It is a given of human behaviour that non-accountable power inevitably leads to abuse; not by any particular individual but within any group.
When has that given not provided?
With the education review office, we have in a democracy, in that most precious of undertakings – education – a non-accountable institution. Non-accountable power, as Kafkan described, being able to generate the maximum of fear with the minimum of numbers.
And to deepen the repression, we have in New Zealand, a further bureaucracy – the ministry – working in a complex crisscross of purposes with the education review office.
The events described following, in the way they unfolded, are true.
The ingredients of this situation, in various combinations are repeated hundreds of times each year.
A table had been pushed to the non-window side and two chairs placed facing away from the window – a lone chair, close up to the two chairs, was facing them.
The two had manoeuvred me into the room.
I was gestured to the chair by the shorter one in the black suit – the other in the grey suit was already seated. Black suit was still bent and looking downwards in the action of seating himself: ‘I hear you have problems with the way we work.’
His eyes rounded on me.
I was shaping to answer, but he said: ‘Anyway, we’ll move on.’
‘Why do you run an anti-democratic school?’
‘I’m the d-p, not the principal – but what do you mean?’
‘Why do you run an anti-democratic school? That’s plain enough isn’t it? Do the students get a voice?’
Grey suit sat there.
‘Why aren’t you using WALTS?’
‘Why aren’t you using WALTS?’
‘Yes WALTS – where students are given a say?’
‘Well, some …’
‘Only a few teachers in the school are using it and not properly.’
‘I didn’t realise that using WALTS was …’
‘WALTS is what we expect to find.’
‘As it happens, I don’t like …’
‘WALTS is what we expect to find. Everyone knows that.’
‘As it happens, I’m not much enamoured …’
‘It’s what we expect to find.’
‘Look hold on. I demand you let me answer your questions without you interrupting.’
They looked at each other, encouraged, it seems, by the hint of exasperation in my voice.
Black suit held the seat and pony rode his chair towards me.
He was uncomfortably close.
‘Now let’s get this clear. The interview will be conducted in any way I want it to be.’
The pronoun of interview ownership was interesting but grey suit was very much part of it: a creepy presence to the other’s direct aggression.’
‘I ask that you move your chair back. I’m finding it intimidating.’
He stared at me.
‘You’re in my personal space.’
He just lent closer.
I moved my chair backwards.
‘It’s what we expect to find and we haven’t found it. Do you not like the way we work?’
‘I have not finished responding to your previous question. I ask that you give me the courtesy of giving me time to do so.’
‘Do you not like the way we work?’
‘Look, this is my lunch break, and you didn’t even give me the courtesy of asking if I was available for this interview, or allowing me to have any kind of break before it. The least you can do is to conduct it fairly.’
There was a slight pulling back on their part.
‘As it happens’, I continued, ‘I’m not much enamoured with WALTS. I find the various stages prescribed for it artificial and limiting to children’s imagination and destructive to holistic practice.’
At the mention of ‘holistic’, was that a snigger?
He shifted his chair even closer: ‘Answer my question.’
‘Answer my question’, he repeated.
I moved my chair back and stared straight at him.
‘This interview is over. Any further interviews will require my principal to be present.’
‘I’ve found your manner threatening and intimidating and not conducive to anything that might benefit the children and teachers of this school.’
‘And if you think I’m going to break down into tears, you’re going to be disappointed.’
During subsequent interviews with the two young female year ones, however, they weren’t to be disappointed.
They interrogated them about national standards.
Apparently, year one and two children can have running records carried out by the teacher to see where they are placed in relation to national standards, plus six-year-old net. But from year three on, only STAR, PAT, and e-asTTle are acceptable.
When the young teachers said that that the school found PROBE useful, the interviewers became agitated.
Above year two, the interviewers said, the use of running records and PROBE were not acceptable as a gauge because they relied too much on teacher judgements.
The two young teachers then broke into tears, feeling they had let the school down.
‘We were too intimidated to answer properly.’
There was one further interview with me, about staff welfare, with the principal present. Of course, nothing untoward happened.
These events happened in the manner described. A complaint was put in; there was a kind of acknowledgement, but the overall response was wishy-washy.