NZPF is set to defy overwhelming principal and teacher opposition

This posting is a journey that started with language.

[This is written very late at night so the prose is likely to be a bit up and down.]

Have you noticed the term ‘collaboration’ and the corrupt and intensive way it has been used by the government and supporters of the its cluster restructuring policy?

This language corruption put me on guard.

The process by which restructuring policy was introduced was not collaborative; the teacher organisations were only given the opportunity to change the detail. And no matter the changes to detail, the declared philosophy of the policy and its purposes remained managerialist.  There is provided a perceived problem: children from low decile schools (that is children from poorer areas) are not achieving to the deemed level – there is a gap. The way to close that gap is not to lift the poverty of people, or provide extra funding to schools to create an atmosphere as some compensation for the home deprivation, or provide funding for increased individual attention to children, or do away with the destructive labelling of children – no it is to improve the skills of teachers. In other words, teachers are the problem, and improving them is the solution – the silver bullet. And for that silver bullet, an elaborate restructuring is proposed.

There were no policies put forward to free teachers to allow the organic co-operation of the old system to begin, then grow. There were no declarations that the system was going to be based on trust. The ideas for improving teacher skills did not come from co-operation – they came from the centre accompanied by repulsive technocratic propaganda.

And with all that, no parliamentary scrutiny.

The context deplorable; the future even worse.

The restructuring is of a piece with that context and that future to come. That future  will include the restructured local ministry offices, the structures to be set up over clusters, the Teachers’ Council restructuring,  the control by appraisal, the new standards to be set for schools, the targets to be set for schools, the use of PaCT for national standards, the school funding by achievement, the  use of non-educationists to control schools, the forced amalgamations (especially intermediates with secondary), the key role of private companies and multi-nationals, the handing over of ‘failing’ schools to charter groups, and the payment of teachers on contract.

To drop a government policy of pure managerialism into the current context of extreme managerialism and declare that policy a breakthrough to collaboration, is a language corruption; to know what is coming in the future and declare that policy a breakthrough to collaboration is the inevitable betrayal that comes from language corruption.

The managerialist restructuring will not work, cannot work, not only because it won’t solve the problem it is setting out to solve but because the problem it is setting out to solve isn’t the problem.

Given the context, the future, and the nature of the proposed structure, only someone from outside education, or someone ideologically driven, or someone who wants to be fooled – would think the managerialist structure proposed will do anything significant to improve children’s learning.

Principals and teachers have recoiled in dismay at what has been proposed. Then they have asked themselves what would help most? And the answer – more funding to help children individually. It is really as simple as that.

I need to move on, it is late at night.

Phil Harding brought me up with a stop when he wrote of the IES (Monday, 9 June) that ‘we have said all along that the devil lies in the detail …’ Translated that means he wasn’t concerned about the context, or the future, or the concept – his concerns were just detail.

Then the words of surrender: ‘It is a brave educator who rejects out of hand the notion of [now wait for it] working more collaboratively …’

This morning I heard him on national radio – he did all right – but I sensed something tricky going on – he simply refused to go to the clincher argument, the one not amenable to change by detail. And that clincher argument was that principals and teachers believed the money should go to children for meeting special needs and for more individualised attention for all children. (I turned off in despair before he had finished, so he might have said something at the end – but for me the damage was done.)

And then I thought of various PPTA executive members who took issue with my declaration that principals and teachers were very tight against the policy. Who had they been speaking to?

Tuesday’s conference would decide all.

Did you see the coverage on TV, read about it in the newspaper? I have a different story: read on and be alarmed.

(The information about the workings of NZPF and their behaviour at the conference did not come from any of the major contributors or ‘big’ names in education. I made a decision not to approach them.)

Most of the NZPF executive were there, and though they will no doubt disagree, they tried the same splintering tactics they employed at that greatest of farces, the moot. The meeting found it hard to get into rhythm – being disrupted by NZPF declarations ‘of the need to stay in the tent’.

Yes, yes, worrying, but we need to stay in the tent – stay in the tent – stay in the tent – stay in the tent.

Then a variation – yes, yes, worrying, but we mustn’t be isolated and picked off as were resistors of national standards – mustn’t get isolated – mustn’t get isolated – mustn’t get isolated.

