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Principals urge government to put our children first

We wish to add our voices to the growing number of New Zealand’s principals expressing concern over the government’s direction, implementation and timeframe of its Investing in Education Success initiative.

While acknowledging the commitment in making New Zealand’s education system second to none, pumping $359 million into schools without transparency and meaningful engagement with the sector is throwing the money away. We urgently ask that the government first lift its constraints already placed around the funding and secondly, consider without prejudice, the overwhelming evidence around what can best be done to support our children and ultimately our society as a whole.

invest wiselyNew Zealand evidence based research provides a clear pathway for governments to follow if they are to effect real change for our children, particularly the ones who comprise the tail. The first three years of a child’s life clearly determines future outcomes for that child and ultimately our nation. Research shows clearly that poor patterns of behaviour, disconnectedness, failure to provide for adequate bonding, limited economic involvement etc., all have an effect on a child’s potential and achievement at school. Targeting resources to developing consistent, sustainable support for our children from birth to three years old will be a better spend than on the leadership proposals of the government. If positive patterns are not supported in these early years then the negative patterns are set for the future.

While the support for schools and the education sector is welcomed, we urge the government to meaningfully and collaboratively engage with the education sector without the straightjacket, in order to determine where best that resource can be applied, to effect real change.

Democracy should not exclude or restrict those who are directly engaged in the delivery of service from informing decisions – decision-making needs to be inclusive and transparent. The government’s willingness to provide significant financial resources to lift achievement around supporting change should be the catalyst to engage with the profession to effect the best possible outcomes. Unfortunately the format for this expenditure has been set with deliberately minimal opportunity for input from the sector – consultation being an ‘added extra after the fact.’

Rather than inject a large single resource at the top via salaries, we say give the money to the kids as early as possible in a real effort to effect long term change that will benefit children, families, and society as a whole.

Kelvin Woodley – Principal, Tapawera Area School

Bruce Pagan – Principal, Kaikoura Primary School

Ernie Buutveld – Principal, Havelock School

Christian Couper – Principal Little River School

Peter King – Principal, Maruia School

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For more information contact:
Kelvin Woodley – Principal Tapawera Area School

021 024 75147 or 03 522 4337

kwoodley@tapawera.school.nz

Dyslexia and the new super roles: The perfect storm?

dyslexia chalkboard

Today the Dyslexia Foundation New Zealand (DFNZ), who I have a huge amount of respect for, sent out an email celebrating positive changes for dyslexic students in the education sector.  But the email has me concerned. It tells me:

“There is … a tidal wave of change driven by ultra fast internet access and the “bring your own device to school” model, and a significant financial commitment by government aimed to improve leadership and retain great teachers. This might well signal a “perfect storm” that will further advance changes that will benefit our dyslexic students.”

Fast internet – great.  But, of course, the key is still that there must be a teacher there who understands dyslexia and knows what apps would be best for the student.  The internet without the expertise is of limited use.

BYOD – great. So long as all students have access to a device…..

… and I agree dyslexic students need better support and changes need to happen.

But I’m not sure how DFNZ sees the new roles as supporting this.

Perfect Storm?  Really?

More of a tsunami

Does the Dyslexia Foundation really believe current government initiatives will “improve leadership and retain great teachers”?Because that’s not the feedback I am hearing.

In fact, teachers are saying in their droves they have had it up to the back teeth with the constant reforms hitting the wrong areas and that special needs students are being let down badly by the system.

When the “super roles” were first announced, DFNZ put out a press release in which it said:

“it is critical that the external panel filling these new school roles has recognised expertise in addressing a range of learning differences and preferences. It has welcomed the Government’s intention to work with key sector groups to further develop and finalise details of the new approach.”

DFNZ seems to be unaware that key sector groups are being given incredibly limited say in the roles and that the bones of them have been set by government and are not up for negotiation.  Maybe they could watch and think about this video, which shows that the principals will be chosen by government not by the education sector.  And the roles themselves are to be driven by “achievement”, by which the government mean more National Standards and NCEA results.

National Standards

DFNZ responded to my querying their stance by saying “The DFNZ hasn’t entered the debate around National Standards, and doesn’t plan on doing so.”

But they have.  Unwittingly, maybe, but it doesn’t change the fact that their email essentially shows they are in support of proposals and roles that are to be underpinned by test results, which for primary schools is National Standards.

That would be all well and good if NS helped students.  But having ‘Standards’ for reading and writing does not help teachers do any better job of teaching anyone let alone special needs students.  Nor does it help students learn better.

Teachers already had, before National Standards, plenty of benchmarks and rubrics to refer to.  They already undertook regular testing to check where students were and what to teach next.  Sadly, all National Standards has added is more admin (oh the teacher hours inputting the data), a stick with which to beat schools via league tables, and another damaging label for those most in need.

