John Hattie: your research is now a con

In this article I am going to place considerable demands on Simon Collins’ flexibility of thinking, on his ability to imagine the unimaginable, his willingness to recognise a wrong universally accepted right by the media as an incontrovertible right, and the naïve trust he no doubt shares with his media colleagues in the truthfulness of education authority.

The prompting for this posting is a follow-up article Simon Collins wrote in the New Zealand Herald  (March 18, 2017) to an earlier major one detailing New Zealand’s declining international test results.

Simon Collins asked, as the media always do, an academic – described as a top educator – why he thought this was happening.

The academic was adamant: ‘We have more streaming than any other country in the world.’

He must be dreaming!

Well he does now live in Australia.

I have come to know this academic very well and am confident in declaring that he was winging it.

The colossal irony is that it was the actions and words of the academic being asked, more than any other academic, more than any other New Zealander, who caused the decline in international test results.

A decided motivation to distract.

How this academic must have laughed.

Oh what a humble amanuensis Simon Collins proved to be.

How this academic, this top educator, must have enjoyed Simon Collins falling for it.

The top educator went on to say, we used to be at the top but now we weren’t, and the reason is ‘streaming children into top, middle, and bottom classes’. (The top educator, as ever, has it wrong: the huge preponderance of streaming doesn’t occur in classes but within them, a fact that would be second nature to a true top educator.)

What a fiddle the top educator was getting away with.

I have long written about the advantages of unstreamed learning and taken courses on how to organise classroom learning without it (for it to work at its best, holistic practice is required) but its use has only miniscule harmful effects on learning compared with the widespread structural effects of the introduction of national standards, one of them, not incidentally, being an increase in streaming.

In an article in the Herald (February 6, 2010), Andrew Laxon writes ‘Bill English sought Hattie’s views when he originally developed the party’s national standards policy and Key took the same route, drawing inspiration from Hattie’s advice that a standards-based approach could work wonders in even the poorest schools.’

In that same article Andrew Laxon writes: ‘Hattie’s sworn enemy in all educational matters, former school inspector-turned-blogger Kelvin Smythe is far more forthright.’

‘He believes that Hattie has worked hand in glove with the Government on the system and claims his influence is so great that other academics are too scared to speak up against him.’

John Key said John Hattie was the architect of the introduction of national standards into New Zealand. He became the overwhelmingly dominant academic supporting government policies. To those of us who wanted truth in education, who wanted progressive policies, who wanted genuine discussion, Hattie was an academic miasma. He was everywhere. His research was the rationale for government policy and in combination with the government and a bewitched media, a devastatingly formidable force to confront.

But the research, as I hope to convincingly demonstrate, is false.

Now this is the challenge to Simon Collins, instead of investigating declining test results and interviewing an academic (always the same one), I suggest he investigate the academic.

I know what Simon Collins will think – Kelvin Smythe is he unhinged? Hattie, a former University of Auckland professor, producer of the Holy Grail research, still dominant with the National government, presently head of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, the dominant academic voice in Australia, consultant to Pearson, the go-to academic world-wide.

Just as Fukuyama declared the end of history so, in a way, has Hattie’s research been declared the end of education research.

But that would be strange wouldn’t it given the name of the book of his research: Visible Learning? A book of research that concerns itself only with that which is visible? A perfect model for the neoliberal commodification of education but a gargantuanly imperfect one for research on children.

Despite all that, Hattie’s education research remains just as false – all it goes to show is Hattie’s fantastic charismatic, testosterone driven-ability to sell trombones and employ his cunning political skills.

I viewed him once talking to a group of students, nearly all women, and Hattie standing at the board saying: When you become a teacher, would you like to teach with the absolute certainty of being right? A swoony intake of breath was the response.

But his research is demonstrably false.

Hattie’s refusal to acknowledge the falseness of that research – undertaken as a young researcher, harmful to hundreds of thousands of children – means it has become akin to academic fraud. I don’t believe the research was intended as an academic fraud but after getting the research so wrong, and having it pointed out to him, his refusal to disown it, means he has to wear its falseness.

A number of British academics have exposed him and breaking through the fear of Hattie’s close relations with the government including his involvement in PBRFs, a few New Zealand academics.

(I have written a number of lengthy articles tracking the directions Hattie took and was a great nuisance to him. On one occasion he said he would only sign an academic petition if the academics could get me to shut up. I agreed on the condition I could open up if he went against the arguments of the petition signed, which I knew he would – and which he did. To a visiting English academic he complained about harassment and there were vague references to legal action.)

The falseness of Hattie’s research is not difficult to explain; it is not technical or abstruse. But everything about Hattie’s research is false except for some opinions which, while they may be true, are also false, because he claims them to be evidence-based. One reason Hattie has an appeal to teachers (along with his assertive sense of rightness) is that he talks about ideas and approaches which are at teachers’ level of interest. His tactic is to mix, amongst his mainly right-wing education ideas, a few liberal ones – that is Hattie the education politician at work, bringing teachers in, making him all the more valuable to corporates and neoliberal governments. Hattie always recognised that his status with authority and corporates was partly dependent on his hold over teachers, hence they tolerated the occasional radical swing in support for certain policies, in particular, national standards. He signed a petition, for instance, against national standards even though he was the ‘architect’ of them, soon to change tack of course; and just before he left for Australia he said the national standards were the wrong ones – a very odd response for the architect.

Hattie took his idea for meta-analysis from the medical world and applied it to the value-laden one of education in gigantic style.

The difference between, say – a study of hospital operations involving surgical mesh and complications, and a study of the learning effects of, say, whole language involving many countries and thousands of children; children of different ages; children of different genders; children ranging from those with disabilities to able ones to university students; children in classrooms to clinical situations; teachers and cultures with different understandings of  whole language; studies over different time periods (but always short); lessons that are formal to less so (definitely a huge bias towards the formal) – is vast.

No-one else in education has tried a similar meta-analysis since, for an obvious reason, in education it throws up rubbish – there is no-way the variables can be controlled:

  • Fifty-thousand studies with the estimated number of 236 million students across many countries, though with a USA bias (every country to give a different meaning to the same words – for instance, whole reading and whole language meaning something very different in the USA to New Zealand).
  • Age (children who are younger are capable of much more rapid improvement than older children; and what is the relevance of studies of university students to the teaching of school children?)
  • Ethnicities (single ethnicity countries as against highly diverse).
  • Schooling systems (authoritarian countries as against democratic; technocratically advanced countries as against developing ones).
  • Learning contexts (classrooms or laboratories – laboratory and clinical contexts play a substantial role in the research results).
  • Student characteristics (a significant number of the results are based on children with learning disabilities).
  • Teaching styles (dominant characteristics from country to country).
  • Vocabulary (teaching practices and their names have different meanings in different countries).
  • Parts of the curriculum (certain parts of the curriculum suit different styles of teaching; what is being taught is not always made clear but mathematics, which can be taught more formally, is a definite emphasis).
  • Variation in aims from country to country (certain aims in education which might be of high importance to children and to particular societies might be more complex to teach and therefore take longer – for instance, whole reading is superior to phonics in the longer term but requires patience, the same with problem-based mathematics).
  • The affective (largely avoided as the name of the book states).

To take one of Hatties’s influences, feedback, there is an absence of easily accessible research information on:

  • The learning contexts used.
  • The institutional level involved (pre-school to university).
  • Whether the students were in a clinical or classroom context.
  • The curriculum areas involved.
  • Whether the thinking was straightforward or complex, skill-based or cognitive, formal or affective.
  • How it was taught, closed or open-ended, individual discovery or class led.
  • The age of the children, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or gender balance.
  • How long after the teaching the testing was done (of overwhelming significance).
  • The influence of the Hawthorne effect.
  • Whether the children were performing in comparison with where they were at the beginning or with a control group (ponder the enormous research significance of that – yet the results were all tumbled together).
  • How each influence has an independent effect entirely separate from the context (a more technical area of research error but pervasively significant) as he claims.

The crucial point is not that most of the information couldn’t, eventually, be identified but the impossibility of ever bringing the variables validly together. My assumption, given Hattie’s personality, is that he felt he could get away with it by deus ex machina and he largely has. Hattie, as demonstrated below, sometimes fragmented the data to often farcical effect and wickedly misleading outcomes but, it seems, we fell for deus ex machina again. Where is the outrage?

An academic dug deep down into the research information and came up with the following (there are dozens more just as grotesque):

  • Hattie’s ranking of quality of teaching (to the question: how important an influence is it – want to drive a bus through what quality means?), which he ranked 56th out of 138 in his league table (56th is he for real?), came solely from student ratings by college and university students. Can you believe this rubbish? How could Hattie not have known it was a con?
  • The micro-teaching influence was ranked 4th as an influence, but only came from pre-service teachers.
  • Professional development was ranked 19th as an influence but drops to 48th when only schools research is included.
  • Formative evaluation was ranked 3rd as an influence but there were only two sets of results and both to do with special education children.
  • Comprehensive interventions were ranked 7th as an influence but they only concerned learning disabled children.