In other words, capitulate to the government no matter what – might is right. Never take a stand, just give way.

Then a women member (from Auckland, I wasn’t given her name) called out: ‘Let’s have a straw vote’, there was huge agitation from NZPF members.

Phil Harding spluttered that he was utterly opposed to a vote: members should return home and consult. This was strongly supported by the NZPF exec members. In a group one exec member said you don’t call in the plumbers before the architect has finished (in other word principals were plumbers and the government was the architect).

Then Pat Newman and Frances Nelson took control and spoke strongly and cogently. We don’t need to go home to discuss things; we have discussed things and we will discuss things further if that is what is needed, but we are here to represent out members in the best way we can, and a straw vote is one of those ways. We want a straw vote and we demand a straw vote. The membership of the meeting was joyous and determined. The agitation from NZPF was palpable.

And the vote was overwhelming: New Zealand primary teachers and principals had spoken.

I know who voted against or didn’t vote but I’m not getting into that.

There is a lot more I know, for instance those exec members very close to Hekia – too close, in my view, to be able to properly represent their members. What these people need to recognise is that governments do what they do, but those representing their members aren’t properly doing what they do by just going along with what governments do. There is a time to take a moral and ethical stand. That’s what those representing members do – or should do. Isn’t that in the school values of their schools?

It is my view, on the basis of what I have learnt, the NZPF is going to stall on the matter of a vote, all the while restricting their objections to the government’s restructuring on workability grounds. Then, after the government has made some cosmetic changes (probably in collusion with the executive), to declare themselves satisfied and in favour of the policy.

There could be terrible times ahead.

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18 Responses to NZPF is set to defy overwhelming principal and teacher opposition

  1. Paul says:

    I listened to Harding in despair. His comment that the principal group leaders were not ‘the boss of the world’ showed a total lack of respect for principals who sent their representatives to the meeting to pass the message that we don’t like this policy.

    Catherine Ryan was correct our leadership, the NZPF and it seems Harding in particular, are not in sync with principals. The message is clear we don’t want this. I’m always weary when I hear about leadership groups who want the membership to lead them – well this time we have – up to you Phil Harding and NZPF.

  2. Kelvin says:

    A principal writes: It’s unbelievable Kelvin! No wonder I had a no reaction of any value to my email from Phil baby! Getting in bed with the enemy…grrr!
    Keep up the great work.

  3. birda says:

    I agree….the lack of reference to an alternative use of $360 million is remarkable. My BOT are dead against this policy as I just explained that $90 million per year would give us an extra teacher – so they would much rather have that than IES. If you present IES as a choice to the parents between an extra teacher in the classroom or extra wages for teacher, I would know what they would go for.

  4. Barrie Wickens says:

    Come stay in Phi’s tent? Yeah right!
    Kelvin has the true position and continues to hit the nail on the head.

    NZPF continues to get this wrong, they are on a slippery slide, I’m withdrawing my membership if this train wreck is not stopped. Perhaps this is the message that Phil and his Executive should hear from principals. I’m not going into any tent with anyone that corrupts our quality public education system.

    Barrie Wickens

  5. I don’t believe we should be participating in this policy at all. I believe that the ‘success criteria’ around improving student achievement is all but completely unattainable under this policy and that if we participate that criteria will ultimately be used to ‘bash’ us when it fails. And of course, fail it will since leadership and teaching skill are not the actual problem that needs to be sorted.
    No significant outcomes will change until this country once again returns to more equitable social policies. Neo-liberal (how dare they call them ‘centre-right’) have been proven failed internationally. Tragically the spin doctors (I call them liars) are just too slick for our current pool of voters.

  6. John Carrodus says:

    In WW2 Collaborators meet in dark places, plotted sabotage and prepared explosives to blow up lines of supply and communication. This tactical use of the “Collaboration” bomb by the cluster based Educational Ponsi Scheme guerillas is just as subversive to our primary schools. What the NZPF High Command appears to forget is that real collaborators have a half life about as long as it takes to organise a firing squad.

  7. Paul says:

    Let’s not vote for any of these people this time around – surely there must be some principals who will represent us properly?

