Worst in English-speaking world: TIMSS – QED – 26 years and only one good system thing happened

And I’ll get that over quickly: the brave resistance to national standards – the best thing in the system was opposing something in it.

What follows is a speed trip over 26 years which, in retrospect, demonstrates that nothing in the system of education value happened: an education wastelend.

I always thought the imminent release TIMSS release, now with us, is why Hekia Parata gave it away, and that seems to be the case.

The deeper you go into the results the worse they become.

The worse for all and especially for Maori, Pasifika, and the poor: I urge you to read the link below.

The results are not, of course, a surprise: it’s just that the government has found them particularly difficult to spin and distract from.

TIMSS isn’t about real education, but then neither is NS education, but for what TIMSS is worth, the results are awful – and the NZ education system is to blame.

To put this posting into context, the following links need to be read.


The link above is my definitive statement on where we are.




The three links above are my account and my predictions made in 1988 before I resigned as senior inspector of schools to go out on the road.

I wrote those three links above because it was what I wanted to say on national radio, the only media outlet worth being on, but I knew I was not the kind of person (even though my magazine was going into over 2000 primary schools at the time) national radio interviews on education. I was too rough. The irony was that on one side of education I was the one who hounded Tom Nicholson and Bill Tunmer for years while they were regulars on national radio explaining and defending themselves essentially against me. But no hard feelings – I’m more comfortable as a writer. 

The adherents of international neoliberalism in the late 20th century displayed great subtlety in absorbing the left – we can call it the Third Way, the Tony Blair Third Way – in New Zealand the David Lange Third Way, which is what it was.

Oh champion David Lange quick thinker to shallow effect.

It was early 1988 and I was standing at a bus queue at Wellington airport when I heard my name called out; it was Noel Scott, now an associate education minister, previously a district senior inspector of schools while I was in the primary inspectorate across the Waikato River.

‘Hop in,’ he said from his chauffeur-driven car.

He was excited and whipped out a bit of cardboard from his pocket (in my mind it was a flattened cigarette packet, but that might be apocryphal) and he proceeded to set out in diagrammatic form something he called Labour’s plans for education. Talk about being in at the birth; the conception of course at the Treasury.

‘What do you think?’

I was aghast. ‘The secondary school system imposed on primary schools,’ I thought.

I said, ‘No, no, no – it will kill the primary school curriculum.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The primary school curriculum develops in subtle ways with an almost hidden connectedness – those plans will kill it.’

‘But this is about connectedness.’

‘It’s about controlling the curriculum not developing it.’

Teachers, in the Picot implementation, had their voices drowned in a propaganda campaign of unparalleled proportions.

Non-facts, weasel words, anti-teacher and anti-teacher union innuendo, emotive images, simplistic arguments, and misrepresentations of what went before and what was to come were piled onto a debate which was, in reality, a debate that wasn’t.

This debate, however, like the wider debate, never occurred.

Consultation, in technocratic fashion, became an instrument of control. Consult widely, ignore largely – and use the fact of having consulted widely to legitimise the fact of having ignored largely.

To have done all this to that remarkable institution – the New Zealand primary school; to that group of high integrity – New Zealand primary teachers, was a disgrace.

I went up to Phil Goff then minister of education or thereabouts and accosted him at a research conference: Do you really have clue as to what you’re doing Mr Goff? he laughed and shrugged me off.

Ha-ha-ha to you Mr Goff.

Maurice Gianotti resigned as head of the education review office (in reality dismissed for not being tough enough on schools) and Judith Aitken replaced him. No-one has done more harm to primary school education than her.

For the thousandth time: there will be no improvement in education until the review office is replaced by a group who come into schools to see how well schools are meeting freely set goals within the spirit of the national curriculum.

A key idea in neoliberalism is a very definite separation between the evaluators and the evaluated – that separation has to be shattered.

When New Zealand First went into alliance with National, Brian Donnelly, former principal of Whangarei Intermediate was made responsible for the education review office; we came to a quiet understanding about reviewing the review office.

