I’ll be honest, when it comes to education policy, I’m not enthralled with everything the Labour coalition government’s done so far.
In particular, I’m more than a bit annoyed about the piddling increase in schools’ ops budgets, and don’t get me started on not reinstating 100% trained teachers to Early Childhood Education (ECE). And the increase to Ongoing Resource Scheme (ORS) funding doesn’t cover the full need out there, Teacher Aides are still being paid out of the operations budget (competing against the power bill and the money for loo rolls), and the teacher pay offer is galling. Very galling. But it would be madness to say this government isn’t an improvement on what we had for the last nine years.
Already this government in the process of getting rid of two of the hugest bones of contention for so many in the education sector – National Standards and Charter Schools. As soon as the government was formed, the announcements were made, and it’s moving as fast as the wheels of Government allow given that changes to the Education Act are needed.
The government’s also reviewing Tomorrow’s Schools to see if it’s fit for purpose, and looking at NCEA for the same reason, including inviting feedback from the education sector and the wider community. And school funding is being reviewed, too, to see if there are better ways than the current decile system, which everyone agreed for years is a blunt instrument but nobody had yet replaced. So they’ve acknowledged that changes may well be needed and they’re seeking feedback – this I like.
It also matters that the current Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, and the Associate Education Minister, Tracey Martin, both speak about teachers with respect. It seems like such a small thing, but after almost a decade of vitriol, it’s needed and it’s so very, very welcome.
So, yes, there’s a lot more to do, and we are entitled to gnash and wail about the pace and the bits not yet addressed. And we absolutely should continue to watch every move and hold our Ministers to account. But to say nothing’s changed would be wrong. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than what we had for almost a decade.
As Rita Pierson might have said, we ain’t there yet, but we’re on the road.
Below is the official outline what is in The Education (Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand) Amendment Bill currently before parliament:
The purpose of the Teaching Council (the Council) is to ensure safe and high quality leadership, teaching, and learning for children and young people in early childhood, primary, secondary, and senior secondary schooling in English medium and Māori medium settings through raising the status of the profession.
It stands to reason, therefore, that the governance of the council should be directly elected by, and representative of, the teaching profession as well as appointed lay representatives, and that its name should reflect the central role teaching plays in quality education.
The teaching profession has less control of its affairs than most professions.
For example, the current Council provisions contrast with how members are chosen for the Nursing Council. In 2009, the-then Health Minister Tony Ryall led the modification of that appointment system to enable nurses to elect members of the council.
The rationale for that move was that it was an important step toward giving nurses greater say in decisions affecting scopes of practice, competence and safety.
The Education Act 1989 currently provides that the new Council comprises 9 members. The Minister of Education appoints all 9 members. There are no elections.
This Bill retains an independent statutory basis for the Council, but its governing body is a mix of teacher members elected directly by the teaching profession and lay representatives appointed by the Minister of Education.
It is possible under the current Act that 4 of 9 Council members are non-teachers. “At least 5 of the members must be registered under section 353 and hold a practising certificate under section 361”- Schedule 21, clause 1(1) and (2). This Bill proposes that teachers should be in a majority in the leadership of their own professional body.
Teachers expect that membership of the Council should include appointments in the public interest, but it is only logical to build teachers’ ownership of the organisation required to promote and monitor the standards of their profession by ensuring they have a direct vote on some Council members.
The teaching profession supports greater legal independence for the Council, but it cannot, and will not, be perceived to be independent of Government as long as all of its governance body members are directly appointed by the Minister.
This Bill proposes that the membership of the Council be increased to 13, to include a senior ECE leader and a teacher educator and 5 other qualified and registered teachers/teacher leaders. Ministerial appointment fills the 6 other member positions.
This link takes you to the full Bill, if you wish for more detail.
~ Dianne, SOSNZ
One of the most insulting and insidious things done to teachers by the previous government was when Hekia Parata removed democracy from the Education Council. Teachers were still required to fund the body through involuntary registration fees, but had no say on who made up the Council itself; Hekia hand picked every member of the Council herself.