  8. Kelvin says:

    Juliette Laird says: Thank you for your thorough documenting of what is going on for those of us who are in classrooms and also rely on NZEI to advocate for and inform us. This is not happening. Although an active member I have heard nothing from NZEI about this issue.
    Sounds as though we need to step out of the tent and look at the camping ground. (Tent is an interesting metaphor since it has no windows). The broad issue surely is ensuring that all students get a good education. With the majority of children in New Zealand going to state schools this means government policy must be based on sound knowledge – in particular the sector knowledge. We seem to be embroiled in a power struggle which has lost sight of students in a fight to alter the content for some ideological belief that this will make us “more competitive” although there is NO evidence that this will happen.

    I think we need to go back to basics for this discussion:
    1. First we must begin with teachers’ and education researchers information about how students learn well, and what might stop them.
    2. Second have a broader discussion about the curriculum using the NZ Curriculum (which flawed though it is still covers all content areas, and, importantly, talks about the social and cultural side of participating in school and the need to draw from the student’s local environment if they are to see any of it as relevant)
    3. Thirdly we then need to pare back what we are trying to cram into the school day so schools can provide a curriculum which suits their students’ needs (but is also based on nation-wide practice), both academic and socio-cultural; a curriculum which allows students time to reflect on content in different contexts particularly letting them come up with some of their own projects to do this; a curriculum which both provides guidance on steps and breadth in each subject area for teachers but also allows flexibility.
    4. Rather than reacting to criticisms from groups who are not always very knowledgeable about education (e.g. politicians, parents) or to a new theory about teaching/learning vis-a-vis achievement by panicking or righteous objection, let’s look at the evidence – our watchdog, ERO, does not find many schools wanting as far as teaching and learning goes. On the other hand evidence clearly shows that students from challenged backgrounds are likely to do less well; evidence clearly shows that students have inherently and immutably different capabilities. Therefore, setting a base standard for a specific skill like literacy or numeracy can only be aspirational.
    5. Collaboration is a vital part of a healthy school, and essential for teachers’ learning to progress. This means that teachers need more time to discuss with each other what is happening in their classrooms, time to watch students to pick up on signals which tell them that the student is or isn’t learning/engaged, time to try a different tactic or material. Currently the use of teachers as data gatherers for National Standards inhibits all of these vital aspects of being a teacher and is a huge waste of their training and expertise. And, for the NZPF, collaboration must be negotiated to ensure participants in the process are equally empowered. A principal’s role is to support and guide a team of teachers first and foremost – if they are not doing that, then they cannot honestly be an interface with the parent community because they do not know what they are talking about, and may be promising things the teachers cannot deliver while continuing to do their proper job. Then principals can collaborate with one another to share different ways of being a team leader, organising buildings and timetables, and budgeting, informed by what their teachers tell them as much as about what they observe.
    6. Teachers need to assert the importance of providing for their students’ learning needs and make sure that they are clear about the fundamental skills and knowledge that the students need, and not buy into the pressure to be able to tick all the boxes – I see teachers with great ability who are deflected from doing what they do well, and they know it, but they go along with it. For this, teachers need the NZEI’s support and the Principals’ backing since the current government has got onto an ideological tangent which, international and historical evidence shows, will not work in the long run. Unfortunately lots of teachers do not understand the agenda behind policy and are easily manipulated when told that this will be for the students’ benefit, even when it does not match their experience.

  9. Kelvin says:

    Angela Murie writes: As a primary teacher with over thirty years experience I am intrigued by the suggestion that we work more collaboratively, something that I think we have always – well in my time in teaching, done out of necessity and from the desire to improve the education of children
    I feel that the term is actually being hi- jacked and used as a more palatable term for something else ; or has the experience of changes in/to education in my career made me unduly cynical ? – we shall see

