It was December, 2014.
After reeling down the Kaimai, I passed the Ballance depot (who used to have a fertiliser motto I thought brilliant: Immediate response: Sustained growth – but now replaced by something bland) and I swung left off Matamata to Cambridge; the evening was closing in … then the insistent call of my mobile, it was someone high up in NZEI.
‘We are on the point of going into preliminary negotiations with the government; I wanted to let you know so you understand our reasoning.’
This reasoning went along the lines of giving NZEI time to get its negotiating stance in place and members in schools informed.
As it happened, I was supportive because it would herd the early cluster lemmings back into the NZEI fold and give everybody time to reflect about how to proceed without being further drawn into the neoliberal maw.
I appreciated the call and I sat back, wrote a posting agreeing, and gave NZEI time to work out its strategy
After the very high anti-IES vote I was reasonably confident NZEI would have worked out that for NZEI to participate in clusters, something significant in the repressive and measurement-obsessed environment would have to change. Without that and a crucial signal of good faith from the government I was confident NZEI would stand aside. The IES vote, I decided, would have made that translucently clear to the executive. To support schools going into in clusters without significant change and indications of good faith would entrench the non-evidence based, anti-teacher, and unsympathetic child provisions of Tomorrow’s Schools and, indeed, signal the beginning of another generational cycle of such policies.
Given there is still in place a non-accountable education review office; the exclusion of teachers from policy formation; the exclusion of teachers from the teachers council; national standards; a curriculum based on measurable objectives; a curriculum developed on a continuous basis in review and ministry offices; a curriculum based on there being one way of doing things; systemic bullying and fear-based control; professional development as an extension of the bureaucracies; academia controlled by contracts; and a vast and intrusive centralised propaganda machine – what else could happen but entrenchment?
But, NZEI capitulated to the government, sought only fripperies, then handed a good faith guarantee to the government (to hide behind) at the cost of bad faith behaviour to its members.
An inexperienced NZEI negotiation team had been thoroughly out-manoeuvred (but, it is now apparent, it really wanted to be, the alternative was taking a moral stand), then it bullied and misinformed members in a ballot to vote for whatever the NZEI had decided on, whatever that was – one of the great betrayals in teacher organisation history.
Why do members of the executive seek that role if they don’t have the courage to stand up to the government? They expressed dissatisfaction about where things were, implying they were committed to policy change, but then surrendered to those policies at the first government whisper.
There will be a honeymoon period, much, much shorter than for Tomorrow’s Schools; waves of propaganda then a ravaged school education system.
The best way to sum up the desiccated and tragic nature of the cluster documents is to say: What is it that New Zealand primary education most needs to do better for children?
My response: The freedom for teachers and schools to meet children’s needs within agreed aims; freedom throughout the system to debate and participate in policymaking; a welcoming of variety throughout the system; teaching children to think flexibly and imaginatively; an evaluation system that enhances learning; honesty of purpose throughout the system; reduced class sizes and much improved staffing to meet special needs.
The government went for clusters to avoid having to respond to calls for such system changes.
And there is a further related irony, a deeply cynical one: the government makes a big song and dance about Maori and Pasifika children but it pulls out the 18% lie of out-of-school factors instead of 78% so it doesn’t have to do much about out-of-school factors (or within school ones), except talk; uses the education review office to near-paralyse schools to insist on something called education for Maori and Pasifika children, when what is needed is all those things listed in paragraph above – but the government knows that it has set things for schools to be blamed when their approach fails, so problem solved as far as it is concerned.
The cluster system means all the money that could have been spent on an education system properly set up for all children, including Maori and Pasifika children, has been allocated to policies that on balance will fail.
The cluster documents so far on view are not cluster documents, they are a new horror curriculum, now spreading like a dangerous virus – an education blasphemy, a self-serving constructed ignorance, a toadying of government-oriented principals intent on designing a world to suit them, no matter how destructive to everyone else.
Remember, how John Key took the South Auckland girl to Waitangi as symbolism of his intentions to help children like her if he became prime minister.
Oh and another way the government improves education for Maori and Pasifika children, indeed, all children, is by setting up the system with high stakes assessment and all that means. The cluster documents say 85%; the government says achieve that, and you can be assured, it will be ‘achieved’ – there! see? no need for extra teachers and special needs provision, or to stop treating teachers like serfs – just a need for the government to say do it or else. After all, the do-it-or-else works beautifully for NCEA Level 2, and working pretty well for national standards – under clusters the world will be our oyster.
In the Herald, columnist Peter Lyons writes a sly article on the corruption of NCEA Level 2.
NZEI executive – for the education system, primary schools, teachers, and children you have done appallingly. You have betrayed our education past and compromised our present and future. I condemn you at best for horrific ignorance at worst cowardice. There will now be those who set about trying to hold the line to ameliorate the parlous position in which you have left schools – but they will have to do so unprotected while you sit cosily with the government saying tut-tut in perfidious alliance.