The Government announced today that it’s “reviewing the funding systems for schools and early childhood education (ECE) services”, and were keen to reassure observers that the aim is “to improve the overall design of the education system and ensure that all New Zealand children and young people receive the best possible education”.
I’ve read through, and here are my initial thoughts…
Start at the very beginning
The review says it aims to give children “the best possible education”.
However, agreeing what constitutes “the best possible education” is a huge hurdle to begin with. Of course, the matter does need to be addressed; I simply urge caution, as there is huge debate around what education is for, and it is by no means a settled matter.
For example, what I think is important for my child may not be remotely what another parent thinks is important for theirs, and neither view might match with what, say, David Seymour or Hekia Parata think is important. And that’s before we even ask the experts …
So when the Ministry of Education says it aiming for “the best possible education” they really must – before all else can progress – get a very clear idea of what that means.
A blunt instrument
The system as it stands is not fit for purpose – I think just about everyone agrees on that. The decile system is, as Hekia Parata herself said, “a blunt instrument”, and money is often not there where it is most needed. So it is right to consider how it can be improved.
However, there are myriad ways things could be changed, some for the better, some not so much.
Hurdles and hoops
I was struck by the assertion in the Ministry’s terms of reference for the review that “accountability is weak”. What is meant by that? And how will accountability be strengthened? The same section mentions “progression”, but since National Standards have been allowed to embed despite the very clear fact that they fail to map progression in any way that is appropriately matched with child development, I do worry what any progression measure might look like.
I admit that I fear more standards, tick boxes and data-gathering exercises – hoops for teachers to jump – none of which will improve much, if anything at all.
Better, best, besterest
The review document says that any new system must “better support children at risk of educational under-achievement”. This is laudable, of course. But again, we come back to what good support looks like, and given the support from certain quarters for charter schools – which have yet to prove they do anything better than a similarly resourced state school would – one has to wonder what the Education Minister and Under-Secretary view as “better”…
Ponderings on property
And this thing about property … why is that ringing alarm bells? The review will “…support school leaders to focus more on leading teaching and learning by clarifying property- related responsibilities and accountabilities…” Huh? Anyone got any thoughts on that one? Redcliffs? Peggy Burrows? Te Pumanawa o te Wairua charter school? Anyone?
And despite reports from all manner of experts, including the OECD, saying that school choice has no positive impact on education systems, the review says it will protect “diversity of choice for parents/whānau and consistency and certainty of funding for different types of schools.” That could be a great thing; It depends what it means.
Because, as soon as education reformers bandy around the word choice, you should make like a meercat and be on full alert. In that vein, my GERM BS Spotting Systems are flashing code red, and I can’t help but ask, is “consistency and certainty of funding for different types of schools” just code for promising to fund private schools and charter schools to the same level of state schools? If not, what is it?
The review document states that the Advisory Group is to engage with the Ministry to “comment on the work being undertaken”. However, it can’t comment outside of that … no discussion is to be had without permission, it seems. In fact, it’s very clear that “Advisory Group discussion is also confidential to the group” and “Members may be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement”. So much for transparency.
Cutting through …
Forgive me if I appear overly cynical – but, sadly, I know my civil service speak, and I know the convoluted and slippery language of education reformers, and the one thing years of observing both has taught me is that one has to employ one’s best analytical skills to uncover what is really being said.
Or to put it more bluntly, to find out what’s really going on, you have to cut through the crap.
And what’s going on here could be a whole lot messier than it first appears.
We can only hope, then, that all members of the Advisory Group do what is best for school students rather than what is in their self interest, and that they are fairly heard within the group.
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
You can read more about the Advisory Group on the Ministry of Education’s dedicated page, here.