  10. Kelvin says:

    Sandy Anderson writes: Hello Kelvin –
    Thank you for your continuing work on our behalf –
    I am at a complete loss over what seems to be the “indecent haste with which this government is railroading this IES initiative through” –and why NZPF is standing by, yet again asking us all to consult with our teacher, boards and communities when the flaws are so obvious. I thought earlier in the week it was a done deal in terms of the two primary education bodies finally agreeing to stand against this initiative.
    As someone said, it takes a” village” to educate a child- a single sector/ agency initiative such as IES will not address the underlying causes of underachievement nor will it make sustainable improvements to priority learners or the lives of their families, regardless of consultation about design or detail
    We would simply be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as the next ice berg hits. Being “ inside the tent” hardly matters then – and actually makes us complicit in the rejection of what was a world class system that allowed teacher and student creativity , only a few years ago when we embraced the NZC ( 2007) remember ?????
    Sandy A

  11. Lorna says:

    Kelvin,

    Thank you so much for putting in to words the frustrated feelings many of us are experiencing at the reluctance to make a firm stand against the ongoing pummelling we are receiving from these government reforms. I cannot for the life of me understand why our sector leaders are not acting with more urgency and decisiveness.

    I truly believe that the integrity of our education system is teetering on the edge of the cliff and has been for a long time. We have become the victims of apathy, ignorance and a general lack of understanding of the issues at hand by people on the frontline. As Sandra said ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as the next iceberg hits us is most certainly not the answer’. Do we really want to join the likes of England, U.S. and Australia where education is whittled down to a child’s worth being measured by a test score, a teacher’s worth being measured by that test score and the development of a whole generation of people who do not have the luxury of knowing what they are truly worth? The thought of this makes my heart ache, for my own children, for the children I teach and for our human race in general!

    So the question remains – what can we do? What should we do? How do we not allow ‘time’ to swallow away any window of opportunity we may have to take back what is good and right about our New Zealand curriculum? We need answers to these questions and we need them fast!

    Surely there is a better way?

  12. Danny Nicholls says:

    Why is there such a preoccupation with “staying in the tent” at all costs? Even when the majority of your membership oppose you being there? Step outside that tent and enjoy the fresh air, it might even be a better position to advocate from.

  13. Kelvin says:

    Mac Stevenson says: Hi Kelvin

    It is always bemusing when those who should know better become captured by the Wellington scene and allow themselves to believe that by cosying up to the politicians they are doing their members a favour. That the politicians encourage such ‘smoozing’ should give a warning in itself.

    As for that old adage – excuse the language – about being in the tent and p!!@ing out is better than being out of the tent and p!#$ing in I would add that even better would be taking the moral and professional high ground and p!@#$%ing over the tent as this might give the strongest message as expressed by the majority of teachers right now.

    It is not possible to have a dollar each way on this, the greatest structural change to education since 1989, and a very strong and clear rejection on the grounds that (a) the money would be better spent on making a difference to students and their learning at classroom level and (b) this change will not in fact achieve this and is in fact not about doing that should be the message NZPF and NZEI continue to promote in the media.

    My views for what they are worth and with a view for what is best for my grandchildren,

  14. Paul says:

    And now the Minister is quoting Harding again saying that the Principals meeting was just a group of principals and not very important o indicative of the feeling about this policy (my words). Nice work again, Phil from being mighty impressed at the policy at first to now painting the rest of us principals as of little consequence!

  15. Hi Kelvin
    Below is the combined thoughts of the IES from the Western Bay of Plenty Principals’ Association.

    As Western Bay of Plenty Principals we whole heartedly support the goal of the Investing in Educational Success (IES) which is to increase student achievement and collaboration between schools. However, upon reviewing the government IES paper and the 138 page Working Group Report we still have more questions than answers. The Western Bay principals welcome the $359 million investment to education, but still do not have the confidence that the IES policy, as it is written, will achieve its purpose.

    Principals have discussed how $359 million (which averages out to $140,000 per school) could better be targeted towards student learning. We feel that increased funding in special needs education, teacher aids, specialist support teachers, gifted and talented programmes, reading recovery programmes, transition from early childhood to school programmes, are just some of the ways there could be a more direct impact on student learning.

    We also ask the question would Boards of Trustees and parents be happy for their principal and their child’s expert teacher being absent from their school two days a week for two years? We have concerns about how this would look in practice. There is also the fact that many educational experts, such as Professor Martin Thrupp and Professor Ivan Snook, who have concerns about the IES. Even some educational researchers that support this initiative, such as Canadian Professor Michael Fullan, are stating they are unsure whether or not the IES will achieve its goal of increasing student achievement.

