Chris Hipkins is Peter Fraser to our time, Iona Holsted and Katrina Casey are our Clarence Beeby (can you hear the gods laughing?)

This posting starts off in one direction, only to head in, perhaps lurch to might be more accurate, another. But it is held together (hopefully) by my judgement that Chris Hipkins lacks depth of feeling veering to milksop, and my having too much veering to ill-judged temper. This is not a balanced posting because (I excuse myself) of my continuing anger at injustices wrought and no hint of correction.

Primary teachers are close to being leaderless. I have never heard Chris say anything original, deep, powerful, or inspiring – at best we get a garbled version of Peter Fraser’s famous dictum. The leader of the principals association does rise to the inspirational occasion, but he is crowded out by the inanities of the NZEI leader. Our leaders, Whetu aside, are symbolically appropriate for our education system, that is, lacking in imagination, bewildered about what to do, captured by what is, and at a loss to know how to make that breakthrough in policy that makes a difference. 

Many teachers say to me along the lines of, ‘I can’t imagine how to teach without measurement being the goal, I know my teaching needs to be different but what that difference could be I’m at a loss to work out.’ A 2007 ministry document said New Zealand principals had lost touch with the curriculum; you can imagine how out of touch principals are a decade later. Principals have come to accept that being a principal is that which is gained from leadership courses when, instead, it is having an inspirational view of the curriculum, a main aim to make everything cohesive, and a drive to understand the practices and nuances that bring learning to light.

From Chris Hipkins we want inspiration based on how the system, schools, and classrooms should work together to creative and insightful purpose – it can’t just be fancy words, it must be words that have teachers and principals saying yes, I get it, that’s it, let’s go there.

But Chris Hipkins is a part-time minister of education when we need a fully committed one. And think on this, if Chris Hipkins is Peter Fraser to our time, Iona Holsted and Katrina Casey are our Clarence Beeby (can you hear the gods laughing?).

Whenever I observe an injustice, particularly in my life’s vocation, that is teachers and children, I feel a gnawing anger in my gut, an anger I have learnt to temper (mostly) and, all going well, turn into something productive (more-or-less) with my writing. The day I wake up without that potential anger will mean the education system has attained a miraculous stasis or it is time for me to stop writing. 

I feel that anger now about Chris Hipkin’s apparent lack of feeling to rectify past injustices when he is in a position to do so. At heart I don’t think he is a milksop but he is doing nothing to allay that growing conviction. 

Where I head now is the first lurch.

I speak of Redcliffs School, so terribly treated and about to be sacrificed for no rational reason.

It is being shifted from its present position to a flood-prone park.

The agony has been going on for years.

I see Redcliffs as a symbol of ministerial neurosis, for how Hekia Parata ran her ministry as a whole, and how she handled Christchurch in particular. And with Redcliffs, Chris Hipkins is continuing an injustice and madness from the Parata years. 

I have read the consultant’s report and some of the ministry papers and there is no case at all for shifting the school. Chris Hipkins has succumbed to the local ministry and to Holsted and Casey – this is a terrible signal that does not augur well for the fundamental change the broken education system so badly needs.

The decision to shift Redcliffs School to the neighbouring Redcliffs Park an outward expression of the workings of Hekia Parata’s mind.

It is an expression of a delight in exercising power, all the more satisfying if the victims of that power fight back.

It is a symbol of how schools were treated in Christchurch by the government and the Canterbury ministry.

The Christchurch rebuild injustice continues.

I knew Redcliffs’ fate was sealed when the prime minister John Key and the local National candidate visited the school. Hekia Parata, I knew, would particularly resent John Key’s interference.

I repeat, this is the Christchurch rebuild of schools all over again, and Labour is falling for it, participating in it – but Chris Hipkins just doesn’t feel it.

Rather than listen to the school, to independent consultants, it seems Chris Hipkins has committed a Labour government to an unnecessary $15 million rebuild, making it another school victim of the particular workings of the previous minister’s deviousness and the petty pride of a sycophantic ministry. This is another win for that saint-like servant of teachers and children Iona Holsted, continuing her laurel-strewn record from her years at the education review office; ably supported by that merriment-invested deputy secretary Katrina Casey. 

Get rid of them Chris – public service rules notwithstanding. They are all wrong for the right fundamental change. Peter Fraser had Beeby, you have Holsted and Casey: Casey knows nothing about teachers and classrooms, which is somewhat better than Holsted who thinks she does. The vibe is all wrong. I saw a picture of Holsted talking and it looked as if she was replying to The Scream.

And they have given you wrong advice on Redcliffs. 

Redcliffs School is a symbol of what is wrong with education: ministers not listening to schools and listening to the wrong people because the wrong people are in the right position.

Remember I was deeply involved, as an example from amongst many others, with the disgraceful behaviour inflicted on the principal of Rangiora School via Casey, behaviour found illegal but what do we have? the main culprits completely untouched, continuing merrily along replete with financial accoutrements, and you Chris have done nothing about it because, it seems, you don’t have a feeling for justice (I know you knew about all this Chris because your office rang me for a lead, but while I had to divert my life to this anguishing situation, you still aren’t doing anything); to Marlene Campbell at Salford School amongst many others, the victim of utterly corrupt behaviour; and what about the education review office’s vicious bullying of Opua School and not a hint of apology. 

Am I expected to forgive and forget the behaviour of top ministry officials and the review office? I was the one called on nearly every week to a situation as the last resort because there was no justice within the system and only hard people at the top; and I was to become tearful with anger at the injustice of it all. 

Deal with Redcliffs.

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4 Responses to Chris Hipkins is Peter Fraser to our time, Iona Holsted and Katrina Casey are our Clarence Beeby (can you hear the gods laughing?)

  1. A Christchurch teacher says:

    Hi Kelvin,
    That’s so powerful! I love how you don’t pull back on your punches.

  2. South Auckland teacher says:

    Hi Kelvin,
    Thanks as always. I’m totally with you on every point. I’m also impressed that you still care so much.
    I’m a good friend of the Redcliffs School principal, by the way.
    Let’s hope Chris listens to you – might be difficult for him to swallow, but we’ll see if he’s big enough.

  3. Auckland principal says:

    Well done Kelvin.

    What does the NZ taxpayer get for a $630k Secretary of Education salary and I would hate to think what Casey is on.

    I have never before met two people involved in the sector who are so detached from the day-today reality of students and teachers.


  4. Peggy Burrows says:

    Dear Kelvin

    This is a thoughtful and thought provoking article. I like you am disappointed at the slow start our new Minister has made. So many bold pre-election speeches, so many promises of a new broom and so many appeals for our support. And we gave it! Now we are left bereft of hope while we watch the mediocre rise and the malevolent and despicable bureaucratics sit safely in their padded chairs.

    I feel a sense of hopelessness or is that desperation that yet again we are faced with a Minister who simply throws money at problems without a clear vision or strategic plan to achieve the changes so desperately needed if we are to recover from the past three decades of decay in our once robust Education System. As always we are building the plane as we fly or worse assuming wings of wax will see us safely to our destination.

    Fraser and Beeby must be turning in their graves!

    Keep writing, we need you strong and determined voice my friend.

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