NZEI-ministry agreement should be viewed as a victory

Primary school principals, teachers, and boards of trustees should view the NZEI-ministry agreement as a victory – a victory achieved as a result of genuine collaboration between primary schools in the interests of their professionalism and children’s welfare. Yes – the government has backed off, preliminary to some backing down – the degree of that dependent on the unity and vigour of your response.

I know I must sound irascible and uncompromising at times, especially to the ministry, and in the IES case to the PPTA executive, but where we are now is exactly where I hoped we would be. My last posting begged you not to over-intellectualise but just to stay strong and together. And most of you did – well done – and the reward is the opportunity to drive IES in a better direction.

The success of NZEI and your sturdy efforts can be measured by the slowness of the ministry to acknowledge the agreement for a working party to develop a Better Plan (my suggested label) and to provide details.

What has been won is of sufficient import to be declared a victory, and in the circumstances to be declared a brilliant victory, but beyond the circumstances, as far as the real needs of schools and children are concerned, a modest victory. The questions being asked in the working party are not ones central to improving school education: the outcome of the working party agreement with its hang-ups about collaboration, pathways, transitions, governance structures and the like, will only be distantly helpful to improving school education – but at least they won’t be downright destructive.  Suggesting collaboration, pathways and so on as being useful to improving school education presupposes that the curriculum knowledges are in place and only need the right bureaucratic procedures to set them alight – the curriculum knowledges aren’t in place and we don’t have the right professional context to get them right and from there to set up what we used to have, the opportunity for continuous sequences of insight and illumination resulting in creative action.

Hasn’t the announcement procedure been weird? First, NZEI Te Riu Roa then nothing. You can imagine busy principals reading it yesterday and wondering what on earth it all added up to. Was it good or bad news?  My e-mails were full of: What does it mean? Has NZEI caved in? I wrote back and said it was a victory of sorts and NZEI definitely hasn’t caved in. It was the ministry who blinked. That’s why there has been no announcement from the ministry. It knew the supporters of IES would be confused and dismayed. The media, without a ministry hand-out, have been perplexed into a flummoxed silence. A few days ago the Herald editor trumpeted an auspicious beginning for IES and had hard words for NZEI. The editorial was headed ‘Uptake for government success plan encouraging’. Now he will be asking the minister for a please explain. Being a good neoliberal comrade following the Ayn Rand line can do that to you Mr Editor. When Judith Nowotarski was interviewed by Susie Ferguson on Morning Report she kept pushing Judith with the question: what does it mean? But Judith was too shrewd for that. This is no time for triumphalism both because it isn’t a triumph and even if was, tactically unhelpful to be described as that.

The point is this: because principals and teachers stood firm on ethical and professional values, and because NZEI has become a terrific organisation – an opportunity has been created – but what it means is unclear, currently inexplicable, because it is up to you, open for development, not there for the taking exactly, but there for the variation and improvement.

I want to give some credit to Hekia Parata and Peter Hughes, and who knows perhaps also to that group of academics on the advisory committee who may have contributed their two cents worth. Anne Tolley paused to consider changing course on national standards but shrugged it off and continued to pursue them. She failed to take the opportunity for lifting the school education discussion to a more constructive level. Hekia and Peter, on the other hand, have demonstrated some courage and wisdom in creating this opportunity for an open exchange of ideas. As for IES, no matter what happens it will never be the same. In a moment, with nothing but an announcement (of sorts), it was changed, there is no going back.

Having looked at the terms of reference for the working party, some quick points

Another name for IES should be selected. Primary teachers will never be comfortable with that label. Why not call it Better Plan? the label NZEI has been battling IES on. (And if the government won’t accept that label, just use it anyway.)

Some kind of governance structure has been agreed, in advance, as necessary by the working party – well OK, but the more flexible and informal the better; reward for being in the governance structure should more be satisfaction and status than financial – in the case of the principal, any financial rewards should be allocated to the school of the principal temporarily made available.

Transitions for children should concentrate on attitudes and qualities, such as: attitudes to work, independence, creativity, imagination, flexibility of thinking, ability to feel comfortable with complexity, ability to work with others (though something of an overemphasised quality in today’s schooling), feeling comfortable with cultural complexity. Such concentration would allow transition influences to flow both ways between school systems.

