Ministry and Sky City celebration of clusters

If asked, the ministry will deny any initial planning for a celebration of clusters, but the idea is being given serious attention.

It is a telling commentary that Auckland is the intended place for such a cynical manoeuvre; high decile schools of the central city can fool around with such education ideas at no real cost to children’s ultimate education status but children from lower decile schools, often lacking the kind of cultural capital to recover, never catch up. (I’m sure, though, that if this multi-million dollar extravaganza proceeds, a lower decile cluster school will be found to laud clusters but that is the nature of education today – phenomenal energy invested in façade, cover-up, and propaganda, and very little into authenticity.)

Remember the multi-million dollar festival of education in Auckland a few years ago, a celebration too, but what did it herald?

In international testing, for what those tests are worth, the worst results in the Western world and NCEA becoming even more a Wild West of fiddling, invalidity, and manoeuvring.

The response might be, international testing is not about real learning, I agree, but national standards aren’t either so we should be forging ahead. Not being about real learning is what we do and we are not even doing that very well.

The Tomorrow’s School system is wrong; it was always a deception representing an allocation of power upwards; and in representing that, failing to deliver improved education, as has every other deception subsequently, but always followed by another deception. In respect to the allocation of power upwards, principals responded in three ways, a large group said the emperor looked fantastic in his or her new clothes; another group said it had no opinion, emperor clothing not being their area of expertise; and a small group said he or she looked a bloody sight and should put some clothes on.

Yes, elements of the neoliberal, right-wing system work somewhat better in other countries, but not much, and only because nearly every other education system in Western countries is better funded. In New Zealand, top-down, no meaningful discussion, with education wisdom residing solely in the head of the minister of education and her mat-pack, is squeezing the relevance out of teaching.

It is distressing, though, to see education history repeating itself – another 25 years of education malaise in prospect: fifty years of going in the wrong education direction; 50 years it will be of children from economically poorer families being in the wrong system for them (in particular); and ominously for New Zealand society, contributing to a non-democratic future.

Oh what a sell there was for Tomorrow’s Schools! freedom for schools and a panacea for the education of Maori children.

Oh what a sell there is for clusters! collaboration in an atmosphere of Quaker-like tranquillity, no more of that nasty competition (stopping the publishing of national standards results are they?), and, of course, a panacea for the education of Maori children.

In the long line of deceptions, clusters are the shiny new education object that will do the trick. But that is the problem, it is never a shiny new education object, it is just new packaging –  remove that and it is just the same old top down, measurement obsessed, my way or the highway.

Only half New Zealand children are enrolled in clusters but Lynda Stuart, president of NZEI rushed to the defence of them. She said ‘it was too early to say IES was failing.’

Doesn’t she get it? If it was succeeding then it would be failing (the real education of children).

She had more to say, ‘To move from a competitive system … into a system that focuses on collaboration across the sector actually takes time.’

Collaboration! hollow laugh.

For fear of serious head fracture, no-one should dive into a pool of Lynda Stuart’s thinking (seemingly a self-imposed constraint).

Lynda, if this cluster farce continues, god help New Zealand children.

The cluster system is not collaboration, wasn’t from the beginning, isn’t now, and won’t be unless the system is transformed but, even then, would remain an artificial construct.

Lynda, what is your interpretation of collaboration? Is it just a tiny allocated area of highly circumscribed freedom to act in, in the context of an imperious command education system; a freedom to act that will lead to more control and entanglement – for instance, the clusters will entrench national standards even more deeply in the education system? Are you telling your members that national standards are the future of New Zealand education?

NZEI has been sold another education pup, along with all the other Tomorrow’s Schools pups, all of which turned into education mongrels.

I can let you into an NZEI secret here: behind the NZEI switch from opposition to support for clusters lies a tactic which has backfired to the terrible detriment of children’s education – the thinking was, we don’t like clusters but we don’t want to get offside with the minister, and there is some money in it for teachers and principals, so we will support it on the understanding it is a bad idea certain to fall over or the Labour Party get rid of, whichever is first. (Not all executive members were in on this.)

This is not supposition but rock-hard information.

