The fault in our STAs

Is there a more derided organisation in primary education than STA? It has a huge staff and miniscule positive reputation. STA seems to function in a parallel universe – and when occasionally the two, unaccountably, cross lines, it only serves to confirm that parallelism is the norm (as will be demonstrated below).

STA has no spirit, no sense of cohesion, no sensible way of accepting direction from its members. It might have people of good intentions but it is an organisation without heart. How can it have heart when, if push comes to shove, it is a vehicle for someone else’s message – the government’s, one of centralism, corporate-type school administration, and narrow instrumentality? Any organisation that is so reliant on the government for finance cannot be freely representative of its members – and that is STA in a nutshell.

Everywhere there is expressed a sense of wonderment about how difficult it is to engage with the STA leadership: philosophically, emotionally, intellectually, or educationally. Where are they coming from I am asked?

The organisation seems unable to recognise there is more than one way in education.

Occasionally, STA has sort of taken a stand, or has it – was that a stand or was it an illusion, what was that it said? Was that something substantial or a phantasm?  It’s over there in the shadows whispering – what is it saying? Can’t hear – speak up.  I think I’ll ask. What on earth does that mean? Did they promise to do something? Oh no – gone in a puff of smoke.

It is an organisation that declares it is there to work in the interests of children, well, if so, why is it always on the government’s side, except when it momentarily isn’t just prior to it collapsing in a heap? The fundamental difficulty is that it has no philosophical base from which to function, no mandate from its actual but nominal members, no way to go except in the direction set by the government. It is an organisation by members – in that the executive is appointed by them – but not for them. And if it has any guiding principle at all, it is that principals and teachers are not to be trusted.

When what STA could have been, is compared with what it is – it can be said that the organisation should take a good portion of the blame for the decline of primary school education over the last 25 years. And in respect to Maori children, by its support for government grandstanding at the expense of substance no organisation has done more harm to their education than STA.

Martin Thrupp, in a recent essay on the structural weaknesses of the government’s IES policy, described the way Hekia Parata functioned as tribal, and I entirely agree. If you want to be useful to government purposes all you need to do is declare your unwavering support for government policy and you or your organisation will be rewarded with appointments, overseas travel, and the baubles of power; if you don’t, you or your organisation will be pilloried. Take care or the minister’s office might get in touch with Whale Oil, or ERO will faithfully pick up the scent, or the ministry may set a statutory manager on to you.

Hekia Parata takes contradiction as betrayal, agreement as dominion.

She ravages the leadership of organisations with blitzes of charm; enveloping people in an unbelievably smooth extrusion of sound something akin to a flow of Baileys Irish Crème: if you succumb, there is fantastic warmth, if you don’t, unrelenting vindictiveness. And the playing to the male ego – it is outrageous. We men are such mugs. (If listened to objectively her voice, having been shifted into overdrive: sickly, false, menacing, and just one step away from a temper tantrum.)

Lorraine Kerr, you may be sure, has been worked the way Hekia Parata (and Anne Tolley) has worked the executive of the NZPF (leaving aside the play to the male ego.). This will, when all is known, become the stuff of legends: holidays have been offered (withdrawn if behaviour isn’t up to expectations); jobs have been offered both now and hinted at for later; and the texts! at executive meetings, members compare how many they have received; there have been cosy office chats; and executive members made to feel a million dollars in importance.  And from the other side for the executive, the NZPF membership side, all they seemed to get from it was an avalanche of moans, groans, and hostility. So for the executive, capitulation, or at least bending, was understandable in a sense, but in being so, all the more unforgivable. The executive should have had the expectation of all that happening; in return, the membership would certainly have had the expectation of the executive having that expectation and being strong enough to resist it.


A situation occurred in a North Island city in early May this year. Read it as a metaphor for STA.

It was April and a large cluster of board of trustees and principals was determined to get information about the government’s IES policy having been considerably frustrated by the scantiness of it. First we invited Paul Goulter from NZEI to speak to us, and he was excellent, but we thought we had better get another perspective.

A number of the schools in the cluster are STA members and having heard nothing about IES from it, decided to contact the local office of STA and invite someone to come to a cluster meeting. Lorraine Kerr was offered and a meeting was set for 5 May.

There she was standing before them. The concerns expressed by the cluster participants were many: Where is the evidence? Is this the best way to spend money? What about money to meet special learning needs? What about more support teachers? Why weren’t schools asked what their needs were? Why the executive principal? How would the executive principal and the bureaucracy around him or her effect the independence of boards? Isn’t it enforced collaboration? How many days would the expert and lead teachers be away from their classes? Could a board of trustees say no to someone being away from their school? Could they say no to someone coming into their school? What about the effect on senior teachers in schools? Was this disruption really good for schools? What are the government’s further plans for clusters? Will they be used for stronger control from the centre? Will they lead to a uniformity of education? … and so on.

Lorraine Kerr tried to answer, using a lot of big words. What she said boiled down to saying she shared their concerns. Something she repeated like a mantra. She did say, though, that STA was refused a place on the taskforce and that its role on the working party was frustrating as it had been given little or no time to look at the information provided. She was very defensive throughout. You could see she was looking to escape. To effect this she agreed to draft a media release expressing STA and the cluster’s strong concerns at the lack of consultation and the direction things seemed to taking.