As for lead teachers (expert teachers should be dispensed with) their appointments should be made across all curriculum areas and fit sensibly into the appointment of structure of the existing lead teacher system  – that is the senior teacher system.

A substantial increase in funding should be made available for teacher support hours to meet special needs (provided from savings in parts of the old IES structure – especially salaries and governance).

Because of serious faults in official curricula (for example, maths), or methods insisted on by ERO (for example, reading, reading, and social studies), or faults in national standards tests also methods insisted on by ERO (for example, writing) – the scope for improvement in many curriculum areas is limited.

The arts, dance, music, and drama, also Maori language (or other languages) and computer formatting, might be considered as the areas best suited to school group development and to improving children’s attitudes and qualities referred to above.

There are very few international models for school group development so the best course would seem to be to quickly move on from a consideration of those to implementing a light governance structure (encouraging groups to modify) and the application by groups for funds to pursue special projects, for instance, Maori language.

The working party as a result of the NZEI agreement is coming to your school or a school near you to ask you what you want of schools working together so be thinking about the working party matters of governance, lead appointments, collaboration, transitions, and pathways. But be cautious of this togetherness emphasis, don’t accept it as an unmitigated good. Though a school might be part of a group, it should be an accepted principle that it is the school that is the key unit of the education system not the group.  Group control can become stultifying and bureaucratic also a considerable timewaster. Working together with other schools should not be seen as central to the education system but a useful resort in some matters and some circumstances.

Also be cautious of the words pathways and transitions as they can easily become the ties that bind to restrict and distort. It can end up with the destructive and limiting practice of a one-way traffic of secondary passing down its ways and values to primary and primary to early childhood. This would be unfortunate for all children, especially those who have learning difficulties or are affected by impoverished home circumstances. These are ideas bureaucrats come up with because they promise the opportunity to homogenise education, standardise it, to better control it. The big questions in education are not about pathways and transitions and so on, they are about the curriculum and the freedom for creative teaching.  The working party is an opportunity to express our primary school values, an opportunity that comes rarely in our bureaucratised and desiccated school education system – you and NZEI have worked bravely to provide that opportunity, now grasp it and make it count.

But of course, the final form of the working together ‘structure’ would need to be radically different from the present heavy-handed one – an important part of that is that group decisions are not binding on a member; the unsavoury cask nexus that has secondary eyes so shining is removed; and a three year cycle of returning to members to see if the group structure was still supported is undertaken.

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19 Responses to NZEI-ministry agreement should be viewed as a victory

  1. joceje says:

    Thank you Kelvin. The process has recognised that “teachers create curriculum for their students and the future”

  2. kellyned says:

    What a relief this news has been. There was never going to be any great good out of IES, but now it seems that we may look forward to some positive future developments. Here is me holding onto hope,

  3. magnusfrater says:

    But what the NZEI are currently negotiating (this “Better Plan”) is exactly what IES allows for. IES allows for teachers (to quote your article) to “concentrate on attitudes and qualities, such as: attitudes to work, independence, creativity, imagination, flexibility of thinking, ability to feel comfortable with complexity, ability to work with others (though something of an overemphasised quality in today’s schooling), feeling comfortable with cultural complexity.” IES is all about cross-curricular, cross-sector, cross-school, and cross-cultural collaboration.

    I’m damned if I can work out why NZEI wouldn’t want to support cross-curricular, cross-sector, cross-school, and cross-cultural collaboration – unless they don’t want to collaborate, perhaps?

    • Little Sis says:

      Magnus Frater or should I say Big Brother, (interesting name choice there), here is a quote that came to mind as I read through your correspondence “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Please enjoy your holiday reading.

  4. Kelvin says:

    You are forgetting all the other characteristics of the Better Plan as I see it, including genuine consultation with its members. If you think when ERO is involved it won’t be focused on the downward pressure from secondary to primary to link in with the national standards areas you are naïve. But as a secondary person you can afford to be. IES is not about secondary, it is about bringing primary schools to heel and to formalise and standardise the curriculum.

    • magnusfrater says:

      But the planning for IES included genuine consultation – at least, it did for PPTA members. I can’t speak for NZEI’s members, since I’m not a member.

