PPTA executive and dirty education

In 1990, as most regular readers of this site know, I left the formal education system to play my part in fighting the education implications of Tomorrow’s School’s neoliberal, managerialist philosophy and, in particular, the organisational representation of that philosophy, the education review office. I knew that the education review office would quickly change from reviewing the official curriculum in schools to imposing a managerialist curriculum; from being a watchdog in the interests of children and parents to being an attack dog in the interests of centralised control.

Labour in the Clark era allowed no way through on this but, after the sturdy and cogently argued opposition by primary schools to national standards in the first three years of a National government, the platform was set for opposition parties to come up with progressive manifestos expressing an open and enlightened view of education. The National government was, of course, heading in a very different direction – Anne Tolley, most significantly, began proceedings against principals through the State Services Commission to take away the right of those in education to argue against government policy.  But she suddenly and ominously withdrew from those proceedings – National clearly had other plans for how it might impose its will on schools. Education was set to go in one of two very different directions: freedom for schools to teach a broad-based curriculum in a variety of ways; or schools to be directed to a narrow curriculum in an imposed way.

The IES proposals combined with EDUCANZ are the means for this latter.

The different ideologies underlying those two directions are also evident in the other great education issue – how to overcome the education disadvantage of children who come from economically impoverished environments. The Labour-Green way is to put more money in the pockets of the poor and in education to increase the number of teachers, support staff, also to reintroduce a professionally independent advisory service; the National way was to set up schools into administrative units to be supervised by the education review office, and to select teachers within schools to visit other schools, those teachers to be judged on performance by NCEA or national standards results – this to be supplemented by contracted advisory and other services.

The PPTA executive has defended its position of supporting the IES on two main grounds: its members needed a vocational path; and PPTA’s responsibility is to its members. This will be discussed further on, but first there are a number of matters that need to be made clear.

Tomorrow’s Schools was never about secondary schools –  indeed, the main educationists behind  Tomorrow’s Schools and the main people who administered it were and are secondary people – the Tomorrow’s Schools model when you look at it, is the structure of a secondary school. The only Tomorrow’s School issue that secondary teachers had to face, admittedly a serious one, was bulk funding.  Secondary teachers, with some justification, are still bitter about the way NZEI and NZPF failed to demonstrate solidarity with them over that – a bitterness that remains. The primary teacher organisations were, indeed, divided and weak over the issue, but secondary need to appreciate that the differences between primary and secondary mean primary schools can and will never strike. Those differences, and secondary’s unwillingness to recognise them, are very much at play in the matter of PPTA and dirty education.

The principal in primary schools is often deeply involved in curriculum matters and develops a sympathetic understanding of the needs and perspective of teachers as a result; the hierarchy is a flat one with a strongly shared curriculum purpose. Any issues that arise usually find principals and teachers on the same side. In primary schools the principal is part of the main primary union – NZEI. As well, primary schools are much smaller and don’t have the protection of the hierarchies, departmental structures, and staff numbers, characteristic of secondary schools. Primary schools only function well when the whole school is a co-operative entity – something like an aura of love and acceptance prevailing. Secondary schools are the Balkans of education in comparison. Co-operation, despite the best efforts of Tomorrow’s Schools to make primary schools more managerialist, still remains the default position for primary schools.

Then there is the crucial matter of the curriculum. In secondary, there are the hierarchies and departmental structures (as mentioned), the extreme focus on exams, the narrow subject focus, and the vocational, utilitarian nature of the subjects. There is also the competition within schools as well as amongst them. Secondary schools are larger (as mentioned), there are fewer of them, and they are headed by a person who is primarily a manager and relatively distant from the teachers. In other words, by structure and function they already possess distinctive neoliberal and managerialist characteristics – as well as complex patterns of defence.

In primary schools, the curriculum both under Tomorrow’s Schools and its more radical present-day expression, is a central issue in a way that it is not for secondary. The government through national standards and review office strictures has moved to hijack the official curriculum to replace it with a government-devised curriculum based on neoliberal and managerialist values. The IES for primary schools is another government policy, perhaps a decisive one though, in the battle to replace the primary school holistic philosophy with a measurement-based and control one.  The government has, indeed, made some ground in making the primary curriculum mirror the secondary one: there is an increased focus on testing and a more divided and utilitarian curriculum. As well, there is the competition within schools and amongst them with test results. There is also provided for both secondary and primary schools unofficial regulatory room to inflate results to serve government propaganda.