The move from a focus on it being a teachers’ body to something more akin to an outer arm of the Ministry of Education was made patently clear with the removal of the the word ‘Teachers’ from its name. At that point, the Education Council ceased to be teachers’ representative body in both deed and name.
So it gave me great pleasure to see that the current Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, has a Bill before Parliament (Education (Teaching Council of Aotearoa) Amendment Bill) that aims to right these wrongs and that this was supported in House by Tracey Martin (NZ First, Minister For Children) and Chloe Swarbrick (Green Party).
What gave me the greatest pleasure, though, was hearing Jan Tinetti (Labour) support the Bill. Jan has been a teacher and principal for over 20 years before becoming an MP last year, and she well knows the damage done to teacher morale over the past few years. She spoke for thousands of us when she said:
“The lowest point as a principal that I saw teachers get to was when the Education Council was set up under the Education Amendment Bill a couple of years ago. It was a real kick to teachers. It was where teachers said ‘the government doesn’t care about us – we don’t matter to them any more’ And we felt low. As a teaching profession, we felt lower than low.”
Jan hit the nail on the head when she pointed to the move being about control and punishment, saying:
“This was a punitive approach and was seen as a punitive way to control us as a teaching profession.”
She then rightly explained:
“…as any behavioural psychologist will tell you, punitive approach never brings out the best in anybody…”
Teachers felt downtrodden, mistrusted, and insulted. (And is it any wonder there’s a recruitment problem when the government openly treated us that way?) But change is afoot.
The changes proposed in the Bill aim to restore democracy to the teachers’ professional body by having 7 Council positions that are voted in by teachers, and restore teachers’ faith that it is their professional body by renaming it the Teaching Council. And in doing these things, it also restores hope that once more we have a government that respects teachers.
Mutual respect, honesty and integrity go a long way to bringing out the best in us all.
Here’s to better times.
~ Dianne, SOSNZ
You can (and should) enjoy Jan Tinetti’s speech in full, here:
The Education Amendment Bill proposes changes to the way Education is provided in New Zealand, and one of those changes is the establishment of COOLs (Communities of Online Learning).
Proponents say COOLs will open the door to more education opportunities, but have yet to explain how or why they believe it will lead to an improvement for students.
You can see me here, along with Megan Woods, Peter Dunne, Ron Mark, and Paul Foster Bell, discussing the issues on Back Benches recently:
I’m all for using technology to advance learning, but just doing a course on a computer does not make it quality learning – even the OECD agrees, saying that “education systems which have invested heavily in information and communications technology have seen “no noticeable improvement” in Pisa test results for reading, mathematics or science”.
Students having quality support readily available is incredibly important. I know this first hand, having worked for a while now with students learning via Te Kura Correspondence School, that a qualified teacher is still very much in need. Students need regular guidance, help and support. Often a student will be floundering but will not ask for help, and it is down to the teacher to be monitoring and be responsive to the student’s needs. And, as you can well imagine, some students need a fair bit of nudging to stay on task.
We must remember each time the Minister promotes COOLs, that online learning can just as easily be accessed in a school, in a physical classroom, and with a physical qualified teacher on hand for support and guidance. We need to ask, w why the push to make more learning remote? The Minister has not explained the rationale for this at all.
What the Minister is proposing is actually an extension to (and perhaps you might say a distortion of) homeschooling. I want to be clear before I go on – I fully support quality homeschooling – that is not the issue here. The issue is how learning is done, how it is delivered, and why this change is being pushed. People should sit up and listen when even home schooling networks have serious questions.
Concerns I’ve heard raised so far include:
When even home schooling networks are expressing concern about COOLs, people should listen; remember, they are the experts in understanding what is needed for a quality home-based education.
