The truth about Novopay

Because my attention is on the betrayal of school education by the PPTA and the continuing sneaky efforts by NZPF to manoeuvre the primary schools into that IES maw – I’m not going to spin this posting out. Anyway, the reason for the Novopay problem is piece of cake, as is the solution.

Novapay should be seen as a metaphor for the deeply careless and exploitive nature of school education of the present government with, once again, the burden falling most heavily on primary schools. Up to now, my attention has been to other symptoms of the government’s behaviour – but a glance at this matter.

And yes, at base, in my view, it’s this government’s fault.

Let us imagine that the solution to the Novopay crisis is provided in the posting below, and that solution is available through the spending of a certain amount of money, not a huge amount, but a significant amount, say $10 million a year, what would that say about the government?

The government has observed the anguish the crisis has caused school teachers and other staff, the distraction to clerical staff, the interference to the administration of schools, the direct effect on children’s learning by the now common practice of the principal taking charge of school pay – if there was a simple solution at hand but not acted on because of the cost and ideological reasons, what would that say about the government?

There was no proper Novopay trial; we all know that – no proper trial, in the sense of there being a proper oversight by people with half an understanding of the process and how schools work, and in the sense of a proper oversight by a minister with half an understanding of the process and how schools works. It was a double whammy of incompetence. This meant that people with half an understanding of the process and how schools work were reporting to a minister also with half an understanding of the process and how schools work. Moreover this minister was also embroiled in cat-and-cat fight with Lesley Longstone.  My goodness – a triple whammy.

So, in the first instance, it was the government’s fault.

But for there to be a solution, but not acted on because of the cost and ideological reasons, then heads should fall.

So let’s get going.

The faults in Novopay began at about 20 per cent as computer programming faults now considerably improved, say, under 10 per cent. The reason for the other faults obviously lies elsewhere – they lie in the matter of the organisation of personnel. These faults emanated from a very simple operating difference between Novopay and Multiserve, an operating difference designed to save Novopay money – a difference to have calamitous implications for schools.

Under Multiserve, when the pay forms came in from schools, they were received by expert pay practitioners who checked the forms for accuracy. If the forms were found correct, they were handed on to data entry people; if found incorrect, they were corrected before being entered and, in a crucial final step, the clerical person in schools informed.

If the pay form was incorrect, Multiserve experts communicated with the clerical people in schools – in other words an immediate and particularised educative function was carried out. It was a case of actions occurring in schools receiving an immediate and corrective reaction if that was needed.

But under the present system, the pay forms are sent directly to data entry people in Wellington, people whose only task it is to tap in the data. These people as a result blithely enter data of the most horrendously incorrect nature – leading to terrible pay messes.

A non-solution was developed by the government’s Mr Fixit in response to these: when things get into the inevitable shemozzle, the problem ends up in one of four main centres, with expert pay practitioners employed by the ministry (Auckland 3, Wellington 2, Christchurch 2, and Dunedin 1). The individual pay problems now, though, a tangle of mind-blowing complexity that take aeons to sort out.

But because the numbers of the expert pay practitioners are so small and the problems such a tangle, the educative communication so promptly provided by the expert pay practitioners in the Multiserve system is, in the Novopay system, much delayed if provided at all.

To educate schools, sometimes the experts are sent out on missions to schools, but this is close to mission impossible because the ministry is too understaffed and schools by nature typically in a state of some flux. In other words, things don’t stay fixed. This is not an efficient way to carry out the corrective, educative function so crucial to a pay system for schools.  The experts, I’m sure, feel as though plugging the dyke.

Even if schools get things right for a period, the stability of that rightness is one of considerable fragility – the system is hostage to fortune: the clerical person may be ill, on leave, or have left; or the same if the principal has assumed responsibility; or a new pay issue arises – a new teacher arrives with a different set of pay issues, or there is a new settlement perhaps for pay, holidays, or maternity.

Like snakes and ladders, down the ladder go a certain number of schools each pay period.

The solution to the Novopay problem is quite simple: appoint an appropriate number of people to be expert pay practitioners and reinstate the Multiserve practice of having such people check the pay forms sent in by schools, and if not  correct to communicate with schools how to get them right next time.

I believe the Novopay contract was, from the beginning, based on the cynical idea of giving a responsibility to schools that was properly Novapay’s. To assume schools could carry that responsibility was heroic given the pressures and demands characteristic of contemporary schooling; the degree of instability in school staffing; and the complexity of pay issues. It was especially cynical in that this allocation of responsibility and the money it saved Novopay, was probably the difference between profit and loss.