Both secondary and primary are failing to meet anywhere near sufficiently the needs of the whole child. That this should happen at secondary is perhaps understandable and excusable, but that it should happen at primary with young children is an education tragedy – a tragedy set to deepen not only for primary and secondary but for early childhood too as it is drawn into the IES net.

National standards were promoted by the government as the way to help children detrimentally affected in their learning by poverty – that has fallen by the wayside; now it has moved to the ideology of the super teacher being the answer – that too will fall by the wayside. They are just ways of avoiding spending real money on schools to help children with real needs. National standards were ostensibly introduced to help children educationally affected by poverty, but ideologically being applied to all children, to the significant detriment of their learning challenge and progress. And now with the IES we have the crucial neoliberal, managerialist step introducing the cash nexus for teaching motivation. All evidence of the structural indoctrination occurring in our managerialist and neoliberal education system.

The PPTA executive is well aware that the review office has already run two trials bringing together schools from early childhood to secondary to co-ordinate their programmes. It also knows that any school considered not producing national standards results up to some presupposed level will be compelled to have ‘expert’ teachers, advised by contracted providers, in attendance at that school. And yet it persists in its wilfully perverse and shuttered course. The IES is about schools being organised into bureaucratic units for authoritarian control, standardisation of practice from early childhood to secondary, the imposition of the severest of managerialist curriculums, and the structural indoctrination of neoliberal values. Connivance or flirtation with this is dirty education.

For primary, the battle over the IES is for its soul.

The PPTA executive’s behaviour in supporting National’s IES policy is morally, ethically, and professionally disgraceful, as its claim that its behaviour is politically neutral and democratic. The policy of hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil is perfectly designed to self-servingly construct an environment for the executive to do what it wants to do and damn the consequences for anyone else. It is dirty education.

When I visited the PPTA executive’s website for its election manifesto a few months ago – there were three of four items, but I remember only the first two: the first was about making New Zealand a more equal society; the second encompassed the characteristics of the IES. I can’t recall the executive doing anything noticeable about the first, that of making New Zealand a more equal society, but it has acted favourably and sinuously on the second, that of the characteristics of the IES.

NZEI has declared that the IES is the decisive step in setting up schools into bureaucratic units for the ultimate in centralised control. NZEI has also made clear that the IES would fall most heavily on primary schools and has asked the PPTA executive to think more widely to education as a whole, indeed to the democratic fabric of our society.

The PPTA has not heeded that call whether from not accepting its validity or on the basis of its mantra that it is bound to put the interests of its members first. I call that dirty education.

The PPTA executive has made much of the energy it put into protesting the absence of a true teacher voice from EDUCANZ – but some have viewed cynically PPTA actions in this regard. In my view, the PPTA has displayed remarkable constructed naivety in not seeing IES and EDUCANZ as part of the same neoliberal and managerialist philosophy. I call that dirty education.

Yes – secondary schools and teachers are not the main targets of that philosophy, and yes – they are cossetted by principals, hierarchies, and departmental structures, also by their curriculum not being under attack as is the holistic one in primary – but, at a self-concern level, their day will come.

Then there is the PPTA’s claim to be acting in a politically democratically and in a neutral way.

For the PPTA to regard the IES proposals as separate from the educational environment and history of the National government is extraordinary. For the PPTA to justify its support for the IES proposals on the narrow ground of having to put its membership first over everything else is extraordinary. For the PPTA to regard the IES proposals as government policy and not National Party policy to be responded to as part of the election is extraordinary. For the PPTA executive not to put the IES proposals to its membership before the election is extraordinary. I call that dirty education.

For the PPTA executive not to realise that its signing of support for the IES proposals (without being put to the membership) has provided a significant boost to National’s election prospects and the direction of its education policies if returned. I call that dirty education.

And might I say a tragedy for any hopes of reducing inequality and alleviating its education ill effects on children – this, the number one on the PPTA’s election manifesto. Oh the hypocrisy of it. I call that dirty education.

An education organisation declaring a decision it has made as being apart from politics when it is as politically involved a decision as a decision can be. I call that dirty education.

If the PPTA had rejected the IES proposals, those proposals would have been dead in the water. Now we have the prospect, if National is returned, and it has a free hand in education, of NZEI being legislated to be forced into clusters itself a concept ostensibly for co-operation. And PPTA couldn’t rouse itself to put the IES proposals, at whatever stage they were at, to its membership before the election. I call that dirty education.

