Here I stand Part 5: Begins with Kathryn Ryan and tricky ERO: ends as the posting that couldn’t be published and a shattering revelation

  1. ‘The media, even an outstanding representative like Kathryn Ryan, never gets even close to the heart of it. Below I will describe how, two days ago, Kathryn Ryan was trifled with by the education review office – it was disgraceful but, to us in education who care, it is our reality.’ (Part 1)
  2. ‘A recent example is the review office laying out the ‘new truth’ on the teaching of mathematics, well and good I suppose, but the ‘new truth’ is the exact reverse of the previous one. To back up the U-turn, the bureaucrats assembled some ‘evidence-based’ research which, in me, creates disturbing associations:  a collection and interpretation of unreliable numbers; a fable to deceptive ends; an idealised white picket-fence suburbia set for betrayal. But it never ends well, because the hierarchical system is a control system which means there is always a rapidly forming contradiction in the dialectic.’ (Part 3)

This posting ‘couldn’t’ be published because of what happened after I had completed it.

When I heard Stephanie Greaney in her discussion with Kathryn Ryan trying to account for the ‘the alarming maths decline’ (as Greaney put it), I was infuriated by her failure to make clear that maths may be in decline but the review office directly contributed to the practices that led to it. It was a case of piling blame on teachers. I was furious and decided to write a posting about it, but was diverted to something else which, eventually, became the posting I couldn’t publish. 

In preparation for commenting on the significance of the discussion between Kathryn Ryan and the tricky Greaney (RNZ 19 February), in which the education review office ‘urged action on the alarming maths decline’, I thought I’d look at the recommendations of the Picot report, the preliminary to Tomorrow’s Schools, to check out how the functions of the education review office were described.

As an aside, and after reading the Picot report, where we are in education today is cause for monumental paradox. All the problems supposedly found in the old system, many of them mistaken or exaggerated it should be pointed out, are to be found, or have formed, in technicolour, in the new. The Labour government employed the Treasury to produce the report, so it is undertaken through a Treasury prism. Lange, it is suggested, in an act of folly (remember that this was during his carousing phase), in response to his neoliberal economics ministers, proceeded to betray, in casual ignorance, the primary school education culture.

It is all a further reminder that in school education, Labour is a gold card member of the education establishment. In the present, all the key institutions of education remain as they were, no doubt to act in a kinder, more thoughtful way, but all in place to bare their teeth on a change of government – think education review office, communities of learning, and senior ministry staff devoid of classroom experience – leaving aside the brisk ‘I’m out of here’ by the primary trained Iona.

And then my eyes lit on it and this posting became and diverted, despite various unsuccessful attempts to get it back on course.

Within the Picot report was a matter of what seemed like considerable moment.

The Picot report, said about the ‘Review and Audit Agency’, ‘Those conducting reviews would not have another function. In particular, they would not take on responsibility for advice and guidance and instructions apart from any recommendation they wished to make on the progress of institutions.’

And by institutions, it doesn’t actually mean in the plural but one by one, if it did mean collectively it would have been contrary to the beginning of the sentence and to the ‘In particular’, in particular.

The pivotal point is the sentence beginning with the emphatic expression ‘In particular’, such an expression was put in to mean something, and it does, it means that under no circumstances should the education review office provide advice and guidance beyond recommendations to a particular institution.

If that legal section still stands, the review office is, and has been, acting significantly outside its legal brief and has been for years. It will no doubt say it is a fine line, but fine lines are the essence of the law, and crossing them is still breaking it. And the review office didn’t just cross the line, it mounted a prolonged onslaught, leaving it in near total control of huge swathes of education territory, now illegally occupied.

A recent official statement says ‘The functions and powers of the office are set out in Part 28 – sections 323-328 – of the Education Act 1989. The quote from the Picot report above is section 328 in Part 28, so there you go.

The education review office and their ministers, Labour and National, have ignored the out-of-control review office for years, to the ministers’ power advantage, but at considerable cost to primary school education. Probably the ministers even encouraged this power grab to enable them to make any changes they wanted to with impunity.

I could spit tacks.

The irony of my argument is that the origins of section 328 are from the neoliberal absurdity of insisting that assessment be kept separate from practice; a separation which is not just wrong but impossible. But the law is the law and, anyway, on consideration, if the review office’s wings were solidly clipped, the review office would be the better for it, and the education system significantly so. To reiterate, the education review office is the most powerful institution in primary school education, even more so than the ministry. The ministry proposes but the review office disposes.