British academics proved half his results were mathematically incorrect due to a school-level howler, a demonstration of his amateurism. It took him years to acknowledge the error even though it was self-evident. What chance then of acknowledging the falsity of his research as a whole. It is important to point out, though, the other way he worked out the results produced ‘correct’ results.

I searched all his writing to see if there was any kind of apology, any kind of counter, and I found only one semblance:

Hattie wrote: ‘No worry, it all balances out.’

Our professional lives are enriched when academics create education ideas greater than their research. Hattie, sadly, has managed the considerable feat of producing education ideas even more dismal than his specious research. There is a nimble but superficial prolixity to his writing that indicates the possession of a critical intelligence which can operate with no fixed connection to the reality of classrooms or their social context. There is, though, one exception to this, his ability to connect to the reality of the academic market. His tactically adroit research is angled and presented in such a way as to draw teachers in with its certainty, the media with its glibness, corporates with its marketability, and governments with its promise of increased control at the cheapest rates. I have written hundreds of pages about this academic, an academic who has played such major part in shredding the beautiful holistic education that is our heritage and culture. I have not written about him for some time and intend never to write about him again.

John Hattie: your research is now a con.

As for Simon, as eminent, skilled, and good-hearted as he is, taking on Hattie is beyond his reach, anyone’s, because Hattie is an embodiment of where school education is today he has, it seems, a free pass to any neoliberal outrage that takes his fancy, with truth and children the ultimate victims.

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Attack! 104 In the Early World: Elwyn Richardson

Welcome to ATTACK! 

ATTACK! is a two-page occasional publication giving attention to the curriculum – the holistic curriculum.

ATTACK! is for you, also to introduce to your colleagues. Each issue will be restricted to two pages. A cover graphic for a file or folder to store ATTACK! issues is available.

Most of ATTACK! will be concerned with the holistic curriculum which, if acted on, is a fundamental way to undermine the present undemocratic education system. Don’t be discouraged if opportunities to teach holistically are limited, do your best, be a guardian, and act as a witness to this culturally significant and inspiring way of teaching and learning.

To get in touch for comment, questions, and the ATTACK! issues to be sent to you personally:

Attack! 104 In the Early World: Elwyn Richardson

Click here to download

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Why the concept of the modern-day principal is wrong Part 2

An account of the history of that wrongness

At centre, being a principal is about children and the curriculum, and being teaching, while the children are the recipients, and teachers the medium, the curriculum is the way – and the way in each curriculum area, before being laid out in straight lines in small boxes by national standards, quantitative academics, and bureaucrats, was a journey for teachers, an exciting, life-long journey – almost spiritual, but always stringently practical, a search for the truth, judged by way it was received by the children.

The idea in Tomorrow’s Schools was that if the government got the administration of education right, and principals follow suit with their schools, the appropriate curriculum implementation would devolve from that. And an appropriate curriculum implementation did evolve from that – a curriculum appropriate to the way the bureaucracies worked, a way to make easier the way the bureaucracies worked, and a way to extend managerialism to schools.

Kiwi Leadership for Principals was published as a draft in 2008 by the ministry

What follows is my response written in 2008 (continued)

The year was early 1989, with Tomorrow’s  Schools officially imminent; the place a conference facility at Onerahi, Whangarei; the conference sponsored by the Whangarei Principals Association; the speakers Maurice Gianotti, soon to be head of the education review office, who spoke the first day, and me, to speak the second. Principals who attended still shake their heads in astonished wonder at the chasmic divide between the messages of the two days. Maurice Gianotti in his urbane way delivered a message of sunny vistas; I, in my barbarians-at-the-gate mode, of an education system going too far to the right and heading into series of calamitous storms. Both of us, of course, overstated our positions.

There was no doubt where the main point of difference lay: the role of the principal in curriculum matters in their schools. Maurice Gianotti spoke of the way goals should be set, administrative systems established, delegations made, reviews and accountability systems established, also systems for teacher assessment of children’s learning. He made much, of course, of the freedoms that would be available to schools, and the opportunities for initiative. In speaking of the role of the review office, he said that, in respect to the curriculum, their attention would be on outcomes; under no circumstances were officers to comment or give advice on classroom practice or the curriculum. He said that it was on school administrative systems and learning outputs that the review office would focus, and that under Tomorrow’s Schools that was where principals should be focused, too. The message was somewhat softened by his talk of the often-made distinction between management and leadership. In his references to leadership, the role of the principal inevitably became somewhat involved in setting up curriculum opportunities. While Maurice Gianotti’s talk was fairly much the standard neoliberal talk for the time, it was not as harsh as some other such advocacies. Indeed, Maurice Gianotti was only to last two years as head of the review office to be replaced by Judith Aitken. It was commonly held in teaching circles that Maurice Gianotti could not force himself to be as ruthless as the job specifications required.

The argument I developed on my day to speak (I have the notes in front of me now) was the damage about to be done: teachers would be marginalised; our child-centred and professional value system demeaned; attention would be to administration and away from the curriculum; we would have accountability; and they – the government and the bureaucracies – would have the power. However, I said the tactic now is ‘to make the best of what clearly isn’t the best and to act on the implications of the changed system and turn the situation to best advantage.’ I then suggested a number of ways this might be done: the first was that ‘if schools (that is, teachers and boards of trustees) can appoint principals, they can be in charge of what occurs in relation to learning and evaluation.’ Our full attention, I said, should on ‘reducing government interference in learning and evaluation.’ My tune, as you will have observed, has not changed. At about the same time as this conference, it is significant to note, Lange ruefully acknowledged that Tomorrow’s Schools was not about children and learning as was promised, which would now come later (but it never did). To be fair, a lot about children and learning did come later, but none of it freed teachers to be more creative and imaginative, which is what this posting is deeply concerned about.

The setting, about a year later, is the Waipuna Conference Centre; the occasion an Auckland Principals Conference; this time I had only 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 taking the initiative and scaring the living daylights out of them.’ Fat chance, I know.

The emphasis was on the characteristics of the New Zealand way. I talked of Beeby, Richardson, Ashton-Warner, developmental teaching, the balanced reading system, and of directions in drama, the arts, social studies, science, mathematics, and writing. Particular attention was paid to the need to engage the affective as the basis for learning, the use of drama, clay work, and other parts of the arts; to teachers having the freedom to pursue children’s interests freely and imaginatively; and to the availability of choice 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 morning tea line, two principals headed 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.’

The principals did not intend offence, and I did not take any. In fact, such comments from the front line can be a valuable source of clarity in evaluating complex situations. The comment is certainly germane to when and where the role of principals in relation to the curriculum turned to custard.

I suppose principals saw me as part of the ancien regime being swept away by the new order.

[In 2016, quite by chance a retired principal wrote to me and in passing mentioned that he had heard me speak for his first time at Waipuna and that he had sat by a person who was ebulliently supportive of my message throughout; he was to learn that that person, a later speaker, was Witi Ihimaera. Such are the small things one holds on to.]

And here I still am, by no means swept back though, better described as desperately holding on – and finding the situation more difficult than I feared. Accompanying the swing from the curriculum to administration has been a swing from our knowledge to their knowledge. Into the vacuum left by the emphasis on administration, egged on by the increasing commercialisation of education, has come an eclectic and quirky assortment of international education knowledges.

With that out of the way, I intend to focus on what I consider the most significant points in the Kiwi Leadership document, and the Principals Federation’s response to it. Unpromisingly, the Kiwi Leadership document mentions the 21st century, seven times in the first four pages, a sure sign of desperation for bolstering a weak argument. There is, however, in the early pages, one statement of clarity, but only in a footnote: ‘The term ‘educational leader’ describes principals who set the direction for, and are actively involved in, student learning and the professional learning of teachers.’

The Kiwi Leadership document begins with a detailed account of what the writers saw as the challenges for the future. This was to lead to a disastrously false premise for what was to follow: that is because, not one example of any challenge given for the future is in anyway different from challenges already being posed. But being a vacuous document, it does, of course, resort to the most vacuous education claim from the present. In fact, in a roundabout way, it resorts to the claim twice:

‘In the ICT age when there is an abundance of information teachers are less likely to be sources of knowledge than they were last century.’


‘Learning will need to be personalised to meet the needs of all learners in a 21st century knowledge-based society. Personalising learning involves a move away from traditional views of knowledge and learning. Instead of being passive recipients of knowledge, students need to be active participants and partners in the learning process.’

I want to tell the writers of this document to stop being ‘passive recipients’ of clichés about education. New Zealand education is a leader in personalising learning; it has been the primary tradition for decades – developmental education, in particular. I have spent the greater part of my professional life talking to receptive teacher audiences about personalising teaching, as have many others. What effrontery to our Kiwi-style of education. And, where have they read someone advocating what they pronounce as ‘traditional views of knowledge and learning’? Having said that, as a person who has been in the classrooms of thousands of teachers, I have observed on many occasions teachers providing just the right ideas themselves, at the right time, and in the right way to excellent education effect. Beware of radical chic by education bureaucrats who, unconsciously or not, use it to build their education sand castles.