She left the meeting – some saw it more as ‘fled’.

And since then … nothing.


Occasionally, STA has sort of taken a stand, or has it – was that a stand or was it an illusion, what was that it said? Was that something substantial or a phantasm?  It’s over there in the shadows whispering – what is it saying? Can’t hear – speak up.  I think I’ll ask. What on earth does that mean? Did they promise to do something? Oh no – gone in a puff of smoke.

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23 Responses to The fault in our STAs

  1. Chris bayes says:

    Ok, what’s an STA?

  2. Allan Alach says:

    New Zealand School Trustees Association, abbreviated to NZSTA or, as in this case, STA

  3. joceje says:

    Following Tomorrow’s Schools the STA has tried to take over many of the functions of the old provincial Education Boards. It thus evolved as an organisation without a real function, until payrolls were divested to schools. (The actual plan of the Novapay was to enable this to occur but they stuffed it up). So if you imagine an educational equivalent of the Employers Federation, then you can see STA. Although they are often seen as aligned with the National Party, and highly managerialism, never-the-less, they draw on people who care deeply about kids and their own schools, hence the paralysis, of the members versus their executive.

    The teacher unions could think strategically and exploit this tension.

  4. Marlene Campbell says:

    Hi Buddy

    Oh… Lorraine… However did you retain this position given your betrayal of schools, parents, children over your pitiful NS support and lack of position!

    Great post kelvin

    xx M

    • Mac says:

      Totally agree with Marlene! Lorraine is like a cheer leader for National Standards, when the evidence was always that they would be a disaster. IES no different. Don’t even bother reading Lorraines communications any more.

  5. John Carrodus says:

    Personally STA were there when I needed them. The industrial advocates and Helpdesk staff were always particularly helpful. My understanding of governance is “nose in hands out.” as the board was there to help run the school together hand in hand with the Principal. However, sadly, in my experience, although some STA folk expounded the “nose in hands out” mode, they heavily promoted the Principal’s ultimate function ( not role ) as merely as an assistant to the board running the school. I believe this has had a detrimental impact on NZ primary schools.

    • Pat Newman says:

      Interesting. recently NZSTA asked for nominations to recognise Board members who had served continuously since Tomorrows Schools, 25 years. I am a Board Member. I have served since Day 1 of Tomorrows Schools, so I wrote and asked why the wording didn’t cover Principals(Remember under the Act we are full members of the Board) NZSTA refused to budge. Its just a reflection of their (NZSTA)perception of the role of the principal in relation to schools, and how they treat principals. I reckon its time that Boards attended the NZSTA AGM, and pulled the organisation into line, rather than allowing them to continue to act as an agent of the government. They are supposed to represent the interests and directions of their members.

    • Moira McKay says:

      If I remember correctly wasn’t the survey referred to carried out over the January school holidays or right at the start of the school year when BOTs hadn’t met yet?

  6. John Carrodus says:

    Thanks Paul. This raises serious concerns, and I must add – explains alot.

  7. Barrie Wickens says:

    NZSTA is a puppet of the National Party, like it or not. Most of STA’s funding comes from the Government. The membership subscriptions are in the mix.
    NZSTA should be accountable to its members first and foremost. It is not!
    Like the NZPF……. NZ Principals’ Federation it appears that the leader’s of each org has a mandate (sounds familiar) to run with the hounds……….

    For the first time in many years most of my Board are going to the NZSTA Conference.
    The AGM may we’ll be the highlight.
    To any organisation listen to the people they represent and lead from their voice.
    Barrie Wickens

  8. Gary says:

    In the early days of Tomorrow’s Schools, local STAs were set up in each ‘district’ by the local Boards of Trustees – as ‘mutual support groups’. Initially they were the ‘blind leading the blind’ until after a few rounds of BOT elections there remained a few trustees who had gathered some understanding of the role and were useful in supporting new trustees who had been ‘dropped in the deep end’. Initially these STA groups were funded by the member schools by way of annual subscriptions. But as the costs grew, many schools felt they were reaping little benefit from the increasing STA (and then NZSTA) subscription fees – and withdrew. The STA ‘movement’ was looking shaky. The time was ripe for the Government to step in. By providing the bulk of their operational funding they were then able to manipulate their role, their philosophy, and their usefulness as another ‘MOE policy support’ group.

  9. Evan says:

    How is NZSTA funded? Non-members could use the Help Desk and also the Industrial Relations guys – is that still the case? If so, the most logical funder is the ministry.

    Understand this and then you understand NZSTA culture.

  10. Judie Alison says:

    It is untrue to say that STA was refused a place “on the Taskforce” because there is no such thing for IES. There was a working group and a secretariat in the initial phase, and now there is a larger reference group and some workstreams. Lorraine Kerr was on the working group for STA, and is now on the reference group. Colin Davies or occasionally another STA staff member was at the secretariat at every meeting, and is part of the current workstreams. As a member of the Secretariat for some aspects of the work myself, I can say that Colin Davies was very helpful in securing good improvements to the original Cabinet model, and was certainly no lackey to the MOE people. So whoever reported she said that must have heard wrong, there’s no way she would have said that. Please get your facts straight, Kelvin. (Not that I disagree with much that you say here about STA as a body, but in your obsession to bag IES, you are using something that is simply not true.)

