This is the moment for decisive action against CoLs Part 3

[1988, kitchen table, scratching away with a pen, and for some reason I get on to collaboration.]

[This is just a post-note to Parts 1 and 2. I cannot remember what occasioned it. I don’t know whether it was some particular government policy or just deep distrust of Lange’s education policies in general but there I was in 1988 and this is what I wrote. I will make no further contemporary comment.]

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, seems to lead 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, government-organised parent groups, even teacher organisations, have strong sanctions of one sort or another over one group in particular, namely classroom teachers.

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

If you can’t have effective collaborative local structures in a non-collaborative education system, it must logically extend to not being able to have a collaborative education system in a non-collaborative society. In thinking back on that though, I can accept that realities take time to work through. The strongly right-wing Ronald Algie in being appointed minister of education when National took power in 1949 proceeded to make extensive visits to schools and to consult parents, resulting, famously, in him endorsing the progressive education reforms of Clarence Beeby and Peter Fraser.

In the following decades the primary school progressive philosophy still held but had to function in a generally unsympathetic environment. During that period it was seriously misrepresented by a hostile media, calling the philosophy ‘playway’; and condescended to by the analytics and positivists (mainly as quantitative academics) busily establishing themselves in universities from where they declared their evidenced-based certainties. What served to protect schools was their relative education success at low cost; what will destroy them are neoliberal arguments about where power should reside.

The neoliberal education arguments are not really about education but about the movement of power to the centre to progress laissez faire capitalist beliefs, with education a particular focus as a way to take control of the future and stifle education as a source of alternative ideas.  In response, I intend to talk and write about a holistic education system, democratic values, and the importance of genuine power sharing and social equity. We can, as referred to, only get the kind of education system we want if there is the social context to match so I will talk and write about that. And the kind of education system we should want is a holistic one built on variety, collaboration, and stretching children imaginatively and creatively. It is of great wonderment that a simple curriculum structure puts politicians, bureaucrats, and academics in a funk, that idea being that education, and its various major component, should be organised by a main aim, a holistic, humanistic, dynamic main aim that by nature leads to everything else falling into place, indeed, often turning what might have been objectives into criteria. It is in this way the integrating holistic works – on the other hand, politicians, bureaucrats, and academics are fixated on complex arrays of objectives that can be measured and, in practice, often work against each other to intended subversive and control ends.

It is about control: the holistic gives power to schools and teachers to work things through to children’s advantage; objectives with their fragmentation and measurement give power to politicians, bureaucrats, and academics to work things through to their own.

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

1988

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This is the moment for decisive action against CoLs Part 2

While what follows may look somewhat distant from the content of Part 1, the intention is to embolden one of the teacher organisations to act decisively against communities of learning (government-imposed local institutions) by looking back so that mistakes of the past are both corrected and not repeated. It is also a brief discourse on education leadership as a spur to action.

The move to neoliberal economics by the David Lange government making deep and pervasive poverty inevitable, was not destined to happen; neither was the move to neoliberal education in putting school education into decline. Under the guise of Tomorrow’s Schools, what happened in education needn’t have happened. All it needed was leaders who possessed an understanding of education beyond that of running a school, or who listened to those who did have, or been able and willing to lift themselves to the world of ideas. What happened in education needn’t have happened or continued to happen, but there is apparent in human personality, a weakness, a fatal flaw if expressed in leadership, to perceive the past as a certainty, thus removing the need to challenge its effects in the present. To perceive the past in that way, in this case in education, is to remove the need to establish and understand origins that if examined would expose the reasons for the aridity, fear, fantastic bureaucratisation, embedded failure, and a strain of viciousness that characterises our current education system.

To be serious about the present there is a need in teacher leadership to be serious about the past to accept that things might have been different. It seems me that a caricatured idea of the past has been thoughtlessly passed on, or assumed for leadership comfort, about where education has come from, resulting in naïve trust in authority. In reality, though, it is a fear-ridden, stressful, Kafkan battle out there with teachers and children going under and education leaders blithely, in public expression anyway, riding the waves.

Neoliberal education needn’t have happened – what on earth possessed Lange to hand over education to that ideology? and needn’t continued to have happened. What we need now from our leadership, that didn’t happen then, and is desperately needed now, are ideas that hit the philosophical mark and are persisted with – that is what we are crying out for. The idea of government-imposed local institutions being put forward under the guise of communities of learning should have been opposed from the beginning, opposed with the ideas derived from a wide view of education, from our education culture, if it had been, this extension of government control would have eventually faltered and failed.  Communities of learning are where Tomorrow’s Schools were always going to go, that is to a more advanced even more virulent and extreme form of them,  exhibiting even more control, hermeticism, bureaucratisation, and imposition.

