Tomorrow’s Schools’ wheel-a-go-round

The lack of attention to:

Leadership: you can have good leadership (no recent example in education comes to mind) and bad leadership (Hekia Parata) and no leadership (Chris Hipkins) – which constitutes an abdication to bad leadership

The way the present dominant education philosophy is almost impenetrable to historical experience 

The passivity to a foreign philosophy introduced through the Treasury via a prime minister in his sherry stage 

The passivity to history as if we were living through it in the present 

Our repugnance to the idea that life is chancy, preferring to see it as pretty much inevitable, therefore better to just go with the flow 

The rejection by the left to the idea of leadership, of the left preferring to see history as inevitable instead of seeing it as that which needn’t have been 

To the way the right in leadership just has to fall back on neoliberalism for its concepts but the left, with no such easy resort, has to come up with its own concepts – which it lacks the will or confidence to undertake 

The availability of a concept which is the answer to the leftist dilemma – it is called democracy – imagine a truly democratic education system, but we need leadership to take us there 

What the main aim for school education in a democracy should be: Preparing children for life in a democracy and to support and protect it 

That main aim should then guide all decisions 

The way such a main aim would help to provide a balanced approach to technology and the humanities and the arts 

The curriculum and teachers and children being at the centre (oh wow! if this was true how chasmically different things would be from the shambles unfolding)

Reducing bureaucratic control 

The need for more teacher curriculum freedom 

Removing constant fear, heavy-handed constraint, and playing it safe when teachers make choices about what and how they teach, and how they evaluate

The need for external supervision being mainly advisory, also accountable 

Principals knowing the real curriculum

The absolute need for Maori language to be introduced to all schools in a timely manner

There being no such thing as 21st century education, just a struggle for ideological control of the present 

National standards not being worth the paper they are written on 

NCEA, unless an exam, being very suspect 

The way the corruption of national standards means signals are not being sent about the low achievement of children at primary 

The way the corruption of NCEA means signals are not being sent about the low achievement of children coming from primary – yes, I mean primary – children are too far beyond the education 8-ball when they arrive at secondary 

The way the corruption of NCEA means signals are not being sent about the failure of NCEA to lift achievement 

The way pressures on universities to maintain enrolments means signals are not being sent about the low achievement of students coming from secondary 

Gold standard research that shows that only 20%-30% achievement is attributable to schools 

Teacher training not being about the real curriculum (a semi-independent institution is needed)

The need to increase intellectual challenge by making learning more affectively involving 

Recognising that schools are not businesses meaning BOTs and principals need to have their role fundamentally modified 

The need to debunk evidence-based learning 

Teacher knowledge which should be up there with all other knowledges such as academic and bureaucratic

The need for an advisory service free from financial and ideological pressures. The cycle of misunderstanding and mistreating of primary education about to recur 

Primary education is curriculum-based and fiercely knowledge fought-over and, if anyone had the courage to truly test and examine it, would find it broken. Secondary is limping along: mainly because primary school children arrive without sufficient coherent knowledge and motivation. And universities, under enrolment pressure to keep numbers up, fume but are chary of being direct.

On the whole, secondary education was left largely untouched by Tomorrow’s Schools and its prolonged aftermath, protected as it was by its examination-based curriculum (the knowledge therefore being far more settled); by the bureaucrats and politicians who understood secondary education better and took it more seriously so were loath to take risks with it; by the public which saw secondary as bearing more directly and sensitively on the futures of their children; and by its departmental structure, the size of the schools, more informed and energetic teachers organisation, and by far more of the bureaucrats and decision-makers involved in Tomorrow’s Schools coming from secondary.

Primary education in New Zealand receives 33 per cent of the OECD average, secondary education the OECD average. A gap that has appeared and widened in the Tomorrow’s Schools’ period.

The system combined to break primary, largely because it was viewed as a kind of junior version of secondary, and so, under the bureaucratic headings of administration, organisation, and governance, the two were treated the same, but the burden, as described above, was applied and fell, very differently – and, is about to happen again, slightly different in process, but the same in outcome. 

The consultation will be with principals who are the beneficiaries of the national standards administration, organisation, and governance changes; and with teachers who have never known anything else.

To understand primary you need to understand the curriculum, the real curriculum, and based on the real curriculum, develop structures which sustain it.

Early childhood was protected by its iconic and beautiful curriculum, Te Whariki, and that by its strong women both in the universities and in the system who guarded it like maternal warriors. They also fended off quantitative academics, politicians, and bureaucrats (note the beginning of knowledge wars, though, begun in the Listener by John Hattie and Ken Blaiklock, supported by Hekia Parata). 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.

The neoliberalism of the Treasury found its scope in primary and its instrument in David Lange to put primary education to the sword.

Labour has been 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 Tomorrows Schools they were 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 established by Clarence Beeby and Peter Fraser, had been the jewel in New Zealand’s education crown.