      PPTA went out of its way to consult with its members. I lost count of the number of national and regional meetings where IES was talked about and feedback asked for. No doubt you’ll dredge up anecdotes from this PPTA member and that PPTA member about how THEY think they weren’t consulted, but I can assure you that they were. It’s not the fault of PPTA’s executive if PPTA members can’t be bothered turning up to meetings or taking part in nationwide surveys.

      I don’t know where you get your concerns about IES from. IES is absolutely not about “bringing primary schools to heel” and nobody (at least, no secondary teacher) is interested in wanting to “formalise and standardise the curriculum.” I’m not quite sure what you mean by “formalise” the curriculum anyway, since the NZC is a formal document already – but if by “standardise” you mean “return to the prescriptive curriculum of days of yore,” then I defy you to find a single secondary teacher who wants that. In secondary schools, we love the descriptive nature of the NZC. It lets us teach whatever we want, in myriad different ways, and allows us to precisely cater our teaching programmes and methods to the wants and needs of our students and school communities. Who in their right mind would want to change that? IES absolutely isn’t about that. IES is about collaboration, not conformity.

  5. joceje says:

    And to turn the NZ curriculum statements prescriptive like NCEA statements. The sort of thing that calms secondary teachers, and they have huge moderation panels. Now there is another potential plan national moderation panels for primary first at cluster level, then regional, then national.
    Does this look a bit like the inspectorate?

    • magnusfrater says:

      Where’s this paranoia coming from? I don’t think there’s some secret agenda to turn the NZC into a prescriptive document. Secondary school teachers certainly don’t want that, any more than primary school teachers do. The Ministry certainly doesn’t want that – it spent millions writing the NZC in an attempt to move away from the old prescriptive curriculum – and NZQA doesn’t want a descriptive curriculum either, having spent millions on the standards realignment.

      As to plans for moderation panels for primary schools – you shouldn’t think of moderation as some sort of bogeyman. Moderation isn’t about some person coming in with a big stick and telling you you’re a bad teacher – it’s about another teacher in your subject area helping you to deliver the best material to your kids.

  6. Brent Godfery says:

    I remain dubious. To me this is a blind designed to return us to complacency. Meanwhile Educanz arrives and employment laws are changing. MOE consultation and working parties or whatever they call them mean little to them. It is a way to put us on hold until the other dots they need are joined. Ministry have not said anything because they have little intention of their being anything real come from it.

    • Kelvin says:

      Hi Brent: It just isn’t useful to discuss the situation in detail. I didn’t in my posting. I did say in an earlier posting we have to trust NZEI. I accept your point, and it is a wise one, but there are other points to be made that just wouldn’t be useful to air. Members making points in the same vein as yours serve a useful negotiating context but don’t expect much detail from NZEI in return. Sorry for being Delphic.

  7. murray.wratt says:

    Principal@drury.school.nz

    Sent from Samsung Mobile

  8. Kelvin says:

    We are not concerned about secondary teachers; we are concerned with the forces that have imposed NS and near destroyed our holistic curriculum. The cluster system is another step for continuing this process. What you are saying magnusfrater would be seen by nearly all primary teachers as sad approaching pathetic. if you give me your address I will send you my set of booklets that might help your understanding.

    • magnusfrater says:

      “We are not concerned about secondary teachers” – a rather disappointing and myopic attitude to take. PPTA takes the view that what’s good for public secondary schools is good for public education as a whole – it’s a great shame the public primary sector doesn’t share this enlightened view.

      I agree completely that National Standards are disastrous, unnecessary, and completely at odds with the NZC – but National Standards aren’t nearly in the same boat as IES. They’re not even comparable. IES is about collaboration between schools, between curriculum areas, it’s about building a better learning environment for all students. In fact, it’s precisely the “Better Plan” that NZEI is looking for. IES is collaborative and community-based learning. IES can only serve to enhance our wonderful, holistic, and descriptive NZC. National Standards need to go; collaborative and community-based learning needs to be embraced.

      What in particular about what I’m saying is “sad approaching pathetic”? The bit about not needing to be so paranoid about collaboration through IES, or the bit about not needing to be so paranoid about collaboration through a moderation process, or the bit about not needing to be so paranoid about the fact that there isn’t a secret plan to turn the NZC into a descriptive document?

      You’re welcome to post me through whatever booklets you please. I could do with some holiday reading.