In 1988 (reproduced in Attacks! 93-95), I wrote that ‘in third world countries, locally-based and collaborative structures can be educationally, socially, and politically potent. In technocratic, affluent, individualistic societies, however, collaboration, in the way it comes out in practice, leads to schools becoming subject to an extension of hierarchical lines of control. It can lead to positivist thinking being imposed on teachers and children in suffocating proximity. Collaboration is undermined when some of those involved, mainly the government and its agencies but also principals, even teacher organisations, have strong sanctions of one sort or another over one group in particular, namely classroom teachers.’

‘Collaboration requires true partnership amongst those involved throughout the system. This partnership would mean group relationships being less reliant on formality and uniformity and more on negotiation and variety. In such an agreement, no one group would have the power to impose its ideas on a strongly resisting one (though, in the end, the government has the final say), or have its knowledge by dint of origin considered inherently superior. Power would be more diffuse in the system, meaning more power available for teachers and children in classrooms. These ideas might seem out of time and place as governments are set on extreme dominance over schools, but that is my point, it will be found that such dominance will not work for children, especially for children most in need of it working.’

‘The strength of New Zealand’s primary system of education relative to its overseas counterparts, has been the high level of co-operation within it – that has compensated for the low level of funding – but New Zealand schools are now set to be reduced in both. The Tomorrow’s Schools education system will eventually fail, but too many people will have a stake in the status quo to accept any lessening of their power or even allow a trend in that direction, so the system will gradually deteriorate.’

Unless the system is genuinely collaborative, a bit tacked on to the end cannot be collaborative, but then, it was never intended to be: its intention was to add another layer of bureaucracy to better control classrooms, provide easy exploitative access to private providers, offer another non-solution to the education system as a way of avoiding real change and improved funding (where it matters), brainwash selected teachers and principals to accepting national standards as a curriculum norm, and divide teachers and principals.

An average size school would get $220,000 extra every four years if the internal funding for clusters was allocated to schools. I calculate another $200,000 if the bureaucratic and other external costs were included. What would that do for high needs children? And if the money was bundled into the education system: what would that do for an increase in teachers to individualise teaching?

Oh well, you might have the Sky City celebration of clusters as compensation.

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4 Responses to Ministry and Sky City celebration of clusters

  1. John Carrodus says:

    Kelvin, with this posting, you have grabbed my full attention across the room again.. I think you are 9/10 in the bullseye. There is much afoot here behind the scenes in NZ education, I feel we are playing a more significant roll in future global education developments than we realise. It is clear to me we are ramping up to a global curriculum and delivery system. All these Red Heerings are merely contrived distractions. As I’ve said before..a conspiracy theory…NO ..it is much more real than that!

  2. Kelvin says:

    From a terrific battler for teachers and children – yes NZEI is breaking our heart.

    Gidday Kelvin, now I have heard it all. I will resign my membership of NZEI on Monday this is just another example of NZEI selling us down the drain. They don’t listen, they are obsessed with not upsetting the apple cart, they lack guts but I still felt a need to be part of the collective. This is the last straw and she can shove her organisation where …!
    Thanks for the heads up.

  3. Kelly-Ned says:

    Hi Kelvin
    Interesting thoughts.
    Certainly the collaboration mantra is barely skin deep. I have watched around me principals being appointed as cluster leaders – almost all with egos a mile high.
    Achievement challenges? Well that is where the real control comes in directly from the minister. A quick read of cluster targets and you will quickly see that they are extraordinarily similar. That’s because unless they satisfy the Minister’s ideals they don’t get approved. And that is where the centralised control really kicks in.
    As for me and my school we have stood aside and I have watched the schools with which we have collaborated for many years meet endlessly for nearly two years with nothing achieved for children. A massive waste of time and effort – not to mention cash.
    NZEI has tried valiantly to make something worthwhile of the initiative but I doubt that was ever possible in any meaningful way.
    It should be noted that Cabinet briefing papers of a couple of years ago preclude any reduction in competition between schools – upon the insistence of Bill English. Clearly collaboration and competition are very uncomfortable bedfellows.

  4. stephen dadelus says:

    They all are a morally and ethically bankrupt outfit. Those who sit, listen and say/do nothing are no better. Lynda has absolutely NO IDEA what collaborative action is all about. Its not co-operation!!!!!! – working to agendas and doing deals.
    Collaboration is the act of co-laboring. She should try it sometime.

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