And so the cycle of misunderstanding and mistreating of primary education is about to recur to the devastation, a kind of silent devastation (because who has truly shown they have cared enough to pursue the truth no matter what), of another generation of children.Written in 1988 as I prepared to resign as a senior inspector of schools to go out on the road to mitigate the worst effects of the education harm that were bound to beset primary education 

1. 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 have 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. 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 be able to proceed.

2. But that democratic, participatory education system, under the hold of positivism, is at risk. In a national education system, to argue against a substantial exertion of hierarchical control is a contradiction in terms. But because bureaucratic control begets bureaucratic control, a democratic education system needs a strong dispersal of power to schools and classrooms to help establish a finely graded system of checks and balances. It may not result in a system that meets the highest standards of efficiency for, say, an industrial product but is, it is suggested, the most efficient way for administering value-laden education systems. A paradox becomes apparent: reduced orthodox hierarchical efficiency can lead to enhanced pedagogical effectiveness.

3. 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.

4. So we are talking about a collaborative education system. Collaboration occurs in system and institutional relationships when the opportunity for dominance is structurally reduced. It is not talking about collaboration to bring about collaboration. Indeed, the more conflict inherent in structures, the more collaboration, as a cover, is likely to feature in the talking. Collaboration only occurs over the long term when the structural realities encourage and enable it.

5. If teachers continue to be in a position of disadvantage in relation to knowledge, then they will continue to be at a disadvantage organisationally within the system. That is not good for teachers and children. What is the good of every other adult group in the system – including principals who identify more with the hierarchy – having a great time, when it is teachers who, in the end, deliver the goods?

6. As I prepare to travel around New Zealand campaigning for the holistic and democratic as against the positivist and hierarchical – where does this leave my message?

7. The neoliberal education arguments are not really about education but about the movement of power to the centre to impose laissez faire capitalist beliefs, with education a particular focus as a way to take control of the future and stifle education as a source of alternative ideas. In response, I intend to talk and write about a holistic education system, democratic values, and the importance of genuine power sharing and social equity. We can, as referred to, only get the kind of education system we want if there is the social context to match, so I will talk and write about that. And the kind of education system we should want is a holistic one built on variety, collaboration, and stretching children imaginatively and creatively. Politicians, bureaucrats, and academics tend to fear and reject the holistic because the dynamic and humanistic main aims characteristic of the holistic make all of the component parts of teaching and learning fall into place serving to give power to teachers. Politicians, bureaucrats, and academics, on the other hand, are fixated on complex arrays of objectives that can be measured and, in practice, often work against each other to intended subversive and control ends. It is about control: the holistic gives power to schools and teachers to work things through to children’s advantage; objectives with their fragmentation and measurement give power to politicians, bureaucrats, and academics to work things through to their own.

Considering the harshness of the current power structures and the self-serving arguments they are based on, I don’t expect the holistic and the democratic message to succeed in my time, but time, in the end wins, nothing is forever, events turn and crises come, and change becomes irresistible, change which can be for the better or the worse, who knows, so the idea is to get the message out there, it might be the time for all who have fought for a kinder, fairer society, and an education system to match, for their time to come. It is that which spurs me on.

Kelvin Smythe


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Treachery! Part 1: The Hipkins’ swift one and the satire

In what follows, I spell out briefly an astonishingly duplicitous U turn by Chris Hipkins that has horrid implications for education. These implications are examined in a further Attack! but I needed to get the message out quickly to encourage people of good conscience to have their say. I do this because I don’t consider the matter lost. 

This posting is being sent to all Coalition and Support party mps.

If I am new to any mps, I accept as accurate anything Tracey Martin says about me. (Not that she had anything, of course, to do with this explosion.)

If Chris Hipkin’s duplicity is allowed to proceed, all hell will break loose.


The minister’s actions reaffirm my belief that it is people like me not Nikki Kaye who are his main adversaries.

The bulk of this short posting is a satirical response in which I imagine Iona Holsted, under the influence of momentary of self-awareness, writing something close to the truth.

First, the background:

  • On April 20, a paper for cabinet paper, approvingly quoted by Chris Hipkins said a complex situation for evaluation was not needed: ‘What we need to do is strengthen the use of curricula in understanding and supporting all students’ progress and achievement.’

In that statement lay the hopes for the holistic and greater teacher control of teaching; in that way lay a future for all children, especially children struggling in their learning – but in that way lay difficulty for experts and education bureaucrats because in that way lay a need for them to know how to teach, what genuine learning was, genuine learning for children, and to have reduced control, to take on a different role.

  • But Chris Hipkins betrayed his promises to teachers and children, especially those teachers and children for whom Labour so often in education seems to weep crocodile tears.

‘Review group quietly appointed on replacing national standards’ was the heading in the Herald, June 10.

