The Raising Achievement Plan (RAP) introduced by the education review office is an education obscenity and demands the two teacher organisations work together to support schools that refuse to implement it. The minister has lost control of the teacher organisations and her policies are failing – as a result, we in education should be prepared for a particularly restless period of new schemes and policies, many of them half-crazy, as Hekia tries to assert herself also to distract from the failure referred to. She could well be at her most dangerous and radically right-wing.
In this posting I am concentrating on the education review office and its indicator travesty.
I will mainly work from the letter sent by Iona Holsted to schools announcing that the Plan is now a full term and seven weeks into its introduction.
The new indicators she claims draw on the best evidence of practice needed to achieve equity and excellence. ‘We know,’ she claims, ‘these are the conditions necessary to improve student outcomes for all learners.’
No evidence to this claim is even close to being provided.
On the other hand, I notice that no best evidence is provided to support an education bureaucracy that has developed a curriculum plan with no involvement of schools or teachers.
Is having no real teacher and school involvement in the policy development best practice?
Take a step back Iona and think for yourself.
Now let’s get one thing right: this is not a Plan, it is a new official curriculum – yes the old curriculum is thereabouts; but this is the new one (with more such bureaucratic curriculums to come), all without any genuine reference to schools and teachers. Is this really the way to run an education system?
In 1996, in Developmental Network Magazine, I wrote:
No nationwide curriculum initiative has succeeded under the present philosophy and none will succeed. The official curriculum has been superseded by national standards, ministry regulation, and education review office indicators and decrees. Any curriculum initiative no matter when or where comes loaded with unworkable and undesirable features. The only way it can be made to work is if teachers feel free enough to colonise it, but teachers, as an outcome of the present philosophy do not feel free enough to colonise it, are not freed enough to colonise it. And so under the present philosophy it is not teachers who colonise curriculum initiatives (and the curriculum generally), but the bureaucracies.
And the education review office has more than colonised the existing curriculum it has obliterated it.
In 1990, in Developmental Network Magazine, I set out the three principles to guide the teacher organisations (indeed, all of us in education):
- The education of children is problematic and value-laden. For the integrity of the education system, the various groups within it need to be free, willing, and able to argue and even, at times, obstruct the ideas and actions of other groups. There never has been and never will be a set of aims and related processes that have met, or will meet, the needs of all children within a system, or be agreed to by all those within it.
- Power should be shared throughout the education system, and various checks and balances be in place to stop it becoming too concentrated. It is only in this way that children will gain some protection from the vagaries of educational and political ideas and the human drive to control and dominate. The powerlessness of the young, the fact of them being young, makes school-children tempting targets for those who want to turn schools into battlegrounds for competing visions of what society ought to be.
- Teachers are unsettled by the possibility of curriculum and administrative ideas being able to be passed quickly down the hierarchical chain without those ideas requiring teacher involvement at all stages of their development. The best ideas for education come from teachers and those close to teachers. The part of the education system that is important to teachers is the part close to them. The part further away has the capacity to do much harm, but little capacity to do much good. The nature of the education system should be to protect teachers from hastily conceived ideas – no matter their potential benefits. Good ideas are only good if the process for their development has been good. The last thing teachers want is the kind of efficiency that has someone in the hierarchy having an idea, and then using the chain of command to force it on them without due process.
Iona, you seem to be operating under a weird misapprehension that what happens at the classroom level is largely a given and that all that is needed to get things going is for teachers to try harder in association with mountains of jargonish, behaviourist material. I know I can never get it through to you Iona, you didn’t stay long enough to gain a semblance, but genuine improvement in the various parts of the curriculum starts with the teacher, but only if the teacher is provided with the freedom for that start – if the teacher is, and allowed to get on with it, it can be a beautiful, magical process of revelation, personal to the teacher and life enhancing to the children.
It is not a matter of the teacher being urged to put more into it under the guidance of gibberish from their education bureaucracy. We know, for instance, how nearly all children in low decile schools can catch up in reading and writing: it is by the methods used in Picking up the Pace which was part of the Mangere project. That was done by teachers and those who truly knew how to help teachers, and started with a rigorous use of the Concepts of Print – but how to implement Concepts of Print, how to provide the most rewarding context for it, takes a lifetime of experience. It is not done by numbers or by those academic ‘experts’ you employ for cover. Education review officers just don’t have a clue. I could go through every curriculum area pointing out where the heart of it lay and expressing appreciation for those who understood it and worked there. It is no good talking to you Iona – you are just too ignorant of how teaching works. In teaching, having set up the right framework, the genius is in the magic of those small workings with individual children.
In your email you say: ‘I want to address some recent feedback where some principals were surprised that the ERO review recommended that the school develop a Raising Achievement Plan.’
What a farce! A document larger than the curriculum; meetings occurring; and principals not being informed that this was to be the beginning of a huge new scramble of writing and documentation – and more bureaucracy.
Iona, in the face of the scorn demonstrated by those present; your officers didn’t have the nerve to make things clear.
The Plan adds up to the same as is in place now for Maori children but worse.
And that talk of acceleration: stop living in American research dream-world productions, and get back into the real world: join the real people doing real things. But you won’t have the courage to do so because it is a whole different paradigm.
The national standards give-away is in the first FAQ: ‘Is this just about national standards data?’
‘Answer: No. While national standards will be the starting point for the review, we will go further …’ blah, blah, blah.
My answer is for schools to imagine the response from the review office if, having failed in ‘the starting point’, you claimed great success in the ‘further’.
I am concluding by talking to you Iona. You might think, along with a good number of others, that I am some kind of misguided idealist, whose speakings are hopelessly outdated. But I’d like to point out that in science, for instance, those whose prognostications are supported by outcomes, have their ideas gain status by the occurrence. My urgency and style of delivery come from not wanting another generation of Maori children to be betrayed by your office as they have been so repeatedly. Once again you have persisted in putting national standards to the forefront along with the kind of education that represents; all to be horribly compounded by the oh so destructive indicators referred to. You may be willing to betray another generation with more half-baked ideas (to put it generously), I’m not and neither will a good number of teachers and principals.
Take my word for it Iona, the indicators are spurious rubbish. For goodness sake get your cold-hearted lists; your ill-informed representatives; and your puerile education ideas out of the way – and let principals and teachers get on with the job.