There is, against the flow, one statement of significance:

‘While devolution has allowed principals to develop systems in response to the needs of their students, it has also increased their administrative workload. Research shows that Kiwi principals spend almost twice as much time on administration as do their international counterparts. For many, there is a tension between their role as educational leader and their responsibilities as managers and administrators.’

After the document’s vacuous start, here was the opportunity for the writers to do something real. But, no, as described above, the writers proceed to produce page after page of off-the-point jargon overdrive. Apparently, the hope was, by reiterating again and again what principals already know about administration, and using an excess of management-speak, readers would be confused into  thinking the document was addressing the issue.

A typical statement:

‘Effective principals get the relationships right and tackle the educational challenges at the same time – incorporating both, simultaneously, into their problem solving.’ Well, there we are.

There is not much else I want to say about this strategically maladroit document except for one matter that is developing into a major issue in school education, one of great importance to the status of teachers, but which, I believe, the teacher organisations are unwilling, or unprepared,  to do much about: the status of teacher knowledge. The issue was central to my recently posted series on ‘The battle for primary school reading’ in which the balanced reading approach, largely based on teacher knowledge, but supplemented and reinforced by academic knowledge, was described as under attack by advocates of the phonics-focused approach, largely based on academic knowledge. The status of teachers is considerably bound up in the outcome.

Throughout the Kiwi Leadership document there is continual reference to only one kind of knowledge – ‘evidence-based’ knowledge, in other words, academic knowledge. Bureaucrats are not disinterested participants in the issue; they see themselves as the repositories, gatherers, controllers, and purveyors of academic knowledge. Take, for instance, the latest fad of ‘best practice’ – of which this document apparently is an example. Because most foreign education systems are dominated by academic knowledge, ‘best practice’ publications involving sweeps of other systems become another way to have academic knowledge further dominate our system.

‘Evidence-based’ knowledge usually relates to experimental research which, in my view, makes a somewhat dodgy contribution to knowledge useful for classrooms. Experimental researchers always face difficulty in establishing their preferred paradigm. To standardise their methods they have to exclude a lot of variables – variables which are often of great significance to teachers. Experimental researchers set up artificial situations which they evaluate in an artificial, discontinuous way. My view is that there is a world of difference between controlled experimental teaching and the hurly-burly of classroom teaching.

I make a plea to teacher organisations, in the interests of teachers and principals, to challenge statements from the bureaucracies that refer exclusively to ‘evidence-based’ knowledge and speak up for classroom knowledge developed over the years and proved in classrooms.

The Federation’s response to the Kiwi Leadership document makes some excellent points, especially in describing the nature and diversity of schools in New Zealand but, nevertheless, seems generally to go along with the document’s resort to administrative-type ideas. I recognise that the Federation has a relationship to maintain with the ministry, and is a democratic organisation with a responsibility to be open-minded in receiving feedback from members. But in the end, though, this is not a time to be going down the ‘we-will-need-more-resources track’, so beloved of teacher organisations. This was a remarkable, even unique, opportunity fumbled. Decisive changes to the concept of being a principal needed to be at the forefront of the Federation’s response, in particular, the expectation and enablement of the principal to be closely involved in curriculum development and classroom practice. Kiwi Leadership put forward the idea of principals being more active in those matters, indeed, it was the document’s main purpose, but neither the Federation nor the ministry proceeded to do anything substantial in response. No structural changes were contemplated, for instance, in role of the education review office. There was simply a reversion to administrative verbiage already dominant in the system. I suppose I have been a bit ungracious to the ministry. To describe the intention as a ‘laudable sentiment’ is understated – it is a brilliant sentiment; but my response has been considerably affected by the knowledge that the processes set out in Kiwi Leadership, notwithstanding the brilliance of that sentiment, if acted on, would further imperil curriculum leadership in schools, not aid it.

There is one statement in the Federation’s response to Kiwi Leadership that was telling:

‘Principals may also question whether the KLP framework is suggesting there is something wrong with what is happening in their school.’

The answer is yes.

Posted in Principals | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Why the concept of the modern-day principal is wrong Part 1

An account of the history of that wrongness

At centre, being a principal is about children and the curriculum, and being teaching, while the children are the recipients, and teachers the medium, the curriculum is the way – and the way in each curriculum area, before being laid out in straight lines in small boxes by national standards, quantitative academics, and bureaucrats, was a journey for teachers, an exciting, life-long journey – almost spiritual, but always stringently practical, a search for the truth, judged by way it was received by the children.

The idea in Tomorrow’s Schools was that if the government got the administration of education right, and principals follow suit with their schools, the appropriate curriculum implementation would devolve from that. And an appropriate curriculum implementation did evolve from that – a curriculum appropriate to the way the bureaucracies worked, a way to make easier the way the bureaucracies worked, and a way to extend managerialism to schools.

Kiwi Leadership for Principals was published as a draft in 2008 by the ministry 

What follows is my response written in 2008

Kiwi Leadership for Principals, a draft document put out by the ministry to get principals back to the curriculum, is an idea whose time should not be talked about as having come until there has been discussion of where and when it went in the first place. That aside, and accepting that a small number of principals have hung on heroically to their curriculum leadership role, it is an idea whose time is not about to come anyway. It would take a miracle of systems’ clarity and self-awareness for that to happen.

Kiwi Leadership for Principals, for all its good central intention, is a document that should never have seen the light of day. Early on, in a strangulated way, it proposes its main purpose: principals undertaking more curriculum leadership – a laudable sentiment. But then proceeds to drown this admirable purpose in vacuous reasoning about how school leadership in the future will be fundamentally different from school leadership in the present; followed by a repetitive and jargon-overdrive style description of administrative ideas.

What was needed was not a document about how to turn the administrative screws even tighter, but policies for reducing the administrative work load of principals to free them to concentrate on curriculum leadership, providing genuine curriculum advisory support, and allowing a heightened freedom of curriculum manoeuvre.  Kiwi Leadership won’t fly because it is sans the wings of curriculum inspiration.

This posting will take a look at the attitudes surrounding the curriculum when Tomorrow’s Schools was introduced – the dominant official attitude being a near contemptuous one towards principals playing a role in curriculum implementation. The view was that if principals got the administrative systems right, the appropriate curriculum implementation would devolve from that. This attitude towards the curriculum is most vividly displayed in review officers at the time being warned away from membership of subject associations. When you are a principal or review officer you put away childish things. The systems’ approach and near contemptuous attitude to the curriculum is also implicit in the way review officers were recruited from one part of the education system to be freely allowed to pass judgement on other parts. (The education system at the time, we need to remember, was being groomed to allow non-educationists to apply to be principals of schools.)

This posting will then consider the ministry document. It will argue that it reads like a travel brochure; in brochure-euphemistic terms it does admit to some rough spots, but nothing that can’t be overcome with good will, a sunny outlook  and, of course, the right systems. This document  has four ideas: setting goals here, there, and everywhere; communicating those goals here, there, and everywhere; reviewing and assessing outcomes here, there, and everywhere; and principals turning their attention (with all that available time they are assumed to have) to ‘evidence-based’ curriculum findings. And god help us, they advocate heaps more principal meetings. In my view, education in this country would take a substantial leap forward if we could lock principals into their schools for a while to think things through for themselves and confer more with their teachers. The document is prolix and as slippery as a banana skin. It is argued in this posting, that having grasped the fundamentals of education administration no further input is needed, other than that which develops organically from practice. This confirms there are no new ideas in administration, just new people saying the same things in a different way. The reason why principals can be unsure about what to do, is not because they cannot work out a way to do it, but because they have to second-guess what someone else wants – the bureaucracy.

This posting will argue that the idea of getting principals back to the curriculum is indeed a laudable sentiment, but one that will fail because of the characteristics of the education context. Readers of Developmental Network Newsletter, which I edited from 1990-1999, will know I undertook a long campaign against the way external reviews of schools were organised. I don’t want to go through all that here, but my point of attack was the pernicious effect the review office had on the status of the curriculum and the teaching of the curriculum. One of the ways out of the dilemma I suggested was to allow some other registered groups to undertake reviews, for instance, the Principals Federation, or schools of education. In the present situation, a more likely and immediate way to reduce the pernicious review office effect on the curriculum, is to greatly modify the number and nature of the compliances, especially in the area of evaluation and curriculum coverage. Evaluation practices and curriculum coverage, it is argued, should be negotiated between boards of trustees and principals within a very broad and permissive regulatory framework. Any regulatory references to evaluation should be based on the excellent statement in the new curriculum which famously contains no reference to the unnecessary evaluation categories of ‘summative’ and ‘formative’.

