In 2011, Anne Tolley moved to introduce legislation to take away the right of principals to speak out on education matters, but suddenly withdrew her action. Obviously, another plan had been hatched.
Many of us watched Slater’s website. A series of damaging and grossly unfair things were featured but nothing that pointed directly to muzzling principals.
But then it came – in the form of a nasty jibe by Slater at one of the country’s most respected principals – Malcolm Dixon, principal of Frimley School, Hastings.
The obvious government move was not far behind.
The government announced it had set itself to take over the Teachers Council – the features being teachers losing their representation and right to speak publically on education matters. The vehicle for this anti-democratic affront was EDUCANZ.
And what was the nature of Slater’s signal.
The information he used was described as coming ‘via the tipline’. This is a euphemism cum in-joke for Slater as a way of saying the information came from a government source, in this case, of course, the minister’s office.
This is education in the age of Key sleaze and has become a well-established pattern over the last six years.
Slater in his 13 June, 2013 posting:
via the tipline
Have a gander at this school newsletter from Malcolm Dixon at Frimley Primary School in Hastings where he gives three reasons why he hates ‘Charters Schools’ and his opposition to National Standards.
[Malcolm Dixon said he opposed Charter schools because they are allowed to employ unqualified teachers, they do not need to comply with the Official Information Act or the Ombudsmen Act, and they can also decide who they can enrol.]
Apparently the only people who can have ideas are those approved by him and his own political viewpoint on life.
We should definitely look to the Australian lead of stopping the use of children and political weapons by principals such as Malcolm Dixon.
[This, of course, is why the minister’s office sleazed to Slater.]
He claims at the very start of the letter that he is wanting to keep everyone fully informed, then proceeds to deliver a very lop-sided and generally wrong explanation of why he thinks National Standards and Charter Schools are wrong.
No wonder the kids are doing so poorly at school.
Now judge for yourself the validity of Slater’s criticism of the information provided to parents by Malcolm Dixon about national standards:
On the opposite page I have copied our National Standards data that we forwarded through to the Ministry of Education in February. As a Decile Three school we were commended on our results. This data is only valid for Frimley School because alongside each number we can put a name, identify target groups that need additional support, and plan our programmes accordingly.
We paid to have our overall teacher judgements in writing moderated alongside five other local schools. All schools are in the same boat as any guidance on interpreting the data has been minimal.
We have included all children in our data who had been at school for twelve months when the data was collated. Some schools have not included children with special needs or who have English as a Second Language or transient pupils who had only been at a school for a limited period of time.
While I am not opposed to having National Standards, in their current form they lack a lot of credibility when they are produced en masse to allow parents to make comparisons between schools as there are far too many variables and inaccuracies.
So there you have it: Malcolm Dixon – clearly a most able and kindly principal – quietly and humbly communicating with his parents.
And consider the nature of Slater’s attack, who instigated it (the office of a minister of the Crown for goodness sake), and the implications. Especially, the vicious last sentence that Slater just pulled out of the air, hoping, no doubt, it would be picked by someone in the community sufficiently bitter to cause trouble.
This kind of sleaze attack works in various ways.
There are various checks and balances at this level. The principal is a member of the board of trustees and is answerable to it. If the board of trustees objects in part or to the whole of what a principal has said, that can be worked through at the board of trustee level. An action or communication disliked by a parent can be worked through using the same process.
You can imagine how threatened a principal might feel, having communicated in his or her usual fashion, to find his or her communication, presented in such a sleazy, odious way, on a website context of hatred, unreason, and venom. And there is no comeback for a principal. Slater is in the game of bullying people he dislikes, that is, anyone functioning on the basis of idealism. In behind that is another game, one being played by the minister’s office, a game Slater is well aware of and is playing up to: on any staff, in any community there are always people, no matter how good the principal, with grievances. These people know the principal is now at a disadvantage – anything that that person communicates will be used by Slater as truth to the matter, and from there picked up by the ministry for action if it suits its purposes. That principal could now be on the skids. And if one or two others join the person with the grievance, the principal is very likely finished.
This has happened and is happening.
The possibility causes a blanket of fear to fall over the roles of principals.
The drive to muzzle principals and teachers through EDUCANZ by likening their role to state servants is simply another expression of the neoliberal mantra of the need to exclude the voice of principals and teachers to avoid provider capture. The question has to be asked: Is muzzling principals and teachers with all the knowledge they have, in the interests of children? In a sense, the principal is CEO of a crown agency who is answerable to the board of trustees – that surely is sufficient to be check and balance in the complex matter of the freedom of speech of principals. Shouldn’t society, given the challenges ahead and being a democracy, be fostering freedom of speech instead of hindering it?
It needs to be remembered, though, that the present minister, in breach of rights, got in touch with particular boards of trustees about teachers who wrote, as members of the public, letters critical of the ministry. Tolley and Hekia Parata have been ministers divided in antipathy, but united in wanting to restrict principals’ freedom of speech through foul means and unfair legislation.
.As in any policy discussion with the government, the overwhelming power lies with the government and, given the power drive of the National government, especially the present one. The government can call on the prime minister; an array of ministers; immediate access to a range of media most of them either naïve or uncritical; the various bureaucracies. And through the ministry, the government has contract control of many in universities, STA, education agencies like NZCER, and private companies. This government has also been very energetic in building up patsy advisory groups and cross-sector forums; and has been just as energetic on the other side, diminishing the role of teacher organisations.
A sad feature of the present government is its use of gross propaganda, corrupt numbers, slurs, scapegoating, and bullying – and, of course, the regular use of Slater. The education bureaucracies have been near criminal. The ministry through the commissioner system has used vile tactics – punishing principals for no sound reason other than speaking out, and in the course of that, with no compunction, the children. The education review office has also played its part. There have been instances when it has gone into schools at the invitation of the ministry to reinforce some supposed wrongdoing, found nothing, but been vapid in response. It has also done its own bullying in its own deviously inimitable manner.
Malcolm Dixon is a quiet hero – and there are many like him – who has given decades of dedicated and loving service to children and the community. What must he be thinking as he surveys the present situation? A prime minister calling the NZEI rejection of the IES ‘a political stunt’, the NZEI ‘a branch of the Labour Party’ – and threatening to legislate to force schools to take part in what was presented as a voluntary scheme. These are perilous times. As well, there is EDUCANZ and various initiatives to fund schools on national standards results, the list could go on. And at the centre of all this, despite the publication of Dirty Politics, will be Slater. This is the time for us all to pull together, to be unified on shared values, and display quiet strength in the spirit of Malcolm Dixon, Frimley School, Hastings.