At the bottom of it all, one can’t help wondering this fundamental mystery of the fact that home-schoolers have been given little support or funding for years, but suddenly the Minister thinks learning at home is the bee’s knees. Could it be it’s only of interest to said Minister when it involves privatisation of another part of the education system?
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
It’s been a year of non-stop changes and proposals. Some call it a war on free public schooling in NZ – indeed it feels like a continuous battery of skirmishes with little to no break between attacks.
If the Minister is purposefully undertaking psychological warfare to break teachers down, then she’s doing it well, because we’re worn out; We just want to teach.
So far this year, NZ public education has faced:
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things – there have been so many – so please comment below if there’s anything that needs to be added.
Meanwhile, look after yourselves – there’s still one whole term to go and, as we know, a lot can happen in a few short weeks.
PS, more added below!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Dr Liz Gordon, QPEC convenor, says that QPEC supports the concerns of many other groups about two recently announced policy proposals.
“The first is that additional special education support be given to the early childhood sector. We strongly support the policy of providing early intervention.
“However it is also proposed that this be a zero-cost policy, with funding taken from later stages of education to fund the early interventions. The government is well aware that there is already inadequate funding for special needs in school, and taking from Peter to pay Paul will leave ‘Peter’ with inadequate support.
“QPEC supports additional funding for special needs in education, to give all children the best chance at a full life in the community”.
Dr Gordon notes that the second issue is the introduction of “yet another category of school” into the Education Act.
“The notion of an online school needs much further investigation before it is placed into our Education Act. There are some extremely difficult problems to be overcome before a ‘school’ of this kind can be developed.
“The New Zealand curriculum, which is compulsory in most schools, is not yet available in an online format and this would need to happen (unless the school is to be a private school, which would be a missed opportunity).
“We know that only certain children learn well in an online environment. These are usually high-achieving young people who have the support of well-educated families and communities. This group is not the target of the government’s policy goals, which are to lift the achievement of under resourced children.
“It therefore seems extraordinary that the Minister would champion this policy at this time”.
QPEC is concerned that once again, as with the partnership schools, the Minister is pursuing models that will lead to further privatisation and fewer opportunities in practice.
Dr Gordon concludes: “There is nothing wrong with extra resources in special education or pursuing models of online learning, but the approaches signaled appears out of step with the realities of schooling in Aotearoa.”
Dr Liz Gordon, Quality Public Education Coalition (QPEC)
NZEI Te Riu Roa is concerned about the government’s silence over the potential dangers to our public education system as a result of signing the TPPA.
National Secretary, Paul Goulter says the TPPA is a major threat to our fee-free, high-quality public education system.
He says NZEI has written to the Trade Minister, Todd McClay, to seek assurances that the government will take steps to protect education from global edu-businesses seeking to profit from the New Zealand taxpayer.
“The wording is ambiguous but the TPPA appears to open the door to allowing international corporations to establish schools or supply textbooks and other learning resources and then demand “level-playing field” access to the public education purse.
Unlike Singapore, our Government did not carve education out of the deal.
Paul Goulter says this is even more concerning in light of another secret trade deal currently being negotiated.
“The Trade In Service Agreement (TISA) would restrict future governments’ rights to regulate the quality and provision of education and protect unique aspects of New Zealand’s education system.
“Together, these two deals would strike at the very foundations of our quality public education system and the outcome would be greater inequality for New Zealand children.”
NZEI is asking that the government’s current review of the Education Act specifically includes protections that ensure foreign corporations do not have free access to our annual $12.9 billion education budget.
“We need to ensure that the government reserves the right to retain education as a ‘social service established for a public good’ under the TPPA provisions.
“But so far, the Minister’s lack of response is cause for concern.”
This is my submission. It’s my personal response, you can take it or leave it, and I welcome feedback.
Please make sure you do a submission, too. You can answer as many or as few questions as you want, and it’s very easy to do.
1. What should the goals for education be?
To ensure all students become confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners, as outlined in the New Zealand Curriculum document.