  9. magnusfrater says:

    I very seriously don’t understand at all NZEI’s opposition to IES and collaborative and community-based learning. I understand that there were concerns around the time allowances for the Community of Schools teachers, but I’m certain that alone can’t have been the reason to reject collaborative and community-based learning outright – and any issues around time allowances could easily be ironed out in later bargaining.

    Collaboration across the curriculum and across and between the sectors can surely only be a good thing? What possible rationale can there be to reject it? I’d love to hear the explanation, because I can’t figure it out.

  10. Bruce Hammonds says:

    Greetings Kelvin

    I have been doing my best to comprehend the confusion that has been created around the IES or ‘Better Schools’ proposals.

    It would seem to me that there is teacher suspicion about the Ministry ( and Minister) who, on one hand want to introduce National Standards which will narrow the curriculum to areas being measured, and the desire to share good practices between schools. Then there is the suspicion between the primary and secondary sectors – one with a more holistic approach ( even if under threat) and the fragmented subject secondary approach ( even if there are attempts in integrate learning in some schools). Add to this problem who will be selected as the lead principals and teachers working across schools.

    The issue needs to relate to the kind of students the schools ( at all levels) ought to be encouraging to create New Zealand as a creative, innovative and equitable society. At this point the vision of the New Zealand Curriculum needs to be the driving document. All students need to leave as ‘confident life long learners’ , all able to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’. Obviously this is not the case at present and,, equally obviously much of this failure lies outside the school gate. Mind you I would like the NZC to place a greater emphasis on developing the gifts , talents and entrepreneurial dispositions as a central premise.

    I believe the NZC, if fully implemented, has the power to transform our current ‘patchy’ system. If IES can do this well I am all for it.

    Those selected to work between and within schools need to share a clear vision of such a transformation. Transformation ( not tinkering) means challenges for both primary and secondary – the best model might well be developmentally based early education learning.

    Primary schools need to move away from their current focus on literacy and numeracy agenda ( (exaggerated as a result of National Standards) and develop a more personalized problem centered integrated approach to learning . To do this successfully in years 5 to 8 teachers need access to deeper content knowledge. The destructive use of ability grouping in maths and literacy needs challenging.

    Secondary schools to achieve the vision of the NZC need to move away from their fragmented subject centered learning and also develop a collaborative student centered problem solving approach drawing on subject expertise to assist students as required. Aspects of pedagogy common in primary schools might well assist.

    Such an approach, at both primary and secondary, to be successful need to work with their students to develop a collaborative problem solving approach to learning.

    Such a transformation would engage all students in relevant learning ( to them) ; develop schools as true democratic learning communities; make use of the unique abilities of their teachers ( and community members) ; develop positive learners with their unique talents and gifts developed ; and equipped with the confidence , dispositions and skills to continue learning throughout their lives.

    Now where to find find creative lead principals and teachers to help all schools become true learning communities?

  11. Kelvin says:

    Thanks for your state of the position contribution Bruce. Well worth reading more than once.

  12. John Carrodus says:

    I beleive there has been a re-think around the legalities of the full house IES as in-operative. BOTs are the ultimate legal entities responsible for all aspects of any state school operation. I have argued for some time that this legal status would be compromised by IES. As for those umongst us who can not figure this thing out for what it really is ..well..really they need more help than we can give them. It is now time to move on. Despite what some press have called it, this is a tremendous tactical advancement. But the war has only begun and I would suggest there will be strategic countermeasures unveiled post new year that will shorten the long awaited summer. This is merely the friendly Xmas Soccer game breaking out in no-man’s land. Beware of after match landmines whilst returning to the trenches!

  13. Kelvin says:

    John – in a kind of Christmas, end of year way – thank-you for your Learian contributions, I enjoyed them hugely when you were a principal and just as much now as a side-line commentator. Have a great Christmas my friend and see you in the new year. And long may your zaniness continue.

  14. John Carrodus says:

    Thank you and same. I will continue to do as Will Rogers once said ” I don’t make jokes. I merely observe the government and simply report the facts.” I hope you and all teachers, especially primary, have an enjoyable Xmas and well earned breather – but not for too long! Unfortunately the old saying springs to mind, to maintain peace, we must prepare for war.

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