“Teachers in most of the schools were clear that labelling children ‘below’ or ‘well below’ was unhelpful or damaging. This was considered especially problematic when there were lots of children with ESOL backgrounds or children with special needs…”  

(p.22) Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) Project: Final Report: National Standards and the Damage Done, Martin Thrupp et al.

Entrenching National Standards further is counter-productive to the goal of ” personalised teaching, multi-sensory and experiential learning, and the opportunity to present alternative evidence of achievement instead of standard written material” that DFNZ wants.

When grades are given such a huge focus, especially at primary school level, the focus inevitably drifts to getting those just on the cusp of ‘passing’, up and over that threshold.  Those deemed to have no hope of getting above or well above often end up faring worst of all.  That shift is not always done intentionally, but it happens.

Is that really a perfect storm?  Or just a storm?

What would really help?

What teachers want is time, resources and support to improve their own understanding of dyslexic and other special needs students.

  • More and better-quality special needs training for teachers and teacher aides;
  • Teacher aide support for severely dyslexic students;
  • Better availability of RTLB expertise;
  • Funds for specialist resources;
  • Less admin and hoop-jumping for teachers, so that there is more time to plan and implement targeted and individual learning for all students.

When I was teaching dyslexic students I had none of that and was left to do what I could by reading up online and learning on the fly. Other teachers told me they were in the same boat. And since I have been out of teaching, I am told things are far worse, with parents and teachers constantly upset by having to fight to get support and help for students, end even then they nearly always end up with nothing.

Hey, look, The Dyslexia Foundation know all of that already, they know that more support and training is needed, and they do a brilliant job advocating for that.  They are great, and I applaud their advocacy for dyslexic students and families.

Why they seem so supportive of the super roles, however, remains a mystery.

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“Super” roles won’t bring the intended improvement – Prof. Martin Thrupp

Prof Martin ThruppIn the new teacher and principal roles announced this week, the Key Government is reinforcing its education policy direction through a new mode of control, a new financial incentive to those who will promulgate its messages and through divide and rule of an ‘un-cooperative’ teaching force. The new roles will have different impacts in primary and secondary schools but it is in primary schools where they will be particularly horrendous. This is because of the small size and organisation of primary schools and because these schools will now face greater pressure to embrace unwanted and damaging reforms in this area such as the National Standards.

There are to be four new roles. There are ‘lead teachers’ (10% of teachers paid an extra $10,000 a year), ‘expert teachers’ (2% of teachers paid an extra $20,000 per year) and ‘executive principals’ (about 250 of them paid an extra $40,000 per year).

These are all ‘super’ roles in the sense that those who take them up will be required to work across other schools as well as their own, indeed the executive principals and expert teachers will only be back in their own schools three days a week. It seems to be the plan that there will be enough of these new roles to cover the system as a whole. For instance if 250 executive principals are supervising around ten schools each, this would cover the approximately 2500 schools in New Zealand.

The fourth category is the ‘change principals’ one. These are to be in a full-time role (about 20 of them paid an extra $50,000 per year). This is a ‘super’ role in a different sense, paid more to apply to be principal of a troubled school but ‘super’ in the sense of being expected to turn that school around quickly.

The new super roles are clever politics because they have been presented as a new investment in the sector. This line has been swallowed by most commentators and even by some of the teacher organisations, at least initially. For instance well-known political commentator Bryce Edwards described it as ‘National’s super-smart step to the left’. But no one should imagine the latest reform represents the leopard changing its spots. It is not a move to the left because the politics of the super roles are managerial rather than redistributive.

None of the $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 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 lining the pockets of 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.

Within the sector, Principals’ Federation President Phil Harding welcomed the proposals as enhancing ‘collaboration between schools’. But the problem is that the new collaborative arrangements between schools will certainly be intended to be of a required ‘on-message’ kind rather than more organic and genuine. The brief for the super roles are likely to require close adherence to Government perspectives, policies and targets and this is what those in the super-roles will then be driving into the classrooms and schools of those allocated to work with them. The new roles would be less of a problem if current education policies were more favourable. But the practices that those in the super roles will have to insist on will continue to be deeply flawed in both educational and social justice terms.

For those working under executive principals or expert teachers it may become something like having an ERO reviewer popping into the school on a regular basis and insisting on adherence to government policy rather than every few years as they tend to now. In fact under these reforms ERO might as well be disbanded: the people in the super roles will effectively be doing much of their work apart from the reporting to the public.

The relationships between school staff will become much less cohesive and trusting as the new roles are developed amidst resentment from colleagues. This resentment will be about problems such as who gets the roles, who seems to be hardly involved in the school these days, and who is intruding on successful practice in a particular setting. Ironically, the day before the release of the policy I was telling a teacher conference in Wellington how important collaborative staff relations had been to the six primary schools I have been studying over the last three years (the RAINS project).

carrot and stickThe super roles proposal is also remarkably naïve about the impact of the different contexts and historical trajectories of schools. It is not that a skilled and knowledgeable teacher or principal couldn’t go into another school or classroom and help, but to get it right this involvement would need to be in the spirit that there would be much to learn and of needing to be slow to comment or judge because schools and classrooms are so different and the differences need to be properly understood in order to provide good advice. This is not at all the model anticipated by the new super roles.

