IES: This is your moment, don’t waste it

Public school education – primary and secondary – is failing but this is mainly kept from view by a fantastic bureaucratic stranglehold over schools and a Machiavellian propaganda network of unparalleled proportions. I do not blame schools for this state of affairs beyond saying that more principals and teachers should know in their hearts that given different circumstances public school education could be far better.  NZEI is the only part of the system that is at least organising an orderly retreat.

My last posting provided information on the product of our failing primary schools going on to our failing secondary schools to produce a mainly ‘passed’ but failed product.

We now have had a quarter of a century of a flawed education system and despite that system having professional, committed, and caring principals and teachers – in the end something had to give and it has big time.

In these morally and ethically complex times, principals and teachers in doing what they have to do, need to do that, but on the understanding that they retain, as part of their thinking, the idea that much of what they do is not in the best interests of children (or the best their potential as educators could deliver). Principals and teachers need to make that distinction for their own integrity and to be able to challenge that which is not in the best interests of children when opportunities arise. The imminent NZEI-ministry move to seek your views on IES provides just such an opportunity; an opportunity made possible by a clever NZEI and a staunch stand by principals and teachers.

When, in my last posting of last year, I wrote that the offer by the ministry to have talks with NZEI was a victory, that didn’t mean I would ever support IES. With all the thunderous needs of the system and children, grouping schools together for bureaucratic convenience under the name of ‘learning communities’ so that at the insistence of ERO they can share the rubbish ideas prevalent in schools and push them, in particular, on to schools deemed failing – is my idea of an education system from hell.

In that last posting, in the second half of it, I detailed the changes to IES that should be a bottom line. I need to make clear though – I am making a distinction between what I can accept and what you may have to accept. But what you accept had better be a lot better than that mess of pottage presently on the table. And I don’t rule out NZEI tipping the table over pottage and all.

However, even if all those concessions were won, if I had a vote, I would still vote against IES because it is still antithetical to a school education system being collaborative – which is the direction we should be going. It would be a cheap vote, though, because most will vote for it, and in realpolitik terms probably should.

The NZEI along with the ministry is ready to begin consultation with teachers and principals. For this to be happening is a victory for you – well those of you who said ‘no’.

The public school education system is in the grip of a managerialist, neoliberal philosophy from which neither primary nor secondary has ever come close to loosening. Your school is not functioning anywhere near its potential given your abilities as a curriculum leader. In a sense, though, these days you aren’t really a curriculum leader, more a bookkeeper.  I don’t blame teachers or principals in the larger sense – the system is to blame. Principals and teachers are working their butts off, love the children in their classes, and want to do well by them. Indeed, your efforts to do your best to make school interesting while programmes become more fragmented and trivialised, masks learning and motivation problems that become much more apparent at secondary. However, there is no hope for public school education if you don’t acknowledge that many of the things you do aren’t in the best interests of children, but you have to do them anyway. With such an attitude, some kind of resistance might be mounted in opportunist fashion.

With the IES ‘victory’, this is one of those times. But for goodness sake, those who supported IES, what were you thinking? Actually I know – I left the formal education system in 1990 to fight Tomorrow’s Schools – so I’ve heard all that stuff time and time again.

The motivations of those who capitulated are many: some principals confused voluntary principal groupings with principal groupings for bureaucratic management (each grouping with an allocated number of review officers); others felt, associated with this, what a good group of gals and guys are around me; others wow! I will be associating with the secondary principal, how charismatic; others whoopee! anything to get out of the school to play principal; others that they were so strong as principals they could handle anything and won’t ERO and my BOT be impressed; others uncomfortable going against authority no matter what; others insecure if they were isolated from the principals around them (group pressure); others that there is nothing we can do to stop it so why bother; others in favour of narrow, authoritarian education anyway, comfortable about where things are (this last often a carry-all for a number of the capitulating motivations).

Neoliberal education has one central tenet: teachers must be excluded from decision making and while that tenet reigns, neoliberalism reigns. And while that tenet reigns there is no hope – public education will be scapegoated, starved of funds, and continue its downward spiral. So all concerned just need to focus on one thing: teacher representatives being excluded from EDUCANZ. That is the ultimate, that tenet reigns. For goodness sake, stick together.

