The review office at it again: Now let’s get this clear. The interview will be conducted in any way I want it to be

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?’

‘What …?’

Grey suit sat there.

‘Why aren’t you using WALTS?’

‘What?’

‘Why aren’t you using WALTS?’

‘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.

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9 Responses to The review office at it again: Now let’s get this clear. The interview will be conducted in any way I want it to be

  1. Melulater says:

    I think any complaints about ERO should now be copied into the Minister and Opposition Education spokespeople so that they can all see how dysfunctional ERO truly is.
    And that crap about running records above Year 3 is appalling! Who the hell are ERO to give that advice/demand? Is that the best practice being advocated by our leaders of reading? I wouldn’t rely on STAR as an accurate determinant of reading ability without a running record/Probe assessment along side it. STAR is about specific skills in processing reading like understanding the meaning of words or how sentences are structured. It tells you nothing about fluency, comprehension or critical thinking.

    • Jo says:

      We were told by ERO that we had to have a triangulation – i.e. use 3 different kinds of assessment for our OTJs. I agree- I think only using STAR results for Year 3s shows only part of the picture.

  2. John Carrodus says:

    Jo you are right in the slot. They use triangulation too!
    Grab, scratch & smudge.
    What they read, see and hear,( grab)
    Dredge the goss (scratch )
    Judge ( smudge )
    But here the problem begins.
    I hear they often do not read,
    Only see what the want to see,
    Only hear replies to prefabricated questions.
    Troublemakers are petitioned …….
    and old reports appear to be scrubbed up recycled and modified.

  3. Margaret Lange says:

    A colleague was informed by a senior review officer that all review officers have their own individual styles of reviewing and that each one has his or her own strength and interest. I took that to mean that there was no point in complaining about, say, a disrespectful, unprofessional and/or incompetent reviewer because ERO says it’s okay for them to behave how they like, despite the constraints of their Code of Conduct.

    Our board acted on advice given by STA; ERO told them that that advice was incorrect. STA’s response to this was that ERO was incorrect.

    Our teachers acted on advice given to them by the Ministry; ERO told us that that advice was incorrect. The Ministry’s response to this was that ERO was incorrect.

    With ERO condoning the divergent styles of its reviewers, the debatable advice and opinions given by some reviewers, the wildly differing degrees of the competency, experience and temperament of reviewers and with STA, MOE and ERO contradicting each other, it’s no wonder that there’s so much frustration and ill-feeling out there. Nobody is doing anything with any consistency or accountability.

    The child – the heart of the matter? I don’t think so.

  4. Dugald Martin says:

    My god! This stuff is unconscionable. I’ve seen reviewers be relentless, threatening, power laden and thoughtless. What these reviewers did is inhuman. Nobody needs to be treated this way. Teachers are professional people, handling the reality of children day after day. Reviewers are nothing short of henchmen for the government, denigrating and debilitating the very people they are meant to support. I think they consider themselves judge and jury, even in some cases executioner as well. Is there no way to rein in this renegade group. The answer is yes, but it will take a lot of people and a lot of pressure before that happens. Go for it Kelvin. I will stand behind you 100%.

  5. Kelvin says:

    We have a strong and determined backer in Kelvin Davis. He is a mighty ally in the fight to make the review office accountable. (Don’t be distracted by his apparent support for charter schools; his so-called support is not what it seems.) Tracey Martin is strongly on our side; and so too, but in a quieter way, is Chris Hipkins. The two teacher organisations have no apparent public stance. NZEI, indeed, is obviously quite comfortable with ERO.

  6. Margaret Lange says:

    In a nutshell. It was a kneejerk answer to an awkward question which I’m sure was intended to stop the conversation. I doubt that it’s ERO policy, but it is yet another example of their double standards – you must run your schools the way we say but we don’t mind if hundreds of reviewers have their own individual styles of reviewing, you must stop bullying in your schools but we will bully you, you must follow Inquiry Learning to the letter but we will have a haphazard approach to reviews, we will treat you with disdain and direspect but don’t you dare be rude to us, we will rush in and act on unverified complaints against your school but we won’t act on substantiated and corroborated complaints against ourselves, you must immerse yourselves in Ka Hikitia but we will walk roughshod over your kawa, you must consult with your Maori community but we won’t, you must not refer to the past but we will. The list goes on.

  7. kellyned says:

    Perhaps it is the ERO reviewer role that attracts a particular personality type?
    Certainly an unfortunate situation that needs to be challenged.
    I have – like most teachers/principals/schools – had mixed experiences over the years. Certainly the most worrying aspect for me is the idea that ‘one size fits all’ – our way or the highway, which seems to steadily be shepherding us all along a particular pathway of what is ‘good education’.
    After 30+ years I have seen so many variations of successful practice that to go beyond some basic ‘principles of practice’ seems risky. Yet ERO continues with their push.

  8. John Carrodus says:

    Kelvin following this theme in your writings and replies,I have several conclusions.
    The quality of reports is variable and suspect, but indications are this will not improve.
    Every conversation should be formally recorded, verified and signed as a legal record,with copies to the principal and ERO.
    Boards need to vigorously challenge the draft report for quality, fairness and accuracy.
    ERO needs to be independent and accountable,
    ERO should embrace operational methods and approaches currently used in NZ schools.

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