All children should have the same opportunity to engage in free, fair and equitable state education system that meets their needs.
2. What process should be used for setting a national priorities statement for early learning and schooling?
The education sector, education academics, students and parents should be consulted and listened to.
There should be a select committee that listens without agenda and uses good research and feedback to determine the way forward.
3. What should the roles and responsibilities of a school or a kura board be?
Schools boards’ responsibilities should include:
– ensuring all students are given the opportunity to work to their own best potential.
– ensuring all students have fair and equitable opportunities in school.
– ensuring parents, whanau and the wider community are consulted where appropriate.
– ensuring school is a mentally and physically safe place to be.
– ensuring the board puts the students at the forefront of their decision making.
– setting a strategic plan that reflects the goals and priorities of its students, their parents and the wider community.
A school board should NOT:
– in any way take part in evaluating staff performance.
– put government’s wishes ahead of students’, parents’ and the community’s wishes.
4. What changes should be made to simplify planning and reporting?
Support to allow school boards to plan together with other boards seems sensible so long as schools are explicitly allowed to retain their own methods and/or focus if they wish to and are not subsumed or swallowed up by others, for example, in a Community of Learning.
5. How can we better provide for groups of schools and kura to work together more to plan and report?
Have independent liaison staff that boards can call on to support them working together, to ensure all parties are given a fair chance to be heard and take part.
Have a fund to support those board members who have to miss paid work to attend meetings, professional development, etc. (Especially crucial for those doing shift work or working in other inflexible situations).
6. How should schools and kura report on their performance and young people’s achievements to parents, family, whanau and communities?
This should be a matter for each board and community to determine, so that whatever method is used it is what students. parents and the wider community want.
7. What should the indicators and measures be for school performance and student achievement and well-being?
Well-being should be ascertained through student and parent/whanau surveys, through reviewing information and data on such things as attendance and bullying, and through discussions with the student body as appropriate.
Student performance should be measured and evaluated in a number of ways, including teachers’ overall judgements, in-class testing, student self evaluation, school management evaluations or check on OTJs, and external tests and exams at post-primary level where appropriate.
School performance should be evaluated by the board of trustees, students, parents/whanua, the wider community and ERO, using observations, test data, students’ in-class work, teacher interviews, etc.
8. What freedoms and extra decision-making rights could be given to schools, kura and Communities of Learning that are doing well?
This is a loaded question – what is meant by “doing well“? Until that is determined, it is impossible to say what additional freedoms would be appropriate.
9. What ways could boards work more closely together?
Boards could be supported by external independent advisers/liaison personnel to allow them to meet and share best practice, discuss ideas and problems, and work more closely. External support for this is vital so that all voices are heard and all boards given a fair and equal chance to have input.
10. What do you think about schools and kura having the flexibility to introduce cohort or group entry?
It sounds like a good idea in principle but could be tricky in practice. For example, if a child moves from a school using 5th birthday entry dates to one using cohort entry and therefore finds themself unable to continue their school after starting already.
11. What do you think about making attendance compulsory for children once they have started school or kura before they turn six years old?
12. What additional supports or responses could be used to address problems that arise in schools and kura?
There should be a level of support available prior to a school needing serious intervention. If a school self-identifies or is made aware of an issue, there must be available support to help the school remedy the situation before it escalates. This should be promoted and seen as something positive and proactive rather than punitive.
13. How should area strategies be decided, and how should schools, kura and communities be consulted?
Area strategies must be decided in open, honest and fair consultation with the school community and all stakeholders, from the Ministry of Education to the students themselves.
It must be recognised that good schools are not just a place of education but are also the heart of a community and that this in itself is valuable and should be part of any consideration regarding mergers or closures.
Consultations MUST begin without a predetermined agenda.
Consultations should include written submissions, interviews, meetings, workshops and other methods that are appropriate the the community involved.