Overall, this posting will argue that the Principals Federation should play hardball, and not move on the document until some real concessions are made, in particular, that knowing the curriculum is the basis for being a principal, also reducing the administrative load on principals, and the advisory mess being sorted out. This posting will look at the Federation’s response to the ministry document and argue that it has some sharp elbows, but a full squaring off was required. Even though the new national president – Paddy Ford – seems an admirably straight talker, my prediction is that not an inch of structural change to the system will be made. The most likely outcome is that the document will, in fact, be bureaucratised and more regulatory demands placed on schools and, in a bitter irony, on the area of curriculum implementation, in particular.

For any effective switch to the curriculum, principals need the availability of a well-based, independent, and experienced advisory service – the advisory system, however, is in disarray. It never ceases to amaze me that academic bureaucrats can sing the praises of ‘evidence-based’ knowledge, yet display what adds up to a conveniently narrow focus to protect their assumptions from other ‘evidence-based’ knowledge. Take the precarious and hemmed-in situation of advisers. What do you think an education sociologist might say about the control of knowledge and power in the way curriculum advice is distributed? First, the emphasis has been on management advisers and advice – a kind of management advice that ensures a continuity of control to ministry and review office bureaucrats; second, in curriculum advice, the emphasis has been on people being contracted to dispense that advice; contracted advisers, as against long-term advisers, are much easier to control both in what they say and do; third, those giving advice, are increasingly aligned with academic knowledge as their main source of knowledge rather than teacher knowledge; finally, the few long-term advisers remaining are subject to numbing bureaucratic control.

Leaving aside these control characteristics, there is a further worrying trend that derives from the shredding of the long-term advisory service and the burgeoning of the contracted one. The strength of long-term advisers is the opportunity they have to learn from school experience, by listening to, and observing, teachers. Long-term advisers, in taking courses, are unlikely to have to resort to thinking skills in isolation, question taxonomies, cute de Bono-type questions or Costa-like learning packages; or the empty shell of inquiry learning – they are more likely to have the experience and grounding to know how to advise on basic curriculum activities such as reading, writing, science, maths, the arts, physical education, and social studies. Thinking skills and questions are likely to be referred to, but placed in contexts teachers can relate to. Because they are not contracted, therefore more secure, long-term advisers are much more likely to deviate from the official line and adjust advice to suit circumstances and the perceived needs of children. Long-term advisers are much better placed to be the guardians of teacher knowledge and less vulnerable to being conduits for the latest academic or bureaucratic fad. I know there are some impressive contracted advisers, and I don’t want to do them a disservice, but a great deal of information given to teachers by contracted advisers comes across to teachers as stale, cute, and playing safe. As a result, this posting argues for more long-term curriculum advisers and for greater freedom in their advisory circumstances. Such a policy would represent a contribution to the structural change required before there is any real prospect of principals, in general, being able to be more involved in the curriculum.

Posted in Principals | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Steve Maharey: I put your article in the category of much wallowing in the fluff

Steve Maharey was a Labour minister of education and recently stood down as vice-chancellor of Massey University. He has written an article in the publication Pundit (March 11, 2017) titled ‘Can we finally agree on how to run schools’, the answer, of course, is no, but we might be able to agree on an education system structure which is democratic in nature, and allows meaningful and open discussion to occur to guide and inform an attentive government in its decision-making. In other words, the opposite of the one we have now and which, not incidentally, is working to a philosophy introduced by your political party

I dislike the article because it sounds good – meaning in detail it gets us nowhere – putting it into the category of much wallowing in the fluff. At the conclusion of the article, Maharey tells us that he drew on a paper by Jane Gilbert and Rachel Bolsted, a background paper for policy development during his time as minister of education. And there-in, as far as I’m concerned, lies the major source of Maharey’s problem; about ten years ago I wrote a many-paged savage critique of Gilbert and Bolsted’s wish-washy futurism, saying look at children now and their needs, because that is the best way to prepare them for the future – and teachers now and their needs, because that is the best way to prepare them to prepare children for their future. Fluffy words in education don’t register but structural ones, as occurred 25 years, do, which means we have had quite enough fluff from the originating and uncomprehending perpetrators.

Teaching is about children and the curriculum, and being teaching, while the children are the recipients, the curriculum is the way – and the way in each curriculum area, before being laid out in straight lines in small boxes by national standards, quantitative academics, and bureaucrats, was a journey for teachers, an exciting, life-long journey – almost spiritual, but always stringently practical, a search for the truth, judged by way it was received by the children.

When I read lists like Maharey’s I feel weighed down, dispirited by generalisations about teaching and the system that sound good but float serenely above reality when it is curriculum depth and nuances that matter and interest me, curriculum depth and nuances overseen by the lightest of regulatory frameworks, and a government that listens, but generally keeps out of teachers way.

Maharey’s big idea is ‘customising learning’ (a metaphor I don’t find fitting) which he supports with the need for children to produce knowledge as well as consume it (more unfitting metaphors), to cater for each child being different, and to use a diverse range of teaching practices. There is heaps more of stuff like this under various headings.

Teaching begins with the curriculum and a dynamic main idea developed as a guiding question. If it is the right main idea and right guiding question, all those things that constitute good teaching will occur. In science, for instance, a teacher should ask him or herself: How can we get children to think like scientists about, say, light and shadow? All the time checking: Where is the science thinking? How to set up opportunities to do that science thinking better?

Each curriculum area: mathematics, reading, writing, drama, science, social studies, art, physical education has its own main idea providing structure for children’s learning – if correctly chosen and applied, then all those things that Maharey bundles under customised learning will result. But only teachers know that; also that it demands constant high level thinking and nuanced maintenance – and being free to take learning this way and that.  But it is more than freedom; it is also about what clever teachers do being recognised and valued – at the moment, what clever teachers do, more often falls on the barren minds of the unrecognising, censorious, and the national standards transfixed.

The irony of Maharey’s customising learning idea is that it has already been fully taken up.

Because teachers don’t control the curriculum, because the curriculum is not respected as something deep and beyond the real understanding of people outside the classroom, because we can’t engage in free conversation, it has come out as inquiry learning in which each child, increasingly in cathedral-like surroundings, wanders around with his or her customised iPad and reorganises google information, does routine comprehension, non-problematic maths, and so on – but no-where (or very rarely) does the activity deeply engage the affective and the cognitive: where is the maths thinking, drama thinking, art thinking, writing thinking?

Maharey – Tomorrow’s Schools are your responsibility, and Labour’s; when the left political party imposed a neoliberal right-wing education system, you left us stranded. And how carefully did you listen to us when you were minister of education? How much structural change did you effect or even contemplate? Since Tomorrow’s Schools,  when a right-wing party is elected it does structural change; when a left-wing party is elected it does fiddle.

In most Western countries, under the strictures of neoliberalism, those in charge of education systems devised a managerialist system of separating the administration of the education system and role of principal, from teachers and classroom practice. This is done by having those in administration inculcated in the values of the centre so that the values and purposes of schools don’t get in the way of the values and purposes of the centralised agencies.

The managerialist leadership system you set up is about hierarchy of the sort that functions on the belief it knows; it knows how education works; how it can be organised and standardised into unproblematic and manageable parts; made utterly assured in its mission by the ideas of quantitative academics who also know.

Curriculum-driven leadership is based on teacher knowledge, on commonsense through informed experience, on the value of variety in education, on education as part of life in a social democracy, on identifying the essences of curriculum areas, on a commitment to a broad-based curriculum, and on teaching and leadership being significantly an art.

The idea in your Tomorrow’s Schools was that if the government gets the administration of education right, and principals follow suit with their schools, the appropriate curriculum implementation would devolve from that. And an appropriate curriculum implementation did evolve from that – a curriculum appropriate to the way the bureaucracies worked, a way to make easier the way the bureaucracies worked, and a way to extend managerialism to schools.

Unfortunately, it was a way that narrowed and reduced the curriculum for children. What took the place of a broad-based curriculum was the layering of classrooms and schools with measurable objectives: they were declared good by managerialists, just what the doctor ordered, what education should be about – that is, a narrowly-focused view of literacy and numeracy and the rest of the curriculum take the hindmost.

As I have suggested above, the crucial element of curriculum-driven leadership is establishing the essence of particular parts of the curriculum – the task for principals and teachers having discerned these is to believe in them and pursue their logic through to the implications for the administrative structures of schools. Leadership would, to a great extent, be the sum of those implications. For a broad-based curriculum, principals are central to the provision of contexts in which teachers will feel sufficiently free of constraints, and understood and supported enough, to teach in an imaginative and creative manner. Principals, however, in being drawn away from the curriculum, are increasingly vulnerable to challenging teachers administratively rather than where it matters, through the real curriculum. In curriculum-driven leadership, the challenge should come through an inspired view of the curriculum, not an unbalanced view of administration.

Curriculum-driven leadership never happened, crushed, in particular, by your education review office. You didn’t even restructure that rogue organisation.