The bureaucratising of education for control has been so pervasive that it seems to have overwhelmed the consciousness of those being controlled. There is now an overarching of bureaucracy from the ministry in Wellington, the education review office, the Education Council, the various consultative committees, the ministry and review office representations in the district, the government-imposed local institutions (so-called communities of learning) and, increasingly private education providers. Through the control of appointments to the government-imposed local institutions, and patronage of principals who display loyalty to the bureaucracies, the government is also increasingly controlling appointments to schools. The ministry and review office work together to put down any troublesome principals and have recently formed a head office structure to regularise control of government-imposed local institutions. Throughout the system fear abounds though it is often sublimated by principals, their obeisance so base that fear of sanction removed.

The naivety, surely, must be self-serving. One of the most outrageous bureaucratic layers established as a source of neoliberal control is the Education Council, purporting to represent teachers, but dominated by government appointees and serving as a government instrument to restrict teacher freedom of action and promote system uniformity. This bureaucracy is a source of outrageously harmful, unnecessary, and stifling ideas, yet a former head of NZEI is on it and the present NZEI president was. We know, of course, the rationalisations that would have been used to justify this NZEI membership, but they are not convincing ones, not ones that stand up to the test of principle. This is about teachers and children; another generation of withering government control and fatuity, doesn’t the organisation get it? this isn’t a game of tiddlywinks. Neoliberal governments don’t change their spots by chats over cups of tea. NZEI has to learn and act on principle, above all persist on principle, go out and talk on principle, make themselves unpopular with the government and media on principle, and stand for something on principle.

Sadly and tragically, one of the teacher organisations, NZEI, has the increasing appearance of another government bureaucratic layer. Since the national standards fight there has been a movement in policy matters from NZEI being a mildly active pro-teacher organisation to one of a covertly pro-government organisation, all the more successful in not being obviously so. The movement to support the government, gathered momentum in the lead up to the policy of government-imposed local institutions.  In the election for national president, as informed from numerous sources, the word spread around the conference that Frances Guy would not be suitable for president, too abrasive to get on with Hekia Parata. Where that word spread from I do not know, but it was never dampened. Following that there was a continuous clean out of staff members who opposed the directions NZEI was taking. And the vote amongst members to change policy to support the government- imposed local institutions was corrupt – NZEI ruthlessly promoted support for the policy at the meetings; any questions rising from my postings, for instance, were aggressively turned aside and my name maligned. NZEI has not laid a mark on government policy since national standards. Oh yes, there have been copious media releases most very well written, with the occasional one getting media attention, but it is all so hum-hum. NZEI just can’t say anything interesting. Things are happening, damaging things, the new Education Act is alive with them, but NZEI just can’t rouse itself, too conscious, it seems, of its dependence on the government for the odd bone thrown its way.

This attention to NZEI might seem an odd way to spur the leading teacher organisation to policy action on government-imposed local institutions but I’m putting the truth out there as I see it – not accepting as inevitable their spineless, incompetent, unprincipled, subservient behaviour. I can’t quite see the levers that would make NZEI change but speaking out can’t make what they do any worse or more damaging for the teachers and children of New Zealand. Let’s be clear, these people who are letting down teachers and children in an organisational sense, are otherwise very nice, admirable people and, as principals run successful schools, some of which are particularly challenging, but temperamentally they seem unsuited for teacher organisation leadership, especially in the present toxic education environment.

The government-imposed local institutions will mean, if they are not opposed by teacher organisation leadership, another generation of education of vocational misery for teachers and learning failure for children, especially children affected by poverty. Have our leaders really gulled themselves into sufficient complacency to allow that happen to another generation?

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This is the moment for decisive action against CoLs Part 1

This is the moment – this is the moment for decisive action, the CoLs must be disrupted to their eventual diminution or disappearance, or school education is going to have another generation of learning decline and professional limitation.

This is the moment – this is the strategic moment: 

  • If the Labour coalition wins Chris Hipkins will really listen and attend to central issues
  • If National does, school education is set up to fight for something less worse.

A teacher organisation must take a stand: it will, of course, split the organisation, the people leading the stand might have to resign, the membership might resist and gain a majority; that is the risk that must be taken, just grist to the mill to the larger moral purpose of putting children first, of getting school education on the right path and basing education on democratic and collaborative values.

