberalism. As such it is the guardian and principal user of national standards – developing them, imposing them, interpreting them, and vocationally living by them. And with national standards gone, national standards by another name are being planned. But the Labour establishment is still standing by the review office. New Zealand First, however, has a policy of change; if Chris Hipkins is too committed to the review office he should give the job to Tracey Martin (indeed, while they’re at it give the primary school portfolio to her).
  • National standards live in another way. Teachers, pathetically, and with NZEI support, can submit their evaluation material to a robot, resident in Wellington, named PaCT. But teaching and learning for myriad curriculum reasons do not need an extraneous process distorting relationships between them. It is another way national standards as standards are entrenching themselves.
  • Then there is the establishment’s (in particular, NZEI, the ministry, the education review office, Labour, National, private providers, digital providers, and the Catholic education office) refusal to give away its new neoliberal institution – communities of learning. As with Tomorrow’s Schools it was sold as an exercise in collaboration but it was soon exposed as an exercise in brutal bureaucratic command based on the imposition of standards. The election has given pause to developments but national standards live on, scores of community of learning achievement challenges, based on national standards, have been submitted to the ministry, and accepted. National standards, or whatever, are alive and well; the system is laden with them; surviving in the deep consciousness of teachers, principals, education bureaucrats, and always looking for expression.
  • I could go on, but I will stop with this one – the so-called digital curriculum. A curriculum development in which there were no curriculum experts present, only digital experts and enthusiasts but, even then, to rush it through, the digital providers were separated out and put in a room to complete.

Because I am so angry, I want to say this very quietly. Does the establishment grasp that school education is about children? I don’t believe deep down the connection for NZEI and Labour, as institutions, is resolute and heartfelt. How could they care about children and let the digital curriculum continue? The digital curriculum sets out digital steps and standards involving the use of other parts of the curriculum as its practice ground.  It is an abomination. The digital curriculum is an example of why New Zealand primary education is shattered. In a later posting I intend to go through the particular reasons why it is – with computer learning misuse being one of the major reasons. If computers were banished from primary school classrooms for two years it would be a rocket boost for all parts of the curriculum. The putting of digital experts into a separate room minus any expert curriculum experts, classroom teachers, is a metaphor for why we are where we are. Adult needs and concerns above children’s, and an exclusion of teachers and anyone else who knows and cares about children and their learning.

The digital curriculum, you see, was not the digital curriculum, but the curriculum with the digital at its heart – like a cancer.

But then, this will be dismissed as just Kelvin Smythe being a mad dog again.

Oh well, good luck as you go from success to success.

Happy New Year to all my readers

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I am not sitting on my hands: the cabinet paper is not enough

On balance, the paper by the minister of education to the cabinet removing national standards is useful, but not sufficiently so to make definitive philosophical change in the way National always does, and Labour has done twice, once with Peter Fraser and once with David Lange.

Schools have had 27 years of terrible curriculum advice and oversight and as useful as the cabinet paper’s abolition of national standards is, the greatly reduced role of the Education Council, and the setting up of an Advisory Service under the control of universities (readers of networkonnet will know, all three changes were at the top of my wish list), it is by no means enough.

A few minutes ago I rang up an absolutely grand principal to wish him well in his retirement. He said he had hopes for the new government.

I replied that the government will, indeed, do some very good things but it won’t be enough because so many primary teachers, as a result of Tomorrow’s Schools and its fetish with assessment and leadership, cannot teach because they have never been called on to do so. When I criticise the nature and quality of what is occurring in classrooms there is incomprehension at both a conceptual and practical level of where those criticisms are coming from. It is to me the tragic disconnect between our New Zealand holistic philosophy and the introduced, imposed neoliberal one.

I go into classroom after classroom and see template after template and worthless scratches in exercise books allegedly connected with reading, writing, and mathematics. Children being taught to read but not become readers; to grasp the mechanics of maths without being able to use them to maths good effect; to be involved in writing which remains forlorn in books, unmotivated in introduction, unused in outcome; undertake soulless and fragmented science and social studies in the name of inquiry. And so many children are being denied the transformative qualities of drama and the arts (think of the children who may have had a special ability at drama over the 27 years of Tomorrow’s Schools – nearly a big fat zero of those decades).

I know the few of the principals who have the inclination or the time (given schools are closed or closing for the year) to be reading this will ask, why are you banging away about this and especially at this time. My answer is that it is not really intended for you; it is a desperate call to the politicians who are making decisions – decisions I know, while looking good, are going to fall well short of the mark.

For New Zealand to slide so dramatically in international tests in a systems sense, really takes some doing. And it is decidedly pertinent that the Dunedin Monitoring Unit, which is being retained by Labour, scores its research at 15-20 per cent below schools’ reported national standards results. Goodness knows where we are in the arts, drama, science (though the Unit does include science) social studies, and genuine open-ended thinking.

I am making these points not to go over them again to harangue but to dramatise the need to make decisive, fundamental structural and contextual change.

Labour, as you will have read above, is abolishing national standards, making drastic changes to the Education Council, and setting up an advisory service.

But it is messing around with local and national assessment, and is likely to tie schools in knots and, most grotesque of all, allowing an unchanged education review office the power of official oversight. The education review office has signed off the huge percentage of schools as satisfactory in performance and assessment and has been the determining factor in what happens in schools, yet it is being left untouched. And in that time school performance has descended to the bottom of the Western world and, amongst a number of other fantastic deficiencies, what is not happening in Maori and Pasifika education. The education review office in visiting schools very rarely goes into classrooms and when it does, only cursorily – how well suited is it to contribute positively to the creativity and imagination the prime minister has promised schools? How free can schools be when a school control institution, in its reports, can end or severely curtail a principal’s career? If that institution writes to recommend a certain policy, that recommendation becomes a direction, why would a principal take a risk?  The oversight of schools should be restructured to get the right people to be able to take more of an advisory role. And amongst a number of other things, are the communities of learning. If they are continued then, on a change of government, they will simply be swung back to the form and purpose originally envisaged by John Hattie and the Treasury. Quite simply, if schools want more money, a lot more money, for Maori and Pasifika education, special needs, Maori language, lower class ratios, and pay rises – then community of schools will need to be ended. The teacher organisations should be invited to poll their members.

(And re assessment: on a systems level that should be left to the Dunedin Monitoring Unit and a reconstituted NEMP; on a local, left to schools, on the approval of boards – what an opportunity for originality and exploration.)

A moment I’ll never forget: It was January 1989, Tomorrow’s Schools was imminent, and the radio was full of it. A Maori woman was being interviewed:

What do you think about Tomorrow’s Schools?

I don’t know what I think about it, but I do know it is the government’s last chance to really help Maori. I must trust it, but it is its last chance.

I could have cried because I knew, despite the efforts of Maori, they were going to be, at the very least, wasted years. I am determined that there be no more wasted years for Maori, Pasifika, or any other ethnicity.

I refuse to sit on my hands.

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