Because schools know it is a waste of time organising advisory support for anything contrary to review office policy, private providers follow review office policy exactly; because schools want beginning teachers to fit in immediately with review office policy, universities follow review office policy or graduates will be shunned; unless the advisers proposed in Labour Party policy follow review office policy closely, especially in the basics, their use in schools will be restricted. That is how the aggrandisement of the review office works.

The review office is ministry of everything.

The review office is only responsible to the minister, so there is no other recourse for a school, and any school that doesn’t comply with the review office risks a career-affecting report. From the time Judith Aitken took over the review office (from 1991 following the gentle and primary school-informed Maurice Gianotti), the agency has had virtually complete control of the curriculum and organisation within schools, sometimes with ministry and political awareness, sometimes without. Because National was utterly set on snuffing out teacher knowledge it refused to consider an official syllabus review, so it used the review office to bring in any curriculum changes it was set on. A recent example: To bring in a new curriculum for the whole of the curriculum, the review office developed a set of indicators which is a curriculum in disguise. I believe Labour wants the same uncurtailed power and will not act to fundamentally change the review office or to curtail its existing illegal powers. [Oh boy and girl, was I right on that one.]

What the review office says goes in schools, who would or could demur?

To get back to the interview, I don’t want to spend too much time elaborating on this line of argument, but would like to point out that the education review office has been in decisive control of schools since 1991, so any faults in the system are largely theirs, and to be fair, as well, any successes.

But as a philosopher said after the French Revolution: Where is the success?

The review office, ministry, and universities need to apologise to teachers. Teachers should not be blamed and condescended to in the way Greaney condescends. The class practices that characterise the Numeracy Project have been led by the review office, ministry, and contracted university trainers. These three groups placed huge pressure on teachers to group children in maths according to the stated Numeracy Project stages and levels; as well, if a child didn’t achieve a certain stage or level, the received instructions were to hold them back, which often meant the whole class was held back, leading to difficulties in getting children through the prescribed syllabus. There was also pressure to concentrate on number strategies rather than number patterns. Professor Doug Clarke (Melbourne) who researched the mathematics’ stages of development children pass through in their learning never intended his research to be used as the basis for grouping children but for teachers to be aware of children’s stages of development.

[In Attacks! 15, 28, 29, there is a detailed description of a non-grouped, problem-based way to undertake maths. There are other ways of taking maths, but they all have problem-solving at their heart as the way to discern and understand patterns.

Attack! 15 Holistic mathematics Part 1

Attack! 28 Holistic mathematics Part 2

Attack! 29 Holistic mathematics Part 3]

The real problem in maths, also the real problem in reading, writing, science, and social studies, and all the curriculum, is that the bureaucratic mind has a hold on teachers and the curriculum. While the bureaucratic mind will allow fragmented change it won’t allow cohesive for fear of losing control. The following is an example of the bureaucratic mind at work; it might seem inoffensive but is demoralising to teachers: ‘Students are aware of their progress and achievement and are able to identify their next learning steps’, but you see, good learning does not occur in steps, the mind is not a pair of legs – it is all so clinical and distant, like bookkeeping as teaching. (And to put that particular absurdity on to children and from them on to teachers is double horse feathers.) Children’s learning should not be a pair of legs but an albatross flying freely but with control, continuity, and purpose; sometimes speeding with the currents, at other times slowing with a steadying flap of the wings, diving and soaring, or gracefully turning and changing level for more favourable current. Anything the review office writes has that awful John Hattie feel about – sort of variations on WALTs – and the devastating thing is the review office will never change, it can’t, because it is the quintessence of bureaucracy, and so we are condemned.

No matter how good bits of review office advice are, it cannot get it right because it would have to let go of some of its control, and that, by bureaucratic definition, cannot be allowed. The indicators (as referred to above) are a perfect way of demonstrating the manner the review office went about usurping the New Zealand Curriculum and everything near it. The ploy to structure the indicators as an evaluation framework is a deft move as the term ‘evaluation’ is always a neat way to catch the curriculum tiger by the tail.

So Stephanie Greaney get off the air you are breaking the law. And while you are about it, get those publications off our shelves with their prolix jargon-laden words, nauseously sanitised tone, obsessive assessment policies, and woolly ideology.

But it became a posting I couldn’t publish because, on checking the Education Act, I found this, enacted on 02 January 2018.

Quelle horreur!

