Kelvin Smythe, supported by Allan Alach
This posting is intended to provoke discussion and will be changed according to readers’ ideas.
The pattern has been that when Labour is in and is its usual generous self to education, the organisations have typically responded along the lines of: ‘A good start.’ When National is in, and virtually nothing positive occurs, the organisations have typically responded with an acquiescent silence – though when something token is granted near delirium eventuates. The organisation leaderships have been tigers with Labour and pussy cats with National, and the greatest tigers with Labour often being the most determined pussy cats with National.
Phil Harding for the NZPF was in typically pathetic mode in commenting on the budget: ‘The budget was read yesterday and offered little surprise’, he offered. He then meandered to say something about the cabinet process for announcements about the cluster policy, then returned to the budget to say the ‘Operational funding had been increased by 2% …’ concluding with advice to schools to have ‘local conversations with their communities about locally raised funds …’.
This is just so forlorn.
Well, you voted this individual in and the other executive members, most of whom seem incapable of rising to the occasion – we’re in crisis people, a crisis beyond any in New Zealand’s education history, and most of you are missing in action. Where are you? As an organisation you seem to be stumbling about bereft of positive leadership and any sense of purpose other than chummy conversations with the government. You are a telling deadweight to those so bravely out in front.
This forlorn response by Phil Harding is a betrayal of children and teachers so desperately in need of support and protection. If the NZPF had spent even a part of the energy it spent on the wool-pulling moot fiasco agitating for more support teachers, how much better it would have been.
And what is it with this ‘conversation’ malarkey? This is not the time for conversations; it is time for determined, unflinching, principled action.
I have written before how strategically hopeless teacher organisations have been in the past at controlling the education debate. (I want to except the present NZEI from this.)
The pattern has been that when Labour is in and is its usual generous self to education, the organisations have typically responded along the lines of: ‘A good start.’ When National is in, and virtually nothing positive occurs, the organisations have typically responded with a acquiescent silence – though when something token is granted near delirium eventuates. The organisation leaderships have been tigers with Labour and pussy cats with National, and the greatest tigers with Labour often being the most determined pussy cats with National.
In other words, the leaderships have held aloft their wins to their memberships at the expense of sufficient plaudits and electoral rewards to Labour; demonstrating self-serving grandiosity and deplorable political nous.
I am not advocating that teacher organisations join political camps but they give electoral reward commensurate to educational gain. What teacher organisations need to have in their mind-set is that politics is a matter of priority, and if a political party makes school education a genuine priority then they should get genuine electoral reward, as that party, in making school education a priority, means some other policy sector has become less of one.
The NZPF policy has seemed to be: National has said it won’t give any extra money to public education so it will be a waste of time agitating for it, indeed, counter-productive; the best course of action would seem to be a policy of ingratiation. Can’t NZPF get it? The hammering of public schools – the scapegoating , the disenfranchising, and the financial and spiritual impoverishment, is not government whim but engrained ideological policy as part of global capitalism and a shift of civilisation.
This 2014 budget is one of the worst in recent history – especially for election year. The 2 per cent increase in the school operations grant after taking inflation into account, the needs of present-day education, and the increase in immigration, is actually a cut; the small allocations for the ‘Reading Together’ programme and digital literacy (a little over $4 million altogether) are miniscule in scope though well directed; and the small increase for support teachers pathetic. As we know the $359 million for the cluster programme (for secondary and primary and over four years) will do nothing for children, indeed it will represent if it occurs, a plunge to an education cataclysm. The budget also points to a possibly less than 1 per cent rise in salaries for teachers – compare that to the wrongness of the salaries for expert teachers.
Yet the president of NZPF has virtually nothing to say.
Where is the programme of budgetary needs and system changes the NZPF should be demanding? Surely, a programme of budgetary needs and system changes carefully set out and widely distributed is a fundamental role of a teacher organisation – but it seems to be a fundamental role unfulfilled.
These are perilous times for school education; these are terrible times for schools wanting to address satisfactorily the real needs of children.
In my view, as suggested above we are on the precipice of an education cataclysm.
An impressionistic touching on some of the issues that suggest this.
The cluster system providing a further layer of controlling bureaucracy as one part of that cataclysm and a handing over of a significant part of the control of education to private firms as another. The Teachers’ Council, better named the Minister’s Council, preparing to impose an horrific appraisal system for suffocating control. Andreas Schleicher, head of the misguided and substantially corrupt PISA organisation, sitting on the Pearson’s Advisory Panel which has been awarded a contract to develop OECD’s PISA test framework – just one step away from Pearson taking over system programmes to prepare children for that test (leading to the ultimate in privatisation – a multi-national gaining control of our curriculum linked to local private firms). A programme of school funding by results being prepared. A rapid extension of charter schools. Except for reading which is still being held together by junior teachers, mathematics and writing, in general, being curriculum areas of considerable concern. (Note the University of Auckland setting new entrance requirements in literacy.) Organisations like CORE, Cognition, and Team Solutions delivering a standardised, factory-like, government-commanded curriculum to schools. Those organisations slyly introducing PaCT. An increasing number of schools sending out reports based only on performance in the reading, writing, and mathematics.
