Written By: - Date published: 11:24 am, January 24th, 2014 - 59 comments
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John Key has presented one great idea instead of a full election agenda: he has latched on to one aspect of education in isolation from the wider context. This policy announcement is a desperate attempt to stop the decline in his government’s popularity and related growing discontents. First he spoke a lot of untruths and mis-directions in dismissing opposition concerns with poverty and the increase in income inequalities. (Polity exposes the lies.) Then he tried to paper over the election risk posed by his government’s failing education (and other) policies, by narrowing the focus of his election agenda onto one isolated aspect of education.
Key is aiming to parachute a very limited policy from above, into a complex situation. There have been some very good responses to Key’s policy. Most agree with supporting good teachers. Most critics point to the ways in which poverty and inequalities impact on children’s learning.
University of Canterbury College of Education pro-vice chancellor, Prof Gail Gillon makes some comments at the beginning of an RNZ audio clip from this morning’s Morning Report. She says that for education and teaching to improve, social situations also need attending. She is especially concerned about the impact on a child’s education, of poverty and related problems of health and housing.
The majority of the audio clip is an interview with Principal Ian Leckie, of Tahatai Coast School. He is concerned that the policy has been dropped on schools without warning. He welcomes some positive aspects of Key’s policy. However, he is concerned it cuts across the work schools have been doing with the Ministry of Education and school trustees, over the last 10 years, to build a good teacher career structure and to ensure good teaching.
Leckie says Key’s policy misses the mark in raising student achievement. It fails to deal with the main underlying societal issues. He says that potentially, “the devil’s in the detail”, and there’s no indication of the detail for Key’s policy. The government has got the whole thing arse backwards – imposing the scheme from above, then planning to consult with schools, unions, etc. They should have begun with consultations.
David Cunliffe, also on Morning Report today, says that Key’s policy is “underwhelming”, and is a “six page apology for five years of Hekia Parata”. Cunliffe says that, “at it’s very best, is a partial solution to how to make our schools perform better.” He says National is responding to a real risk for them in election year, because New Zealand is tumbling down the international education rankings.
Cunliffe is critical of the way National is suddenly jumping on board with something the opposition have been saying for years: that collaboration is important. Meanwhile all the things that the National-led government has been doing have been taking education in the opposite direction, towards more competition: national standards, league tables, charter schools, cutting professional development, increasing class sizes, etc.
Cunliffe says Labour wants to take a whole family view, taking into account socio-economic background. Cunliffe says that Key focused his “State of the Nation” speech on one narrow policy, one idea, and failed to provide a full Statement by setting out his whole agenda for the year. Cunliffe said he will be doing a true State of the Nation speech, giving an outline of Labour’s wider agenda.
Metiria Turei is also critical of Key’s education policy because it does not tackle the underlying problem of poverty and inequality.
“The OECD PISA report at the end of last year showed embarrassingly large differences between our children’s socioeconomic status and worsening educational achievement,” said Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei.
“Growing inequality in New Zealand is negatively impacting on our kids learning. Sick and hungry kids can’t learn. This policy does nothing for kids and families living in poverty.
“The best teachers and principals in the world can’t feed or heal the hungry and sick kids that show up to school each day.
“This real problem in our kids’ education achievement is not addressed by National’s proposal.
“This poorly thought out policy assumes that a possible improvement in teaching practice will address the driver of declining standards, inequality. It won’t.
Turei stressed the importance of tackling poverty and inequality on Newstalk ZB this morning:
“Unless kids come to school with enough food and are well and are well cared well [sic], they are not ready to learn. It doesn’t matter what the best teacher does. If they are hungry or they’re sick, they are not going to work.”
This transcript may have lost something in the translation from the spoken word – but the idea is clear.
Gordon Campbell has also published his usual quality analysis of Key’s education policy:
Even so, these matters are of less concern than how the changes are intended to fit within the government’s overall strategy for education.
To date, and as the charter schools experiment has shown, the government appears to have an ideologically-driven readiness to monetise and to atomise aspects of the existing state education system. In similar vein, yesterday’s changes can validly be seen as a performance pay scheme disguised as a rescue package for schools in need.