This is the moment for decisive action against CoLs Part 3

[1988, kitchen table, scratching away with a pen, and for some reason I get on to collaboration.]

[This is just a post-note to Parts 1 and 2. I cannot remember what occasioned it. I don’t know whether it was some particular government policy or just deep distrust of Lange’s education policies in general but there I was in 1988 and this is what I wrote. I will make no further contemporary comment.]

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, seems to lead 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, government-organised parent groups, even teacher organisations, have strong sanctions of one sort or another over one group in particular, namely classroom teachers.

As I prepare to travel around New Zealand campaigning for the holistic and democratic as against the positivist and hierarchical – where does this leave my message?

If you can’t have effective collaborative local structures in a non-collaborative education system, it must logically extend to not being able to have a collaborative education system in a non-collaborative society. In thinking back on that though, I can accept that realities take time to work through. The strongly right-wing Ronald Algie in being appointed minister of education when National took power in 1949 proceeded to make extensive visits to schools and to consult parents, resulting, famously, in him endorsing the progressive education reforms of Clarence Beeby and Peter Fraser.

In the following decades the primary school progressive philosophy still held but had to function in a generally unsympathetic environment. During that period it was seriously misrepresented by a hostile media, calling the philosophy ‘playway’; and condescended to by the analytics and positivists (mainly as quantitative academics) busily establishing themselves in universities from where they declared their evidenced-based certainties. What served to protect schools was their relative education success at low cost; what will destroy them are neoliberal arguments about where power should reside.

The neoliberal education arguments are not really about education but about the movement of power to the centre to progress laissez faire capitalist beliefs, with education a particular focus as a way to take control of the future and stifle education as a source of alternative ideas.  In response, I intend to talk and write about a holistic education system, democratic values, and the importance of genuine power sharing and social equity. We can, as referred to, only get the kind of education system we want if there is the social context to match so I will talk and write about that. And the kind of education system we should want is a holistic one built on variety, collaboration, and stretching children imaginatively and creatively. It is of great wonderment that a simple curriculum structure puts politicians, bureaucrats, and academics in a funk, that idea being that education, and its various major component, should be organised by a main aim, a holistic, humanistic, dynamic main aim that by nature leads to everything else falling into place, indeed, often turning what might have been objectives into criteria. It is in this way the integrating holistic works – on the other hand, politicians, bureaucrats, and academics are fixated on complex arrays of objectives that can be measured and, in practice, often work against each other to intended subversive and control ends.

It is about control: the holistic gives power to schools and teachers to work things through to children’s advantage; objectives with their fragmentation and measurement give power to politicians, bureaucrats, and academics to work things through to their own.

Considering the harshness of the current power structures and the self-serving arguments they are based on, I don’t expect the holistic and the democratic message to succeed in my time, but time, in the end wins, nothing is forever, events turn and crises come, and change is forced upon us, change which can be for the better or the worse, who knows, so the idea is to get the message out there, it might be the time for all who have fought for a kinder, fairer society and an education system to match, our moment might come. It is that which pushes me on.


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5 Responses to This is the moment for decisive action against CoLs Part 3

  1. From a Southland principal says:

    Good morning Kelvin

    I have been following your postings for years, and have become disillusioned with the current state of things, in fact, yesterday at an on-going reading recovery training session, I had to clearly express my views to the co-ordinator who was telling the course about the Ministry requirements.

    Self-governing schools is my rallying cry.

    This is the supposed system that we live with, the Ministry is our support, not the dictators – somewhere along the path they have ignored this. It is amazing how often you get rung and visited when you refuse to be complicit in their game.

    Local solutions are the important connection for our students as we know the context that the learning takes within their lives. I had told my local mp here on Monday asking me what the government could do to help. “Leave me alone and trust me that I have the knowledge and skill to lead my school, teachers and students, and be there for support when I ask for it.”

    I am sick of Ministry officials coming out to tell me what to do, then finding that we already meet best practice and then having no other ideas!! Sorry rant over what I started to write to you about (and got horribly off track) is I would like to purchase the set of booklets that you have – can you provide me with an invoice and a bank account so I can purchase them.

    • Michael George Norris says:

      I couldn’t agree more – leave us, trust in our professionalism with our colleagues and our wonderful students, who will surely suffer as a result of yet more bureaucratic nonsense!

  2. From a Far North principal says:

    Hi Kelvin,

    At our last Far North Principals Association meeting I pointed out to everyone that the CoL is a MOE construct and as such, would not be a vehicle for schools to voice their concerns. Strength and voice lie within our associations, they must be kept strong and not replaced by CoLs.

    I was most disturbed but not surprised by the recent NZPF communication from Whetu Cormack about how he had been invited to a ‘Working Party’ to look at how CoLs could be involved in mergers or school closures in their area.

    If this doesn’t stir people up, I don’t know what will and if I was in one of the smaller schools in a CoL, I would be very worried.


  3. From a senior Maori education leader says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading this so much Kelvin. Your views on the ills of the current system, backed by your prescience way back in 1990, are so spot on.

    I have had no opportunity to talk to anyone in education since I left … at the end of last year. But I don’t resile from my views on CoLs as I expressed them then. They are a tool set up to cater to the worst excesses of neo-liberal thinking – unnecessary competition instead of co-operation; templated goal setting (as you say, a ‘one size fits all’ solution); top down leadership, where the ‘top’ isn’t necessarily the best (and anyway, who said singular charismatic leadership is the only way?); good teachers pulled out of classrooms to waste time in circular discussions that won’t necessarily have any positive impact on the system or on our kids – and so on.

    When I get time, I want to come over to talk to you about how we might develop the key ideas and perhaps provide some practical system solutions in a larger construct, built on some of the ideas you have been thinking about. I think people are yearning for a way out, but are too bogged down to see it. Not unlike the way many workers are treated now.

    Keep going mate! Kia kaha. Kia maia. Kia manawanui.

  4. Lara says:

    Communities of Learning
    Proper Professional Learning Communities (PLC) have been operating for years overseas and probably here too before they were given the title COL.
    My understanding is that the most effective model was developed by Richard DuFour. PLC’s involve educators Identifying their problems of practice and student achievement targets so they can share their ideas, get data literate and learn from each other.
    Te Kotahitanga called them Co Construction Hui. Having facilitated many Co Construction Hui here and having helped establish collaborative and effective PLC’s overseas, I know the positive effect quality professional learning conversations, as part of a truly collaborative group, can have on student outcomes and teacher capability.
    The NZ CoL’s model seems to be made up and modified on the fly. It is, in my humble opinion, pretty flawed.
    PLC’s don’t require a ‘Lead Principal’. The best model is flat in structure. Other countries have functioning PLC’s without a hierarchical structure.
    In NZ the main selection criteria for these ”Expert Principals’ seems to be that they have a certain number of years as principal in a school and we all know that experience is not the same as expertise. Would you rather take your car to an expert mechanic or an experienced one? I can think of a couple of expert leaders of learning who have minimal influence in the CoL’s because they have not been around for donkeys years.
    I can think of no reason to modify what works well overseas except that perhaps the real agenda is to ensure that Neo Liberal government policies drive education not the enhancement of social justice and democracy and the provision of high quality education for NZ students.
    What should have been a simple process of encouraging schools to share their best practices and learn together for the good of students in their communities seems to have turned into an overly complicated exercise.
    In my community, the people chosen to be the ‘Expert Principals’ don’t appear to demonstrate much expertise as leaders of effective learning nor are they champions of the most vulnerable amongst us. They have taken ages to do anything useful because they have been jockeying for position. What a shame.

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