For primary, the opposition to the IES is a not about just another battle over another organisational change devised and promoted from the bureaucracy, it is a battle for its soul; if it loses this battle, it will not be primary as those in primary recognise it and believe it to be, it will be something very different, something alien to primary’s past, something ripped from its philosophical roots, something to be the instrument of those with a very different philosophy and way of viewing the world – let the PPTA executive and dirty education be judged by that desertion.

I call on the PPTA membership to put pressure on the PPTA executive to withdraw its signature from the IES agreement and make clear it won’t be party to any move to make participation in the IES compulsory.

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8 Responses to PPTA executive and dirty education

  1. Helen Moran says:

    I find this a very insightful explanation of why the secondary sector is not fussed about the effects of IES. It had been a bit of mystery for me. It’s funny how the tides have turned. I was deeply ashamed of NZEI’s performance, or lack of it, when they used to piggy-back on PPTA’s pay negotiations, and I can understand the ill-feeling that this created. I was disappointed in NZEI’s wishy-washy stance on national standards when the only concern that it voiced was that they hadn’t been trialled. At the meetings I attended, members sent a clear message that we didn’t want a bar of them, but this was unheeded, and sure enough, we got them.
    Now I am proud to say that NZEI are now getting it right, and PPTA have come through as the spineless turncoats who are selling themselves and education out to the lure of money and power. What a pity we can’t find common ground in our quest for an education system that best serves the needs of our kids.
    The next move I ask from NZEI and its members is for solidarity and a commitment to stand by the decision of the majority. (It astounds me that 7% of our members are apparently happy with IES as it stands, and it concerns me that 26% seem to think there was some hope of negotiating an acceptable form of IES.) I hope now, that NZEI will take a stronger stance than just asking us to ‘stand united’, tell our BOTs how we feel, and attend ‘Stand up for a Better Plan’ events.
    NZEI needs to instruct its members not to apply for any positions that may arise from IES, and schools to refuse to co-operate with any such people or engage with any IES initiatives. The catch is, we all have to do it. There is a word for members who do not support the actions of their union, and it should have been applied to schools who sold the rest of us out on national standards. If we can take such a stance then surely IES will be stopped dead in its tracks – or secondary teachers can look pretty silly just playing amongst themselves.

  2. Austen Pageau says:

    It’s a bit extreme to compare the PPTA Executive’s decision to negotiate with the Government on IES with the dirty politics scandal. There are obviously philosophical differences between the sector unions but there’s no evidence of dirty deals or PPTA deciding to sell out primary or actively help National win the election.

    And surely we can’t write off every policy proposed by a particular government. We have to judge them each on their merits. Even a broken clock is right twice a day and even National can come up with a passable education policy once in a great while. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean getting into bed with the Nats or giving up the fight against their many bad policies.

    As for not putting it to members before even entering negotiations, that’s a practical matter. We only get 2 PUMs a year and one was already used for the EDUCANZ issue. There was an update around IES at it though and at least at mine there was a good half hour of question and answer around it. Then after the working group report came out PPTA sent staff to all the regional meetings to deliver reports on it and take feedback before anyone decided to enter negotiations. The Executive was very aware that National wanted this as an election policy and we had a lot more leverage to get parts changed if we bargained now rather than against a freshly re-elected, confident government. We also needed to save the final round of PUMs for approval of the final package.

    The final approval can’t possibly happen until next term because the deal described is just an interim agreement with more details to be finalised. Even if they wrap that up right away the logistics of setting up a PUM before the election would be very daunting.

  3. Kelvin says:

    To hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil is a political decision – one that worked in favour of a political party. EDUCANZ and the IES are all part of the same philosophy – but hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil is just the thing to get past that. It was also a political decision for the PPTA to think (as they did) – well, it’s not much good as a policy, but National will get back in and if we don’t accept the IES, the money will go elsewhere hence hear no … and so on. That was a political decision and for education a dirty one. Re PUMS: explaining is losing Austen keep up with your mate.

  4. Austen Pageau says:

    Wow Kelvin, are you calling Cameron Slater my mate? You know he once did a post attacking me by name an even placed a link to my FB page in it. I’m hardly his biggest fan.