The bureaucracies have devised a de facto curriculum of objectives and indicators because they don’t understand or can’t handle (for purposes of status and control) the real one.

You see, any jackass by functioning at the level of management by measurable objectives can sound knowledgeable about education, pandering as it does to the current obsession with certainty and precision. Management by measurable objectives eases the way for external and hierarchical control over schools, laying the basis for an industrial model of education. In schools, management by measurable objectives makes education understandable to those who don’t understand the curriculum and a nightmare for those who do.

Leadership courses should be about the curriculum, about clarifying the essences of curriculum areas and coming up with main aims that make curriculum areas cohere. These essences can’t properly be handed down as a list; they need to be worked out, school by school. Leadership courses should discuss the philosophy behind this process and ways to get it going. Current leadership providers, however, take as a given the managerialist basis for administering schools which is the way managerialism comes to drive the curriculum. The curriculum is set up for observable and measurable outcomes and, not coincidentally, for expert, bureaucratic, and political control.

So what are you going to do about that?  I believe the drive to teacher degrees, pushed by the university where you were vice-chancellor, is a perfect example of what your generalised list represents.

For people outside the classroom, ministers of education, some academics, education bureaucrats, using such ideas as are on your list can be thrilling because they can go on about them, sounding modern, well informed and, most nauseating of all, futuristic, without knowing much or anything about classroom practice at all. But even better, as a result of the elevated flights of prose or oratory, by nature of delivery, it places them securely above classroom teachers, clearly superior to them in insight, after all why can’t they cotton on.  I have had quite enough and so have the teachers and principals of New Zealand. Tomorrow’s Schools wasn’t customised for teachers they were customised for bureaucrats, hostile ministers of education, right-wing propaganda, control, and private capital. So keep your fancy lists to yourself until you show some penitence and come out fighting for the other side.

Posted in Education Policy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Ministry and Sky City celebration of clusters

If asked, the ministry will deny any initial planning for a celebration of clusters, but the idea is being given serious attention.

It is a telling commentary that Auckland is the intended place for such a cynical manoeuvre; high decile schools of the central city can fool around with such education ideas at no real cost to children’s ultimate education status but children from lower decile schools, often lacking the kind of cultural capital to recover, never catch up. (I’m sure, though, that if this multi-million dollar extravaganza proceeds, a lower decile cluster school will be found to laud clusters but that is the nature of education today – phenomenal energy invested in façade, cover-up, and propaganda, and very little into authenticity.)

Remember the multi-million dollar festival of education in Auckland a few years ago, a celebration too, but what did it herald?

In international testing, for what those tests are worth, the worst results in the Western world and NCEA becoming even more a Wild West of fiddling, invalidity, and manoeuvring.

The response might be, international testing is not about real learning, I agree, but national standards aren’t either so we should be forging ahead. Not being about real learning is what we do and we are not even doing that very well.

The Tomorrow’s School system is wrong; it was always a deception representing an allocation of power upwards; and in representing that, failing to deliver improved education, as has every other deception subsequently, but always followed by another deception. In respect to the allocation of power upwards, principals responded in three ways, a large group said the emperor looked fantastic in his or her new clothes; another group said it had no opinion, emperor clothing not being their area of expertise; and a small group said he or she looked a bloody sight and should put some clothes on.

Yes, elements of the neoliberal, right-wing system work somewhat better in other countries, but not much, and only because nearly every other education system in Western countries is better funded. In New Zealand, top-down, no meaningful discussion, with education wisdom residing solely in the head of the minister of education and her mat-pack, is squeezing the relevance out of teaching.

It is distressing, though, to see education history repeating itself – another 25 years of education malaise in prospect: fifty years of going in the wrong education direction; 50 years it will be of children from economically poorer families being in the wrong system for them (in particular); and ominously for New Zealand society, contributing to a non-democratic future.

Oh what a sell there was for Tomorrow’s Schools! freedom for schools and a panacea for the education of Maori children.

Oh what a sell there is for clusters! collaboration in an atmosphere of Quaker-like tranquillity, no more of that nasty competition (stopping the publishing of national standards results are they?), and, of course, a panacea for the education of Maori children.

In the long line of deceptions, clusters are the shiny new education object that will do the trick. But that is the problem, it is never a shiny new education object, it is just new packaging –  remove that and it is just the same old top down, measurement obsessed, my way or the highway.

Only half New Zealand children are enrolled in clusters but Lynda Stuart, president of NZEI rushed to the defence of them. She said ‘it was too early to say IES was failing.’

Doesn’t she get it? If it was succeeding then it would be failing (the real education of children).

She had more to say, ‘To move from a competitive system … into a system that focuses on collaboration across the sector actually takes time.’

Collaboration! hollow laugh.

For fear of serious head fracture, no-one should dive into a pool of Lynda Stuart’s thinking (seemingly a self-imposed constraint).

Lynda, if this cluster farce continues, god help New Zealand children.

The cluster system is not collaboration, wasn’t from the beginning, isn’t now, and won’t be unless the system is transformed but, even then, would remain an artificial construct.

Lynda, what is your interpretation of collaboration? Is it just a tiny allocated area of highly circumscribed freedom to act in, in the context of an imperious command education system; a freedom to act that will lead to more control and entanglement – for instance, the clusters will entrench national standards even more deeply in the education system? Are you telling your members that national standards are the future of New Zealand education?

NZEI has been sold another education pup, along with all the other Tomorrow’s Schools pups, all of which turned into education mongrels.

I can let you into an NZEI secret here: behind the NZEI switch from opposition to support for clusters lies a tactic which has backfired to the terrible detriment of children’s education – the thinking was, we don’t like clusters but we don’t want to get offside with the minister, and there is some money in it for teachers and principals, so we will support it on the understanding it is a bad idea certain to fall over or the Labour Party get rid of, whichever is first. (Not all executive members were in on this.)

This is not supposition but rock-hard information.

In 1988 (reproduced in Attacks! 93-95), I wrote that ‘in third world countries, locally-based and collaborative structures can be educationally, socially, and politically potent. In technocratic, affluent, individualistic societies, however, collaboration, in the way it comes out in practice, leads to schools becoming subject to an extension of hierarchical lines of control. It can lead to positivist thinking being imposed on teachers and children in suffocating proximity. Collaboration is undermined when some of those involved, mainly the government and its agencies but also principals, even teacher organisations, have strong sanctions of one sort or another over one group in particular, namely classroom teachers.’

‘Collaboration requires true partnership amongst those involved throughout the system. This partnership would mean group relationships being less reliant on formality and uniformity and more on negotiation and variety. In such an agreement, no one group would have the power to impose its ideas on a strongly resisting one (though, in the end, the government has the final say), or have its knowledge by dint of origin considered inherently superior. Power would be more diffuse in the system, meaning more power available for teachers and children in classrooms. These ideas might seem out of time and place as governments are set on extreme dominance over schools, but that is my point, it will be found that such dominance will not work for children, especially for children most in need of it working.’

‘The strength of New Zealand’s primary system of education relative to its overseas counterparts, has been the high level of co-operation within it – that has compensated for the low level of funding – but New Zealand schools are now set to be reduced in both. The Tomorrow’s Schools education system will eventually fail, but too many people will have a stake in the status quo to accept any lessening of their power or even allow a trend in that direction, so the system will gradually deteriorate.’

Unless the system is genuinely collaborative, a bit tacked on to the end cannot be collaborative, but then, it was never intended to be: its intention was to add another layer of bureaucracy to better control classrooms, provide easy exploitative access to private providers, offer another non-solution to the education system as a way of avoiding real change and improved funding (where it matters), brainwash selected teachers and principals to accepting national standards as a curriculum norm, and divide teachers and principals.

An average size school would get $220,000 extra every four years if the internal funding for clusters was allocated to schools. I calculate another $200,000 if the bureaucratic and other external costs were included. What would that do for high needs children? And if the money was bundled into the education system: what would that do for an increase in teachers to individualise teaching?

Oh well, you might have the Sky City celebration of clusters as compensation.

Posted in Education Policy, NZEI, Schooling | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Here we go again: another intervention injustice

I have substantial amounts of information about goings-on at Wairoa College, some of it scandalous, but that can be looked into by the ministerial inquiry I’m calling for, I just want concentrate here on the bureaucratic behaviour around the appointment and subsequent actions of the Limited Statutory Manager Marie Anne King. If a ministry inquiry isn’t instituted then it will almost inevitably go to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) and, possibly, from there to a general court for more serious redress.

A deeply serious injustice has been wrought on the newly-appointed principal Chris Allen but while he was the target, significant contingent damage has also been inflicted on the students of Wairoa College, the teachers, the board, the school community, and, indeed, the people of Wairoa. They all deserve better. No principal is perfect but, in my considered view, Chris Allen warrants high praise for his initial work at Wairoa College; certainly not the utterly unwarranted bullying and decontextualised and slanted criticism he is experiencing. As regular readers of this website know I have been involved in helping other principals in situations like this and this one bears all the characteristics of those cases.

