Principals’ views of the government’s cluster policy have been relentlessly manipulated by the NZPF leadership. Within that manipulation, one moment can be isolated when the NZPF becomes clearly exposed as a rogue organisation. The NZPF does, indeed, acknowledge members’ concerns in its communications, including all the fundamental ones, but only to discount them. Most concerns are so fundamental as to be impervious to resolution by negotiation, for instance, to there being no executive principal; or the money being better spent on children; or the need for the teacher organisations to have been there from the beginning; or national standards not being used in appointments or the focus of cluster policy (they have to be no matter what is said). Which is why the NZPF discounts them. Subsequent manoeuvres by the NZPF have served to delay and distract from those fundamental concerns, suggesting they had been heard, had been addressed, were being addressed, or would be addressed. With that done, the NZPF then turned its attention to the moot as a way of moving on from those fundamental concerns to its chosen position – that of negotiating detail, in other words, capitulating.
Let us go back a year to contemplate an incident concerning the leadership of the NZPF.
A year ago, it came to my attention that NZPF, and that mainly seemed to be Phil Harding its president, was about to make a deal with Hekia Parata and to commit the NZPF to supporting PaCT (the so-called Progress and Consistency Tool); a kind of mad scientists way to hand over teacher judgement to algorithms. And NZPF would have committed if I hadn’t been able to counter every move using information leaked from various sources including an executive member. The hope was that this might have settled the NZPF leadership into one more reflective of its members and more capable of independent thought.
That hope was to be dashed.
Things were afoot in the prime minister’s office. Under direction from the prime minister’s office involving the Treasury and, of course, the ministry, a plan was being hatched to control primary schools in a very direct way at the district level. That plan was the cluster system to be controlled by a government appointed executive principal supported by the education review office, Core and Cognition, the reorganised ministry district, special needs and professional development ‘deliverers’, and lead and expert teachers. The model is Shanghai – a model that after even a cursory examination is revealed as deeply corrupt and as having a kind school demography the like of which we cannot and should not aspire too.
But enough of that: how have principals been, or allowed themselves to be, led down the garden path by NZPF? That can be determined by the very different place NZEI principals are in compared with NZPF principals; NZEI principals are in the exactly right place while NZPF principals are not. While NZPF seems to have been taken hostage by the tricky behaviour of one man; NZEI has been inspired by the shared leadership-style of a selfless woman.
The behaviour of Harding on clusters, as judged by his flyers, is only explicable if interpreted as that of someone who has never faltered in underlying support for them.
Harding has followed a pattern of taking members’ objections into account only to discount them in the next communication or even sentence; the effect being to confuse members and to weaken the power of the objections. As well, Harding’s language has been consistently value-laden towards the government’s position even while making arguments against that position. Another tactic was always moving the government’s policy position, suggesting changes to come (only he was privy to), allowing Harding to suggest the objections were no longer valid, blithely allowing him to return to his position of support. Then, in a caricature of NZEI’s bottom lines, the leader makes some bottom lines that are nothing but capitulation in advance.
Any person with a feeling for language, for language being used in search of the truth – would likely have felt, as I did, in reading Harding’s language, a sense of moral queasiness.
Let us follow the sequence that includes the moment of NZPF’s exposure as a rogue organisation.
John Key announces the so-called ‘Investing in Educational Success’ and Harding, on hearing the amount of money involved, is ecstatic. This will be a huge step forward he says. I’m blown away. I didn’t know it was going to be such a large amount, he emotes.
So, without consulting the executive, he is very publically on board.
It is my position that the Harding never varies – even though there some extraordinary transitions and elisions – from supporting the cluster policy. The overall intention of those transitions and elisions being to move the locus of decision-making from members to the NZPF leadership and then to Peter Hughes and various ministerial working groups.
A poll organised by the leadership produced a result that was diffuse by design. But so vehement was the members’ opposition that it could not be prevented from coming through.
The bias in the language used by the Harding is best demonstrated in his continual use of the government title of ‘Investment for Educational Success’. Members were asked, in Monty Python-style whether they were in favour of the government’s ‘Investment for Educational Success’.
On 21 March, in Flyer 7, Harding reports ‘overwhelming’ hostile feedback that is ‘unprecedented in volume and consistency’.
But it is in this flyer that the NZPF is exposed as rogue.
All the major faults and concerns were set out in quite devastating detail: no collaboration in forming the policy; money would be better spent on children; no research evidence to support; use of national standards for measurement of teachers and children; history of bad policy repeating itself; lack of attention to socio-economic matters.
There was also an extraordinarily strong expression against the role of the executive principal: ‘the notion of some principals lording it over their erstwhile colleagues (not being) conducive to true collaborative practice …’
Principals were reported as quite ‘clear – there are better ways to direct this money than single out individuals for special status, when that status itself undermines the very intent that it implies – namely collegial and reflective practice.’
