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.