The call

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.

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5 Responses to The call

  1. kellyned says:

    I certainly feel betrayed, and indications are that many others do too. The argument at a number of levels and forums seems to have got down to the initial one put by PPTA – if we don’t take the money it will be lost to Education. If is wasted on an ineffective strategy then it is lost anyway – the difference being that it will require huge amounts of effort to finally waste the cash!
    Then there is the PD scaremongering – if we aren’t in a cluster we won’t get access to and MoE PD.
    Will that really be such a loss?
    My Board and I just can’t convince ourselves that joining a cluster is worth the effort. We have always worked closely with a group of schools. They have formed a cluster – but though we sit in the centre – we have remained apart. For how long? I don’t know, but we are certainly in no rush to join up to a set of mad 85% targets.
    I would love to hear from others who have stood apart. Kelvin can contact me.
    Kia kaha.

  2. Kelvin says:

    Thanks for your strength. To think that your teacher organisation has landed you in this. There are huge divisions all over the country. People are asking for my advice on resigning from NZEI: I am suggesting stay for one more election – if another hopeless group is elected, then give NZEI the shove. If anyone has information to share please send to me. I will share with others, without identification of course. This executive is a menace to the children and teachers of this country. Can’t they have worked out that the revised Education Act and clusters have been made for each other. In the Government Public Discussion publication it says if a school does well, it could be given extra freedoms and decision-making rights. Never in the history of New Zealand education has anything as execrable even been approached. NZEI is allowing this pernicious, insulting rubbish to go unchallenged. Cosies up to the people who produced it; talks about good faith with them. The government is deliberately setting out to shame schools. Where is your pride for schools NZEI?

  3. alingham says:

    Yes; certainly goes to show who NZEI is listening to when 90% of its members say we don’t want a bar of this Community of Schools rubbish. Nek minnit!

  4. catharina mcnamara says:

    After reading an article in the local Wairarapa paper about a new $10 million teacher-led innovation fund I wanted to find out more about this. Sounded so exciting! When I did find the details on the govt ed website I felt chained to Kelvin’s heartfelt pleas for commonsense and real education in NZ today. How do you navigate through jargon? What exactly are ‘puzzles of practice’ teachers accessing this fund are to ‘inquire into’ ? Puzzling to me for sure. Ah, Youtube! All the videos on puzzles of practice from the USA. NZEI, NZEI! HELP HELP!!

  5. Kelvin says:

    It will be some years before the depth of betrayal of classroom teachers and long-held principles of education becomes clear. Classroom teachers have been stomped on by NZEI principals and will never be heard from again in the sense of having some control and influence over education proceedings. The government wanted the schools grouped in clusters for administrative control with some extra bureaucratic controls added to the extent they could be, but it was always intended that what wasn’t gained there would be completed by the revised Education Act.

    There was just that one moment when classroom teachers could have made a difference but the NZEI principals stole it from them. Teachers, that was your moment that wasn’t. The organisation you relied on for protection and promotion of important ideas joined the other side. Leaving you stranded and them riding high

    When Tomorrow’s Schools came in, I was, outside the voice of a number of academics, about the only one saying that this wasn’t going to end well for children, teacher professionalism, or society generally. I was despised, isolated, and mocked by a number of the NZEI executives who were given comfort and assurance by the governments of the day about how terrible I was. What is happening now is the endgame of all that, a replay, but far more deadly serious. Labour is silent in a comprehensive way, diverted to the parts, furiously refusing to see the whole. It needs to be known that an NZEI executive principal is by right of office on the Labour Party advisory committee – so what hope there? And nothing can be expected of NZPF.

    National policy will continue to undermine and underfund state schools, obscuring the inevitable decline in performance by ramping up high stakes assessment in national standards and at NCEA Level 2; also increasing the number of media personnel in the bureaucracies. New Zealand school education is going to ascend in performance in national standards results in the face of persistent decline in everything else. The only hope is the strength of some principals in districts to provide at least witness to the travesties occurring.

    I said that this posting, apart from Attack!, was going to be the last for the holidays. Probably it won’t be, no matter the number of readers, I think I will have to keep banging away.

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