But enough of this – there follows a suggested programme of budgetary and system change demands for an election year.
Directions for New Zealand primary education: ideas for budgetary and electoral expectations in a social democracy
The key idea in the policy recommendations that follow is that the education system should be based on valuing variety – and fundamental to this, the idea of collaboration and shared knowledge development. It is not just accepting variety or tolerating it, it is valuing it – valuing it as part of living in a democracy and as the best means to help children’s learning.
Valuing variety would mean changes to regulations – for instance, allowing a wide interpretation of the curriculum, within broad guidelines, in school charters and evaluation practices. Eventually the curriculum would need to be revised to concentrate on principles and aims, leaving schools to decide how to interpret those – at the moment National Administrative Guidelines (NAGS) and the demands of the education review office (using national standards) exert a stultifying control of classrooms.
The Lange government through Tomorrow’s Schools, introduced into education a philosophy antithetical to Labour Party philosophy. (Most Labour MPs of the time find this hard to accept holding on to the idea that Tomorrow’s Schools was, in fact, about giving more power to schools.) While this neoliberal philosophy was diluted in the Clark years, it still remained and remains dominant.
In education that philosophy is expressed as managerialism.
As it pans out, the basic tenet of managerialism is that any issue in education, including the education effects of poverty – indeed, especially the education effects of poverty – can largely be resolved by management changes to do with the organisation and direction of teachers. This always involves overstating the role of the teacher in learning so that when schools fail to overcome sufficiently the education effects of poverty, schools are blamed and providing an excuse for shaping schools into the political right’s own ideological image.
An implication in this top-down philosophy is that there is someone knows and that person who knows is a political leader informed by a certain category of academic.
The present education system is substantially a command one – a command one based on excluding teachers and parents from genuine participation in policy making, also on fear, control, propaganda, and corrupted statistics.
The education system needs to be democratised.
One very important effect of bringing in parents and teachers into policy making would be to broaden the curriculum to counteract the trend of an ever narrowing one.
A managerialist-based education system requires a curriculum that is amenable to command and control, also one that can be understood by politicians and bureaucrats – that curriculum is a fragmented one organised for measurement.
New Zealand primary education has a history of being holistic, in other words, not fragmented for ease of measurement and control. (Many of the most important things in learning are immeasurable; in a measurement-based education system those things are neglected.)
A measurement-based classroom is possible in a holistic-based education system but a holistic-based classroom isn’t possible in a measurement-based system (an important point in considering an education system based on valuing variety).
The present primary school education system is governed by fear and bureaucratic command, and protected by propaganda and corrupted statistics.
The contract system is important to the government control of universities: a key way to restrict academic freedom of speech.
Within schools, the major source of fear and control comes from the education review office – it is unaccountable and used in a variety of ways to generate fear and ultimately obedience; it is really the review office that determines the nature of the curriculum.
The heavy use of statutory managers is another source of fear, control, and indirect propaganda.
People outside the education system have little appreciation of the extent and depth of the fear, control, and use of propaganda that exists within it.
Perhaps the key idea to be developed should be that just as a healthy economic system needs a free exchange of ideas so does a healthy education system.
And central to that is the idea of a shared view of the way knowledge is developed.
All parts of the education system need to be freed up so that all parts can share in the generation of knowledge: teachers, curriculum advisers, academics, parents, and government education agencies.
Teachers should be freed to colonise the curriculum (that is, make curricula work) and to establish their knowledge in the form of successful established practice.
Teachers and schools should function within fairly wide curriculum guidelines.
Academics sought for advice should come from groupings much wider than the current headlining quantitative academics; in particular, that means advice should also be sought from qualitative academics and curriculum academics with significant classroom experience.
A call should be made for a grouping of countries to join together to develop an international testing system that functions transparently and concentrates on a broader view of the curriculum. (However, the government should stay in the present international system until this is achieved.)
More specific policies as an outcome of governing ideas
The 359 million dollars intended for the government cluster policy should be spent directly on helping children in classrooms, not on giving large pay increases to a few teachers and principals.
In a whole series of ways, policies and increased funding to meet children’s special needs should be a priority.
First, there should be a substantial lift in support teacher numbers as well as moves to make support teacher staff better paid and to provide them with a greater sense of permanency.
Following that, there should be improved staffing ratios (gradually introduced)to give flexibility to schools enabling them to provide more individual attention to children’s learning needs, including some appointments for specialist learning (for instance, science, or maths, or Maori language, or drama) as set out as an emphasis in schools’ charters.