And they were utterly scathing about being restricted to just having a say in the detail of the government’s cluster policy.
This was a Garden of Eden for those wanting a principled stand. Any normal organisation in a democracy would have got the message.
But Harding introduces the serpent in the form of extraordinarily slippery arguments:
Harding proudly reminded readers that ‘At the launch of the policy on 23 January the promise was made that the sector would shape the detail.’
But Harding, a few sentences before, had reported principals as utterly rejecting that as anywhere near appropriate. Why is Harding now presenting the offer of attending to detail as something to be welcomed? This was one of those extraordinary transitions and elisions referred to.
Harding continues with a beginning sentence much at odds with what follows: ‘There is also concern that the underlying agenda is a different one than that being offered. The working party has been impressed by the willingness of the Ministry to respond to concerns and make changes to much of the detail. However, we also need confidence that when the revised shape returns to Cabinet that it is approved in that new shape.
The paragraph begins with an expression of probably the most fundamental of principal concerns. Placed there by Harding, I suggest, in the hope that its aura would distract from the capitulation to follow.
Then another extraordinary transition and elision.
Harding praises the working party almost, all of whom support the policy, then commits the NZPF to accepting the cluster policy if the details asked for are acted on.
The concerns of principals have been dismissed, and the capitulation to government policy complete.
This was the moment.
It is unconscionable
NZPF has gone rogue.
From there on in, it is relentless, with the NZPF demonstrating its determination to supersede the arguments of its members with its own – which are substantially the government’s.
On 28 March, in a Special Federation Flyer, NZPF acts as a conduit for a government communique. The leader says we ‘are sharing this with you in good faith.’ What a fiddle! The NZPF is not sharing the government’s communique in good faith – that is with sincerity of motivation – it is sharing it with the utmost bad faith – that is in fundamental opposition to the overwhelming wishes of the majority of its members.
Clusters in the communique have now become a ‘Community of Schools’, a change Harding declares as a victory.
In introducing the communique, Harding says ‘we expect to emerge from the moot with an agreed position on the policy, which we will announce on 7 April.’
And so the NZPF policy unfolds with terrible certainty.
NZPF knows it can hijack the moot and in doing so push the fundamental arguments of members aside, replacing them with requests for changes in detail.
And then NZPF plays the capitulation card: the government is going to pass the policy anyway, the leadership says, so we’d be better stay engaged to have some input into the final policy.
It is a morally and professionally bankrupt for a teacher organisation to act in a way that means in education governments will always have their way – and teacher organisations become complicit, rather than acting on principle and retaining their independence.
And so it happens. A member reports from the moot: ‘I was sitting beside a member of the executive and he told me that he had met with Stoop several times over the last couple of weeks and the message was clear, “this is going to happen no matter what whether you are involved or not”.’
On 7 April, Flyer 7, Harding drives home the NZPF argument, but in typically incomprehensibly absurdist style combined with cunning.
‘For the first time ever, the sector has been invited to contribute to the detail of a government policy BEFORE [his capitals] it is formally approved and the money is duly appropriated through the budget.’
This is, of course, absolute rubbish at every level.
(For the first time ever. Wow! Thanks – what a triumph.)
Harding is in the driver’s seat and goes on to say: ‘This means that the policy development work is confidential to a small group of sector leaders, as it is not yet government policy.’
We need to be part of it, he says.
Harding says the ‘process underpinning this policy has created a Catch-22 for the sector.’ No it hasn’t. Harding has used the Catch-22 idea to shore up his position, but it isn’t a Catch-22 because Catch-22 means a desired outcome is impossible – and it isn’t. As well, the situation is such that in the possible range of outcomes there are grades of undesirability of which Harding’s is the worst.
Harding’s argument is that NZPF stay in the discussion, which is fair enough, NZEI is doing the same: the difference being that NZEI’s bottom lines encompass all the fundamental arguments, while NZPF’s are weak and incapable of being tested. It is almost complete capitulation by NZPF – well it will be unless members rise up in force and demand to be heard.
NZPF has become part of government apparatus.
It was on the cards after the PaCT episode. What has happened has the feel of a putsch but the form of democracy has been followed, the lack has been in the spirit. Harding may have led the NZPF to the government policy of being satisfied with the crumbs of detail but he has had the strong support of two others on the executive and the rest have gone along with it – not one member of the executive has spoken out (though one has spoken out inside the executive) or resigned, so they are all at least complicit.
This is a decisive moment in New Zealand’s primary school history. We are on the edge. The policy can be combatted, or if not combatted entirely, at least seriously damaged as happened with national standards. This is the culmination of the philosophy of Tomorrow’s Schools, and as an endgame to that, this government’s drive to diminish public education. Clusters controlled by a government-appointed executive principal are the perfect portal to introduce all the education travesties you have shaken your head about occurring overseas – unless principals can regain control of their teacher organisation to stand alongside NZEI, those travesties will be ours.