The 13-member Ministerial Advisory Group on the Curriculum, Progress and Achievement will report to Education Minister Chris Hipkins on new measures of student progress and achievement across Years 1 to 10 – two years beyond the old National Standards.’

‘The ministry of education launched an online survey seeking the views of parents and educators, but Chris Hipkins left ministry officials to announce it quietly on Friday, 8 June with the survey closing on Thursday, 28 June.’

This is treachery. 

And you should see who is on the Advisory Group and who went along with the deception and who have been reconstructed from the terrible national standards past.

Chris Hipkins has, of course, betrayed us, but I warned you, so there should be no surprise. 

Chris Hipkins’ U turn from his progressive position on evaluation to a review office-type one is set to be decisive in where his education changes are heading. The U turn represents an end to any hopes of education becoming focused on teaching and learning, meaning school education will continue to be controlled by progress and achievement, that is measurement, as labelled by academics and bureaucrats and set and administered by them. Children with high social and cultural capital will barely be touched by the continuation of the broken primary school education, but the children Labour says it particularly represents will be particularly damaged.

The chilling U turn to the seriously failed past, and from a very different promised future, is set out in horridly tangled review office bureaucratese.

 If the writer wasn’t hiding something, was wanting to be honest, and miraculous self-awareness had settled on her, the following could have been what was written:

Written under the influence of momentary self-awareness

In this document what is being instituted is a form of compulsory testing and, with that, a form of external control similar to that exercised by the existing review office; as well, classrooms will continue to concentrate on testing, that is some bits and pieces left over at the end of the teaching and learning process, not the extra degree of affective or cognitive complexity that is always present in teaching and learning. This is an unavoidable cost (amongst many it is acknowledged), that teachers and children will have to bear for the privilege of retaining a form of external control similar to the existing review office. This concentration on testing is significantly because it is a way for bureaucratic agencies to be able function and to build their necessary political, public, and media esteem, yes, at some cost to teachers and children (but for reasons explained above above). But where would teachers and children be (as has been suggested) if the external control was changed to a genuine collegial, advisory presence? (This communication, of course, serves the purpose of stamping all over the education territory belonging to the Tomorrow’s Schools panel.) In the present external control circumstances, representatives only rarely go into classrooms for genuine observation or at all (bear in mind the savings). A concentration on testing is a way for people with little or no particular experience in the teaching occurring to hold the education tiger by the testing tail and wave test results around in superior manner invariably accompanied by formulaic criticisms and suggestions (nothing like having potential organisational minds relatively educationally empty to be able to fill). Imposing testing procedures is very simple, one doesn’t need to know much about, or anything, about the teaching or learning; indeed, to make it simpler, the testing requires the teaching and learning to follow the testing which, in formal testing, is always narrower than the teaching and learning even when the teaching and learning has already been narrowed by the testing (makes it all that much easier for politicians, public, and media to understand).

This document means we have succeeded in turning the minister away from any disruptive change such as his original idea of putting the teaching and learning first with the effect of giving more control of classrooms to teachers (god forbid!) and let evaluation improvement flow from the improved teaching and learning, much of that improvement coming from (they say) central ideas evolved from their cultural past (which they are continually banging on about). Admittedly, it is a cultural past and its evolution that had New Zealand at or near the top in international tests amongst Western countries not at the bottom where it is now (but what nonsense, where does that leave 21st century education?) Anyway, what we are doing is copying the Australian Gonski report (David Gonski, an Australian businessman who has produced a kind of New Zealand Picot Report to replace the failed Australian national testing) with a web of Hattie tests and Hattie-like tests, based as we know on his research (yes, it is dodgy, but his idea of children learning in steps and his simplistic tests are just what the education bureaucrat orders). Yes, there is an irony in using Hattie again, given he was the architect of national standards (as stated by John Key) and supplied a good number of the tests that we recommended (read insisted on), but the beauty of the neoliberal philosophy we adhere to is that TINA (There Is No Other Way) and If It Works, Use It (IIWUI), means we don’t examine matters to extinction. The question, of course, is for whom does it work? And the answer, by serendipity I can assure you, is us, also the political Wellington establishment (of which we are an emblematic part), quantitative academics, and the children of the wealthy. The philosophy allows us, after the inevitable failure (as suffered by the losers), to act on TINA and IIWUI (eewooee) and repeat the same policies but more so, it works every time,

Thanks minister.

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There is another in the arrangement, so it is a bit crowded

Does the panel for Tomorrow’s Schools remain our only hope?

In the absence of providing his own sense of principled direction Chris Hipkins is acting through a disparate assembly of adult organisational educational needs and ideologies. Unable to see straight through to the needs of children and, of course, lacking clarity of advice, within the ministry, he is going about assembling it from his own piecemeal ideas and illogical forms of consultation.

