Conversation with Angela (PPTA)

According to Angela Roberts, PPTA president, the Investment in Educational Success is a ‘positive example of sector collaboration.’

In a press release (June 3, 2014) she ‘welcomes today’s release of the working party report on the initiative which will see schools across the country collaborating rather than competing.’

Wow! At last, the legendary silver bullet.

‘From the PPTA’s point of view the consultation over IES was comprehensive, robust and genuine.’

She’s one happy president.

‘The sector had worked hard together to find pragmatic answers and there had been significant movement from the unacceptable cabinet paper …’

NZEI was obviously somewhere else (NZPF went missing in inaction months ago).

‘Significant movement …’ Wow! (again)

Then in embarrassing coyness: ‘You know it’s collaboration when it’s hard work – and this was really hard work.’

Give us a break Angela.

But actually we don’t ‘know it’s collaboration when its hard work’. It could have been, that having been sucked in, you had to work hard for some fiddling changes to save face.

Or did you mean it’s hard being a collaborator?

‘We feel the cabinet heard us.’

Aren’t they a lovely lot?

I pronounce you teacher organisation and government as – well what? I think a marriage of convenience on your part with, what I will suggest is stunning naivety and self-servingly constructed narrow thinking, the strategic purpose being some financial advantage to a few members of your organisation; a sham marriage on theirs because they are out to control public education to the advantage of private interests and ideological indoctrination.

Then a moment of seriousness from Angela, striking an heroic pose.

‘That did not mean there would not be further work to be done or challenges in the future. Details of the new provisions would be a matter of collective bargaining.’

She is thinking of you the membership with a hint of trepidation, but on your form so far, I don’t think she has much to worry about.

‘This is just the next step. We still have a long way to go to make sure this lands well in schools and look forward to continuing to be part of the process.’

My advice is keep an eye out for flying objects.

Then we come to what she was most pleased about – clearly that which prompted her claim of ‘significant movement’.

‘This is not performance pay,’ Angela opines, ‘and it is not a lolly scramble – it’s an investment that will have a positive impact on schools and our students.’

The significant movement in Angela’s thinking obviously relates to the willingness of the government – as a salve to her executive’s conscience and to dupe the membership – to play around with the definition of performance pay.

Well, Angela, if it is not performance pay then, in contradiction to your declared understanding, it must be a lolly scramble. What else could it be?

My guess is you’ll be saying it is not performance pay because it is not payment on results, but it depends on what you mean by results – the results you have to deliver or, in some ways, symbolise, are the values of managerialism, and your agents of managerialism will be doing that in spades.

You poor deluded lot you: don’t you get it? I had years of this following Tomorrow’s Schools, such crass stupidity – the government is not wanting you to deliver ‘results’ in the classroom sense, because it is going to make schools deliver results for their funding – what it wants from you, through IES, is to control primary schools by restricting their freedom of speech, compromise you as agents of managerialism, then introduce the full swathe of managerialist policies.

The government has the intention, which it will prevaricate about pending the election, to fund schools by results. The plans are as well advanced as they are hidden.

For goodness sake go to a zoo and take note of the leopard.

The IES policies are pure managerialism: replete with technocratic language full of ‘investment’, ‘delivery’, and ‘achievement’; not expressing any direct curriculum values at the secondary level but national standards-based at the primary; implying that learning is unproblematic; continual reference to evidence-based policies as if free of subjectivity; language indicating the underlying philosophy is one of instrumental rationality;  a narrow idea of teachers being central to ‘achievement’ (rather than just part of it); enticing PPTA to split from primary; using funding that might have been spent on children’s special needs on ‘hero’ teachers; implication that class ratios are unimportant; no demands by PPTA for more equitable society; no demands by PPTA, in this arena, for less bureaucracy, less centralised control, more freedom for schools, or even organisational representation on all school education bodies.

You go on to say Angela that in your ‘engagement with teachers and principals they agree that competition is destructive and that something should change.’

Have you developed a paper to analyse the source and nature of that competition Angela? Did you, for instance, examine the role of league tables and changes to zoning as sources of that competition or increased government funding of private schools, or underfunding of public schools in comparison with the lavish overall funding of private schools? Did declarations from the minister of education about targets increase competition? Is anything in IES likely to reduce that? I grant that the idea of teachers going between schools has the whiff of collaboration about it but will that significantly reduce competition? Indeed, I believe there are many ways it will be a source of extra stress and resentment.

However, with all that said, the extraordinary pressures on schools have been incorrectly diagnosed – it is not competition that exerts those pressures but technical rationality, audit processes, and league tables. These don’t need to be in a context of competition to exert their extraordinary pressures – they are there to give control to bureaucrats and politicians to legitimate privilege and the unequal sharing of resources, redefine disadvantage as caused by poor teaching, and to reinforce structural inequalities based on class and ethnicity. As well, the auditing, which is based on not trusting teachers, places teachers in a classic Kafkan situation of always feeling something else needs to be done, but not knowing what that might be. In these realities are the destructive pressures you refer to, of which your pathetic concept of collaboration in response is but a gossamer – as a result of your naivety and what seems like constructed short-sightedness you have missed this fundamental point, and in doing so, are on the edge of making things worse, exponentially worse.

The IES idea of ‘collaboration’ was needed to suck you in, just as the Tomorrow’s Schools’ idea of school freedom in 1989 was used to suck in your equivalents then.

Ponder this, with primary schools silenced and you in the bag – when school funding on ‘achievement’ comes in, where will that leave your precious collaboration?

PPTA you have been played for a sucker. Please tell me that there were at least a few on the PPTA executive who resisted this madcap adventure. My suggestion is to follow the lead of NZEI: reject the managerialist ‘teacher hero’ policy on the grounds the money should be spent directly on individualised learning for children, and in secondary schools’ case on individualising learning in the lower NCEA levels so that the prevalent unethical internal ‘no child left behind’ policy that prevails can be replaced with another one to the same effect.


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4 Responses to Conversation with Angela (PPTA)

  1. Mac says:

    Well put Kelvin. Such a pity the PPTA have dropped the ball so badly on this issue!

  2. Moira McKay says:

    And some of us thought that secondary teachers might have some intelligence – not where it counts obviously.

  3. Kelvin says:

    Mike Shennen: recently retired principal Mt Maunganui Primary.

  4. Unfortunately secondary principals see the world a little differently. They are much more accustomed to hierarchies and carefully controlled structures, rarely asking if thos structure serve the intended function – ie. meeting the needs of students. Unfortunately this additional structure can’t serve any meaningful purpose in terms of student achievement. However it can and will come back to bite us all when it fails to produce the lift in achievement.
    Peter Hughes says some very nice things about how we can use the $. However the reality is that we all know we cannot trust this government. They always have another motive.

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