NZPF President matters: There are some worrying things going on here

On 4 February a newsletter arrived from the new NZPF president surely requiring further explanation by him and analysis by me.

Readers of this website will know I take seriously the initial communications of teacher organisation leaders. Last year I said the first letter was very good and that the president concerned had the potential to be great but, I supposed, given the temerity of the times, she would, at best, be good. After a conference, I received a number of letters from attending members saying she was great. I said, word taken, now let’s see how it works out. In the end she was no more than adequate, though all the time, as I felt at the beginning, she was someone who could have been so much better.

What to make of the present initial president NZPF communication?

A few years ago when this new president was on the verge of becoming a president then, he was called to duty at his new school. I was disappointed and told him so. But – yes – the school had to come first.

Now here he is the president, but something seems to have happened in the interim.

In my previous posting I have described why I found his message confused and shallow.

A first newsletter is something he would have given a lot of thought to, the substance of such a message doesn’t happen by accident. If such a message is shallow and confusing, it will have been by design perhaps unconscious design. The impression is that the president is intentionally obfuscating. Certainly, a change in his education thinking is indicated.

A key moment of elucidation about where his thinking is:

‘We are undergoing much change and innovation which is liberating especially when it creates positive opportunities for kids. Consecutively, there are unsettling under-currents that can make our profession be undervalued and compromised. These feelings are the result of policy announcements that come as surprises and on which we have not been consulted [my bolding] and endless new initiatives and requirements, some of which have no relationship to kids and their learning.’

The president finds in government policy much ‘innovation which is liberating’ so the substance of government policy seems to be to his liking, then, in an expression of powerful significance, he said that he had conferred with regional cluster leaders; in doing so, confirming that clusters with their embedded national standards are also very much to his liking, also their leaders (I accept, though, he has to take clusters seriously), so to what kind of thing is he referring to that concerns him? His disquiet is directed to teachers and principals being ‘undervalued and compromised’ from the ‘feelings’ they have as a ‘result of policy announcements that come as surprises and on which we have not been consulted …’ Obviously to a story like the one this website broke about professional development courses having to be given permission by the Education Council. But such announcements are inherent in the prevailing education structures. They will continue as long as the structures do.

This is an education policy when you are determined not to have an education policy.

The shallowness and obtuseness of this is fantastical. The present government driven by the neoliberal ideology (and to some extent the previous) using the jingle of needing to avoid ‘provider capture’ has been relentless in cutting teacher organisations out of a role in forming policy and playing a part in that policy when implemented. It is a policy utterly central to the momentum of Western education policy: nothing genuinely good will happen in school education until it goes; and it will only go as a result of inspired, united, and transparent opposition.

The reason the government has wanted to remove the teacher voice is to control them, making them ineffective in opposing education privatisation; agitating for increased expenditure, for instance, smaller classes, increased numbers of support teachers; and opposing the narrowing of the curriculum, testing regimes, and imposed uniformity of teaching philosophy and detail. The overall purpose is control for whatever ends.

That is the ‘big picture’ as I see it; what is the new president’s?

Principals and teachers don’t want to be consulted about policy; they want and need to be directly involved in developing and implementing it.

A reader concludes his agonised letter: ‘By the time I waded through the morass of words to finally ‘embark on yet another … blah blah … blah blah … ad infinitum I was well and truly bewildered by this consummate gobbledygooker.’ I have to admit paragraphs 5 and 6 did my head in.’

I’m not saying the president won’t have support for his shallow policy: I’m talking about leadership.

Perhaps, I have over-interpreted the new president’s ideas and his first intimations are not an accurate summation.

Since my puzzled posting of a few days ago on the matter, various people have written to me. The information is consistent. Even if true, it is not unprecedented or necessarily defining: it does not matter unless it influences the way the new president undertakes his role. If what he wrote in his first newsletter is where he stands – God help us.

It will be like having to endure a forced audience to a prolonged circus act.

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5 Responses to NZPF President matters: There are some worrying things going on here

  1. Kelvin says:

    A principal writes:
    Think your recent posts have been right on the money.
    Would it be too soon to pass a vote of no confidence in our new president?

  2. Kelvin says:

    The teacher organisation head offices tend to identify more with other head offices than with their members. There is a regular almost hypnotic round of meetings where things get ultra-cosy and teacher leaders are made to feel important. Mainly they are being played for naïfs. It needs depth of understanding and strength of mind to avoid the syndrome. In central matters, teacher organisations seem only to respond the actions of the head offices, never initiate ones of their own.

    Principals work very hard in New Zealand and many have been drawn away from a deep understanding of the curriculum. The basics of what New Zealand school education needs is really quite simple, but our leadership gets distracted. We have no way in New Zealand of working out, in an official way, what works and what doesn’t. (National standards are considerably unreliable and narrow in focus, anyway.) There is only PISA, which becomes a kind of dousing of cold water at regular intervals. It seems pretty clear that primary school education is in decline; no fault to teachers only to the system.

    With a lot of fear out there, it is important organisation leaders stand up for teachers and principals, take some of the heat. We have waited for great leadership to set a model, but it hasn’t happened. It just needs a leader to say ‘no’ on an important issue and then campaign on that. The new president has made the worst possible start but will probably end up no better and no worse than any of the others.

  3. Phil T says:

    The failure of not just government departments but also many businesses to engage in constructive way have slowly got worse over the last 20 years. I am not sure what started it but seems to have a lot to do with the type of management style many senior and middle management people have developed where they seem unable to accept even questions and want to micro manage in an arbitrary way. Seems to be more about power than ability. As the gaps have opened their confidence has gone out the window and it has become a merry go round that sees people getting further and further from the decision makers at the centre.
    All to often elected people forget the fundamental reasons they are elected which is to represent a sector of people. The old argument used to get rolled out back in the day when unions supported the Labour Party financially that we were losing sight of what unions were meant to be about but those people forgot that effective unions need a government that respects their role in representing workers. Bill Birch lead the charge to dismantle that role and today we are seeing the result in H&S having to be legislated because there is no one to buy into it.
    I am not a teacher but have always admired how teachers kept a strong organization representing their interests going.
    Having people who can stand up to the bully type tactics of todays environment would be challenging as it gets pretty lonely out there and people play a lot dirtier today than they did in the past.
    We all laugh at the old type unions who stood staunch but people are beginning to realise just why they needed to.

  4. Kelvin says:

    Thanks for the historical perspective Phil. Spot on.

    • Phil T says:

      The biggest problem with age is the it brings a fair dose of cynicism. Many years ago I had a great chat with a well known lawyer who represented a large multi national company and he talked about the constant need to restructure that started in the 90,s. His take on it was that it was to achieve no more than to keep the line in the sand that could be used to appraise performance blurred. We were no longer looking to build on what was there but rather pull it to bits and completely rebuild it.
      Things like the New Apprentice system was one example where they decided to reinvent something that was never broken.
      Watching schools tearing themselves apart and diverting huge amounts of money away from education to lawyers and appointed governors seems to point to something seriously broken. The people to sort that out are going to need to be prepared to go out on a limb and have the convictions to go all the way

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