The particular another I refer to in the heading is the weird priority Chris Hipkins is giving to making an education entente cordiale with the National Party in the form of Lockwood Smith and Nikki Kaye. Lockwood Smith, while being one of the best Parliamentary Speakers, was one of the worst ministers of education, and Nikki Kaye, while being a warm and likeable person, promised to be one of the harshest and most mean-spirited of ministers of education. An unrelenting neoliberalism drives National Party education policy and has done so ever since Merv Wellington – its leaders haven’t and never will give an inch. 

They are laughing at you Chris. 

Meeting the needs of children is being hopelessly compromised by your decision to try to  strike an education deal with National on the nature and purposes of school education. It is hard enough getting the needs of children attended to through the machinations of the various teacher organisations whose prime concern is always to meet the demands of teachers and principals without bringing Nikki Kaye on board. If children were the main concern, teacher organisations would have pressed for more teacher aide hours ahead of more pay for teacher aides, or more teacher aide hours ahead of setting up local bureaucracies to improve pay scales.

I was the only person who laid bare the reality that the official curriculum has no main for school education and now I am revealing that neither has Chris Hipkins.

Which is why he is wanting to lean to National for theirs.

When Chris Hipkins makes an effort to set out Labour’s purposes in school education he provides a mangled version of Peter Fraser’s dictum (‘… all persons, whatever their level of ability, whether they live in town or country, have a right as citizens to a free education of the kind for which they are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their powers’) and so on. But you see, that main aim for school education no longer cuts it. When Peter Fraser delivered that, school education was generally considered a good thing in itself, not something contestable and riven by ideology. 

Given the context of the times and the ideological state of education and the complexities of its control through academic positivism and political elitism, there can only be one main aim for progressive school education in a democracy and that is education helping children to live in a democracy and to support and protect it. The question then becomes: how can school education do that? the answer a wide democratic, humanistic one, not a narrow increasingly non-democratic, digitally futuristic one.

In seeking a cross-party education policy, Chris Hipkins is further crowding out consideration of children’s needs. National is laughing all the way to the right, displaying a slipperiness that lack of sincerity enables. No-one in National commits to their education policy being neoliberal-based because it lays bare what is truly awful to behold. Politicians of the right don’t even like their monetary policies being considered neoliberal justifying them rather as the only resort, there being no alternative, which in itself is core neoliberal thinking whether for economics or education. If reducing expenditure on public education and preparing children for a narrow capitalist future is seen as the only alternative then National’s education policies are, indeed, the only alternative. But why is Chris Hipkins buying into that? Many of us have spilt our guts out fighting and exposing the iniquities of the neoliberal pattern of education but, instead of pushing on with a progressive and democratic education system, along comes a milksop minister of education bleating about making a deal with the right, handing back what little ground we have made. For the National Party, economics and education are fused in indivisible ideology. Right-wing politicians go straight for it, almost instinctively, buttressed by a collective self-serving elitism. Labour education politicians waffle. For the Labour Party, education should be about preparing children to live in a democracy, to be able to support and protect it, not participating in a game of tiddly-winks. 

The way to make education change stick is to make it work; not to make an accommodation with what is wrong to ensure it won’t.

Chris Hipkins is near hopelessly confused in the education directions he is taking.

So Chris Hipkins gets rid of national standards which is a trend to the left but proceeds with his NCEA panel to make a mess of the education changes to secondary schools and ends up on the right. There is double trouble in that he has a panel studying Tomorrow’s Schools which is everything in education, but before it announces its findings, has a panel studying NCEA which is everything in secondary, so there is considerable overlap. This is compounded by the lack of direction provided by Chris Hipkins.

The NCEA panel comes up with a huge swing to the digital which, in the lack of balance to humanism is to the right; projects which in their general lack of cohesive knowledge and their emphasis on skills is to the right; and civics which is humanism when you are not having it, so to the right; literacy and numeracy given priority which is to the right in the sense of them being sure to be taken in a formal manner; and, to cap it off, referring again to projects, in being marked for NCEA, will not only have any residual value erased by that characteristic alone, but be both time demanding and wasting (which the panel was put there to reduce).

And, of course, nothing that can be transformational such as drama, art, music, dance, Maori or Samoan language. We can’t have them liking school.

A massive fail.

Much better if the panel for Tomorrow’s Schools, which is the senior panel, had been left to come out with its findings. 

As for the Summit bun fights and eight-person panel chaired by Andrew Becroft, that is just better put behind us. 

What Chris Hipkins should have done was recreated the Conferences held in great excitement around New Zealand in 1937. A panel of speakers should have been assembled representing where Chris Hipkins wanted education to go and, in that way, provided the sense of education direction so desperately wanted. 