14. What should be taken in to account when making decisions about opening, merging or closing schools?
– area demographics and predictions
– the role of the school in the community
– other available provision for the students
– safety (mental and physical) of the students, staff, parents and wider school community
– quality of provision
15. What do you think about the proposed changes to improve how enrolment schemes are managed?
The proposals as outlined look reasonable.
That’s my submission. Now go do yours. You have until 5pm on 14th December 2015.
Term 4 isn’t the best time of year for Hekia Parata to announce a consultation as important as this – well, not if you genuinely want plenty of quality responses – but announce in term 4 she did, and so we teachers and parents must do what we do best – roll with it and make the best of things.
At first glance the consultation looks a little overwhelming. The questions are very broad and range over many areas, and the language is somewhat loaded at times, to say the least. But it’s not as bad as it at first appears…
The first good news is you can answer as many or as few questions as you like.
If nothing else, all teachers and parents should answer at least the first question:
Q1: What should the goals for education be?
This is asking for your own view, so there’s no right or wrong answer. I took to the NZ Primary School National Curriculum to answer it, as I feel it covers things quite nicely already, but you may have entirely different thoughts, and that’s great. Just make sure you share them – that’s the important bit.
The second good news is that there’s no right or wrong format for replying. No-one is checking your spelling or grammar, no-one is expecting a specific layout or certain language. All that matters is that you have your say.
So what are you waiting for – go do it now!
More good news, you say? Excellent! You can put your responses in online using the Ministry’s natty little submission doohicker. And it gets better – you can either just type in your replies, or you can upload a document if you have written them elsewhere or want to use photos, files or links. Great eh? Couldn’t be easier.
I typed mine in as I went, and I answered most questions, and the whole thing only took me half an hour. Easy peasy over a cup of coffee.
I can tell you’re tempted now … go on, be a rebel, click here and do yours…
One last bit of good news – you can do your submission in bits if you want. Do a bit, save it, and go back to it. It doesn’t all have to be done at once. Just don’t forget, if you save it, to go back later and submit it!
The Education Act Update could prove to be one of the biggest upheavals in Kiwi education in around 30 years. Do make sure your voice is heard.
One gets the distinct feeling the Education Act Update is already written and these workshops are simply a merry dance to make us feel like we are being consulted…
It sounds cynical, I know, but after closely following the antics of Hekia Parata for the past few years, the only conclusion any sane person could come to is that her consultations are a sham and done only to fulfil the requirement to hold one, not to actually listen or learn or change anything.
I’m thinking of Christchurch, Salisbury, Redcliffs… of select committees and consultation with unions. I’m thinking of ECE reforms.
The plans are predetermined; consultation done in name only.
So why, you may ask, did I bother dragging myself to an Education Act Update Workshop this week? I could have stayed home and put the tree up. I know my 6 year old would have been far happier not to have to sit there for 2 hours – the iPad and the superb scones could only hold his attention for so long. But drag myself (and child) to the workshop I did, and here’s why.
It is important to make our voices heard.
It is important to hear what other have to say and to discuss issues with them.
And it is vital our views are recorded, in writing, on the Ministry’s wee feedback forms.
This is crucial even when the Minister isn’t listening. Perhaps especially when she isn’t listening?
If we don’t have a voice, the Minister can rightly say we don’t care what happens. She can say we agree with her plans – taking silence to be tacit approval. She can carry on with impunity, implementing her reform agenda. And that would be a disaster.
It must be on record that we stood up to this. It must be on record what parents, teachers, support staff, principals, whanau and students DO want. Because when the tide turns – and at some point it will – we must be able to point to evidence of what we were asking for and how things must change.
Our voices do matter.
A list of the workshops is here: please do go and be heard.
You can submit online here.
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:
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.
The announcement of wide-ranging changes via a new education Bill signals a potential shift in the structure of schooling.
The Education Legislation Bill 2015 includes amendments to eight Acts covering issues from charter schools to student identification numbers and school opening hours.
NZEI Te Riu Roa President Louise Green said the changes could have wider effects than just administration and governance.
