NZEI has another confused, lightweight leader

New NZEI President’s ‘to do’ list (18 January, 2017)

Three years ago, with my 12-year-old granddaughter (important to inculcate her early into the Shadbolt tradition), I travelled from Cambridge to Queen Street, Auckland, to be part of what was to be a lively march for resource teachers. Lynda Stuart spoke and I was impressed by her eloquence. It seems, though, and sadly, even tragically for the true needs of New Zealand primary teachers and children, that behind the eloquence was merely a mass of platitude.

In 1988, as I prepared to leave the formal education system to counter the ideological war in education that accompanied neoliberal economic events, I wrote two booklets Developmental Teaching and Learning in Practice parts 1 and 2. They were my testament to the future. Everything that has happened in the 26 years following was predicted and described, also the historic precedents.

I have recently republished those sections in Attack! and are there for you to read:

I am going to make this short because I have been saying the same thing to NZEI for all of those years – in the process I have become the villain, the one who doesn’t understand.

As well, in the next few days, at the request of some academics (but I was going to do it anyway) I am going to produce an election manifesto along the lines of the one I put out for the last election.

NZEI doesn’t need to change to protect itself, its position is quite safe, because there is no real accountability. It is controlled by the permanent secretariat which builds a small membership-elected group around it, putting in place a carefully planned programme of succession and, very importantly, having a system in which leaders are elected at a national conference rather than by the membership at large. With teachers being relatively isolated and phenomenally busy they are reliant on NZEI, they have to trust NZEI; but I believe that trust has been betrayed. (NZEI did fend off increasing class sizes and bulk funding but, while important, in trade union terms was a piece of cake.)

We are where we are today considerably because of the structure of NZEI; its constructed shallowness (to make life more comfortable for NZEI in relationships with ministers and the bureaucracies); and its complicity in all the major education developments (other than charter schools). NZEI did put up a good fight against national standards (the lynchpin of neoliberal education) but is now fully complicit with them.

The present education system, in being an expression of neoliberalism, has the effect of making society more inequitable. The system is failing and mainly for ideological reasons; to stop it failing, that ideology, which is dominant in economic systems around the world, must be recognised in education then confronted. Neoliberalism in education must be confronted with its opposite, a structured democracy in education.

I believe the following is the most important of my postings in recent years; it explains how neoliberal education policies lead to making society more inequitable (while pretending to do the opposite):

With a shuddering unwillingness to have to contemplate the meanderings of another leader who promises another two years of unstructured leadership, of candyfloss thinking – I turn again to what she has written.

But I hesitate.

First, let me tell you in advance, what there isn’t, there is no reference to the doing away with national standards; to developing an organisation based on the former National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP); to reducing class sizes; to advisers being independent (though probably attached to schools of education); to a fund being set up to gradually introduce a teacher of Maori to every school; to the restructuring of school oversight and evaluation; to teachers taking control of the education council and the major teacher unions being properly represented; to the national curriculum being the overriding school document not curriculum adjustments undertaken within bureaucracies; to the place of computers in classrooms being discussed with a properly representative group; to schools and the community being properly included in the kind of architecture they want for new buildings; to variety and democratic decision-making being the overriding characteristic of the education system; to programmes of work in colleges of education being changed to reflect education in a democracy; and to all major changes being passed through a comprehensive and genuine democratic process.

My great fear is that the candyfloss NZEI will get into a lovefest with the new minister of education whose very role is to distract from the fact that the ideological men in the government (Key, Joyce, English) put women to lead education for just that purpose.

There is a Peter Fraser-type statement or two, then:

‘One of the things that really concerns me is that our education system relies on political whim [no you lightweight] or ideology of our politicians [of course you naïf] and there is potential to swing in different directions with every change of government [in the case of Labour – if only].’

‘In this country, we’re small enough to have a conversation around what we want our education system to look like [good luck with that].’

And there followed more sop.

There is no enlightenment to be gained in the particulars of what the new NZEI leader wants for education.

Of the six wants, five are for more funding, and one is for ECE services to have fully qualified teachers.

Not one structural change, just more funding including ‘a funding jolt for the entire education sector that recognises and compensates for the years of underfunding.’

That’s it.

Pathetic – everything the same except for more funding which you won’t get from National, just token here and there (anyway, NZEI is complicit in the huge amounts of funding going into clusters); and you might get from Labour, but won’t add up to much better education (though I would except special education from that) without the structural change.

In effect NZEI is quite hopeless, and until the present top-down ideology is challenged and replaced by democratic structures, New Zealand education will continue to decline.