The panel for Tomorrow’s Schools remains our hope. Its balance is tight but it might have just enough insight and inspiration to save Labour’s education direction and Chris Hipkins’ ministerial hide: the chair can be impatient but if in the right direction that could be an advantage; one member is switched-on and politically savvy but, nevertheless, could have depths to tap into; another could prove she is more than a one-issue person, even though that issue is a fundamental and must be acted on; another, for me, is terrific and for whom I have huge respect; and the final had an exchange of journal articles with me which were shattering in their naivety, but who, actually, I retain considerable faith in. 

This panel could do it.

Let me tell Chris Hipkins what our education future is if he fails. 

In Australia, national testing like national standards has proved to be a failure, all those years and all that money, and no movement, national standards, however, were actually worse because standards allowed mark adjustment which has left schools room to let that failure pass them by and for us now to have national standards without national standards and thereby little momentum for curriculum change. But for the neoliberal education right there is never a variation from testing children to an education standstill as a justification for even more testing. 

So, in Australia, a Mr David Gonski, an Australian businessman (remind you of anything?), in the light of the failure of national testing, was appointed to review Australian education and, amongst other changes, he has proposed dividing school learning into an enormous numbers of steps matched by an enormous number of measurement procedures – if it moves and is a child, measure it (remind you of anybody?). Yes, the ideas for those steps and measurements came from John Hattie. An academic whose research is demonstrably false but who thrives in the educationally shameful environment that prevails.

Chris Hipkins failed to communicate a sense of direness; to inspire; to give a sense of direction in policy ideals. Given the broken state of New Zealand education it was the most abysmally lacking political election performance possible to imagine. No exaggeration for extra political effect was required, but he failed to get his chin anywhere near the bar because, it seems, his head was awhirl with thoughts of an arrangement with National. He floated in on the momentum of the sustained protest efforts from amongst a smallish number of principals and teachers and the obviousness of the education failure that lay about him, and he failed the children and us. Chris Hipkins, get your ass into gear and, working to the main aim suggested, transform the education system. Though I have described a situation of near education hopelessness, if it was entirely hopeless I wouldn’t have bothered if I didn’t think there a chance you could actually do something, even though only a bolter’s.

Cross your fingers that the panel for Tomorrow’s Schools comes up with a comprehensive and progressive plan starting with teacher training being returned to the profession, and suggesting a permanent advisory committee housed between your office and the secretary’s.

We need someone to beat the drum for children. 

Perhaps, reading Gunter Grass could become a compulsory text at the new teachers colleges.

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I am asking you to stand by me on this one: The File

Dear reader

The File, my final publication, is now available for purchase.

It is a publication that, with care, can provide a lift to the primary education system and a surer sense of direction. Not because of what I have done on my own, but from the voices I have listened to over the years, and the voices recorded in the writing.

The answers to our system and curriculum problems lie in the book.

It is also a book that provides perspective and a sense of history.

The book is a beautiful object put together with love and care.

Because my heart lies in getting the book out to readers, it is being sold well below cost of production and postage, even more discounted for students and beginning teachers.

Please excuse me for being direct but I’m relying on all those who have been readers of mine over the years, who have agonised with me when things have gone wrong in education, and celebrated when things have taken a turn for the better – to buy The File and, if you are a principal, buy The File for your beginning teachers or senior teachers.

I’m asking you to stand by me on this one and, if The File impresses, to encourage others to purchase it as well.

The cost of The File is $50.00 which includes regular updates; and $30.00 for students and beginning teachers.

For further information or if you want to discuss a deal, my phone number is 027 2409092.

My email is

Very best wishes


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Chris Hipkins is Peter Fraser to our time, Iona Holsted and Katrina Casey are our Clarence Beeby (can you hear the gods laughing?)

This posting starts off in one direction, only to head in, perhaps lurch to might be more accurate, another. But it is held together (hopefully) by my judgement that Chris Hipkins lacks depth of feeling veering to milksop, and my having too much veering to ill-judged temper. This is not a balanced posting because (I excuse myself) of my continuing anger at injustices wrought and no hint of correction.

Primary teachers are close to being leaderless. I have never heard Chris say anything original, deep, powerful, or inspiring – at best we get a garbled version of Peter Fraser’s famous dictum. The leader of the principals association does rise to the inspirational occasion, but he is crowded out by the inanities of the NZEI leader. Our leaders, Whetu aside, are symbolically appropriate for our education system, that is, lacking in imagination, bewildered about what to do, captured by what is, and at a loss to know how to make that breakthrough in policy that makes a difference. 

Many teachers say to me along the lines of, ‘I can’t imagine how to teach without measurement being the goal, I know my teaching needs to be different but what that difference could be I’m at a loss to work out.’ A 2007 ministry document said New Zealand principals had lost touch with the curriculum; you can imagine how out of touch principals are a decade later. Principals have come to accept that being a principal is that which is gained from leadership courses when, instead, it is having an inspirational view of the curriculum, a main aim to make everything cohesive, and a drive to understand the practices and nuances that bring learning to light.

