To celebrate I had this ready (2016): Minister backs Marlene Campbell and her national standards rebellion (2011)
The national standards years were tense, feverish, and oppressive. References to authoritarianism by principals were greeted with surprise and unbelief by those outside education who had failed to grasp – perhaps understandably given the uncomprehending and unsympathetic media analysis – the lies, distortions, malignancies, and absurdities issuing from the government and bureaucracies. Shadowly behind this terrible aggression against teachers and principals was the prime minister, John Key. He wanted teachers and principals curbed for ideological reasons and, as part of that, their demands for expenditure.
Marlene Campbell, principal of Salford School, was on the executive of the NZPF (New Zealand Principals Federation) and a notably outspoken opponent of national standards. A short time after the episode below, one which has been extended from Auckland Grammar to Salford for ironic effect (the Auckland Grammar part is entirely true and exactly repeated in application to Salford), Anne Tolley decided to begin intervention measures against Marlene Campbell, partly as payback for her outspokenness but mainly as a warning to principals and teacher organisations not to speak out in way that registered. All the powerful propaganda resources of state were used against her, much of those channeled through the Southland Times, Cameron Slater’s ‘Whale Oil’, and the Dominion. It was relentless and awful.
When Hekia Parata became the minister of education she intensified the propaganda and completed the New Zealand-wide vilification of Marlene Campbell.
But not one whit of that vilification detail was true; it was all made up by the bureaucracies, those undertaking the intervention, and the minister’s office. I said so at the time and time was to bear that out. Four years later the legal process unfolded and in the Employment Court, Marlene triumphed, winning costs and reimbursement but not reappointment (too much water under the bridge). But still the ministry strung out the horror, using its resources to go to the Court of Appeal; today, however, as announced, the ministry lost again.
I have decided to use this disgraceful political episode in New Zealand school education to mark Marlene’s bravery and that of teachers and principals at the time; also to mark the many other unjustified, cruel interventions that have occurred then and since in this painful period of our education history.
‘Where’s the harm?’ Anne Tolley answers critics of a top school’s attachment to a different standards system
This was the heading for an article by Elizabeth Binning in the Sunday Star-Times, 16 January, 2011. It concerned John Morris, principal Auckland Grammar, saying his school was going to dump NCEA for the Cambridge International Exam from the fifth form on.
Meanwhile, Marlene was continuing her series of run-ins with the minister, the latest one involving a Facebook entry: ‘And the ministry of education attacks schools deferring targets, that’s a constructive response is it? Excuse me Minister Hitler. Am I in Germany? Is this the end of self-managing schools? Read Kelvin Smythe’s latest blog …’ [Perhaps not Marlene’s finest hour but this was no time for fastidiousness.]
But then something unexpected occurred.
Education minister is backing Salford principal: ‘Where’s the harm?’
What Marlene Campbell is doing Ms Tolley suggests might make her ‘way ahead’ of everyone else in her thinking.
Ms Tolley has put an end to speculation over whether Salford’s decision to use school-based standards instead of the government’s national standards would be acceptable to the government.
Questions were raised whether Salford was breaching the Education Act which says schools must offer a ‘nationally and internationally recognised assessment system’ such as national standards.
The ministry had said the school-based system does not meet the requirement as they are not nationally recognised.
But Ms Tolley disagrees, saying they are accepted by all subsequent institutions students move on to.
Ms Tolley got behind Salford and its board saying ‘where’s the harm?’
She said New Zealand’s education system gave schools the flexibility to offer students different options.
Salford – which introduced the school-based system some time ago – was using options that seemed to work for its students.
‘I think that as Marlene Campbell has said, the children in general seem to respond better to the school-based system.’
‘It allows the students to focus on the broader issues – it’s grabbing their attention and they are performing well – that’s what we want, that’s what’s important.’
Ms Tolley said the ‘most important thing’ was the fact that the students’ parents appeared happy with what was happening and the students were succeeding and going onto ‘very successful lives’.
‘In some ways perhaps Marlene Campbell is way ahead.’
The minister said she was not knocking national standards. I think it is a really good system.’
‘I just don’t think it’s a problem, if schools want to stretch students and are succeeding in keeping them engaged and focused, and succeeding, that’s really what it comes back to.’
If so (and apologies to Mel Brooks and Springtime for Hitler) I can envisage Anne serenading Marlene with:
Then it will be …
Springtime for Marlene and me
We’ll roll ahead at blitzkrieg pace
Blitz them in the learning race
And heil to you and heil to me
Set to change a PISA history
There I was, she says, reminiscing
I knew there was something missing
Now it’s time for a new decree
And springtime for Marlene and me
We will pas de deux today.