CoLs have been introduced using a copycat of the process used for Tomorrow’s Schools: the idealistic conceptual cover to appeal to typically kind-hearted, classroom teachers – for Tomorrow’s Schools, freedom – for Cols, collaboration; a tumultuous drumbeat of propaganda; organisational change being presented as a final solution to complex problems (including Maori education and the economically disadvantaged); the use of fear of consequences for principals who don’t go along; the promise of power rewards for those who do; the assumption by the government that that teacher organisations would be there for the taking (counting on their passivity, naivety, inability to play the long-game, and a lack of imagination (where is it all heading?).
A Labour Coalition might be a disrupter, but going on the Clark years, that might not be sufficient.
As well as the bureaucratic control of CoLs which will exponentially increase, the key aspect to watch is the control of knowledge. Teacher knowledge will be belittled and proscribed; narrow academic knowledge, bureaucratic knowledge, and privatised knowledge will idealised and imposed (with private education companies acting as an extension of government). As well, to cover the failure of the education system there will be a continuing reliance on high stakes assessment inflation and fantastical propaganda. In this way both the government and schools will be protected, only the children will suffer consequences.
Let us for the moment put CoLs aside and ask what is it that most teachers and principals would ask for to help them in their classrooms and schools?
- Smaller classes
- Abolition of national standards
- More freedom to teach and lead a school
- Less bureaucracy
- A system based on a genuine valuing of variety
- More funding for Maori and Pasifika children (please note: increases in funding will only produce value if complemented by changes in classroom practices)
- More funding for educationally-disadvantaged children.
- More funding for children with special needs
- More funding for schools
- A balanced advisory group to provide guidance on the use of computers in schools
- Changes to the school review process
- Access to informed and independent advisers in all the curriculum areas
- Staffing for more specialised teachers including the teaching of Maori
- Choice in the matter of school architecture from a variety of styles
- Teacher-developed knowledge taking its place with bureaucratic and academic knowledge
- Genuine partnership and collaboration in policy initiation and development.
I can imagine teachers and principals responding to the idea of meeting together on a regular and organised basis to exchange ideas, but that could be easily attained through some minimal government funding and principal and teacher organisations working together at a local level to set up a structure to administer.
CoLs in my view will achieve none of the matters listed above, indeed, will determinedly undermine them. For the opportunity for groups of teachers to get together at the local level, a huge cost is going to be borne by all schools, teachers, and children.
Teacher organisations by supporting the introduction of CoLs have lost the moral authority to criticise government policy: all the developments that have occurred were known to them at the time, but they knew better, or it served them to know better. The new minister will deflect by continually referring to what CoLs and computers can achieve. Teacher organisations, principals, and teachers by plumping for CoLs have abandoned, for instance, any chance of a meaningful increase of funding for Maori and Pasifika children. Computers, in particular, will be proposed as the panacea for those groups. The cynicism is appalling.
I calculate that the money being spent on CoLs, when they are fully functioning, would be worth about $85 thousand per year for an average size primary school. Consider the most recent changes: 106 CoLs have had Expert Partners appointed to them; as well CoLs will have access to CoL Senior Advisers. These people by the way aren’t expert, partners, or advisers – the lack of expertise will be obvious right away, but not being partners or advisers may take a little longer. They will, instead, be your controllers, agents of the centre who, as part of that, will report back on you to the centre.
You have let a neoliberal wooden horse into your space.
Soon social workers will be attached to CoLs with the intention of establishing Learning Support Teams to assess each learner’s need and to agree on the kind of support needed. A Learning Support Pilot has been established which, of course, isn’t a pilot but an exercise in propaganda with the Pilot assured of success. Schools already know what learners need and how to carry it out, but they need the funding to do it, they don’t need a committee for that. The Pilot Team will also ‘provide parents and whanau with some immediate steps to take, and develop a local learning support plan with them.’ Given the lack of funding and the bureaucracy involved, the idea will work brilliantly as a Pilot to become a burden in the long run.
You can see where all this is heading?
Rather than reduce bureaucracy another layer will be added.
I have received information from within the ministry that the intention is to direct funded help to the so-called targeted delinquency-bound children, and redirect other children, especially those with learning needs, as against behaviour characteristics, back to the schools with the so-called learning support plan.
That won’t surprise you, neither will the information that the education review office is working with the ministry about their expectations of schools in CoLs, with a large amount of material being passed back and forth. This process is to be formalised within the bureaucracies.
A further move is to squeeze out a lot of the accredited advisers in favour of private education companies, for instance, CORE, COGNITION, and Evaluation Associates. The education review office, the ministry, and the private education companies are all working together to take control of CoLs and restrict the knowledge available to schools. In respect to this collusion, you will have noted, or will note, that when one of those companies comes to your school, the matter might be innovative learning (excuse my laughter) or inquiry learning (oh dear) but the speaker seems to be coming at it from a strange angle, but then you twig, you are in for a couple of hours on collaboration and the wonderful things CoLs are going to deliver.
I don’t know whether these developments and others have been done following consultation with the teacher organisations or whether they have had any second thoughts. Reading between the lines, Whetu Cormack, president NZPF, is opposed to CoLs, but to do anything significant in response would divide the organisation. Whetu is doing well overall but the die has been cast, the government, bureaucrats, academics, and private companies scored 6 (apparently also NZEI which supported CoLs); but children (especially vulnerable ones), teachers who want the freedom to teach holistically, and principals who put children ahead of the blandishments of power scored 1.
We have had a quarter of a century of centralised bureaucratic control and education review office domination and we are not OK. But here we have another organisational change, another layer of bureaucracy, and the prospect of another quarter of a century of the same but worse. Of course there are some benefits in CoLs, but how significant compared with alternative funding uses; even more important is where will CoLs be in a few years? The support given by NZEI to CoLs, complete with an unbalanced membership vote, was decisive – NZEI could only have been thinking of their membership not the welfare of children when they supported CoLs (the idea via England multinational education corporations, John Hattie, and Treasury). My heart goes out to Maori, Pasifika, and economically-disadvantaged children. Oh yes – there will be heaps of talk but only to constitute mounds of rubbish. Collaboration is being used as a bureaucratic control tactic because it can only work in the interests of children if it is also a system characteristic: what is good for the local goose, it must be insisted, can only be good if characteristic of the central gander.
Can anyone, any organisation, do something, anything?