PPTA actions in the IES debacle have been cynical on two grounds: first, because PPTA members were denied the opportunity to vote for or against the IES as a concept; were given only the opportunity to vote on the final items as against members’ judgement of the initial ones. The PPTA executive justified its approach and belittled the NZEI one, but the NZEI, by voting on the concept, got it right, a concept is perpetual, items are transient. In the current philosophical context, any change in items from now on (and there will be many) will always work to the advantage of the real purpose of the concept, furthering bureaucratic control of schools. Surely the PPTA knows, for instance, that planning for bulk funding based on clusters, and starting from the senior levels (to allow senior level students to choose between school and polytechs) is well advanced. And the second cynical ground for PPTA actions was because a regular refrain from exec members at the beginning, and members all the way through, was that the idea won’t do anything much for students but we might as well take the money on offer.
My information about the number of primary schools who have tentatively signed for the cluster scheme confirms the number of 140 suggested by Phil Harding. I was pleased to find out, though, that the number has fallen recently as a result of some schools having a rethink.
As well, the ministry is finding it difficult to construct a system that works for underlying government purposes and, at least in the short term, keeps the PPTA reasonably happy and on the leash.
The main declared educational purpose of the cluster system, as restated by Parata in a recent national radio interview, is to send teachers to schools that show up as having low national standards results. What is being proposed for all clusters is a dashboard indicator into which cluster results will be fed to pick up what will be called struggling schools and to which secondary teachers and primary teachers will be directed. At the moment, it is something of a grey area as to whether so-called struggling schools have to accept such interventions but, eventually, the, ministry will make it compulsory for schools declared struggling to do so.
A difficulty is that schools expressing interest in the cluster system haven’t divided into decile groupings in a way that will allow this hand-me-down structure to occur sensibly. The complexities and practicalities of making the scheme work has the ministry in a pickle.
The other main declared educational purpose is to reduce competition amongst schools, but that is a secondary school phenomenon not a primary school one. Often there is only one secondary school in a cluster, so how will that work to reduce competition?
The ministry is also struggling to reconcile the roles of existing senior teachers and heads of departments who have been selected for those roles on the basis of the ability to lead and influence with the second tier cluster people who could end up with more money but weren’t.
For those who were able to find the time, a reading of ‘Parata’s speech’ https://networkonnet.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/paratas-speech-mythmaking-and-distorting-to-say-the-least/
will surely have reinforced the idea that the cluster system will suit the government’s education purposes in two main ways: to increase control over schools as the means to further its policies of downgrading public education; and to appear to be doing something to arrest the growing perception that public school education is in decline – but in a way that reduces funding for public schools.
School funding in real terms has been declining for five years and in government forecasts to decline 7% between 2013-2018. When treasury started working on the cluster system as a result of a presentation to it by John Hattie, to pay for it, part of the plan was to reduce the number of teachers. When that was stymied by public and teacher protest, attention was switched to reducing support services in schools – justifying that reduction by blaming poor quality teaching for the need for so many interventions (see ‘Parata’s speech’). This will be done stealthily on a district to district level.
The other policy decision already made is to virtually freeze teachers’ salaries. All these and other cutbacks will be protected from strong school outrage by clauses in the EDUCANZ legislation that will forbid teachers and principals from criticising government policy and other clauses making any industrial action close to impossible. As well, schools in clusters will be expected to talk only through the cluster principal.
As you will probably know, Hekia Parata in the national radio interview asked: ‘Why do schools need their own library’. She also questioned the need for schools to have their own gym and assembly hall. The cluster system, she said, would force schools to share facilities. We all know that sharing these facilities is an unworkable idea, but that isn’t really the purpose of Parata’s question. What the government is really announcing is a reduction in the funding available for new facilities and remodelling old ones.
The restructuring of the decile system is also intended to save money. Overall, there will be less funding for everything. A principal spoke to an undersecretary the other day to confirm the usual incentive for principals to move to the difficult-to-staff district. After a long and Monte Pythonesque exchange it was brought to a conclusion with: ‘What you ask has nothing to do with teacher quality.’
An absolute principle of Western education systems from the 1970s is that irrespective of declared purposes, the main aim of those who control education systems is to gain more control which means that any education idea, irrespective of its merits, is bound to fail. The irony is those who control education systems gain more control as a result of their education ideas failing. That in the long run will be the fate of the cluster system – and the reward of those in control.
Much better we hold out, standing witness to important values as we did with national standards. The cluster system is not, as declared by the PPTA, a fundamental restructuring of schools away from Tomorrow’s Schools – it is an extension and deepening of it.
I reiterate the advice to stay together, show strength in unity, be a witness to values central to primary schools, and follow the leadership of the teacher organisations. Don’t be disconcerted by the actions of the PPTA, they have less to lose and are irretrievably self-centred. The secondary curriculum is already narrow in effect and test laden. For secondary, it will be of miniscule value for students, but the chance for more pay and to rule the local roost, has proved too tempting.
There is no need to intellectualise or get theory bound about the matter, keep informed, but stay strong and follow the lead of the primary teacher organisations. No matter what the government does, hang in there. Perhaps the analogy of the retreat to Moscow is the best way to pay witness to our values. And in respect to that, I suggest guerrilla forays onto the street demanding the government use the funding we are rejecting from IES be paid into schools to meet children’s special needs. An organised retreat can sometimes be the best form of defense – and attack.