Things are a prodigious farce. That is indicated by my suggested policy list to be fought for – many of them are not about money but philosophical and democratic values:

Reducing head office bureaucracy and localising and democratising power – 

Schools in communities of learning (if it is decided to retain them) should have genuine voluntary entry and exit freedom (with the money following individual schools in and out), have leadership and teaching roles on short-term contracts, not be based on national standards, and have any suggested changes or additional roles openly put to the full communities for approval

The existence of communities of learning should not be used to refuse decisive funding increases for special needs, Maori and Pasifika education, children, from economically deprived areas, Maori language in schools, reduced class sizes, and the arts

The education review office should be disbanded to be replaced by a policy similar to the Australian one of having principals on short-term contracts undertaking school surveys

Centralised knowledge control should be abandoned and schools freed to have the kind of courses as suits their purposes

An independent advisory service should be formed

The Education Council should be disbanded and teacher organisations put in control

The Education Act being revised should be stopped and renegotiated

Teacher training should be fundamentally changed with a proper and respected place for learning about classroom practice (the recent move to have a combined course for secondary, primary, and early childhood teacher training is madness)

National standards should be abolished.

My information is that the moment the election is over and if National is returned, steps will be immediately taken to make CoLs a compulsory part of the ministry administrative structure for imposing controls on member schools. One idea well advanced step is for education review office to do CoL reviews with ‘failing’ schools subject to internal CoL direction.

A NZEI publication provides a time-line starting with John Key, in January 2014, announcing:

 ‘Out of the blue … Investing in Educational Success … But it turns out to be a top-down one size fits all model all to be driven by unreliable National Standards data.’ 

The publication then proceeded to describe the development of ‘Better Plan to benefit children’s learning’. The point I want to insert here is that the Better Plan was actually worse because the same plan which was up in the air as far NZEI was concerned was now firmly landed in schools near you, unchanged, with NZEI now aggressively in support. 

And CoLs have never been a more ‘top-down one size fits all model all to be driven by unreliable National Standards data.’

This is now the decisive moment – the decisive system moment.

In Part 2, for a spur to action, I will look at the philosophical and moral background to all this and how what has happened was not inevitable; and in Part 3, how, in 1988, as I prepared to take to the road to oppose Tomorrow’s School, I somehow fell on to the matter of the dangers of local collaboration in a non-collaborative system.

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Attack! 114 In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 4

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:  ksmythe@wave.co.nz

Attack! 114 In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 4

Click here to download

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Attack! 113 In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 3

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:  ksmythe@wave.co.nz

Attack! 113 In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 3

Click here to download

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Attack! 112 In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 2

Welcome to ATTACK! 

ATTACK! is a two-page occasional publication giving attention to the curriculum – the holistic curriculum.Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 12.30.18 PM

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:  ksmythe@wave.co.nz

Attack! 112 In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 2

Click here to download

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Disturbing CoL developments

CoLs have been introduced using  a copycat of the process used for Tomorrow’s Schools: the idealistic conceptual cover to appeal to typically kind-hearted, classroom teachers – for Tomorrow’s Schools, freedom – for  Cols, collaboration;  a tumultuous drumbeat of propaganda; organisational change being presented as a final solution to complex problems (including Maori education and the economically disadvantaged); the use of fear of consequences for principals who don’t go along; the promise of power rewards for those who do; the assumption by the government that that teacher organisations would be there for the taking (counting on their passivity, naivety, inability to play the long-game, and a lack of imagination (where is it all heading?).

A Labour Coalition might be a disrupter, but going on the Clark years, that might not be sufficient.

As well as the bureaucratic control of CoLs which will exponentially increase, the key aspect to watch is the control of knowledge. Teacher knowledge will be belittled and proscribed; narrow academic knowledge, bureaucratic knowledge, and privatised knowledge will idealised and imposed (with private education companies acting as an extension of government). As well, to cover the failure of the education system there will be a continuing reliance on high stakes assessment inflation and fantastical propaganda. In this way both the government and schools will be protected, only the children will suffer consequences.

Let us for the moment put CoLs aside and ask what is it that most teachers and principals would ask for to help them in their classrooms and schools?

  • Smaller classes
  • Abolition of national standards
  • More freedom to teach and lead a school
  • Less bureaucracy
  • A system based on a genuine valuing of variety
  • More funding for Maori and Pasifika children (please note: increases in funding will only produce value if complemented by changes in classroom practices)
  • More funding for educationally-disadvantaged children.
  • More funding for children with special needs
  • More funding for schools
  • A balanced advisory group to provide guidance on the use of computers in schools
  • Changes to the school review process
  • Access to informed and independent advisers in all the curriculum areas
  • Staffing for more specialised teachers including the teaching of Maori
  • Choice in the matter of school architecture from a variety of styles
  • Teacher-developed knowledge taking its place with bureaucratic and academic knowledge
  • Genuine partnership and collaboration in policy initiation and development.