I am going to make some introductory comments in which I intend to carefully avoid being drawn into the slanted maelstrom of nonsense the LSM seems to have been caught up in, or been willing to be caught up in, to concentrate on central issues; yes the means I employ for doing that might be strangely straightforward compared with my usual all fronts attack, but if strangely straightforward does the job, then that is the way for me.

In education cases like this I have always found a weakness in the wall of obstruction the bureaucracies and intervention managers throw up to conceal their actions; a weakness that offers a way thorough to justice.

In the case of Wairoa College it is an appraisal report which the LSM ordered but which in outcome turned out antithetical to almost everything the LSM tried to pin on the principal.

The reader will have the opportunity to read most of that report her- or himself.

As a former senior inspector of schools I can say that the appraisal report, undertaken by an education professional, has the sense of someone who genuinely understands education, and is sincerely and fairly searching for the truth – and succeeding.

Throughout, as I have commented above, I will be holding back considerable information because I want to highlight the essentials relating to an education appointment of both the principal and Marie Anne King, employment specialist.

In 2015, Chris Allen applied for the principal position which had been advertised a second time.

He took up the appointment in June, 2015.

From the start he found himself the target of a few of teachers and support staff, and a few parents; the motivation it seems their demands for an in-school appointment not being acted on.

The suspicion I have is that some of the group are related to Hekia Parata. I am willing to be corrected on that, or ready to be told that that had nothing to do with it.

This group, I believe, made many calls to the ministry and wrote and phoned the education review office before their visit.

I want the ministerial inquiry to get to the truth of the behaviour of some staff at this juncture and the apparent lack professionalism involved. Also the behaviour of bureaucrats in the ministry (local and head office) and the education review office on whether they allowed themselves to be influenced by this group to the extent of ordering the appointment of a LSM; and what was the nature of the communications between the bureaucracies – and lurking below that the question: to what extent was Hekia Parata involved?

We can expect the bureaucracies to go into overtime in their unbalanced way to save their skin, but standing in a court room has an almost magical way of sorting out lies from the truth. I especially want the local ministry to be there reporting on what the LSM reported back to them. The local ministry might be surprised by what I know.

The education review office arrived in February 2016. They were due in March 2015 but they had been dissuaded from coming because the principal said he was retiring; they cancelled in June through a personal circumstance of the review office leader, finally arriving in December 2016.

Now for some strange goings-on. I read the review office report on the internet and it was quite an encouraging one; there was no LSM in what I read; the recommendations at the end were straightforward and routine; and in the verbal report there was no hint of an LSM. But in the full written report to the board there was a major shock.

The board was astonished to find the report contained a recommendation for an LSM. To me, always a clear indication of bureaucratic trickery in process.

The board considered opposing the recommendation but thought, oh well, we are in a stage of transformation we might get some extra help, why not?

But, as suggested above, this lack of proper process is invariably a sign that bureaucratic injustice is about to wrought.

If surprising a board with an LSM after a recent review office report is review office practice then it is the height of unprofessionalism.

In the days of the education department we had a firm policy of no surprises by mail.

No board should ever be surprised by an imposition of intervention by mail: for this to be an allowable practice becomes an invitation for bureaucratic injustice; it is an impersonalising of process to make injustice easier to inflict with all its deeply grievous personal and education hurt.

I believe the LSM intervention at Wairoa College was a case of bureaucratic conspiracy.

Did Marie Anne King, employment specialist, arrive at Wairoa with the understanding that the ministry wanted her to support the principal in the straightforward education matters I read in the review office recommendations as further developments; or was it something else?

If the former, what did she do? What was her attitude? Was she constructive? Or was there bullying by continual pulling of rank?

In the end, of course, this will be decided in the Employment Relations Authority as happened with Salford and Rangiora cases (the bureaucracies lost). In the case of Rangiora the matter is in the process of heading to the general court for further redress. I warned Hekia about this: I said Hekia, Hekia you are going to lose – why don’t you save everybody a lot of grief and pull back now; but that is not her way, and won’t be at Wairoa no matter the destructiveness to the school.

Marie Anne King arrives and one of the first statements to the principal is: the board appoints the best person from the applicants but when the person arrives they may not be the best fit for the job. She went on to ask the principal if he was applying for a job elsewhere and that the board would help him move and support him if he was.

Now, no doubt that would be stoutly denied by Marie Anne King, employment specialist – fair enough, but let it be heard in front of an inquiry or in a court.

My advice to the local ministry is to take a bureaucratic deep breath and before it becomes too implicated in a scandal, establish the truth of it.

Now I want to say to you Marie Anne King, employment specialist, your scoping report has the feel of a hatchet job.

Frankly, my initial reaction to your scoping report was disgust. It is not that everything in it is wrong; it is just unbalanced, mischievously decontextualised, and grossly unfair. I am deeply sensitive to an individual being at the end of such reports, a decent and caring person, a professionally responsible person.

I get involved in matters like this dammit because it hurts me deeply to see such injustice in school education, a social institution I am deeply committed to – it would hurt me more to not do something than do something – so here I am again. You can be assured I often wish it didn’t.

If you can prove you are right and I am wrong, then sincere apologies from me. I am truly trying to establish the truth of the matter to help the students, teachers, parents, and board of the school and in the case of the principal to prevent an injustice, but it is a journey.

The scoping report, it seems to me, is not consistent with wide community support for the school and the transformation it is undergoing; not consistent with the support of the board; and not consistent with the improved behaviour and achievement of the students. It is also farcically obverse to the appraisal report you ordered.

Without going into details your scoping report closely follows the complaints of the dissident group.

Now for the straightforward, but powerfully persuasive evidence referred to: the appraisal report undertaken by an education professional at the request of the LSM.


Sit back – it is a long ride. The question I would like you to have in your mind as you read is: Can you see anything in this report that justifies an LSM intervention?

Particular areas of interest to the Board of Trustees were identified for the Principal’s performance that aligned to the school’s Charter, as well as the Secondary Principals’ Professional Standards. This enabled a questionnaire to be established that provided a focus for interviews with stakeholders.

The Appraiser requested additional documentation and evidence from the Principal that would typically be found within a school to support its operation.

The following appraisal report serves as a summary of the outcomes of the interviews and information gathering.

The areas of interest identified by the Board of Trustees with respect to the Principal’s performance include:

  1. 100% achievement in Level 1 NCEA Literacy and Numeracy. 2. 
  2. 90% attendance of students from all Year levels. 3. 
  3. Rigorous appraisal and attestation of teaching staff.

Each of these performance objectives were evaluated with Appraiser’s Reflections included as part of the evaluation of performance.

Interviews with stakeholders

Interviews with stakeholders included members of the school’s senior leadership team, Head of Faculty, beginning teacher, board member, a parent of the school, and members of the school’s student leadership.

Leadership qualities of Chris

~Involved. ~ Approachable. ~ Deadline focused. ~ Actively promotes Wairoa College in the community. ~ Encouraged me to apply for the position of Literacy Coordinator. ~ There has been a big shift in mind-set around the school.

~Chris is pushing for it to be more deadline focused. ~ Emphasis on deadline. ~ Distribution. ~ Consequences from school to behaviours. ~ Alternative working plan for students at risk. ~ Change in uniform, school infrastructure, and leadership. ~ Chris has created a smaller team of curriculum leaders and over half of the staff were considered to be HOF. He introduced these to staff in meetings and gave time for people to consider these changes. ~ We see him as the leader of the school and we need to be on the waka paddling in the same direction.

~Two Assistant Principals have been appointed to lead Academic and Pastoral. There are House leaders also. Leadership has been distributed to us to lead these aspects at the school. We had a chance to co-construct our job descriptions. ~ Allows staff to develop ideas. ~ Promotes staff to think creatively. ~ Looks outside square. ~ Has a vision. ~ Has a network of other educators. ~ Has standards. ~ Promotes autonomy within groups e.g. HOFs, House Leaders, Academic Leaders etc. ~ Chris has allowed us to think outside the square. For example, the development of Day Zero.

~We send students to trades around Hawkes Bay. Students are now more engaged. ~ Chris is very student focused. He has gained scholarships for a student to go studying as a nurse. He did this all by himself.

~ Chris promotes and is positive about Wairoa. ~ It is encouraging to have the school as an integral part of the community. He has standards and won’t lower them.

~ Chris stands his ground. ~ Chris comes to all of the students’ rugby games and travels to support them.

~You go around town and no students are walking around now, and if you do see one they are in uniform. Chris got my boy to take off his hunting clothing that he wore to school. He now wears the right uniform. ~ Around the community people think Chris is doing good things and it is in the best interests of the kids. ~ Chris supported us to deal with an incident where our son was being marked absent when we were dropping him off on farm visits.