Some principals in going against the IES stand of NZEI threatened to undermine the ability of NZEI to represent primary schools not only in this matter but also future matters; did they think about that? Did these schools really feel throwing their lot in with Hekia and snubbing NZEI was in the best interests of primary school education? Did they think about the future? It was classic divide and rule by authority and they fell for it.

NZEI, based on the support of the large majority teachers and principals, had a victory. Primary school teachers won a measure of the right to participate in decision making. This gives a chance for the NZEI to remain united on the IES issue and future issues (which I can assure you are lined up to come forward). We can and should now take the opportunity to be one – for all to be back in the fold. NZEI and the ministry are now setting out to establish your precise views on IES, so please get involved. The strength and weight of your submissions will give the NZEI the greater ability to make IES less destructive and set things up for the future. The question you should ask yourself is: With the money involved what would be the best way to spend it? Don’t in the first instance, focus on IES (which by the way is a label so tattered and maligned the minister no longer uses it – the euphemism is now ‘learning communities’). I will go ‘he’ if putting schools together for administrative convenience is high on your list. This is your moment, don’t waste it.

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6 Responses to IES: This is your moment, don’t waste it

  1. Lorna says:

    Kelvin – I’ve always enjoyed reading your clear-headed and passionate arguments. They absolutely reflect your keen motivation that comes from the desire to have the best possible education system for New Zealand.

    I want you to know I was privileged enough to be selected to be part of the Working Party Joint Initiative working with the Ministry and we are all working very hard to finally be the reasoned, impassioned voice of the children we teach and work towards practical solutions that will improve the lives of not only the children we teach, but the lives of their whanau and the betterment of their wider community!

    I’d love to chat with you about further ideas you have on how we can best serve every child’s right to a a quality education system.

  2. Kelvin says:

    Lorna – thanks for your comment. What I want of the joint working party is set out in one of the links. And good luck with your work. While achieving that would be better than a kick in the pants – in the wider scheme of things it would be of little significance no matter. We need people like you saying your bit in such settings but the managerialist train continues to thunder on heedless. IES is a thumping waste of money and time.

  3. kellyned says:

    Well said Kelvin. It was disturbing to learn of the schools ‘included’ in clusters, but never asked if they wanted to included. Apparently there were several like this.
    For remote schools the whole notion becomes even more weird when you learn that the most remote school in a group would not be invited into the cluster because it was too far from the other schools! Yet being small and remote it currently collaborates inside that group of schools around sports and cultural events.
    I am really looking forward to the outcomes of NZEI work. My school is currently sitting and waiting. Interestingly my Board can’t see why and Board would want their Principal out of their school 2 days per week; nor top quality teachers either!
    It was an easy discussion to have with them. My Board is definitely smarter than this government.
    Keep up the good work Kelvin.
    Kia kaha

  4. Nesta D says:

    Hullo Kelvin and readers.

    I haven’t ever been a primary school teacher, but I’m currently raising a couple of primary school children, so after reading Kelvin’s post thought I should go onto the Ministry’s website and find out what this ‘IES’ is.

    I gathered that it was about ‘communities’ of schools, and there was absolute assurance that this would raise the level of student achievement. Why? Because research says so.

    What research? No mention. No references. No discussion. No methodology.

    I left comment on the website making it fairly clear what I thought about this – among other things its an insult to the presumed acumen and education of parents. I cannot be alone in being able to read a research report and evaluate it!

    Moreover, I could not find any assurance that this project will be evaluated at all, let alone any criteria against which it might be evaluated.

    I am very interested to know why ‘communities’ of schools should be desirable for existing public schools, that is, why another layer of control and surveillance should be added to the public school system, at the same time as another form of publicly funded school totally without public oversight or accountability is being added to the government’s repertoire.


    Nesta Devine

  5. John Carrodus says:

    Nesta- you have bagged it in one shot! The research is of course at best popular demand dodgy – phone a friend- supported by someone completing their Phd variety. Unfortunately the agreement to look into it, is already being spoken about by well meaning enthusiastic folk dripping with IES-eduspeak. Remember, there is nothing more dangerous than a zealot with an idea whose time has NOT arrived. I fear the outcome is already at executive summary stage.

  6. Kelvin says:

    Actually, there is virtually no research on the matter because there is nothing to research. Two of the international companies attempted something like the idea and both attempts failed. It is really a grab-bag of neoliberal ideas (performance pay and the hero teacher) and tiny bits of Singapore and Shanghai.

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