    Now who told you the PPTA Exec didn’t think it was good policy? I’ve never said any such thing. The initial Cabinet model wasn’t workable but what came out of the working group is a policy that PPTA has been asking for, for years. Having more collaboration between schools, better career pathways which don’t involve going into administration to get better pay and having primary and secondary working together towards a common goal all seem like good ideas to me. There’s nothing dirty in negotiating for a policy we think has the potential to work very well if implemented properly. I don’t see how that’s a betrayal of anyone. If our Executive actually thought IES was a part of a grand neo-liberal conspiracy there would be no thought of taking part in it. But there is no evidence of any such conspiracy involving IES. If explaining is losing then you’re the one in trouble here. You’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops and connect a lot of pretty distant dots to tie it all together. It involves making many assumptions about the people involved because there is no actual proof.

    Also PPTA is a non-aligned organisation. It owes no more allegiance to Labour than National and in the election time limits itself to promoting good education policy no matter which party proposes it. That is why it put out a guide to where all the parties stood on a range of education issues in the last magazine edition, to let people decide for themselves. I was under the impression that NZEI was similarly non-aligned. I know they aren’t affiliated to Labour in any case.

    • Helen Moran says:

      What post-primary understandably don’t understand is the curse of national standards for primary teachers. The government’s refusal to discount national standards creeping into IES suggests that indeed they will. ‘Career pathways’ based on what is effectively performance pay is to us, dirty, but again, post-primary haven’t suffered the damage done to us by national standards. Perhaps there should have been more discussion between our organisations away from the negotiating table to develop empathy and a shared understanding of each other’s positions.
      Post-primary probably have little understanding of the high degree of collaboration that already exists in the primary sector. This largely still exists, despite the government’s best efforts to kill it so they can replaced it with a top-down, controlling model that all the research suggests doesn’t work. I accept that post-primary already have some degree of collaboration, and big ups if they want to promote it further, but they should realise that the IES model is not going to achieve that. We already have a close, collaborative relationship with our neighbouring college which occurs naturally because we all see the value in it and care about our kids. It doesn’t need a Ministry-enforced policy to achieve this.

  5. Kelvin says:

    Dear Austen: I am privy to comments from PPTA at all levels and the lacklustre and cynical reasons for supporting the IES is a constant theme.

    Good on you for seeing the IES as just that. As long as you can make it work without including primary, and that primary isn’t forced to come into the scheme by legislative force, proceed to have a party.

    PPTA has been tricky with its members – I am well aware of the rationalisations – but not to give members a chance to choose before the election seems wrong to me. Members are telling me the PUM on it was a farce (please feel free to get on your high horse about that).

    No – teacher organisations should not align themselves with political parties; I wasn’t suggesting that, I was suggesting they should indicate their support for manifestos on an election by election basis. You have signed with National for this one, on a key policy (oh yes you have), to that party’s electoral advantage – without your members having a say. Before you did so, I hope you had a look wider than your own interests and to education as a whole, to a fairer society, and so.

    My posting was making a case not an explanation. One of my hopes was that at last secondary might have a better understanding of the ways primary isn’t secondary (and there was little hint of us being tired of secondary people coming in over the top of us).

  6. Kevin says:

    Austen, you, like Parata, state that IES provides better career pathways. Surely a career pathway should have some permanency to it. There is nothing in IES that guarantees permanency.

    The ministry’s mouth-piece says that communities of schools can determine their own focus yet Parata, when questioned as to where the funding for the PLD will come from, is on record as saying that COS will access PLD from the MOE. The MOE provision for PLD options for 2015 is very narrow and clearly linked to National Standards.

    The ministry’s mouth-piece is also strolling around the country saying he’s got 20 community of schools ready to go. Interesting how MOE personnel (including one who is heavily involved in one of the working groups developing IES) are approaching all and sundry to form a COS as part of a pilot. The two messages aren’t aligned.

    As Kelvin says, there appears to be a lack of support from secondary principals to get involved in IES which begs the question, how strong is the support from your membership?

  7. katyann14 says:

    I suspect, like every other initiative there will be no better pathways for NZ teachers through IES.
    However, your ignorance of secondary schools is telling. The principals and teachers are in my experience, rarely on the same side, and the feeling of secondary teachers, after pay parity and NZEI settling the last two negotiations and leaving us to fight for better conditions is not positive. Remember, secondary teachers have been assessing and marking children against a form of national standards for over ten years now, and thanks to pay parity have done it for free.
    I am not a fan of charter schools, or IES, or either the PPTA or NZEI but the way forward in managing these issues is for the PPTA and NZEI to work together without throwing each other under the metaphorical bus.

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