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Suggested changes to the NZ Education Act – what is afoot now?

target schoolsThe Considering Education Regulation in New Zealand report has been released today and provides much food for thought.

It is clear from reading the report that Taskforce members were far from agreed regarding what changes might be needed to the Education Act.

The report acknowledges that “[t]here was widespread nervousness among respondents about the possibility of any desired goals and outcomes being framed too narrowly,”  and stresses that there was “strong agreement that if goals and outcomes were to be developed for the education system, this must take place through wide consultation.”

The taskforce seems to have dealt with the issue of disagreement by concluding that it is essential there is widespread consultation before any changes are made.

Sounds great in principle.

Sector Consultation

It should be heartening that Ms Parata also acknowledges that “[a]ny review of the Act would require an extensive consultation process with the education sector and with parents,” shouldn’t it?

And yet…

… are we not now all too familiar with what she means by consultation?  Namely, go through the motions, don’t listen to much if anything at all, and then do what she planned to all along.  (Indeed, I am expecting Websters to update their dictionary entry for “consultation” accordingly this year, since it is now so widely understood that this is what it means.)

So promising consultation doesn’t give any comfort that sector views will be heard and acted upon or allay any concerns, sadly.

Double speak?

I took a moment to consider what is meant by Murray Jack, Taskforce Chair, when he comments in the report’s foreword that:

“… the Taskforce has concluded that there is a strong case to review the Act to provide a greater focus on student outcomes and more explicit roles and objectives

“A greater focus on student outcomes…”  Hmmm.

What, do teachers not currently aim to advance students?  Focus on it more how? And what outcomes?  Are we perchance only talking about things that can be measured in a test?  That seems to fly in the face of other comments in the report which made clear that “[r]espondents did not want a focus on just literacy and numeracy, but felt that these needed to be set within a holistic concept of student achievement.”

Holistic or focusing on test scores – which is it to be?

More explicit roles and objectives?

Also, I cannot help but wonder whether this “greater focus on student outcomes” and “explicit roles and objectives” might be somehow heralding performance pay, perchance?

After all. National Standards and the PaCT system are all set up and ready to rock and roll for just that purpose, despite the Minister assuring us that’s not what they’re for.

Something about that has left me uneasy.

outcomes outcomes outcomes

There are a number of other statement in the announcement that ring alarm bells:

“[The Taskforce] recommended a number of regulatory changes to ensure enough flexibility in the education system to keep pace with the ever-changing environment.”

What exactly does that mean?  How does the current legislation shackle schools?  Does the legislation as it currently stands truly stop schools from keeping pace with “the ever-changing environment”?

Or are we to read this as “we need to make the legislation privatisation-friendly, so we can shoe in more charter schools and the like.

Again, three years of following this government’s carry-on in education means that any such ambiguous statements lead to fretting about what’s going on behind the scenes.  I’d love to think it was just me and my paranoia, but so far my concerns have sadly been valid.

BOTs

Boards of Trustees get a wee mention in the report, which comes to the conclusion that in order to determine whether BOTs are doing a good job, they too need to be subjected to “reliable and valid measures of [the identified] characteristics … to assess their contribution to student achievement.”  (p.13)

Truly, it seems the taskforce believe if it can’t be measured, weighed or put in a pie chart is doesn’t count for a thing.

Don’t mention the “P” word

“The Taskforce noted that evidence from the OECD suggests governments can prevent school failure and reduce dropout using two parallel approaches: eliminating system level practices that hinder equity; and targeting low-performing, disadvantaged schools. From the evidence reviewed, the Taskforce concluded that good regulation and effective governance are elements of high-performing systems that support priority students.  Ensuring that they are aligned with other schooling policies and practices can help New Zealand achieve its educational objectives.” (p. 13)

I totally agree we all need to ensure schools are run well and teachers should encourage all students to aim high.  But to ignore the roles poverty and home environment have in the chances of a student succeeding is a failure to address the whole issue and an insult to both the students and staff living that reality day to day.

The bigger picture

I wonder what exactly is meant by “targeting low-performing, disadvantaged schools”?  Targeting for extra help?  Or targeting for a change principal?  Or being changed into a charter school?

Again, if a school is low performing, it may indeed need help and support, guidance and so on, but if all of that is done within a system that is blinkered to the realities of the students and the community that school is in, then it is not considering the whole picture and cannot be expected to adequately respond to the situation.

So, if improvement is really wanted, we do indeed have to mention the “P” word and get real about the big picture.

I await the unfolding of this next phase of the reform agenda with interest, apprehension and a large gin and tonic.

