Proving the Herald buckled in Hekia Parata’s favour over the Kirsty Johnston front-page article on early childhood education is fish in a barrel – but, except for Kirsty Johnston, does it matter whether or not the ministry influenced the final education review office report? we already know the education system has a growing stain of corruption and a powerful propaganda machine to deflect attention from it. Interference (to put it politely) at various levels of unethicality and immorality is well recognised within education as pervasive.
Of course, the ministry influenced the report, the evidence is in the article – my wonder lies elsewhere: first, the ministry being in ‘war-room’ mode – apparently an expression used by the ministry when it meets to gain control of events and to set its propaganda machine into motion; and second, why was the ministry concerned about the contents of the report when, amongst all the other news of education failure, it was unlikely to cause a ripple? The ministry, though, would have been concerned about the diminished usefulness of the review office as a propaganda machine if the pretence of review office independence was publically exposed.
More interest lies in the unfolding scandal suggesting a hint of strain in relations between Iona Holsted, chief executive officer of the review office and Hekia Parata; the telling glimpse of that propaganda machine in action (there are now 26 media advisers); and, above all, another example, of the unrelenting intent of education policy to protect the government from criticism and any additional government expenditure.
As well, I have been giving a lot of attention in recent postings to Parata’s erratic behaviour and this early childhood issue ties into that:
The whole matter has an Alice in Wonderland feel to it. Hekia Parata is the minister responsible for the review office as well as the minister of education. As minister responsible for the review office she would have expected Iona to change the report in the manner of shifting both the blame and the correction to the pre-schools. Iona may well have dug in, so Hekia has relied on ministry procedures to tidy things up, to achieve that manoeuvre I call the ‘Parata shift’: that is, putting all the responsibility for education on schools and pre-schools and, consequently, all the blame for any failures.
The review office research was completed just under two years ago, a stretch of time indicating unusual things happening behind the scenes.
In December 2014, the report was sent to the ministry. Following that, the ‘Parata shift’ (as I call it), occurred, including making it crystal clear that having lower staff-to-children ratios was not the answer.
In June of this year the report was ‘completed’ and review office and ministry personnel began their strategy to communicate and protect the ‘Parata shift’ (as I call it).
At last after a year and a half, at the beginning of July, the education review office declared itself ready to release the report.
But a delay – on July 30 there was a meeting between the ministry and review office to discuss how to communicate the report. At that meeting, it would have been made clear to the review office that the report, as presently expressed, still contained risks to the ‘Parata shift’ (as I call it).
Four days later (August 4), a ‘war-room’ meeting was held between ERO and the ministry. If any metaphor is needed to understand the Parata government, that is it. A ‘war-room’ requires an enemy. Who is the enemy? As we know, any person in education who doesn’t cravenly accept government policy. We have an education system based on a government agency putting down enemies – oh dear! But it explains a lot, doesn’t it? Such a metaphor could only be formed from the natural welling of the thought processes of the leadership concerned – how else would it have even crossed the minds of senior ministry staff? Then to spread like a toxin throughout the ministry and the system.
Next day another ‘war-room’ meeting at which the review office produced the report with parts rewritten. The ‘Parata shift’ in this report will go down in shift genre as transcendental: there were no recommendations for the ministry, none at all, only responsibilities. It is a marvel!
Remember, this is a minister who lies. I remind you again of posting from yesterday.
The Big One referred to in the link is an outrageous lie, delivered in the House, and of particular harm to those Parata bureaucratically emotes about, Maori and Pasifika children. The lie she told is central to government policy and therefore to the ‘Parata shift’.
The Herald editors could easily have tracked through the sequence of events as I have done, and determined as I did, and readers will, that the ministry is lying. But, in some defence of the editors, when a ministry, on behalf of a minister of the crown, adamantly rejects something, it is not easy for editors (particularly Herald editors I suppose, and particularly in education) not to give that ministry the benefit of the doubt. To lie to editors is a bit like lying in the House; a matter pitched in convention and based on trust.
Let us conclude with an examination of the clarification published next day in the Herald.
‘An article in yesterday’s Herald said a report by an education watchdog [what a revolting metaphor] … was partly rewritten after high-level meetings about its risk to the Government [what a typically dubious ministerial expression: what about the benefits to children?]. While the sequence of events is correct, the Herald would like to clarify that there is no connection between them, the Ministry did not seek improper influence over the Education Review Office … and that the changes – to some of its recommendations – were not made as a result of external pressure of ministry meetings. We apologise for any such inference.’
The Herald’s clarification is obfuscation. The ministry’s response even tells us so: I look for the qualifiers and fine shades of meaning: the ministry we are informed did not seek improper influence, which is different from influence, thereby admitting there was influence and connection. The changes to the recommendations we are then told were not made as a result external pressure – another admission of influence and connection: influence being seen as something different from pressure.
The Herald editors, if they felt impelled to accept the ministry’s denial, should not have said there was no connection between the meetings; they should have said they accepted the ministry’s explanation and that there was no connection, or something like that.
In the yesterday’s posting I finished thus, and this is how I finish today.
The Honourable Minister likes to say she puts children at the centre of education and her concerns; that is the obverse of the truth, the Honourable Minister puts herself at the centre, her status, and her unlovely prejudices. If children were at the centre of her concerns the Honourable Minister would not have told the Big One, she would have told the Right One, but she chose not to, and that dear readers is all you need to know about our Honourable Minster.