~ Chris is adept at building relationships with people. ~ Balances tough love with earned praise.~ Is fair and consistent. ~ Organised and prepared. ~ Excellent listener. ~ Visionary. ~ Chris has brought many characteristics to Wairoa and huge experience working with ethnic minorities and indigenous communities. ~ We have had to get things updated and reviewed very quickly in order to support Chris. He needed to show strong leadership and take into account the needs of others. ~ He needed to build relationships quickly with people. It has been tough on Chris to get everyone on board.

~He had to find a balance between tough love and cuddles. He sets high expectations. ~ There will always be people in the community that don’t like change. All we can do is be consistent and follow through with what we say. ~ We celebrate the success of students in the paper and newsletters. There is a parent portal on KAMAR and parents can see attendance, pastoral and academic progress.

~Some in the community are complaining but we deal with these people transparently. We tell our whanau there is a process and they need to follow it. We get quality information out to our community.

~Chris handles pressure very well and dealt with challenges very well. Chris is the leader to take on these challenges. ~ Teachers have gotten stricter on uniform. The school looks tidier.

Next Steps or Suggestions for improvement 

Careful listening to staff concerns. ~ Being less defensive when questioned in meetings. Staff ask questions around a change and Chris pounces as he thinks they are questioning the change. He can seem a little sensitive in this way. ~ Chris needs to understand that staff are coming around to his changes and being positive is the best way to go. ~ Chris has a dry sense of humour that is part of his Australian culture. This is sometimes misunderstood. ~ Collaboration. Sometimes he needs to be more consultative in his approach. He makes decisions (which he is entitled to do) but there is a better way to go about doing it, rather than saying you just have to live with it. ~ Providing opportunities for people to have their say can be helpful in moving forward. ~ Chris has been very involved in pastoral systems and management. Avoid micro managing. ~ Getting whanau to engage with the school is our greatest challenge. ~ Chris needs to get balance back into his work/life time.

Appraiser’s Reflections 

Wairoa College has been, and continues to be, in a process of significant change since Chris began his time as Principal of the school. Chris has led an evolution of the pedagogical shifts that underpin the learning that takes place in classes. To support the pedagogical shifts, a rebranding of middle management positions has been undertaken to raise the capacity and capability of these leaders. This has seen the number of Heads of Faculty reduced from 14 down to 10. The appointment of Chris as Principal coincided with a new Deputy Principal joining the leadership team shortly after. Two Assistant Principals were appointed to respective positions as Academic Leader and Pastoral Leader. This has enabled all leadership of the school to embark on a journey of change together. Chris has been an integral part of keeping the purpose of the change, and the people involved with the change, together.

Chris understands that raising the capability and capacity of his staff with respect to pedagogical practices is central to achieving the school’s vision. Consequently, he invests time and resources into the development of his teachers. He also understands the need to grow the pedagogical shifts needed to achieve the school’s vision from within, rather than attempting to impose outside models on top of Wairoa College. Chris has empowered his middle leaders having re-branded their positions by requiring them to develop and co-construct their own job descriptions. Chris has a clear belief that staff must have ownership of the changes taking place in the school.

The establishment of Day Zero is an example of innovation that is having a significant impact on outcomes for students. It is an example of a number of changes that have been introduced to the school all which have a focus on outcomes for students.

Stakeholders interviewed were able to describe and list the leadership characteristics that Chris brings to his role to support the journey that the school has been on during its transformation. At the core of these characteristics is Chris’ belief that students (and outcomes for students) should be at the heart of all decisions made at the school. Chris talks about students and their learning with passion and enthusiasm. He can quickly map the shifts in the operation of the school to being underpinned by a need to improve the quality of outcomes for students and the experiences they receive as part of their education.

Chris is data driven. He sees evidence as being a crucial element to supporting positive outcomes for students. The ongoing commitment to using Team Solutions to offer professional development to middle leaders is an example of the commitment to being data driven. Team Solutions focus on student achievement data and focus on those students at risk of not achieving.

Chris is described as being deadline focused. He also ‘walks the talk’ and follows through with what he says he is going to do. This has raised the expectation throughout the school, as well as established a level of accountability that many stakeholders interviewed believed was missing prior to Chris’ arrival.

Change is difficult for many people to contemplate. Chris has managed to hold all of this together. Even resistors to change appear to have begrudgingly acknowledged the merits of the change and the manner in which Chris has led it. Chris will need to be mindful that staff morale often ‘takes a hit’ with negative elements from within the staff having an influence on the wellbeing of the majority. A continued drive to explore strategies for uplifting staff morale should be undertaken by Chris to ensure ongoing job satisfaction for all.

One strategy that Chris has adopted is the establishment of the Wairoa College Consultation Group. The consultation group comprises of a committee including the Principal, appointees nominated by the Principal, staff members elected by the staff, appointees nominated by the union, the school’s Executive Officer and the school’s day-to-day organiser. The purpose of the consultation group is to ensure that school based decisions are made within a framework that enables staff to have input into decisions that affect their workplace. The consultation group strategy is an initiative that Chris has previously used in Australia, and serves as a tangible example of his commitment to include staff voice into decisions that are being made.

Suggestions for the improvement to Chris’ leadership includes reference to him becoming defensive when questioned regarding changes being made to the school. Chris should be mindful that the angst created by change typically sees people reacting in a variety of ways. This can include questioning the relative merits of change, seeking further clarification, or even attacking the person who is promoting the change. Chris needs to provide opportunities for his staff to express their views regarding change – both the good and the bad. Acknowledgement of alternative points of view (whether they are valid or not) shows a willingness to consider the views of others, irrespective of whether this makes any difference to the changes being proposed.

Some stakeholders interviewed were also quick to point out the shift in community opinion regarding the practices of the school. The claim is that the community are behind the shifts being made in the school and are positive about the future direction. While there might not be complete universal appreciation of the changes being made, the transparency of process and consistency of message to the community will continue to see a majority of support.

The students interviewed as part of this appraisal were less positive about the changes that had been implemented at Wairoa College. This is not surprising. The shift in expectations at Wairoa College regarding attendance, uniform, behaviour, achievement, and the school’s culture will be negatively viewed by senior students who feel they have been adversely impacted by the raising of standards. Chris should not be dismayed by these views. However, it did appear that there was a disconnect between Chris (as Principal of Wairoa College) and the senior student leaders of the school. Many Principals talk about having two classrooms that they ‘teach’ in – the school assembly, and the meetings with senior student leaders. Chris needs to consider strengthening his relationship with senior student leaders so that he can include their voice in the decisions being made. He can then offer the same transparency being shown to the community and staff to the senior student leaders. They will consequently grow their understanding of the changes being made by Chris and become his supporters in explaining the rationale behind the changes to a wider student audience.


Areas of interest ONE

100% achievement in Level 1 NCEA Literacy and Numeracy

Chris has re-structured the leadership teams and middle management.

Each House now has two leaders (pastoral and academic).

In my House I get chased by the Academic House Leader for the progress of students who are at risk.

Fridays are called Day Zero. They are a day for options (extra-curriculum) but have credits for Years 11-13.

There is Literacy and Numeracy tutoring for those at risk of not achieving.

The staffs from each House meet each Wednesday morning to discuss student progress.

We are working towards 100% but there might be a few that fall through.

Chris has ensured that students need to gain their Literacy and Numeracy Level 1 credits prior to being able to participate in other Day Zero options.

Year 10 teachers have identified students to undertake internal numeracy standards only (from Numeracy Package). In Numeracy Package students show evidence of numeracy work during classroom learning.

The English department have asked all departments for examples of writing in support of students achieving literacy standards.

Whanau teachers play an important role in meeting students each Wednesday and checking students are on track to achieving Literacy and Numeracy standards. They also liaise with whanau.

Students are clearly identified by the reports available in KAMAR.

Chris has promoted Literacy and Numeracy across the curriculum. This is repeated regularly at staff and HOF meetings.

Achievement reports are checked monthly.

There are a reduced number of faculties which has involved a greater participation in learning conversations at HOF meetings.

Team Solutions professional development with HOF looks at data in depth, and again more focused learning conversations.

Day Zero has enabled students to work on Literacy and Numeracy standards in an intensive manner. ~

Chris has promoted a Literacy Coordinator in the school.

The Senior Leadership Team visit Faculty meetings to see what is happening, and don’t just rely on meeting minutes.

We have developed learning conversations on specific students.

A copy of student achievement data is available to the Board.

We used to have 14-16 HOFs. Chris has changed this to a more focused group of 8-10. There are more engaging conversations now. Chris got the HOFs to write their own job descriptions and co-construct them. There is greater ownership. The HOFs are a lot happier with this process as they now have greater understanding.

We had to look at how to make the curriculum more relevant to the kids and the community. This meant a different way of timetabling and teachers had to engage differently.

Appraiser’s Reflections 

Chris’ drive to improve standards and raise expectations is highly visible in the shifts within school systems and structures with respect to outcomes for students. First and foremost, Chris has recognised that for students to achieve they must be at school. Consequently, there has been a drive to improve rates of attendance from students by adopting strategies such as a minimum attendance of 85% in order to be able to participate in extra-curricular activities. The school has already seen an improvement in achievement by students which has been credited to the higher attendance.

