If Chris Hipkins can’t do it give it to Kelvin Davis Part 2

In many respects Kelvin Davis is more conservative than Chris Hipkins but Kelvin Davis listens and that is all we are asking.

[I want to make it clear these postings are entirely my initiative. If Kelvin asked me to stop I wouldn’t.

He first came to my attention many years ago when I was at Waitangi on Waitangi Day taking photographs for a social studies resource. The word spread like wildfire that Helen Clark had continued north to speak to a promising potential candidate by the name of Kelvin Davis.

In the last three years we have probably communicated three or four times. In a posting, I pushed him and Stuart Nash for leadership material, and that Christmas (after the election), in walking down to the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, I met him and his new secretary who had been taken north to meet his family and visit the electorate.

Since then we have communicated about four times, usually when he sought information about a school and principal he thought might be able to help. Please note: not to work together but to do what he could do from his position.

Kelvin Davis was decisive in protecting Opua School from the very bad behaviour of the education review office.

Two times, after reading my postings, and then ringing me, I could sense his deep concern about the bullying of two women principals.

The questions he asked were always direct and quite tough: summed up he didn’t want to be caught defending an incompetent. Kelvin is not someone to be trifled with.

I did ring him on one occasion, to do with his visit to a charter school in Whangarei. First of all he said he did not support charter schools, and I believed him, and so should you – Kelvin Davis does not tell lies.

The circumstances were that he was asked to visit the school for a special occasion by the principal, a close member of his whanau – that member had worked to start a school for Maori children, one she intended to have within the public system. That was the originating plan, but the ministry would have none of it, and insisted it be a charter school or nothing.

In the end Kelvin Davis decided to go serving one loyalty while transgressing another.

Kelvin Davis would disagree on a lot of things with me about education, I don’t care; he is a listener. I see him as a future prime minister.]

What follows is a sincere attempt to suggest some ideas for a system’s education change to put the spark, cohesion, and drive into Labour’s education plans for primary education.

At the moment Labour’s suggested policies are dragging the chain and just won’t do.

Below are some ideas for a changed education system – ideas which are consistent with Labour’s 1935 education policy of developing children’s ‘talents to the utmost’.

The Currie Commission (1962) was to underline the seriousness of this intent when it said that: ‘So far is this from being a mere pious platitude that the full acceptance of the principle will involve the reorientation of the education system.’

The term reorientation is one that suits my purposes exactly: Please note – my attention is to primary school education.

I know my suggestions for a manifesto have been posted – this is another expression in another mood, so some differences in emphasis (but only that).


I was mindful in the ideas that follow to set out a democratic and trust-based system which did not replace one set of certainties with another. Wittgenstein described the modern-day obsession with certainty as a superstition. In education, in a social democracy, there isn’t anyone who knows – at best we are talking about approximation. There certainly isn’t anyone who knows; who can be certain about what is right for all children, for all teachers, for all schools, for all societies, for all times. It should not be management by objectives (which is neoliberalism) but participation by variety, values, and aims (which is social democracy).

While the emphasis in the framework that follows is on aims, that doesn’t mean that schools can’t, if that is their decision, organise what they do to closely-set objectives of their own making – the important thing is that this judgement is left to schools. That is why variety in the suggested framework is more than something to be encouraged, it is its essence. Variety is especially mentioned in three key education areas: the external review process; a reconstituted advisory service; and initial teacher education.

The ideas that follow will only truly come alive if they are read as ‘far from being mere pious platitude’. An education system, for instance, built on truly valuing variety would have widespread and significant consequences from initial teacher education, to classroom functioning, to external reviewing, and on and on.

Chris Hipkins is not listening; I believe Kelvin Davis would listen.

It almost goes without saying that the clusters should be abolished: they are not worth their money relative to other needs and, even more importantly, under a National government (even a Labour one if Tomorrow’s Schools are anything to go by) they will be turned to deepening education’s neoliberal future – schools being conveniently organised for bureaucratic control and exploitation by private companies


Develop a partnership model for policy development

Develop an education system given direction by an agreed set of values

Develop an education system based on valuing variety

Develop a national curriculum organised by principles and aims

Develop an education system based on evaluation being inseparable from teaching (in other words, reducing the significance of outcomes-based assessment)

In the light of above: Develop an education system based on carefully considered metaphors

The Education Council is acting as an instrument of the ministry of education and adding another layer of bureaucracy: it should be abolished and replaced by an organisation controlled and paid for by teachers

Because John Hattie’s research contributes substantially to the theoretical basis for the current system and the academic justification for its policies, there should be an inquiry into the soundness of that research.

Comment: The term evidence-based research should examined and put into proportion to allow space for other ways knowledge is produced. ‘Assessment’ as a term, was absent from education literature before the 1970s and is inseparable from the industrial model introduced into education by neoliberalism. Teachers and their organisations should be structurally involved in policy initiation and making.

External reviews

Develop a process of external review undertaken in partnership (government, boards of trustees, teacher organisations, principals, teachers, and schools of education)

Develop a process of external review based on evaluation being inseparable from teaching (in other words what is happening in classrooms not on paper)

Develop a process of external review in accord with the principles and aims set for the system and the national curriculum.