From Chris Hipkins we want inspiration based on how the system, schools, and classrooms should work together to creative and insightful purpose – it can’t just be fancy words, it must be words that have teachers and principals saying yes, I get it, that’s it, let’s go there.

But Chris Hipkins is a part-time minister of education when we need a fully committed one. And think on this, if Chris Hipkins is Peter Fraser to our time, Iona Holsted and Katrina Casey are our Clarence Beeby (can you hear the gods laughing?).

Whenever I observe an injustice, particularly in my life’s vocation, that is teachers and children, I feel a gnawing anger in my gut, an anger I have learnt to temper (mostly) and, all going well, turn into something productive (more-or-less) with my writing. The day I wake up without that potential anger will mean the education system has attained a miraculous stasis or it is time for me to stop writing. 

I feel that anger now about Chris Hipkin’s apparent lack of feeling to rectify past injustices when he is in a position to do so. At heart I don’t think he is a milksop but he is doing nothing to allay that growing conviction. 

Where I head now is the first lurch.

I speak of Redcliffs School, so terribly treated and about to be sacrificed for no rational reason.

It is being shifted from its present position to a flood-prone park.

The agony has been going on for years.

I see Redcliffs as a symbol of ministerial neurosis, for how Hekia Parata ran her ministry as a whole, and how she handled Christchurch in particular. And with Redcliffs, Chris Hipkins is continuing an injustice and madness from the Parata years. 

I have read the consultant’s report and some of the ministry papers and there is no case at all for shifting the school. Chris Hipkins has succumbed to the local ministry and to Holsted and Casey – this is a terrible signal that does not augur well for the fundamental change the broken education system so badly needs.

The decision to shift Redcliffs School to the neighbouring Redcliffs Park an outward expression of the workings of Hekia Parata’s mind.

It is an expression of a delight in exercising power, all the more satisfying if the victims of that power fight back.

It is a symbol of how schools were treated in Christchurch by the government and the Canterbury ministry.

The Christchurch rebuild injustice continues.

I knew Redcliffs’ fate was sealed when the prime minister John Key and the local National candidate visited the school. Hekia Parata, I knew, would particularly resent John Key’s interference.

I repeat, this is the Christchurch rebuild of schools all over again, and Labour is falling for it, participating in it – but Chris Hipkins just doesn’t feel it.

Rather than listen to the school, to independent consultants, it seems Chris Hipkins has committed a Labour government to an unnecessary $15 million rebuild, making it another school victim of the particular workings of the previous minister’s deviousness and the petty pride of a sycophantic ministry. This is another win for that saint-like servant of teachers and children Iona Holsted, continuing her laurel-strewn record from her years at the education review office; ably supported by that merriment-invested deputy secretary Katrina Casey. 

Get rid of them Chris – public service rules notwithstanding. They are all wrong for the right fundamental change. Peter Fraser had Beeby, you have Holsted and Casey: Casey knows nothing about teachers and classrooms, which is somewhat better than Holsted who thinks she does. The vibe is all wrong. I saw a picture of Holsted talking and it looked as if she was replying to The Scream.

And they have given you wrong advice on Redcliffs. 

Redcliffs School is a symbol of what is wrong with education: ministers not listening to schools and listening to the wrong people because the wrong people are in the right position.

Remember I was deeply involved, as an example from amongst many others, with the disgraceful behaviour inflicted on the principal of Rangiora School via Casey, behaviour found illegal but what do we have? the main culprits completely untouched, continuing merrily along replete with financial accoutrements, and you Chris have done nothing about it because, it seems, you don’t have a feeling for justice (I know you knew about all this Chris because your office rang me for a lead, but while I had to divert my life to this anguishing situation, you still aren’t doing anything); to Marlene Campbell at Salford School amongst many others, the victim of utterly corrupt behaviour; and what about the education review office’s vicious bullying of Opua School and not a hint of apology. 

Am I expected to forgive and forget the behaviour of top ministry officials and the review office? I was the one called on nearly every week to a situation as the last resort because there was no justice within the system and only hard people at the top; and I was to become tearful with anger at the injustice of it all. 

Deal with Redcliffs.

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What I wrote last year about CoLs and salaries, don’t say I didn’t warn you (written some months ago)

(And just for your edification NZEI’s media yesterday’s release (17.05.18).)

Get this straight: if National is returned, paying for the clusters will just about be it, and National will have another term saying clusters will solve everything (another three years lost for Maori education) just as they said it for national standards; as well, because NZEI has supported clusters, they might be able to carp about them, but not really oppose them – they will have fallen into the government’s trap just as they did with Tomorrow’s Schools; if Labour gets in, then there won’t be much else for primary, certainly not in the first year. When Andrew Little is talking about education as one of Labour’s three major policies, he is talking about extra for early childhood teachers, extra pay for support teachers, and free tertiary for students – there will be precious little for anything else.