So what will happen now? The new super roles represent deeply cynical politics because well-meaning teachers and principals committed to public education are
going to be bribed to undo it and they will often feel no option but to take up the offer.

Apart from the extra salary, the new super roles will become the markers of career progression, whether one takes up such a role or is looking for a job reference from the super role person to whom they are reporting. Even highly ethical teachers and principals may feel under pressure to take up executive, expert and lead positions on the grounds that if they don’t, unknown (and/or possibly unrespected) others certainly will. Better to take up the role than be working under someone else where you and the children in your care might no longer be as safe.

Actually, teachers and principals who want the best for the children will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. My advice is not to be first cab off the rank and to be very clear about what the super roles will involve before expressing any enthusiasm and signing up. In the meantime the teacher organisations have a lot of work to do to mediate the worst effects of yet another bad education policy from this Government, its most destructive so far.

Over the longer term, when the substantial money going into the super roles doesn’t bring the intended improvement in PISA achievement (as it surely won’t, most of the problems are outside of the control of schools), the stage will become set for the further privatisation of our ‘failing’ school system. But as I told the conference in Wellington this week, I intend fighting for public education until my dying breath. This is because it is only a public education system that holds the promise of delivering a high quality education to all New Zealand families, regardless of how rich or poor they are.

 

 

Teachers must not be blinded by the loaded promise of gold

No Joke - Kelvin SmytheKelvin Smythe once more hits the nail on the head, identifying that these latest proposals aim to bring in both performance pay and the entrenching of National Standards within NZ education.  If those getting the extra pay do not jump on the National Standards bandwagon and promote it to others, they can say goodbye to the role and the money, and a more compliant puppet will be brought in.

Here are Kelvin’s observations:

“Because the education system is hierarchical, narrow, standardised, autocratic, and fearful – the new proposals will yield meagre gains. The proposals, if implemented within this education straitjacket, will have the appearance of a system suffering from ADHD.

The suggested proposals, because of the difference in the way secondary school knowledge is developed, structured, and presented will work somewhat less harmfully for secondary than for primary.

The proposals are a move by the government to buy its way to an extreme neoliberal and managerialist future for education – one part of these proposals is performance pay, the other, and associated, is a managerialist, bureaucratic restructuring:

There is performance pay to develop a cash nexus as central to education system functioning.

There is performance pay to divide NZEI and eventually destroy it (as we know the organisation), NZPF also.

There is performance pay and the wider proposals to divide NZEI from PPTA (PPTA is dithering).

The information I have is that there will be some obfuscation about the role of national standards but in practice performance pay will, indeed, be based on them.

There is making permanent the national standards curriculum by selecting expert and merit teachers on the basis of their demonstrated commitment to a narrow version of mathematics, reading, and writing and their willingness to promote it.

The proposals are intended to set up an extreme neoliberal and managerialist education system:

The executive principal for the cluster system will usually be a secondary principal, if one is not available, a primary school principal friend of the government will be employed.

This cluster structure will form the basis for the ‘rationalisation’ of schools when that process is decided for the cluster area.

The executive principal will be a part of a bureaucratic extension upward to the local ministry and education review offices then to their head offices, and downward to clusters, individual schools, and classroom teachers.

This executive principal will have the ultimate power in deciding expert and lead appointments.”

Read the rest of Kelvin’s insightful piece here.

This is no way to run education.  If we treat the system and those within it this way, what on earth does it tell our students?  That what matters in bowing down to money even when you know it’s wrong?  That it’s okay to leave behind all that your expertise tells you, so long as you’re okay?  That it’s every man for himself? What great lessons for life they are.  Not.

We must insist our unions tread very carefully here, and not be blinded by the loaded promise of gold.

Disgust over use of National Standards to select “top” teachers

headdeskReports today that National Standards will be used as the benchmark to select and review the performance of an elite group of expert teachers and principals has appalled educators.

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Judith Nowotarski said National Standards data remained invalid and unreliable. An NZCER survey published last November found only 7 percent of principals thought they were robust.

“National Standards outcomes do not show the true educational progress of a student and are therefore an absurd and insulting way to identify great teachers.

“Linking large pay bonuses for teachers to narrow student outcomes in this way risks ‘teaching to the standard’, as well as making unfair judgements about teachers of students with special needs or learning difficulties.”

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced the creation of financial incentives for approximately 6000 teachers and principals, with the aim of raising student achievement – a move that fails to address the inequity and poverty that are the key cause of student underachievement.

Ms Nowotarski said this policy was clearly not thought through.

“The Prime Minister has rushed to create ‘good news’ ahead of creating sound policy. He needs to come clean with the full details of this scheme,” she said.

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