    In the Western Bay, teachers and principals have a strong moral and ethical stance on the way we use public funds. We believe that some parts of the policy, with some fine tuning, could have sound positive impacts for schools. However, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. We feel that there are better ways to utilize such a large investment to increase our children’s achievement rather than putting the emphasis of increasing the pay of 15% of the education sector. We may only have one shot at utilizing this amount of money and we want it to be the most effective use for our students.

    • Kelvin says:

      Dane: Congratulations on an excellent comment and to your members too, of course. A thoughtful contribution. It will prove a model for how other principal and teacher groupings might work their way through the issue, I want to see the pages of networkonnet being used as a forum, and this is what you and your members have done. It is pleasing to me to hear that Tauranga, your neighbour, is working together in the way you have and come to a similar conclusion. It is important now you get your boards informed too, and up to speed. The government is very nervous of their response to the issue. Congratulations again.

  16. 007 says:

    Hi Kelvin
    Once again, thank you for being able to see objectively and point out things that we sometimes fail to articulate ourselves.

    There is a great quote that goes along the lines of ‘We are so busy dealing with our in baskets and our out baskets that we fail to deal to the too hard basket’.

    What happened to us? Has standing up for what is best for education become our ‘too hard basket”? When did we roll over and allow ourselves to blindly be led over the precipice? What happened to our own inquiring mind and our ability to ‘walk the talk’. Is this another example of NS dumbing us down so that we no longer question? We pride ourselves on leading schools that teach children how to question, to seek information and to find solutions – to be creative problem finders and solvers and to look at things deeply. Yet, we fail to do this ourselves (present posters and concerned principals aside).

    I could carry on waxing lyrical about the demise of our ability to do the right thing but alas that is preaching to the converted.

    Suffice to say – there are some serious questions that we need to ask ourselves and it starts with this policy.

    1. Is this the best way to spend $359mil for vote ed? No. I am sure I write for most of us. As I see it, those in favour of more $ are those who are eyeing up the jobs for themselves. So lets call it as we see it – a selfish agenda that is not about students but about individuals. We have the mechanisms to pay teachers more (units anyone), and we have the evidence that we can ‘do’ excellent collaborative clustering work (EHSAS as just one such example). Hector dolphins, we have been wanting more opportunities to continue this work for some time.

    2. Can we get better bang for the bucks? Oh yes, we can. We all know that. Imagine if 10 schools with similar issues for their high priority learners pooled the cash – that would net over 1.4 mil, and decided that the investment in counselling, math and literacy support teams, release, TA support and leadership workshops with an outside facilitator was the best way to meet their needs, just how much progress they would make? Thats one made up example but you get the picture. But for those ten schools to have it spent on wages and ‘iffy’ idealistic layers of management (which requires changes to contracts and who knows what kind of political wrangling and policy/legal mumbo jumbo) is simply – wasteful. Its a waste of yours, mine and your neighbours tax dollar.

    3. Are the people who are meant to be representing us doing us justice? I’m not so sure the answer is yes. I have yet to meet a colleague who likes this IES. The people I speak with think the money could be better invested. So a supplementary question is, why are our representatives not listening?

    4. This tent they keep on banging on about = if its so wonderful in there, why is it shrouded in mystery and why was the report/s embargoed? How is that transparent?

    5. Most importantly, why were the tent dwellers not working to make this IES something we could live with – like the example above?? They are (mostly) experienced and understand good practice (I hope) – yet I see no evidence that shows they tried to change IES to be what it needs to be – but instead followed blindly the bones of what was there. It is disappointing but more alarmingly, it worries me that the agenda is bigger than they are letting us mere plebs know about. I wonder what the tent dwellers know that we don’t. Surely a ‘Minister, the working group believes we have the capacity and experience to use IES in better ways – let us show you how…’ –

    6. NZPF did a survey – it was clear what we would rather have – yet I see no evidence that this was incorporated. So, why are we not demanding the tent dwellers explain why not??

    Rant over for now. Have a good day.

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