Clusters cost the average school about $222,000 a year, what would that do for salaries, teacher support, operational grant, and the introduction of Maori language.

NZEI isn’t strong enough to stand up to Hekia Parata to speak out for what is right, to risk her disfavour. Even though clusters came in via John Hattie (for his England corporates) and the Treasury, NZEI sees it as an opportunity to look a winner with the appointment of a handful of teachers and principals being appointed to help ‘run’ the clusters. It lapped it up like a grateful puppy.

I sheet home the responsibility for this calamitous decision to the NZEI secretary and its president. My understanding is that the policy is causing turmoil in the NZEI office and will likely to lead to resignations and sackings. And as for me, I am being singled out for systematic denigration.

If members vote for clusters there will be nothing else for schools from National; and if Labour is the government, forget about a genuine salary increase teachers so richly deserve. But will the vote be fairly undertaken.

Clusters can be nice socially, moderately useful educationally, but they don’t get to the heart of education where teachers and children are struggling; as well, their reach and effect is, and always will be, patchy. And, of course, over time, they will increasingly become administrative units for the government and a captive market for private corporations.

But at last from NZPF, a hint of good sense and independence from government policy by Whetu Cormick, who wrote in his latest newsletter: ‘Some principals attending the Moot made the comment that it is not about the government not having funds, it’s about priorities.  With special education in such disarray many principals feel that the $329 million set aside for future Communities of Learning, might be better spent on supporting special education now.’

And I think Whetu could squeeze a solid pay increase in there for teachers.

Education Budget a major disappointment for educators

17 May 2018

Today’s Education Budget has left educators disappointed that issues of chronic underfunding have not been addressed.

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart said the new spending failed to deliver more than a minimal patch up on the foundations of education that have been neglected for the past decade.

“There’s little point in spending hundreds of millions on new schools and buildings if we haven’t even got the groundwork in place to ensure we have enough teachers to fill them,” she said.

“The extra $370m for new teacher training places is putting the cart before the horse when enrolments for initial teacher training have fallen off the cliff in recent years. There is nothing in this budget that will make teaching a more appealing career choice and turn the growing teacher shortage around,” she said.

“The budget reflected hardly any of the needs we identified to rebuild the foundations of education, and there was no sign of the return to funding early childhood centres with 100% qualified staff that this government has been talking up for some time,” she said.

“The extra 1.6% in operational funding for ECE services is the first in 10 years, but ECE needed a lot more attention after so many years of underfunding by the previous government. Funding levels are still unsustainable in that sector.

“This was not the budget we expected from a Labour-led Government that has long shown they understand the dire need to improve funding in every area of education.

“School operations funding needed to increase by 4% just to ensure real per-student funding kept up with the average annual increase as the Labour Cost Index-Education over the past 10 years, but it was a measly 1.6%,” she said.

There was no obvious contingency in the budget for the significant teacher and principal pay rise that is needed, but officials in the lockup said money would be available.


For more information

  • NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart 021 211 5890
  • NZEI Communications Advisor Kate Drury 027 497 2990
  • NZEI Communications Advisor Melissa Schwalger 027 276 7131
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My four changes to fix a broken primary school education system: you will only guess one of them

The primary school education system is broken – if change isn’t fundamental, it will be yet another betrayal of teachers and children.

At the top we have Chris Hipkins. I have stopped issuing dire warnings about him because I recognise he means well but he is really an education technocrat who sees education as fitting various mundane parts of education together; it was just not in him to attack National’s legacy and thereby provide a roominess for change and an uplifting sense of direction. When Clarence Beeby, with Peter Fraser, struck upon the truth for education in a democracy, that truth becoming policy and part of our education culture was not inevitable, it depended on the words and actions of education leaders. 

There is something wanly apolitical about Chris, an inability not to see (or is it feel?) that what is occurring in education, as in economics and political power distribution, is an ideological battle, between democracy and power elitism. Those who cherish power do not compromise: they may yield, but only to eventually succeed.

The opportunity for fundamental change is so tantalisingly at hand – and we do have Chris and the Coalition to thank for that – but there seems no obvious way to reach the Promised Land.

If it was Pilgrim’s Progress, those few who are enlightened (as I see it), would have to face above all the obstacle of Technology Panic and its close relative Technology is the Future, and be up against it in battling for Meeting Children’s Needs as Children, suffering an Humanities Panic (but in this case justified), and aghast at realising there is No Curriculum Main Aim, not even an Inert one – allowing the Obstacles of Technology Panic and Technology is the Future to hold primary school education in its icy grasp.

Then we have the two summits. They will be bun fights saying everything and nothing, probably leaning to the Technology is the Future side (and jobs) but allowing some space for the broader education concept and children’s real needs.