I can imagine teachers and principals responding to the idea of meeting together on a regular and organised basis to exchange ideas, but that could be easily attained through some minimal government funding and principal and teacher organisations working together at a local level to set up a structure to administer.

CoLs in my view will achieve none of the matters listed above, indeed, will determinedly undermine them. For the opportunity for groups of teachers to get together at the local level, a huge cost is going to be borne by all schools, teachers, and children.

Teacher organisations by supporting the introduction of CoLs have lost the moral authority to criticise government policy: all the developments that have occurred were known to them at the time, but they knew better, or it served them to know better. The new minister will deflect by continually referring to what CoLs and computers can achieve. Teacher organisations, principals, and teachers by plumping for CoLs have abandoned, for instance, any chance of a meaningful increase of funding for Maori and Pasifika children. Computers, in particular, will be proposed as the panacea for those groups. The cynicism is appalling.

I calculate that the money being spent on CoLs, when they are fully functioning, would be worth about $85 thousand per year for an average size primary school. Consider the most recent changes: 106 CoLs have had Expert Partners appointed to them; as well CoLs will have access to CoL Senior Advisers. These people by the way aren’t expert, partners, or advisers – the lack of expertise will be obvious right away, but not being partners or advisers may take a little longer. They will, instead, be your controllers, agents of the centre who, as part of that, will report back on you to the centre.

You have let a neoliberal wooden horse into your space.

Soon social workers will be attached to CoLs with the intention of establishing Learning Support Teams to assess each learner’s need and to agree on the kind of support needed. A Learning Support Pilot has been established which, of course, isn’t a pilot but an exercise in propaganda with the Pilot assured of success. Schools already know what learners need and how to carry it out, but they need the funding to do it, they don’t need a committee for that. The Pilot Team will also ‘provide parents and whanau with some immediate steps to take, and develop a local learning support plan with them.’ Given the lack of funding and the bureaucracy involved, the idea will work brilliantly as a Pilot to become a burden in the long run.

You can see where all this is heading?

Rather than reduce bureaucracy another layer will be added.

I have received information from within the ministry that the intention is to direct funded help to the so-called targeted delinquency-bound children, and redirect other children, especially those with learning needs, as against behaviour characteristics, back to the schools with the so-called learning support plan.

That won’t surprise you, neither will the information that the education review office is working with the ministry about their expectations of schools in CoLs, with a large amount of material being passed back and forth.  This process is to be formalised within the bureaucracies.

A further move is to squeeze out a lot of the accredited advisers in favour of private education companies, for instance, CORE, COGNITION, and Evaluation Associates. The education review office, the ministry, and the private education companies are all working together to take control of CoLs and restrict the knowledge available to schools. In respect to this collusion, you will have noted, or will note, that when one of those companies comes to your school, the matter might be innovative learning (excuse my laughter) or inquiry learning (oh dear) but the speaker seems to be coming at it from a strange angle, but then you twig, you are in for a couple of hours on collaboration and the wonderful things CoLs are going to deliver.

I don’t know whether these developments and others have been done following consultation with the teacher organisations or whether they have had any second thoughts. Reading between the lines, Whetu Cormack, president NZPF, is opposed to CoLs, but to do anything significant in response would divide the organisation. Whetu is doing well overall but the die has been cast, the government, bureaucrats, academics, and private companies scored 6 (apparently also NZEI which supported CoLs); but children (especially vulnerable ones), teachers who want the freedom to teach holistically, and principals who put children ahead of the blandishments of power scored 1.

We have had a quarter of a century of centralised bureaucratic control and education review office domination and we are not OK. But here we have another organisational change, another layer of bureaucracy, and the prospect of another quarter of a century of the same but worse. Of course there are some benefits in CoLs, but how significant compared with alternative funding uses; even more important is where will CoLs be in a few years? The support given by NZEI to CoLs, complete with an unbalanced membership vote, was decisive – NZEI could only have been thinking of their membership not the welfare of children when they supported CoLs (the idea via England multinational education corporations, John Hattie, and Treasury). My heart goes out to Maori, Pasifika, and economically-disadvantaged children. Oh yes – there will be heaps of talk but only to constitute mounds of rubbish. Collaboration is being used as a bureaucratic control tactic because it can only work in the interests of children if it is also a system characteristic:  what is good for the local goose, it must be insisted, can only be good if characteristic of the central gander.

Can anyone, any organisation, do something, anything?

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