I attended the “open to the public” MoE consultation workshop last Friday about “Updating the Education Act 1989.” As a parent and former school trustee I have maintained a keen interest in education policy and wanted to see first-hand how I would be “consulted”.
After all, the foreword in the public discussion document from our Minister of Education clearly said that she was asking the public for our input into the process.
But it was hard on days like last Friday to not come away concerned about how education policy is being developed in a land that has traditionally been very good at educating its young people.
In many ways the consultation reinforced concerns about what many of us call GERM, i.e. the Global Education Reform Movement, as it is popularly known overseas.
Most Kiwis probably don’t understand what we mean by GERM and may even call us cynical and ideological. But in recent years we have seen too many examples of policy initiatives that have come off the GERM agenda, as Finnish education leader, Pasi Sahlberg christened it.
And here we are again, this time looking at the Education Act itself, but leaving out most of the contentious policy development of the past decade, such as National Standards, charter schools, IES, Education Council, etc, etc.
Let’s list a few things that rankled me:
- Timing.How can anyone take seriously a Government that opens a consultation process on education at this time of year and allows a mere 6 weeks for responses – closing on 14 December? Our session had a total of two school principals as the only school-based education professionals in the room. I wonder how many teachers and principals will get the opportunity to attend any of these sessions?
- Scope.You can usually tell when a process has a not-so-hidden agenda when the scope of the review excludes most of the controversial topics!
- Honesty.Why does the foreword from the Minister of Education say “It is time to take a fresh look at it [the Act]”? I would have thought that a “fresh look” started with a clean sheet of paper, wouldn’t you? Also, you would think from reading Hekia’s foreword that the Act had not changed in 26 years. Yeah Right!
- Double Speak.Hekia again: “We want an Act and a system that puts children at the centre of learning.” “This discussion document outlines a number of proposals for raising educational achievement.” Note how “learning” and “achievement” are often interchanged, as if they are the same thing? In the GERM world, only that which is counted – normally by way of standardised testing or assessment – is deemed to be “achievement”. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, in a child’s life there’s a lot that Counts that cannot be Counted. Learning is much broader than test scores in Reading and Maths.
So, we began our consultation session with the mandatory PowerPoint pack. The very first slide got me uptight:
“The Act is no longer doing the job it was designed to do.”
Hang on! The “job” it was designed to do was to implement the competitive model of education that Treasury promoted in its Briefings to the Incoming Government after the 1987 general election!
What are we really saying here? Is it time to ditch the much despised competitive model, or not? If so, then what might replace it?
Given the significance of the changes that the introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools entailed, the Act was completely rewritten in 1989 to create the structure of self-governing schools, Boards of Trustees and so on.
So, are we really changing our minds on the competitive model, or not? If we were, then the process to evaluate a replacement model would be significant, as it was in 1987 to 1989. And, for good measure, it would probably require another substantial rewrite of the Act. So is it getting a “fresh look”, or a mere cursory glance?
Next up was another bugbear of mine! Apparently we want to “… make sure everyone knows the goals for education.” Really? And have we worked out how we are all going to contribute into a powerful and meaningful statement that will endure?
Or, I wonder if it really means another set of Hekia’s infamous 85% achievement targets?
And another one… “How a graduated range of responses could be developed to better support schools when difficulties arise?
How about taking a different tack? How about supporting schools better now with greater resources targeted where they are most needed, backed up with support services that are needed today? Why focus instead on how efficiently we can deliver ambulances to the bottom of the cliff tomorrow?
The concerns continue to flow as we progress through the public discussion document.
“How should schools and kura report on their performance…? What should the indicators and measures be for school performance…?”
More data, in other words, right out of the GERM Handbook for Standardised Education.
But, don’t worry, if your numbers are high, then “… what freedoms and extra decision-making rights could be given to schools, kura and Communities of Learning (Hekia’s new clusters) that are doing well?”
It’s hard not to feel cynical, as I said at the outset, but recent developments overseas, such as the testing Opt-Out movement in the USA, give us hope that GERM policies are under scrutiny for one powerful reason: they just don’t work.
My final thought, and the saddest aspect of Hekia’s consultation, is that, 26 years on, we are just going to tinker. Where is the genuine major rethink on education that we really need?
In the meantime, what collateral damage will GERM continue to inflict on current and future generations of children?
– Bill Courtney
Make a submission online here. You have until 5pm on 14th December 2015.