Chief Review Officer to perform certain functions

The Chief Review Officer shall—




when directed by the Minister to do so; or


notwithstanding section 32 of the State Sector Act 1988, of the Chief Review Officer’s own motion,—

reviews, either general or relating to particular matters, of the performance of applicable organisations in relation to the applicable services they provide; and


administer the preparation of reports to the Minister on the undertaking and results of such reviews; and


give the Minister such other assistance and advice on the performance of applicable organisations as the Minister from time to time requires.

Section 325: inserted, on 25 June 1993, by section 25 of the Education Amendment Act 1993 (1993 No 51).

A review office licence to education mayhem.

Whether something like this had been enacted earlier I do not know; I’ll leave it to someone else to determine whether the review office has been acting illegally in the time leading up to 2018.

But then, for me, the shattering revelation: note the date when it was enacted – 02 January 2018 – the Amendment Act began under Hekia Parata but was allowed to continue under Chris Hopkins, probably to his considerable satisfaction.

What is it with the Labour Party and school education?

Chris Hipkins is deeply committed to the review office as are all members of the education establishment, and to quantitative academics and their so-called evidence-based research – 27 years of review office domination of school practice and research, and failure, but for Chris Hipkins the failure lies elsewhere. He has committed himself to a radical change of the institutions of Tomorrow’s Schools except the one most representative of neoliberalism. But, then again, Hipkins will be one of those naïfs who think Tomorrow’s Schools was a matter of Treasury coming up with some efficiencies that simply occurred to them.

It has been open slather for years for the consummately non-democratic education review office to take over school education, ministers of education of whatever ilk have thrived in it. I know the clubby Wellington establishment refuses to accept that Lange’s changes undertaken by Treasury were based on the neoliberal philosophy, which conveniently allows the supposedly left-wing part of it to enjoy in untroubled conscience, the untrammelled power the review office allows them to indulge in.

Chris Hipkins, you are condemning whatever changes you make, no matter how good, to failure, and another generation of children. Oh yes, condemn me as a Wildman, no doubt to the supportive noises of the establishment around you, including the teacher organisations, but I can’t write what I believe to be right, as I have for three decades, and not coincidentally been right, and make it sound like a memo.

Oh darn it, even though the posting is now redundant, I think I’ll publish it anyway.

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6 Responses to Here I stand Part 5: Begins with Kathryn Ryan and tricky ERO: ends as the posting that couldn’t be published and a shattering revelation

  1. 111peggyb says:

    Dear Kelvin
    We live in dangerous times. A new Minister and an ardent fever to “fix” education. Yet more consultation [but with whom], yet more promises [empty as always], yet more faux research [undertaken by bureaucrats not educationalist]. Those of us who have lived through four decades of ceaseless, useless change sigh and wait [patiently as ever] to be asked for our input. But no. If you have been identified by the Ministry of Education as hostile to the established hierarchy and the entrenched sell serving power base there is no hope that you will be part of the strategic planning that must take place if we are to move forward with confidence and ensure the mistakes of the past are not simply repeated. Is it just a misplaced pique or a frustration at being forced to sit on the sideline after 40 years of experience; and now so desperate to help fix this broken machine once and for all.
    I so admire your historical memory, courage, tenacity and common sense Kelvin.

  2. John Carrodus says:

    Like a drunken groom after an engagement party, ERO lurched into a meadow of schools and demanded conjugal favours as of right.Those who protested were not favourite sons and daughters. As Voltaire said, your masters are those you dare not criticise. My guess? The downhill slide in standards will continue to pass historic milestones.

  3. Ian Skipper says:

    In the 22 years of being a principal in a small rural school, rising from 30 – 120 pupils, I never once encountered an ERO officer who had taught in a similar situation.
    The last lead person I encountered had been in ERO for 8 years and the previous 22 in the UK. At least she recognised “the wonderful holistic learning opportunities” that were being provided. Her sidekick, a South African with no discernable experience as a classroom teacher in New Zealand, did not appear to recognise such learning.
    ERO – Education Retardation Office.

  4. Vern Stevens says:

    Her famous quote to me, when I said that under NS teachers would just revert to teaching to he test, in a very vitriolic tone, ” teaching to the test is teaching to the curriculum! “

  5. chris says:

    As a person who went through NZ schools in the 60’s I was lucky enough to appreciate how good education was. Experiencing my last year of school overseas I realised how far in front I was. Returning to teach here I was appalled to find how bad the system is now and how useless ERO is. Time to remove ERO and return NZ to the top of the world again. Thanks . It is great to know someone cares about our kids.

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