  11. Kelvin says:

    Hi Judie: good to know we agree on something. But re the taskforce reference (which was a term Lorraine used), the non-appointment of STA was something Lorraine conjured up as a way of deflecting questions about IES. Lorraine used it as a device to be able to say she was not in the loop so didn’t have the relevant information about IES. She did her best to shift the grievance to that matter and away from opposition at IES. I was never in any doubt that STA had been there all the way. Lorraine’s non-follow up was evidence of the hole she had dug herself into. Re my obsession with IES – I don’t think you really appreciate the storm on the way.

  12. John Carrodus says:

    Unfortunately Kelvin, your final comment above says it all. My thoughts are that Politicians and Principals share a common and extremely dangerous character trait. They do not recognise a threat until it too late! ( As an ex- principal I too was caught by the same in my earlier days.) My observation is that the weather cock turned several months ago. The storm is not about to break, it is upon now!

  13. Evan says:

    For how many years has Lorraine Kerr been the president of STA? As I recall with the way they elected these people it was hard to bring new people in.

  14. Kelvin says:

    Sorry John I was a bit ambiguous. Judie comes from a branch of education that supports IES and we have brought that backstory in. The storm I was referring to was one about to burst over IES.

  15. Kelvin says:

    From: Juliette Laird []
    Sent: Wednesday, 18 June 2014 10:16 a.m.
    To: Kelvin Smythe
    Subject: Re: The fault in our STAs

    Interesting – and also interesting, in the latest Gazette (print version) advertisement for courses for board members to find out about their obligations and responsibilities regarding student achievement – not an area that they used to be seen as responsible for.

    Yes – that one has been brewing.

    It is unbelievable – (see the steam?!) – although I have been on a BOT myself I really am opposed to the whole idea of them and see it as a way for government to devolve themselves of responsibility while still maintaining control.

    I would have thought this would put people off wanting to be on BOTs – bad enough that they might be held liable for a school’s debts they are now going to be responsible for the achievement levels of the students!!!

    Perhaps this is the key to undoing the system – make the role so unappealing no-one will go on Boards.
    More of a way for public education to be destroyed.
    Do you want me to put up our exchange?

    Sure – the more people think about this the better.

    I agree with your statement that it is an attack on public education.

    However, apart from teachers and some thinking members of the public, there seems to be an acceptance of government policies and strategies that makes people deaf to concerns about public education.

    Perhaps we have to use lateral thinking to sabotage the neoliberal ‘global juggernaut of curriculum reform’ as Doug Broughton called it in 1995, since jumping up and down in the middle of the road won’t achieve anything.

    • Rachael McNaught says:

      Oh far out. I have to say, I love National Standards *ducks for cover* but this particular conversation has just nailed the one happening in my own head since IES was announced.

      Forget PPTA and NZEI. Like others, I thought that IES might prove the demise of the BoT and considering the responsibility – sorry – Accountability, boards have and the (a-hem) lack of monetary incentive, career possibilities and the struggle to gain people with appropriate skill-sets for running such an organisation, I figured that demise would not be a bad thing.

      However it bugged me that if that were the case, why would STA be given a wheelbarrow load of cash to train Boards and then go further by provide training in areas that are so detailed we should be able to walk away with a degree in Governance.

      After making myself more familiar with the whole IES thing I’ve come to realise that as much as we are exulted by STA propaganda as accountable/responsible/Highly skilled/accountable/policy makers/professional/employers/HR experts/health and Safety experts/legal executives/relationship builders/student progress initiators/did I say accountable already?/leaders of the next generation of schools at no time are we actually valued.

      Other state service sectors are monetised for their degree of accountability. Principals, executive administrators, expert teachers et al are monetised for their degree of responsibility.

      But even under IES it’s the muggins board members who will retain accountability, be expected to step-up over and over again while everyone around them is laughing all the way to the bank. A fact that is recognised in the Taskforce on Regulations Affecting School Performance (and every other professional out there).
      “Board member fees are low relative to the responsibility”

      Yet nowhere in any recommendations about this or the IES is there a suggestion that treating board members as valued members of the education system (or even treating them seriously) would help to improve the quality of the education sector. What we do see is more recommendations to make Boards responsibilities more clear and ‘upskill board members’ so they can undertake tasks and make informed decisions.

      The majority of board members seem to take this responsiblility/accountability either with a ‘whatever’ approach (which draws criticism from STA), or are so stunned by the glitter surrounding the training that they fail to realise the dead end tunnel they are in until they have hit the wall.

      If STA is supposed to be the Board advocate (as they advertise), then we’re better off having NZEI speak on our behalf.

      But then, as Juliette says, maybe that’s the point, to make it an unappealing position so it dies a seemingly natural death and $15m would be a small price to pay.


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