The professional development work with Team Solutions has seen HOFs engage with student achievement data in a more effective manner. This includes regular analysis of student achievement data, and the identification of students at risk of not achieving.

The leadership of Wairoa College has also evolved to give greater effect to the priority placed on student achievement. The leadership changes include the appointment of an Assistant Principal (Academic) to lead the school’s curriculum team, along with the appointment of four House Leaders (one per House) with responsibilities for academic leadership. Whanau teachers are beginning to play a part in the leadership of the academic progress of the students within their class.

The reorganisation of the middle leaders of the school was a further strategy to give student achievement a greater focus. The reduction of the number of HOFs from about 16 down to 8 – 10 has created a group whose professional conversations now focus on student achievement. Chris has also appointed a Literacy Coordinator to give greater leadership to this aspect of student learning and the development of teacher capability.

The establishment of Day Zero is another initiative that has proven to be engaging students and assisting with their achievement. Those students who have not achieved their Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy standards are required to attend classes during Day Zero that focus on the achievement of these standards for students who are at risk.

The 100% achievement target for Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy is probably unrealistic. Students identified with special needs might be an example of a group of students whose achievement is simply unrealistic. However, student achievement targets should not be compared to setting targets such as the selling of vacuum cleaners. The real strength of student achievement targets is the rich discussion that comes from the review process to determine what worked and what didn’t, and the identified ‘next steps’ with respect to making ongoing improvement in student achievement.


Area of interest TWO

90% attendance of students from all Year levels

Enforcing the 85% target has worked. The attendance last year was down as low as 40% for some Year groups.

There are consequences for students now. Whanau get called in.

Chris is consistent and yet open to suggestions/support for students.

Chris promotes staff to take responsibility.

There is a consistent message to students.

There is praise and reward for students e.g. Assemblies, whanau class, House levels etc.

There are pastoral meetings to discuss students.

Chris has his own ‘whanau class’ of at risk students, and he holds regular meetings with these students.

There is a clear relationship between attendance and achievement.

The 85% attendance for any extra-curricular activities is working.

Whanau teachers support students to attend and make contact with home.

Attendance has improved. We now want to see credits attached to this as well so that we don’t just have students here, but they are achieving as well.

There are consequences for students who are truant.

We have restricted students below a set attendance from playing sport (85%). There were ruffled feathers at the start of the year but after the shock has worn off the attendance has gotten better.

The truancy here was rampant before Chris arrived.

There is an expectation that whanau teachers follow up with families. House staff meetings include an expectation to follow up absences. There is a competition for attendance at school within whanau classes, and awards at assembly.

There have been changes around consequences for students e.g. Uniforms, drugs, truancy. These have all been tightened. He has given us better control of pastoral issues and we can manage behaviour better.

The Board takes a stronger stance on behaviour issues which supports us.

Attendance penalties should apply to all co-curricular activities and not just sport (e.g. Rock Quest).

 Appraiser’s Reflections

Chris has made the attendance of students a priority as he believes that past rates of attendance have had a direct impact on student achievement outcomes. An example of the shifts in expectation with regards attendance is the strategy of 85% attendance in order to be able to participate in extra-curricular activities. Interviews with stakeholders suggested that the initiative has had a significant effect on attendance. Anecdotally, the number of students wandering through town during school hours has reduced significantly, and is now rare as opposed to the ‘norm’.

The school is also keeping attendance data for students engaged with the Hawkes Bay and Tairawhiti Polytechnic programmes. This data shows high degrees of attendance.

Chris has also made leadership changes to the school intended to give effect to the attendance of students. The leadership changes include the appointment of an Assistant Principal (Pastoral) to lead the school’s student team, along with the appointment of four House Leaders (one per House) with responsibilities for pastoral leadership. Whanau teachers are playing a greater part in the leadership of pastoral matters concerning the students within their class. This includes establishing connections with whanau.

Chris has also established systems for the rewards of students regarding attendance. He has recognised the wisdom of having a balance between the ‘stick and the carrot’ in order to bring about a cultural shift in students’ attitudes towards attendance.

Area of interest THREE

Rigorous appraisal and attestation of teaching staff

We are collecting evidence as part of the Practicing Teacher Criteria (PTC). This used to be done in hardcopy but is now being done in OneNote.

A digital version has been created that used to be a booklet. We keep all of the evidence here.

There is an expectation that we do at least one Teaching as Inquiry.

The OneNote package has the ability to list evidence according to the PTCs.

HOFs are responsible for the appraisal of teachers.

There is a document in the shared teacher folder with a guide on the appraisal process.

I undertake classroom observations, look at achievement results, marking and moderation, and planning and objectives. I also check on the inquiry that they are doing.

I try to observe every teacher twice per term, and this gets written up. I also support teachers who might be struggling with achievement. The observations can be short ‘snapshots’.

There has been the introduction of an electronic appraisal. In 2015/2016 Chris supported a staff member to develop and introduce an electronic way using OneNote to assist teachers in documenting appraisal.

Appraiser’s Reflections 

The school’s past appraisal system included a tome of over 200 pages long. A brief examination of the document showed it to be unrealistic and unworkable in terms of an appraisal system that would provide a vehicle for the improvement of teacher practice.

Chris has now developed a digital portfolio of evidence using OneNote that directly relates to the Professional Standards for Secondary Teachers, as well as the Practicing Teacher Criteria.

While the system is in its embryonic form, and the ‘take up’ of the electronic system by staff is minimal, the system appears to be a system to take the school into the future, aligns with the expectations detailed from the Education Council, and stands a greater chance to be an effective vehicle for documenting shifts in teaching practice.

The ‘next steps’ for Chris is to identify incentive strategies for the system to have wider acceptance by staff reluctant to engage in the digital environment.

Overall Findings of the Appraiser

It is the view of the Appraiser that Chris can evidence performance against each of the areas of interest, and can relate evidence back to the Secondary Principals’ Professional Standards and Practicing Teacher Criteria. The Secondary Principals’ Professional Standards provide a baseline for assessing satisfactory performance. Chris has demonstrated that he is meeting the professional standards by:

• Providing professional leadership that focuses on the school culture and enhancing learning and teaching.

• Creating a learning environment in which there is an expectation that all students will experience success in learning.

• Developing and using management systems to support and enhance student learning.

• Strengthening communication and relationships to enhance student learning.

Chris needs to continue documenting evidence against meeting the Practicing Teacher Criteria.

Next steps for Chris to consider

  1. Ensure that staff are provided with a forum to express their views around matters concerning the school’s operation, and endeavour to remain neutral around the views of others that may be in contradiction.
  2. Explore opportunities to strengthen relationships with student leaders.
  3. Continue to be transparent and open with the community in terms of changes to the school, explore opportunities to grow the presence of the community into the life of the school, and find opportunities to capture voice where appropriate.
  4. Continue to challenge staff and students to grow a culture of change, understanding that it needs to be well-paced, and that some stakeholders will require a greater degree of support to make change than others.

This has been an unusual way to argue the case but it places you pretty much in the box seat. 

The LSM has been at pains to keep this appraisal under wraps. I have taken out all criticism of groups and individuals except that referring to the principal. There should be no embarrassment for anyone in this document only enlightenment in the interests of justice. 

 Either the ministry and LSM got it horribly wrong or the appraiser. 

You be the judge. 

And take into account the transcendentally dubious lead up to the intervention.

In the final paragraph of a posting called ‘Kiwi Kafka’, referring to the case of Peggy Burrows, I wrote this paragraph:

‘The Kafkan power of the intervention process is such that there is rarely a genuine problem beyond that manufactured by the intervention process itself, meaning that those complaining only need to keep complaining for the intervention process to produce the Kafkan situation of irrationality so deviously favourable to their ends. Once the intervention is in place, the question becomes not what the problem was, but whether the principal is perfect in every respect? And the principal, no matter how insignificant the imperfection revealed or how irrelevant to the initial ‘problem’, is always caught out, and much is made of that, and is a goner. After all, those making the judgement are those arrayed against the principal from the beginning. It seems the advice given by a character in Kafka should have been heeded: ‘The only right thing to do was to come to terms with the circumstances as they were.’ As such principals should ready themselves to have their vocations made to die ‘Like a dog!’ with the shame to outlive them.’

The use of the appraisal in this way is essential to justice, without its revelation, the principal was without a chance of holding his position (believe me I have further information of ministry intentions). The decision to use it was mine and mine alone.

Because there is healing to occur I have just communicated what I have considered sufficient to inform those interested and give pause to the bureaucracies. Whether it will deter the bureaucracies is highly unlikely, though if you chip in, who knows?  A very likely outcome is the appointment of the LSM as commissioner, the sacking of the board, and the principal being suspended and sacked. Charming, but don’t you see, it is for the good of the students.

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