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About this government and education…

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.

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

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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

 

SOSNZ 2013 in review

Sydney Opera HouseThe concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 56,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 21 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Not bad.  Not bad at all!

Map of the worldReaders came from 143 different countries, with most of them coming from New Zealand, of course.  Quite a lot were from the USA, with the UK and Australia not far behind.  Which is no surprise since we are all facing similar education deforms.

The most popular posts were viewed by thousands of people and are still getting hits.  National Stigma – two teachers speak out really hit a nerve, speaking the words that so many of you wanted to say.  The next three most popular posts were:

Unpacking the sound bite “quality teaching eliminates socioeconomic disadvantage”

Teachers – thank you, thank you, thank you – John Kuhn’s speech

an ode to badass teachers

The most viewed image was this gem, as valid now as it was then, with the constant fandangoes orchestrated by Beehive press officers and danced to by the mainstream media:

John Key has a plan ... faint

The SOSNZ Facebook page leapt up to 1728 likers, and our Twitter warblings attracted a hearty 639 followers, and there were even a couple of times I was spotted out in the field, so to speak, Tweeting live at a union meeting and also in parliament at the oral submissions regarding charter (partnership) schools.

headdeskSpecial thanks to everyone who has sent in links, shared comments, allowed me to publish their own words, retweeted or otherwise spread the word about the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM).

In 2014, we can do more to push back against these reforms.  We can change this government for one that puts children at the forefront, one that works *with* educators rather than belittling them, that puts children before profits, and quality education before privatisation.

Please make sure you vote.  I don’t care who for, but be sure to look at which parties are truly looking after the interests of our tamariki, look at their past form, and vote for someone who will care about people over profits.

Happy New Year to you all, Kia Ora, and thank you.

~ Dianne

That Was the Year That Was: SOSNZ – 2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 15,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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