Well the review was set up but would it make a difference? Fat chance! They got at him. Guess who was on it? Apryll Parata and actually even worse, Margaret Austin, former Labour mp.

For the first few years, Tomorrow’s Schools was quite heady: the monster was sated. But the rest is our present.

In 1999 I spoke to a group of principals suggesting they do what the government insisted they do but all the time to hold on to what they knew was right to be ready for another day, to be ready to take chances as they came.

They didn’t say anything, all was polite, but I could see incomprehension in their eyes.

So I said in my thoughts: … you!

I was feeling tired anyway, so for a few years I concentrated on part-owning trotters (three wins and numerous places).

The Labour years were OK years but in retrospect wasted ones.

I was now back – back with my website and on the road again. (Leonard Cohen my great companion – Everybody Knows.)

Trevor Mallard and Labour had accepted the structural status quo (Labour being philosophically lost and nobody within it more so than Trevor); he was great pals with that 76 tromboner John Hattie; and you could see he accepted the inevitability of national standards.

Then National.

A hard truth about John Key is that he vehemently resents public education and he leads a government based on hard lies softly delivered.

This is slightly off this posting’s message but democracy in New Zealand (and elsewhere), given the challenges the world is facing, must be shifted on its axis to one of truth and trust. So serious is the situation we need an inter-party government to prepare for the effects of advanced technology, provide a universal income, restructure institutions, and build stronger safeguards to protect democracy.

The most terrible lie in education has been the use of the figure of 18% as the effect of home environment on children’s learning when it is 70 percent. The lower figure means the government has been able to put the full responsibility for, say, Maori education, on teachers.

Nothing much needs to be said about the Tolley-Parata years, except they have been awful: national standards, the hyping-up of the education review office, and ministry bullying and tightening the screws, have failed, clusters which are based on national standards will fail, but those in the education power structure won’t care – the party will continue unabated (because the alternative would require increased funding).

The policy has failed, the structure has failed, but the policy won’t change direction, indeed, it will pick up pace.

In the Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky the Spanish Inquisition auto de fe was in full swing. An individual made an appearance claiming to be Jesus Christ. In the end, after a thorough inquiry, the inquisitors acknowledged that he was indeed the Son of God but with fulsome apology they said sorry things are going so well down here we will have to despatch you.

Things are going so well for the National government, education review office, ministry, private providers, supportive academics, some principals, STA, NZCER (independent my eyebrow), Parata’s cronies, CoL leaders, commissioners, those on the Education Council (a perfect example of a neoliberal institution) – they will say in unison we will have to despatch the TIMSS results to oblivion just as we do every year with NCEA level 2 and the devastating effects of national standards, the review office, the lack of school freedom (for instance, to even choose who takes professional development courses), the lack of funding, and the messing around with CoLs.

That’s 26 years of Tomorrow’s Schools for me. Champion!

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3 Responses to Worst in English-speaking world: TIMSS – QED – 26 years and only one good system thing happened

  1. “The policy has failed, the structure has failed, but the policy won’t change direction, indeed, it will pick up pace.” And this is where it all leaves us, too sad for my words. Thank you Kelvin for your continued resistance, in depth understanding and commentary. You are a national treasure.

  2. Margaret A Box says:

    Your best summing up yet, Kelvin! Such insight, wonderful! Noeline, above, has picked your key message. Other than chipping away, what’s to be done!
    Have spent this morning listening, on RNZ National, to the Govt’s excuses for the utterly shameful treatment of state wards and why they don’t need to make amends – more of the same, ducking responsibility. Grrrr.. Frustration, frustration, frustration!! Scream!!

  3. Kelvin says:

    Thank-you Noeline and Margaret your support is appreciated. Deeply appreciated.

    Margaret: I’m nearly beside myself with anger about the state wards. How is our democracy going to survive with this level of dishonesty, If we can’t flow in all humanity to these people who need our love and support what chance is there for our children and grandchildren to live in society that will be intelligent and decent enough to survive? Have you noticed that for these tasks, the men in National get women to do their dirty work?

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