“Some of the changes indicate a big shift in the structure of schooling, such as enabling principals to ‘manage’ more than one school. Principals are leaders of teaching professionals, not a CEO across a chain of stores.
“Likewise, allowing tertiary institutions to sponsor charter schools is an unnecessary extension of the model, and enabling the State Services Commissioner to approve changes to terms and conditions of employment raises a raft of questions and concerns.
“We really need a national conversation about some of these larger changes, rather than rushing them through as part of a grab bag of tweaks and updates.”
Here is a copy of my speech to the school board this evening.
Thank you for allowing me to speak today. I’m on a time limit here, so I’ll talk fast. You’ll have to excuse me if my voice wobbles, but this is a scary place to be, so I’m going to try to be brave like Ruby Bridges – if you haven’t heard of her, I promise I’ll tell you a good story about her later.
You are all good people, who give up your time to make sure our school is a great place to be. I apologize if I have made this year more difficult for you as board members, but I do not apologize for raising this issue as I believe it is a human rights issue, and as an ex-teacher myself I feel passionately about equality for all our children. I have a recently been invited to support the group working with the Human Rights Appeal Tribunal to change the law around religion in schools. I have a degree in history and I firmly agree with Pearl S. Buck’s lovely quote “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”
It became clear in discussion with the school, that the staff were initially unclear about the law surrounding religious instruction, or RI, in state schools. The Education Act of 1877 provided for free, compulsory and secular education in NZ. In 1964, a time when 90% of the population identified as Christian, a legal loophole known as the “Nelson Dodge” was introduced in the form of Section 78 of the EA, which allows the board to close the school for no more than 60 minutes a week or 20 hours in a year for the purpose of religious instruction, although from the students’ perspective nothing has changed while the school is ‘closed’, and it seems that that many parents and staff were unaware the school was required to be closed during the sessions. Our school keeps no data on the times closed, so we can’t be seen to be following even the letter of the law, let alone the spirit.
Bear with me while I outline ten reasons this situation needs to be addressed:
1) RI is not values lessons, and is not part of the curriculum. The CEC who run our Champions programme have agreed in court that it is religious instruction, and have referred to schools as “rich mission grounds”. The curriculum already includes teaching about values, and so the school must present values lessons to all children anyway, without a religious bias.
2) According to the survey held last year, 50% of the school community do not want the lessons to continue in class time. The Champions website clearly states that 50% parental support on a survey means a school should drop their programme. If half the community has told us they do not want something that isn’t part of the curriculum to be offered during school hours, how can we justify continuing to lose teaching hours to it?
Regardless of the figures, it is not how democracy works to allow a majority to vote to discriminate against the human rights of a minority.
3) I believe our junior classes have a much higher opt out rate, implying either that the community is becoming less accepting of RI, or that we have a problem with peer pressure, meaning older students are taking part against their wishes to avoid stigma.
4) When we conflate a single religious viewpoint with morality, by implication the children perceive that those opting-out are less moral. Claiming that Christian values are the basis of our society isn’t respecting diversity as required in the curriculum, and is dismissive of other religious and non-religious views.
5) The quality of the programme is not up to standard. Paul Morris, Professor of Religious Studies, recently reviewed the Champions material and declared it to be “inappropriate and objectionable” to non-Christian students and parents, and said it did not support the NZ values curriculum and “may well be at odds” with it.
6) Making students leave the room to opt out based upon their parents’ religious beliefs is discriminatory, and violates their rights under the Bill of Rights Act.
I note that the board declined my request to declare their own religious positions. If the board don’t want to share their personal religious views (which should surely be transparent to rule out any conflict of interest) as they believe them to be private, why are we insisting our children and the parents in the school community do just that? Every time the opt out children leave the room they are forced into publicly announcing their belief system, or lack of it.
