Phil Harding rains on the donation parade

I promised that yesterday’s posting would be the last for the term. Perhaps, I should have been a politician and given myself an out and qualified what I said with ‘unless there were unforeseen circumstances’.

Phil Harding, New Zealand Principal Federation president, rained on the Labour Party $100 donation per student parade announced yesterday. But then, given I have, in a series of postings, interpreted Phil Harding’s behaviour as confusing, delaying, and making farcical the interim to the decisive stage of the IES, perhaps his behaviour wasn’t entirely unexpected.

In giving quibbling support to the donation policy, Harding, on TV1’s Breakfast Programme, delivered a heartless performance.

I had decided, in the light of my ‘last posting for the term’ promise, not to respond, but at 3 a.m. it became too much for me. I concluded the education welfare of so many children and the reduction in education costs for so many hard-up parents, merited getting up and putting a posting up, no matter how rough the presentation.

I texted Allan to check he wasn’t clambering around some Norman cathedral in St Alban’s or wherever, and here I am.

A principal came on – it must have been around 6.45 a.m. – was it Lynda Stuart, principal of May Road? (The grandchildren had trooped in and I was getting them breakfast.) She gave a cogent account of the help the donation policy would provide the children and teachers at her school, also the financial relief to the parents. Lynda (if it was her), said it would make a real difference and do something to address the growing inequality in the school system.  She said, at her school, only a third of parents donate; adding that while schools in high decile areas can make over $100,000 at a fair, her school had to work its butt off for four thousand dollars.

Then the Breakfast host said something along the lines of: ‘But we now go to Wellington to someone with a different view.’ (If Phil Harding wants to dispute my memory, the columns of networkonnet are open to him.)

Phil Harding was introduced.

The fulcrum for his argument was to be that schools will respond to the announcement on the basis of ‘self-interest’.

Really? Is that in the values of his Paparoa Street School? Doesn’t, for instance, ‘equity’, or something like it, make an appearance? Or is Phil Harding stretching that word to perversion and applying it to a perceived inequity in the donation scheme for high decile schools?

He said he was a principal of a decile 10 school and could speak for such schools.

Surely it wasn’t Phil Harding’s place to refer to self-interest in respect to certain schools and then proceed to base the direction of his critique as president of NZPF on that concept.

Let’s replace ‘equity’ with ‘fairness’, a much less abstract sounding word for the same concept. Isn’t fairness the concept Phil Harding should have used as the basis for his comments – not self-interest?

Phil Harding went on to say that the donation policy was inequitable to high decile schools and something needed to be worked out for them. Yes, there will be some schools rather hard done-by – inequities within the move to greater equity – but such is the variety of school circumstances, that was inevitable. The greater good should be accepted with good grace. Phil Harding hasn’t.

Well, of course, some principals of high decile schools would have felt a bit hard done by, a very human response, but most, after a little gulp, would have risen about that base emotion  and accepted the merit of a policy  putting the bulk of the financial provision into lower decile schools.

The role of a president of a teacher organisation is to respond to issues in an enlightened way, guided by the ideals and polices of the organisation.

Phil Harding having quibbled and been downbeat, of course, knew he must rebalance, and he did, but the damage was done – and, I suggest, he knew it.

Then he returned to his main line of argument, saying low decile schools received much more in their operational funding and here they were being favoured again.

Phil Harding knows quite well that a 2012 NZCER survey found that the total average funding for each decile-10 student was $1100 more a year than for a decile 1 student. He also knows that 89% of principals believed funding was inadequate. Yes, there will be some schools rather hard done-by – inequities within the move to greater equity – but such is the variety of school circumstances, that was inevitable. The greater good should be accepted with good grace. Phil Harding hasn’t.

So let me make a contrast: A few months ago Phil Harding was euphoric in response to the $65 million a year for the IES policy which mainly gave money to a few teachers and setting up another bureaucratic layer – doing nothing for inequity; and here is an offer of $50 million a year going directly to children to reduce inequity in the school system, and to parents to reduce inequity in society.

There is something awful going on here.

And we all need to remember, David Cunliffe has made health and education his main policies, so there is more to come.

I would hope that Labour frees up bureaucratic controls on schools, to allow them to be more creative and imaginative in the curriculum – that is something all schools would benefit from but particularly high decile schools which should be able to take off like pedagogic rockets.

Other than IES, which most schools are utterly opposed to, what else is National offering except some more managerialism like charter schools, increased private school funding, iwi schools, appraisals, and performance funding?

Why didn’t Phil Harding criticise Hekia Parata when she said donations were spent on extras and if schools couldn’t afford them, not to offer them? Or the recent reductions in speech therapist services and behaviour support services?

I am not going to end by drawing any spectacular conclusions or suggest any courses of action that might follow. You are good people; you are professionals – and you care for your children and for fairness. I’m going to leave it to you.

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9 Responses to Phil Harding rains on the donation parade

  1. Ian says:

    About time you came out of the closet Phil and put your National party Rosette on.

  2. philw says:

    Labour & national and Green parties have broken NZ time for People’s Mandate Party

  3. Hi Kelvin. You again make pertinent observations. It is troubling that a direct and simple funding improvement wouldn’t be supported. In stead we have some lending support to a system which will increase bureaucracy and not make a jot of difference to the students. IES will certainly make no meaningful difference to student achievement.
    I have come to think of IES as one giant mouse trap into which we venture at our peril. Once we go in it will snap shut as we are punished for not raising student achievement, using the IES tool which is highly unlikely to ever produce appreciable rises in student achievement. Wrong tool applied to the wrong goal at the wrong point in the system.
    If we want to improve student achievement we need to solve the problems of inequality/impoverished lives/meaningful employment for families. A government that worked towards developing employment opportunities in the regions would make a good start.

  4. A Mackintosh says:

    Phil, you should be ashamed! You are meant to represent ALL principals not just those of higher decile schools. I lead a U5 decile 2 school and last year we raised $2,000 through family donations. We very rarely hold fundraising ventures as our community simply can’t afford it. Our last effort, and it was HUGE effort on behalf of staff and students, raised $1600…we were delighted! We use every cent of our Ops funding on our students, could do with triple the funding, and certainly don’t have any additional loot stashed away (I wish!). $359 million at the grass roots in schools, instead of squandered on IES, would see a much more equitable system for all children.

  5. Kelvin says:

    A correction: the annual cost of the IES is $90 million a year. My argument still stands – in comparison the donation is a substantial investment in equity and children.

  6. Bruce Hammonds says:

    Pleased you were troubled enough to write your posting. I listened to Phil Harding’s self interested response with despair. Inequality in our society is the elephant in the room which Hekia and Key refuse to see. Instead their answer is to both blame teachers and see them as the solution – they prefer to give acceptable ( to them) principals/teachers superman suits and send them out to sort out recalcitrant schools who aren’t toeing the party line.

  7. Kelvin says:

    And there was a vicious, complex, confused, and ideological Herald editorial on it this morning. That’s the company Phil keeps. Pleased to have your confirmation Bruce about what I heard. You can confirm I’m sure that I didn’t over-write it.

  8. Steve Horne says:

    Phil Harding represents his own ideology. He needs to show leadership on this issue. That’s what Principals are paid to do. Above all, he needs to advocate for all children.

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