I believe that the government knew this, knows this – and is cynically fiddling with a solution, crying crocodile tears, asking Steven Joyce to play the avuncular, when it knows they got it wrong in accepting the contract in the first place, but unwilling to renegotiate the contract at some cost to it and against its ideology of asking schools to do more while all the time giving them less.

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14 Responses to The truth about Novopay

  1. Mick says:

    This is not a Government that admits to it’s failings !

  2. Myles Ferris says:

    This is not a Government that admits to its failings… such a good statement that I had to repeat it. They are hoping to hold on at this election and know that if they do it will be the last time for a while. They will hope that the left stuff up badly in their next election cycle and get back in. All the while they will hope that everyone has forgotten who has completely messed up not only our pay system but the education system in general.

  3. Kelvin says:

    My goodness you three – you are off the mark quickly: it’s only been up a few minutes. Special medals for being on the ball.

  4. Could it also be that in a very cynical way this government wants us all struggling with a ‘crisis that shouldn’t be’ so that school leadership is burdened and not got the energy to fight their other ridiculous policies and practice that ultimately will destroy education as we know it?

  5. Vern Stevens says:

    Exactly Kelvin, I reckon that they knew it was going to be a shambles but then thought, what the hell lets do it give the schools something else to worry about and take the pressure of the massive changes that were afoot Nat Standards etc. Done on purpose!!!

  6. Kelvin says:

    Yes – I believe it was something like that: doing pay stuff in schools is something schools should do; we know how to fix it, but it would cost money; we are not going to admit we got it wrong; and what the hell do we care – let those troublesome public schools sort it out for themselves.

  7. Lisa Baker says:

    The stress this new system has put upon school administrators is huge. If Novopay had been paying the wages of MP’s as well as school staff you can bet it would have been trashed after the first month and multiserve reinstated.

  8. Joan Patten says:

    Go Kelvin, you have it so right. As a stressed administrator, can I put your name forward to “fix” the very flawed NOVOPAY?
    Joan Patten

  9. Lesley Forrest says:

    I agree with you Lisa, and all other people who have left comments so far. Working in an area of predominantly small rural schools, and watching Teaching Principals trying to sort out the mess made it pretty clear early on that this Government had their own agenda. When ‘they’ said ‘No, we are not in breach of the Employment Relations legislation’ I believe gave a clear indication that ‘they’ operate outside the law when convenient. We do need to keep chipping away at all facets of the current disaster, without losing focus on kids learning and wellbeing. Thanks to all that do that every day.

  10. Tristan Brebner says:

    Never in my 47years of Principal-ship have I experienced the on-going personal level of frustration generated through inadequate systems that struggle to meet our schools everyday needs. Principal-ship via National Standards, Novopay and more recently the IES proposals have taken away the innovation and excitement this role offered and replaced it with the mundane administrative compliance functions .We must demand more than a mediocre fix or performance with the on-going Novopay debacle. Thanks Kelvin

  11. Jason Tane says:

    Since December last year I have emailed in with a number of payroll queries. Each time I received an automated response with service desk request number, NO REPLY TO MY QUERY and “NOVOPAY Service Desk Request Number ###### has now been closed. Please do not reply to this email.”
    Is this how you get rid of backlogs? Fail to acknowledge them? Pretend they don’t exist?
    Something is rotten in the state if Denmark…

  12. Claire Couch says:

    Bulk funding, isn’t that the underlying want of the Government? That would take away the need for Novopay in an instant.

  13. KevinT5011 says:

    Some additional information from a business associate of mine.
    Multiserve knew they were going to loose the contract some two years out. At this point they no longer had motivation to keep the database up to date, and began doing ‘manual changes’ when teachers pay situations changed. (Sorry I can’t explain the difference between a manual change and their normal procedure). The upshot was that when the data transfer to nova pay took place, the data was up to two years out of date.
    I’m not excusing the debacle that this turned into, just shedding some light. As mentioned earlier, testing on a small area first would have brought these issues to light.

  14. Ian says:

    Fully agree with all of the above. I have spent more time since Nopay took over trying to understand my own pay as a part time / casual reliever than I ever did in 30 years as a principal. In allowing the on going nightmare to continue shows the low regard the present government has for those dealing daily with the nation’s pupils.

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