Develop policies of transparency and acceptance of responsibility for the education review process.

Consider bringing the review office into the ministry structure for efficiency, to align policy and evaluation, and honesty of function and relationship.

Comment: Such an external review process would require reviewers to establish different relationships with schools and be of high status and experience. I suggest a partnership advisory board be set up in association with the administration of the review process.

National evaluation

Develop a national evaluation system based on sampling using rich evaluation activities.

Comment: This is a recommendation for system similar to NEMP, but even better resourced. I also suggest building relationships with other countries to establish an international approach, separate from right-wing and economics-focused organisations like the OECD, to evaluate across the curriculum using rich evaluation activities. The idea is replace narrowly focused and structured international evaluation processes like PISA with broadly based and structured evaluation processes like NEMP. The Educational Assessment Research Unit based at Otago should also be continued (though, refocused and comprising qualitative researchers as well).

Advisory service

Develop a relatively independent, government-funded advisory service based on valuing variety.

Comment: A relatively independent advisory service would provide an alternative to other sources of professional advice, other developers of knowledge, and other sources of curriculum memory. I think this is of particular importance.

Principal appointments (Primary)

Develop a system around the idea of principal appointments being made by a committee of two board of trustees, an NZEI representative, and a ministry representative as chair.

Comment: There are no perfect appointment processes, only less imperfect ones.

Specialist teaching

Develop a school staffing schedule that, without undermining the benefits of generalist class teaching, provides schools with the opportunity for some specialised teaching.

Comment: I suggest Maori, music, drama, the arts, and science as being particular beneficiaries of this policy.

Children and underachievement

Develop special policies for helping children who are underachieving

Advocate for, and contribute to, a national economic and social policy on underachievement that gives priority to the mitigation and elimination of child poverty

Develop policies for creating environments in schools to provide some compensation for social disadvantage

Develop a policy for including in school staffing schedules time allowances for community relationships, individual counselling, working with multi-agencies, running homework centres, and organising and funding healthy eating

Develop policies for providing extra classroom support for teachers, with special attention to increasing the number of support teachers to help in one-to-one or small group teaching

Develop policies that discourage schools from manipulating enrolment policies to the disadvantage of Maori and Polynesian children.

Comment: These must be a high priority.


Develop more programmes like Te Kotahitanga (and reintroduce Te Kotahitanga)

Develop holistic programmes developed by holistic teachers (Maori and others)

Develop a programme of appointing (using culturally appropriate procedures) Maori-speaking teachers to schools to teach and set up programmes throughout those schools (introduced initially by schools volunteering and then being selected).

Special needs

Develop a comprehensive funding policy for children with special needs as a way for schools to meet those children’s needs without detriment to the resources available to other children in the school.

Comment: Funding for special needs should be generous to the extent that the temptation to discourage the enrolment of special needs’ children is reduced.

National curriculum

Develop a national curriculum which, while giving an assured place to literacy and numeracy, provides children with rich learning opportunities in a broadly-based curriculum

Develop a national curriculum organised by aims (as against objectives)

Develop a national curriculum based, in the first place, on meeting the needs of children as they are (being the best way for preparing children for the future)

Develop a national curriculum that has knowing and the affective as its basis

Develop a national curriculum that ensures all children, no matter their ability, are involved in programmes that encourage creativity, imagination, and rigorous thinking

Develop a national curriculum that is based on evaluation and teaching being inseparable.

Comment: To reduce in importance particular parts of the curriculum on the erroneous justification of first attending to literacy and numeracy is to condemn certain children to a second-rate education. A curriculum based on aims provides more space for creativity and teacher initiative. It should be left to schools to decide on the nature and extent of objective setting. Many schools and teachers may well decide to transform what might have been objectives into criteria.


Develop a system that respects and is informed by both teacher and academic knowledge

Develop SKS (Successful Knowledge Syntheses) rather than BES (Best Evidence Syntheses).

Comment: Having an education system that respects and is informed by both teacher and academic knowledge would have significant implications for appointments to schools of education, the functioning of the PBRF (Performance-Based Research Fund), external reviewing, and curriculum development.

Schools of education

Develop courses for schools of education that respect and use teacher-developed knowledge

Develop courses for schools of education that give priority to the needs of children and not the status of universities

Develop criteria for appointments to schools of education and advancement that give priority to applicants’ suitability for preparing students for teaching in schools

Develop criteria for appointments to schools of education, and advancement that take account of academic ability but in a way more appropriate to the aims of teacher education than the current PBRF system

Develop programmes of work for schools of education that emphasise teaching and learning in schools but also give attention to theoretical and philosophical matters

Develop programmes of work for schools of education that value variety

Develop a policy that allows schools of education, within broad guidelines, to provide programmes that differ.

Comment: Such ideas may well go against the internationalisation of universities, if so, let that be a point of difference for our education system and, in schools, a win for teachers and children.

Computers in schools

Develop a policy that has computers in schools supporting curriculum development not driving it

Develop a new policy for computers in schools following consultation with curriculum experts and high ability classroom teachers

Develop a policy to have computer-use a curriculum subject and in that way take pressure of teachers to use computers inappropriately throughout the curriculum.