Also for improving home school relations (a priority).
An important idea to understand is that the government in implementing national standards ostensibly to lift learning in lower decile schools has used the opportunity to achieve its long-held objective of a narrow 3Rs curriculum for all children.
Improvements in staffing and support teachers and in other areas should be described as being there to help the learning of all children, not just the ones who are struggling (children of all abilities are being badly served by the present system).
A non-contestable fund should be established to which schools can apply to set up Maori language programmes – apply for such things as part-time teachers, support teachers, and Maori language labs.
There should be improvement to special needs services including making RTLBs (Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour) more accessible and less bureaucratic.
The SAF (Student Achievement Function) should be removed with money saved being allocated to other and wider forms of advisory support.
Reading Recovery should be increasingly well funded.
The best home-school reading programme for lower decile schools, one already in operation in miniscule way, is Jeanne Biddulph’s Reading Together programme which binds home and school together in a harmonious and joyful way.
A Committee of Inquiry into making education more collaborative for successful learning should be established – though this should not mean changes to education won’t begin immediately. (Committee of Inquiry for Collaboration for Better Learning.)
School charters at the moment are a major source of control and bureaucratisation – school charters should be freed to allow schools to develop programmes. within broad guidelines, that suit them. (As discussed above.)
The education review office needs to be staffed by teachers and principals of the highest quality; deliver its work in schools in a different way; and be made accountable (it should also be made fully compliant with the Official Information Act).
There should be a Review Office Appeal authority appointed to hear appeals from schools (a priority).
A cross-sector advisory board should be established.
The review office should concentrate on work in schools, not producing reports – those reports should be done by universities on the basis of proper research design.
The School Trustees Association should be restricted in its work to providing direct services to members (a priority).
The statutory management system should be restructured: a more comprehensive conciliation system before statutory management should be established and perverse incentives removed. In particular, the cost of statutory management should fall on the ministry not the school.
Schools and colleges of education should develop a better balance between general education courses and ones directly related to classrooms (though both should be considered equally important) – this might mean rehiring some academics who possess both academic and classroom knowledge.
As one part of the advisory function, a permanent advisory service should be re-established attached to universities to function within broad guidelines (a reasonably free advisory service is an important source of practicable knowledge).
The Teachers Council or its equivalent should be reorganised to reflect the policy of collaboration. As well, it should concentrate on the safety of children. (All teacher organisations are doing well on this one, so I am not elaborating.)
Teacher organisations should be represented as of right on policy, curriculum, and administrative groupings.
Charter schools should be funded and administered on the same basis as other privately-run schools and the money saved allocated to meeting the education needs of low decile schools.
National standards should be removed and with the money saved used to re-establish NEMP (National Education Monitoring Project) formerly based at the University of Otago – more money than before should be allocated and the previous directors asked to advise on its establishment, functioning, and staffing (NEMP was a collaborative institution much admired and appreciated by schools).
NMSSA (National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement) based at the University of Otago should be removed, with the money saved used in the re-establishment of NEMP (see above).
Clusters established on a voluntary basis should receive some government funding.
How to bring parents into education on a national basis is a difficult one: my suggestion is, on a regular basis, NZCER to undertake a survey and some research as the focus for parent discussion (within schools) – the outcomes of this discussion to be reported to a body to consider and sometimes develop matters further.
A broad curriculum should be encouraged in anticipation of the outcomes of the results of the Committee of Inquiry.
An important part of that broad curriculum is an understanding that attention to the 3Rs is mutually supportive with attention to flexible thinking – a mutual supportiveness that should be acted on from children’s first days at school.
The greater freedom for schools to shape their curriculum within broad guidelines will have major implications for the work of Colleges of Education, advisory services, and education review office.
The use and resourcing of computers should be approached carefully: there needs to be a broad-based permanent grouping set up to provide schools with guidance on computer use in schools (at the moment it is growing somewhat helter-skelter with the curriculum quality being given insufficient attention); also government money would seem to be better allocated for professional development and computer maintenance rather than for directly purchasing computers and other digital devices. (Free technical support is crucial, along with extensive ICT support through advisers.)
The curriculum area of mathematics should be given special attention: a curriculum committee to report in three months, meanwhile, conferences should be organised around the country and extra finance made available to schools working on innovative ideas. (Bobbie Hunter from Massey University and Jodie Hunter her daughter are doing some excellent work in junior maths with implications for older children).
Novapay has tens of thousands of faults within it and is beyond solution – a new system should be introduced (either that or funding for office staff be increased).
The Beeby statement I like is the one he made in 1942 following a meeting with the South Canterbury NZEI management committee: ‘There seems to be a common desire on the part of teachers to ask the Department for detailed instructions regarding such things as the changes that are taking place in infant education, rather than to embrace the freedom the Department has given and to participate co-operatively in the working out of up-to-date practice in the infant room.’