I received a letter from Bill Brown, an Australian reader.

Dear Bill

I loved your letter – what a whirlwind of ideas, all with value.

We need to establish true democracy in our institutions.

In education there needs to be structural change; that would require of us long-term argument for structural change, so that when education fails, an answer is there.

I doubt this will happen unless there is an existential crisis so it is a matter of battling.

The teacher unions are weak, without genuine fight, and horribly muddled in their thinking.

In a way I write for the future – for that moment of existential crisis which, it has to be admitted, could go to the extreme right rather than to the fair left.

So there you are – fighting for a fairer society demands patience or one would go mad.

All very best



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11 Responses to NZEI has another confused, lightweight leader

  1. Peggy Burrows says:

    Dear Kelvin

    Yet again you supply us with well reasoned, well researched and documented argument, and all you ask in return is critical thinking by way of reflection from the education community.

    The silence is deafening and presupposes a lack of agreement or worse a lack of interest. I feel you have encapsulated the problem in your latest posting, teachers are just too busy, just too worn down and just too scared to voice an opinion that opposes their political masters.

    What a sad state of affairs in education today when the very professionals who underpin this once glorious system are silenced by the bureaucrats and represented by political sycophants!

    What is to become of us – and more worrying, what is to become of the children and families we serve!

  2. John Elliott says:

    Fully agree, Kelvin. Having started Secondary teaching in 1970, my support and concerns have always been for PPTA. But for over at least the past 20 years I have felt that QPEC and people like you have been trying to do much of what the 2 unions should have been doing.

  3. Bruce Hammonds says:

    What was missed from the new NZEI president was all the things you wrote that are missing
    Maybe the holistic creative approach we were heading for before Tomorrows Schools has all but been lost.

  4. Kelvin says:

    Dear readers

    There has been a slight movement for the better in the leadership matter raised in the posting.

    In today’s NZEI TE RIU ROA (30 January, 2017), Lynda Stuart highlights from yesterday’s State of the Nation speeches, a Labour-Green commitment to increase funding for schools.

    After making much of that she says: ‘While funding is crucial, teachers also call on all parties to listen to the profession’s concerns about other policies brought in over the past nine years, like national standards, charter schools, and the move towards privatisation.’

    This is something but not nearly enough. It is painfully weak.

    After all, none of those profession’s concerns were in Lynda Stuart’s list of things to do for 2017.

    There is a lack of clarity and urgency.

    Without restructuring education, while more funding will ease things for principal, it will do next to nothing (except in special education) to meet teachers’ concerns as I hear them.

    In ten years, those in education will not remember the extra funding, but they will remember, and so will history, those who led a restructuring.

    In the Helen Clark years much extra money but no restructuring – and after her, the deluge.

    The profession’s concerns were dealt with in an offhand way by Lynda Stuart, as something secondary, when they should be have been pushed forward as a shimmering priority.

    Intended or not, I accept her statement as some kind of acknowledgement of the matters raised in the posting, but now for her to pursue them with irresistible thoroughness and force – the well-being of our democracy and sustainability of public education depends on it.

    Meanwhile, on my part, a watchful truce.


    Kelvin Smythe

  5. nickola cross says:

    perhaps alan it is time to take your knowledge on the road and get a platform to speak from, im sure seeing and hearing you inperson would be quite rousing for many overworked teachers to think seriously about the path that education is heading. we are but a small nzei branch in the BOI, but will have a booth on the marae/camping grounds on waitangi day. what better place to start, please feel free if in the area to come and see us.

  6. Kelvin says:

    Dear Nickola
    Allan is a most wise and caring person. He is the most unlackey person one could imagine.
    Kindest regards

  7. Roger Young says:

    Why can’t we have Kelvin as Minister of Education?
    I don’t believe that extra funding is the answer. Perhaps some of the funding taken away could be replaced. Teacher training could be independent again from Universities and Advisory services could be attached to training colleges. Special education could be reintroduced. The teaching of Maori could be funded. The rest really could be achieved through spending the money on school as opposed to spending on private charter school profit levels. The millions spent on grants to private IT companies could fund teacher aides.
    Some of the decisions making processes could involve consultation with actual classroom teachers. Principals could be people who really do have a concern and interest in the well being of children and teachers. WE could have a world leading education system similar to what was happening pre national standards. Oh please bring back Elwin Richardson and In The Early World.
    Kelvin is right.
    “Neoliberalism in education must be confronted with its opposite, a structured democracy in education.”

  8. Roger Young says:


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