Comment: I know schools already have a considerable amount of independence in deciding computer purchasing and policy in their schools – what I’m guarding against here are large government gestures along the lines often suggested by Labour. There are far more important priorities for government funding (as instanced above). The use of computers in schools should not be dominated by computer experts but by curriculum ones – in that way, computers are more likely to end up serving the curriculum not driving it.

School architecture

Develop a policy that gives choice to schools in the matter of school architecture

Develop a policy that would allow schools to have a variety of architectural styles in a school.

The above are some ideas for a reorientation of the education system. In recent years, the Labour Party’s education policy has been one of incrementalism – in other words, by implication, an acceptance of the present system as satisfactory, requiring only occasional adjustment. But the present system with its increasing bureaucratisation and authoritarianism is not satisfactory. Incrementalism is all right if the system is on the right track, but it isn’t: it needs significant change, but judicious change. Some of the processes, techniques, and efficiencies developed from Tomorrow’s Schools should be retained but made to serve an education system more fitting for a social democracy.

Neoliberal academics have no hesitation in going back to the pre-war Austrian philosophers to reconfirm his philosophical rationale (in his case, Peter Drucker and management by objectives), so Labour politicians should have no hesitation in going back to the Fraser-Beeby era to reconfirm theirs.

A Beeby statement made following a meeting in 1942 with the South Canterbury NZEI management committee expresses clearly an idea fundamental to the reorientation suggested:

‘There seems to be a common desire on the part of teachers to ask the Department for detailed instructions regarding such things as the changes that are taking place in infant education rather than to embrace the freedom the Department has given and to participate co-operatively in the working out of up-date practice in the infant room.’

Please note that Beeby emphasised true freedom for curriculum expression. Such true freedom is in stark contrast to the nominal freedom for classroom activities that is currently allowed with centralised control being maintained through bureaucratically set and monitored objectives.

Beeby wrote:

‘It may well be that the Department, without slackening its programme on the more material side, can devote an increasing amount of effort to the task of professional leadership in the classroom … The introduction into primary of what has become to be known as the ‘new freedom’ makes it more than ever desirable that the Department, through the Inspectors, should develop to the utmost its function of professional leadership.’.

Labour should break the hold of neoliberalism. Take steps to develop an education system based on truly valuing variety, on truly valuing partnership; take steps to develop a system which boldly expresses our identity; take steps to develop an education system that is organised by aims not bureaucratically set and monitored objectives; take steps to develop an education system that respects and is informed by both teacher and academic knowledge; take steps to develop a system which is set up for children and curriculum not ease of bureaucratic control; and, in respect to the theme that introduced this posting, take steps to develop an education system truly addresses the issues surrounding children’s learning and poverty.

I leave it to two comments from Part 1 to sum it up.

  1. Auckland George says:

I just can’t feel any particular election momentum building for the opposition parties. They certainly need to mobilise some fire eaters in portfolios such as education and health – and in doing so try to bring Andrew Little up to speed as well.


  1. John H says: 

April 15, 2017 at 10:01 pm 

Your comments re Hipkins boxing himself in by endorsing Parata’s ‘successes’ are timely and astute Kelvin. NZEI too has painted itself an even brighter shade of beige by snuggling too close to Hipkins/Labour. It’s a case of desperate hand-holding in the dark that is likely to weaken the resolve of both organisations.

I believe the country is ready to listen to such a message and delivered by Kelvin Davis.

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4 Responses to If Chris Hipkins can’t do it give it to Kelvin Davis Part 2

  1. kellyned says:

    I suspect the reason Labour has been unable to create distinctive policies and direction is because people have been so completely immersed in and subverted by neoliberal policies that they can’t see the wood for the trees. The phrases used in day to day talk around schools are neoliberal in their origins – and no one knows!
    A highly respected adviser currently working with my school has been around long enough to know better but is driven to promoting objectives based strategies, rather than engaging, whole child, child centred approaches.
    Sadly we have few examples of broad based education available to us. It seems just easier to focus on a few clearly defined objectives as against less distinct but far more affective and engaging child centred approaches.
    I can’t advocated strongly enough for a study of Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Elwyn Richardson’s work as a starting point for how a truly effective education system might look and work.

    I have wanted to secure a copy of Beeby’s written works but have been unsuccessful. Can anyone help or suggest a source?

  2. Kelvin says:

    kellyned thanks for your beautiful response re the holistic. Beeby was a marvel. I have a book on his life written by a former head of the Waikato School of Education. I’ll send it to you if you would like. Yes – people have been brainwashed; but they could easily return to sanity by asking themselves: what is it children need, really need? Not children in the abstract but those children in front of them.

    My next posting is exactly to the point you raise and about Beeby, would you believe? I’m excited about getting it out there.

    • kellyned says:

      I would appreciate a loan very much but am happy to buy if a source can be identified. I am something of a collector of books of interest – they are taking over my wardrobe!

      • Kelvin says:

        Will send it to your school. It’s not an exciting read (a converted thesis) but at the end you will have a grasp of a period and people many of us feel we should have a grasp of.

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