7) Our community is changing. Less that half the population now identifies as Christian. As Riverhead expands at breakneck speed, we will be welcoming a huge range of families to the school, bringing with them different cultural and religious perspectives. It is simply not equitable for the school to be seen to endorse only one religious viewpoint, and it makes the school a less welcoming place for those with other belief systems.
8) If the teaching staff stay in the room while volunteers present Champions, then how is a five year old to understand that the viewpoint presented is not one endorsed by the school?
Moreover, it is against the Bill of Rights act for the school to have a policy requiring teachers to stay in the room, as that conflicts with the teacher’s right to freedom from religion.
It’s a minefield, and we rely on the good nature of our teachers to stay with the children, thus compromising the neutrality of the teacher in the eyes of the children.
9) The board of trustees has a legal responsibility under the Education Amendment act 2013 to perform its functions in such as way as to allow every student to attain his/her highest possible standard of achievement. While currently a third of our children are below, or well below standard in writing, how can we justify closing our school and losing up to 20 hours teaching a year, to include a programme that is not part of the NZ curriculum?
And lastly – perhaps most importantly – there is the reason I call “being on the right side of history”. I want to share with you a story. It’s about a small girl called Ruby Bridges. If you haven’t heard of her, you might like to see a picture of her.
This is Ruby Bridges, on her first day at school in New Orleans, back in 1960. She was one of the first children to participate in the school integration system, and was sent at six years old, guarded by US marshals, to an all-white school. As Bridges describes it, “Driving up I could see the crowd, but living in New Orleans, I actually thought it was Mardi Gras. There was a large crowd of people outside of the school. They were throwing things and shouting, and that sort of thing goes on in New Orleans at Mardi Gras.”
US Marshal Charles Burks later recalled, “She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we’re all very, very proud of her.”
As soon as Bridges entered the school, white parents pulled their own children out: all the teachers refused to teach while a black child was enrolled. Only one person agreed to teach Ruby, and for over a year, Barbara Henry taught her alone.
That first day, Bridges and her adult companions spent the entire day in the principal’s office; the chaos of the school prevented their moving to the classroom. On the second day, however, a white student broke the boycott and entered the school when Methodist minister, Lloyd Foreman, walked his 5 year old daughter through the angry mob. A few days later, other white parents began bringing their children, and the protests began to subside.
Every morning, as Bridges walked to school, one woman would threaten to poison her. Another put a black baby doll in a wooden coffin and protested with it outside the school, a sight that Bridges has said “scared me more than the nasty things people screamed at us.”
It’s a terribly sad story, and thank goodness for the courage of people like Ruby Bridges, Barbara Henry and Lloyd Foreman for standing up against inequality. It seems unthinkable to me that the laws allowing that to happen, and the attitudes of people, could be that way as recently as 1960.
Now let me tell you about another brave woman – Vashni McCollum, who 15 years earlier, all the way back in 1945, took her local board of education to court over the voluntary religious instruction in public schools, and argued against separating children at school on the basis of their religion. She lost her job, she had to send her son away from the district because of bullying, and was regularly branded “that awful woman” but after a three year court battle, the US Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the religious instruction programme was unconstitutional, violating the rights of the children.
Sometimes history doesn’t progress in a straight line, and it’s hard to join the dots, so it seems strange that a country which ruled against voluntary RI in state schools in 1948, took another 12 years to integrate schools and treated Ruby Bridges as it did. What is even more astounding, is that some 67 years later, we are having the same fight as Vashni McCollum here in NZ. Just like racial segregation, segregating children on religious grounds, and endorsing just one religious viewpoint in a secular state school is morally wrong, regardless of the law that enables it. Religion and race are so closely correlated, that if you separate on the basis of one, you mostly achieve the other, regardless of intention.
There have been no fewer than 12 cases against RI presented to the Human Rights Commission and on April 16 next year the High Court in Auckland will hear McClintock vs Red Beach School board in this very matter. The law will change in the coming years, of that I have no doubt. My question to the board is, if we wait for that law change, which side of history will we be on? Ruby Bridges and Vashni McCollum’s side? Or those that opposed them and accepted inequality because the law at the time allowed it?