~ Dianne

___________________________________

Sources:

Considering Education Regulation in New Zealand:  http://www.minedu.govt.nz/theMinistry/EducationInitiatives/~/media/MinEdu/Files/TheMinistry/EducationInitiatives/Taskforce/TaskforceReport.pdf

www.minedu.govt.nz/trasp.

http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/report-education-regulations-released

 

Boards of Trustees unhappy with $359M IES plan

“We are concerned about the lack of democracy in these processes.”

“We are concerned that the changes are for political purpose rather than for sound educational reasons based on evidence.”

“We are concerned for the future of education in New Zealand.”

 

Below is a message sent home from Fergusson Intermediate to parents, explaining the very real concerns regarding IES (Investing in Educational Success).  It explains the concerns of many, and is well worth reading and sharing with your teachers, BOTs and parents so they, too, can consider the consequences of the proposals being mooted.

 

danger turn back

 

“Important Message from the Board of Trustees

At the last Board meeting the Board discussed and passed the following resolution.

That the Board

  • Endorses the need for further investment in education and in schooling
  • Notes that the Government’s proposed ‘Investing in Educational Success’ initiative has far reaching implications for teachers, schools and schooling
  • Expresses concern the government has not adequately engaged with or consulted Boards of Trustees on the initiative and its implications
  • Commits to engage with staff and the wider school community in a discussion about the initiative, its implications and the development of a whole-of-school position with regards to it.

These concerns arise as the Government forges ahead with its hastily announced initiative to spend $359m on education with ‘Investing in Educational Success’ (IES). None of this $359 million to be spent over the next four years around the new roles will go into new resources for schools such as extra teachers or teacher aides improving teacher pupil ratios or even into general programmes of quality professional development for existing teachers and principals where it could have done great good. Instead the money will mainly go towards salaries and allowances for those teachers and principals who are willing to be selected for, and prepared for, the new super roles and then willing to take them up, creating a new level of public servants within education.

We are concerned that this money is not being appropriately spent on areas where there is evidence it would have an impact.

As we have seen of this Government, the way these changes are sold to us does not necessarily relate to the actual outcomes.  They would have us believe that appointing Executive Principals to oversee 10 schools (while still doing their job in their own school) and Expert Teachers to go into other schools 2 – 3 days a week (while still doing their job in their own school) will improve student achievement. There is no evidence that this will work and we fail to see how removing a Principal from the running of their own school, or a teacher from the classroom for 2 days every week, will have any benefit for the students of that school and very possibly could be detrimental.

We are concerned about the effect on our students.

It appears that these Principals and Teachers will be appointed based mainly on their National Standards results – the unproven, unreliable and flawed system that this Government has introduced to measure one school against another.

We are concerned about the weight given to these unreliable measures.

Boards of Trustees, and those they represent – our community, have not been consulted, yet the management structure and the way in which staff are employed will change significantly under this initiative. We will lose the ability to staff our school as we believe best meets our needs. We, because of our success, would be penalised by losing our good teachers and management 2 – 3 days a week with no compensation.  We, as the community, are the consumers of this service, by far the biggest sector within education, with the good of our children, and tomorrow’s children, at heart, yet we have had the least input.

We are concerned that there is no ‘community’ voice, and that schools will lose their autonomy and individual character.

In addition to the IES changes the Minister has stated ‘The most successful funding systems narrowed the gap between high-achieving rich kids and under-achieving poor kids by strongly incentivising pupil progress (NZ Herald, March 16, 2014). We are concerned that changes to how schools are funded won’t be around the need of the school or its students but rather the academic results. This would see high decile schools most able to meet achievement targets and therefore meet ‘incentives’ for funding, while lower decile schools with poorer resources, less able to achieve targets, penalised – effectively the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

We are concerned that this competitive model will create greater inequity in education.

As part of the ACT/National Confidence and Supply agreement (the tea cup meeting), the Government has initiated a review of the Education Act next year, already stipulating what will and will not be reviewed. They will not allow ‘matters that are currently the subject of Government initiatives, National Standards or new school types (Charter Schools) to be reviewed. However, it will review governance and management matters with a view to creating ‘increased regulatory flexibility’.

We are concerned that they will only review what they want to change – the Governance and Management model that is the key to Tomorrow’s Schoolsand that this could spell the end of a community voice in education. We are concerned that there is no opportunity to review the most recent and drastic changes to our education system.

We are concerned about the lack of democracy in these processes. 

We are concerned that the changes are for political purpose rather than for sound educational reasons based on evidence. 

We are concerned for the future of education in New Zealand.

We ask that you make yourself aware of the changes afoot. Think about not only today’s students, but those in 10 and 20 years time – your grandchildren, and their ability to access a quality education. Will the world that they live in give equal education opportunities to those less fortunate? Will we as parents and a community have a say? Will our children be on a treadmill from preschool onwards? Will we be growing great citizens?”

 

Read the rest of the article here.

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