The Advisory Group has some good people but a broken education system needs specialist attention. With Andrew Becroft in charge, the humanities stuff will be there, but the real question is about the balance and interrelationship between the humanities and the technocratic.

Then we have the Tomorrow’s Schools Panel. This potentially is the real McCoy for decision-making change. I have thought long and hard about it and have decided it could get something useful across the line.

Well, that’s enough about that, now to my four priority changes:

  • The education system through the main curriculum document should have a main aim, and that main be to prepare children for life in a democracy and to support and protect it:

The official main aim of a school education system in a democracy should, by definition, be holistic transparent, explicit, encompassing, and dynamic; it should, to the finest detail, be decisive in ordering what is pertinent and what is not (expressed as learning activities or a few objectives), directions to follow, and the various degrees of significance for education action or policy. A main aim, sincerely acted on, generates the power, cohesiveness, direction, and momentum both for the official main aim of the education system and the connecting official main aims of the curriculum areas. Holistic main aims whether for the system or curriculum areas, protect against fragmentation (such fragmentation often taking the form of a multiplicity of diffuse objectives) which can undermine, be used to undermine, the holistic in both learning and philosophical purpose.

Can anyone recall the main aim of the New Zealand Curriculum? Well, you can’t, because there isn’t one. It is a national curriculum without a main aim – instead, seven pages of competencies, visions, principles, and values – a document much praised by some but, for me, as slippery as an eel. Without that main aim, the government, the ministry, the education review office, and their contractors, laughed a cosmic laugh at teachers’ apparent satisfaction with the document. There was no way they were going to tie me slippery eel down, sport. It is a national curriculum set up to allow governments, hierarchies, and bureaucracies take education in any direction that took their ideological fancy – and the fancy they took was hierarchical, neoliberal, and damaging to teachers and children. And what an industry has been set up throughout the official education system explaining the various parts of the document, when that explanation should have been in the main aim that wasn’t.

The question now becomes: how do you prepare children for life in a democracy and to support and protect it? The neoliberals, technology futurists, 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 my main aim allows only part of such a direction. 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.

  • Maori language be steadily and immediately introduced into schools, at first by schools volunteering: 

As a matter of urgency, the teaching of the Maori language should be made part of the regular and official curriculum. It should not be described or discussed as ‘compulsory’ – we don’t hear English or social studies being described in that way. However, for coalition sensitivities, it could be introduced as schools volunteering for a Maori language teacher. Arrangements would need to be made for initial and continuing special training, and, of course, appointment would only follow with the full involvement of local whanau and iwi. 

There is no curriculum activity that would help prepare children better for democratic life in New Zealand and to support and protect it. It is a democratic right for all people who live in New Zealand (whether pakeha or Maori) in which one world view dominates, to have the Maori world view as a powerfully inherent part of the overall culture. 

  • Fundamental change of education review office be undertaken and it be reintegrated into the ministry: 

The education review office has been the main bureaucratic carrier of the Tomorrow’s School philosophy; also that while some of its functions were necessary for the working of an education system, its manner of performing them, whether necessary or not, was decidedly harmful to education in a democracy. The situation, though, is complex because there are good people in the education review office who do useful things in a kindly manner, serving in some respects to ameliorate a toxic environment but, then, as history informs us, destructive institutions to function in the way they want to function require some good people for a facade. The review office is pure Kafka: the relationship of school to review office is one of unpredictability and lack of accountability leading to an overall relationship based on fear that is often sublimated by schools furiously conforming to, even going beyond, review office expectations. But in the complex, value-laden environment of education, there is always more a school can do, so there is always pervasive that Kafkan dread of being guilty of grievous error, of something else that needs to be done, of who knows what? Unpredictability of review office behaviour can derive from the personality or mood of the review officer, a principal being prominent in the newspaper, a principal being associated with a different philosophy of education, or even just showing hints of it, a letter about the school residing in the review office’s secret file – there are multitudinous ways for the review office to put a school on the rack – and there is no accountability. But the most dangerous part of the review office’s way of functioning is its anti-democratic way of deciding, without consultation with parents, teachers, or any representative consultation group, what curriculum areas should be emphasised, how teaching should be organised to minute detail, and how schools should be administered. The official curriculum in New Zealand primary education is now a document interpreted for meaning by an unaccountable centralised grouping (review office, ministry, and treasury) with the latest word often being spread through review office school visits. This centralised group invariably taking out of the official curriculum those parts making the curriculum easier to measure as a means of extending bureaucratic control.

  • Teachers colleges be largely separate from universities, and have boards of control significantly controlled by teacher organisations, and other education groups (NZCER, for instance) 
  • A substantial advisory service be established, attached to newly established teachers colleges

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. I call this curriculum the real curriculum, the real curriculum for an education system for a democracy. 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.

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 economic, 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.

All the best.

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