Clusters’ first stand

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’

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.

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10 Responses to Clusters’ first stand

  1. joceje says:

    Fantastic. Terrific title too

  2. kellyned says:

    So well said Kelvin.
    I was in a highish level meeting recently which was expressing much support for IES and your statement
    “the idea won’t do anything much for students but we might as well take the money on offer.”
    was exactly where the discussion ended up. I felt sick to think that the degree of professionalism had sunk to such a low level that people would support a system that does nothing for kids but puts cash into the pockets of those of us who need it the least.
    You are right – it is first stand – there will be more if only we can hold onto some of our ability to speak out and protest – without having to go anonymous.
    It is interesting that there might be some ‘stated’ desire to reduce competition between schools, when at a govt level I have read reasonably recent briefing papers which excluded any reduction in competition between schools. Bill English’s name was connected with that determination.
    Finally – my hope is that Boards will have enough intellect and wisdom to ground the whole idea by refusing to allow their best Principals and Teachers to be taken from their classes 2 days per week. Certainly one cluster I know that has been initiated has no Principal putting their hand up.

  3. John Carrodus says:

    This firefront will spread. Within your very ranks as you speak there are some casting their better judgement to the winds of inevitability swooned by money and power. There are those who will step from the shadows unashamebly, openly declaring their allegiance perhaps because they crossed the line long ago as converts to progressive expansionism. Once the juggernaut gains battlespeed, any lack of participants could be advertised outside education, even overseas as a morphed open market model for MacStandards Global Education gathers momentum. Unfortunately, the seeds of educationpolitik are sprouting underfoot and if not delivered a lethal dose of roundup will soon overwhelm every school, every staff member, principal and board in a school near you.

  4. magnusfrater says:

    Wow. You really don’t like the PPTA or IES, that much is clear.

  5. sue byford says:

    This is a thank you…
    Thank you for being there when one begins to doubt their own ability to discern.
    You are appreciated.
    Merry Christmas.
    Sue Byford.

  6. Kelvin says:

    Hi Sue, and everyone else: Thanks Sue. I am presently writing a high stakes posting in an attempt to bring down John Hattie, and I feel the danger but am ploughing on. Your sentiment touched me.

  7. Bruce Anink says:

    The only blame with IES lies with the national govt. They are using underhanded approach to demolish the public school system in NZ. They want Carter and private schools. The govt made it very clear that this money was dedicated to the education budget and would only be spent on the original scheme that national supplied. PPTA made it very clear that this scheme in its original form would not benefit students or teachers and tried to negotiate a better way to invest this money in education. But as we know NZEI refused to help with this and were prepared to let it pass even though the govt said it would spend this money on this scheme no matter what the NZEI or PPTA wanted it or not. At least the PPTA got off its back side and did its best to negotiate for a better way to use this money. Again the NZEI sits on its laurels waiting for the PPTA to do all the hard work casting judgments on greed and morels, just like it does with all the contract negotiations. It wont be long before we will here rumblings of discontent from them about how unfair of PPTA not to share a slice of the pie with them. My 2 cents worth for NZEI; stop complaining, get of your inflated ego and at least try to make an effort to support education and your members

  8. Baron says:

    In the UK a program came up where School Sport’s Coordinators were ran differently from that in NZ. The SSCo’s went into primary schools and up skilled primary teachers in teaching PE. The program was costly but provided excellent PD through collaboration. In NZ, finally the government has the bare bones of a program that could enhance students education and develop teachers with worthwhile PD, however we continue to slate the PPTA for realizing this potential and staying ‘at the table’ in order to have a say in how IES is implemented and ran out for the best interests of the STUDENTS of NZ. Unfortunately my view of the NZEI is of an organisation willing to fold ‘at the drop of a hat’ as they have the backup of their big brother/sister in the form of PPTA who will do the hard graft and gain rights and pay for teachers. Yes we know this government is hell bent on destroying state education but that does not mean we should not look in depth at all proposals. Its time for all teachers to use their brains and not their emotions when looking at IES (Which was going to be implemented whether we liked it or not) Its better to be the mature sensible adult at the IES discussion table than the spoiled child locked outside while others discuss their future.

  9. Kelvin says:

    Typical condescension from secondary people. As a starter for the two previous letter writers I suggest an introduction to the issue by reading ‘PPTA executive and dirty politics’ on this website – then come back to me.
    Primary would welcome such a plan as School Sports Co-ordinators – but why the huge bureaucratic overlay?
    One minute you have the government is hell bent next heaven directed. For goodness sake Baron.

  10. John Carrodus says:

    Have no fear Kelvin, most primary teachers can see through the doppleganger tissue thin long opine and short emotive facts above. They are more than up to speed with the reality here.

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