Secular schools are not anti-religion. Secular means that state schools have no comment on religion; it is outside the scope of the school. This provides protection, not only for those without religion, but also for religious minorities. Anglican minister Rev. Clay Nelson wrote earlier this year “In my view, not until the Nelson System is abolished will teaching religion be replaced with teaching about religion. Preserving precious human rights depends on it. A more peaceful world depends on it. Making it happen depends on us.”
So what to do? A review of Champions isn’t due for another two years, by which time section 78 might well have a court precedent declaring it at odds with the Bill of Rights. If we wait for that to happen, Riverhead school will forever be on the wrong side of history, and will have shown it is a school not prepared to make a stand to treat all children equally, regardless of their religious views.
There’s such an easy win/win for our community here, and that is, from 2016 to follow the Human Rights Commission guidelines, as recommended by the School Trustees Association, which state: “Boards could consider permitting RI when the school is already closed for instruction.” During school hours, keep school open, and teach the curriculum. Religious instruction could be offered as an opt-in lesson outside school hours like any other extra-curricular activity, and everyone would be catered for.
Sometimes doing the right thing is hard. We don’t want to offend those we have worked with for years. But surely doing the morally correct thing, even when it’s hard, is the aim the RI teachers are trying to encourage in our kids? It’s time for the adults at the school to show courage in that lesson, and make Riverhead School inclusive for all children.
The first list of what National has done to education was lonnnng. Very long. And scary. Verrrrrry scary, You get my drift. But since it was published a year ago, there have been new horrors, many of which prove all the more interesting when you consider the $$$ involved:
Add to those ….
… and a picture is painted of a government concerned not a jot with the poorest or most needy in our society. What a sad indictment.
Yesterday, with the passing of the above Bill, another blow hit New Zealand education. The Bill passed 61:59 with National, ACT and United Future voting it through.
The Bill gets rid of the Teachers Council and replaces it with EDUCANZ, a new professional body for the teaching profession. The problem here is that EDUCANZ cannot and will not represent teachers: Clause 1 of Schedule 22 in the bill outlines that the nine members of EDUCANZ will all be appointed by the Minister of Education. Not one member of EDUCANZ will be democratically chosen by teachers. Not one.
Even the EDUCANZ transition board, put in place well before the Bill was even passed, was chosen by the Minister of Education. And, you guessed it, “[a]t least five candidates from this nomination process will be appointed by the Minister, with the balance being selected by the Minister.”
Compare that to the Teachers Council, which “has 11 members, with four members directly appointed by the Minister of Education, three members appointed by the Minister following nomination by NZEI, NZSTA (School Trustees Association), PPTA and four members elected by the sector.’
The Bill also shrinks universities and wananga councils and removes the necessity for student representation on those council. These changes were rigorously argued against by well over a thousand submissions to the Education Select Committee. The submissions were, like last time, ignored.
Are you spotting a pattern here, of reduced representation? Of increased government control?
If you’re not convinced of that control thing, you may wish to consider that EDUCANZ will be writing a new Code of Conduct for teachers. That’s right, the Code of Conduct will be written by people entirely chosen by the Minister. Prepare to be gagged.
Reactions to the Bill Passing
Chris Hipkins spoke of a “string of bad decisions by the minister which have led to disastrous changes to the education sector” and called the move “the final nail in the coffin for teachers wanting representation on their own professional body”.
Sandra Grey, Tertiary Education Union national president, said the union will campaign at each NZ university and wānanga for their council to set aside one-third of council seats for democratically elected staff and student representatives.
In fact, the only people speaking in favour of the Bill, were Hekia Parata, Stephen Joyce and co.
Ask yourself why.
Sources and further reading:
I’d love to tell you what was reported in The New Zealand Herald, but they ignored the event completely. Of course.