My $2 Shop Can Opener

Hello all. The sore throat is back today. I have no voice so my class has to miss out. Today my fingers can be my voice…

I want to tell you about my can opener – the can opener I bought from the $2 Shop near our house. It used to be a great can opener. We would use it to open baked beans, spaghetti, tins of fruit, tins of tuna, pasta sauce – the list goes on and on. I remember the day we got it. I brought it home and put it on the edge of the tin and it sliced clean through, then after a few turns the tin was open and I was shovelling cold baked beans into my mouth.

After a short time things started to go wrong. The cutty bit didn’t slice into the tin as cleanly. The handle became stiff and hard to use. The teeth of the two cogs became worn and ended up not meeting. Ultimately the can opener ended up being a bottle opener thanks to the addition of a bottle opener on the end. In the end it failed in its single task of opening cans. Eventually I had to go to Mitre 10 Mega in Mount Wellington and spend $10 on a new and sturdier can opener.

You can probably guess where this metaphor is heading… straight to the Talent2 Dollar Shop.

I was lying in bed last night trying to will my sore throat away so I could get some rest and things began to trouble me. Mostly my thoughts centred around it was the inability of some public servants and ministers to effectively spend OUR money when purchasing “brand new IT solutions for the 21st century.”

I believe there’s two things in play here. Firstly, the current National-led “coalition” (Nats+5) has a main reason for being: slashing government spending. When a government is slashing spending, and they are choosing to spend money on new things – like rail carriages or IT things – those purchasing the new stuff will go for the $2 Shop option every time. Bill English will tell you that any savings is good savings. Saving money will get us back to surplus. So the government decided to choose Talent2 as tenders for the Novopay system. Because it was the cheapest. It was the $2 Shop option.

The problem with stuff that is cheap – generally it breaks quicker. Like my can opener. If I’d gone for the more expensive option at the start then I wouldn’t have wasted months of consternation trying to get a rusting piece of junk to open my tinned fruit salad. Ultimately I ended up having to buy two tin openers, ending up with the more expensive option anyway. My original decision was financially based, it was flawed and I now accept that. I’ve moved on and I’ve tendered out my tin opening to a more robust brand. I should have just gone for the dearer one in the first place.

The other problem the government and the public sector have is the lack of expertise when it comes to matters of IT. I doubt whether the decision to accept the Talent2 tender would have been made by someone who was able to look at their programming thoroughly. I’m sure Lesley Longstone is a very capable manager, but I doubt she spends her time writing software or analysing software. She, and others in her ministry, have to rely on the expertise of others. Consultants. $1500 an hour consultants. Mind you, even after being told that a trial was needed, Craig “I Know What I’m Doing” Foss ticked off on the system to go full steam ahead. Without a trial.

Why can’t the government have a dedicated team of IT people on retainer. People who can go around the various ministries and government departments advising them and making sure they don’t accept, for example, public kiosks that are an open book to the lives of all our beneficiaries?

The Novopay debacle will end up costing the government far more money than they originally planned to save by going to the Talent2 Dollar Shop. Guaranteed. If they’d just gone to the Mitre 10 of payroll operators in the first place, none of this would be happening.

Again I hope you all get paid properly in the lead up to Christmas. Be thankful that all the banks are offering everyone free Novodrafts to deal with any fees that incur because of this ongoing nonsense.

Mr B


It Seems the Novopay Worm Has Turned

I was driving to school this morning and something amazing happened. The Ministry of Education ripped in to Talent2. Some of you usual readers will be a bit stunned. What? The ministry? And I say to you, “Yes! That very same ministry you are thinking of!”

First things first. The item I was listening to on Morning Report happened just before the 7.30am news. As a programme the seem to have been doing just as well as Campbell Live with their extended coverage of the ongoing payroll issue debacle catastrophe. The most important thing to mention about the interview today. No Lesley Longstone. No Craig Foss. No Hekia Parata. The woman interviewed was a “Group Manager (I am unclear on what one of these people does – manager suggests some kind of control? Maybe of a group?)” at the ministry Rebecca Elvy. I suggest you listen because the language being used by Elvy marks what I believe is a sea-change in the way the Ministry of Education is talking about Novopay operators Talent2.

In brief:

  1. There will be an independent inquiry into the Novopay system early in the new year. The word ‘independent’ excites me. Hopefully they will look into everything. 
  2. Elvy was critical of John Rawlinson from Talent2 whose spin-speak last week implied that it school admin staff were partly responsible. That comment from Rawlinson infuriated the DP at my school who is now the official Novopay data entry clerk (she pretty much does nothing else now).
  3. At no point during the entire interview did I have to carefully think about what Elvy was saying and quickly translate it into plain English before she started on her next answer. She sounded normal. Completely normal like she’d never talked to anyone in PR ever. This is in stark contrast to her big boss Hekia Parata who has the ability to make people want to rip their ears off because all she needs to do is answer “yes” or “no” but has instead said something like, “Insofar as my advisors have informed me, and as we look forward to the future ahead, and review any past futures that have yet to occur, it is becoming evident to me that it would be premature to answer your question without further looking into the issues that the honourable member has raised in a way that would allow me to answer the question forthrightly. Or words to that effect Mr. Speaker.”

So finally, after months of trying to defend their installation of a system that just can’t handle the job it was sold to do, the Ministry of Education has given up their line of excuses. About time. There is nothing worse in politics than a politician or public servant trying to defend something that is going utterly pear-shaped.

Take John Banks for example. He came back into parliament at the end of last year after doing a secret deal with John Key (which both men defended) and then had to defend himself against all sorts of drip-fed wonders from that fantastic German party-boy Kim Dotcom. The thing was if he’d just come clean about what was said on the teapot tape AND just told us everything about Dotcom right at the front. Instead he got on his high horse, defended his position and has ultimately come out of the whole think looking like an ignorant, rich, out-of-touch imbecile who cares about John Banks and nobody else. It’s always the cover-up that gets them.

Anyway, back to Novopay. The first course of action the ministry took was to try to defend the system. Enhancing the positive – we’ve had over 80,000 successful payments, rather than the negative of nearly 10,000 errors. Now they’ve gone the other way. They must be thanked – criticised for taking so long, but thanked for finally doing the right thing. Although in saying that Rebecca Elvy has given a statement to John Campbell which has highlighted the fact that, “92,000 payments went through successfully,” so maybe I spoke too soon.

Novopay is a complete nonsense. It was mis-sold to the Ministry of Education by an Australian company who believed their own PR hype and thought they were up to the job, but clearly weren’t. We found out on the weekend that the new NZ Post payroll is operated by Talent2 and that also collapsed in a screaming heap as soon as it was launched with problems continuing for months. The fact that this didn’t alert people at the Ministry of Education before they accepted the Talent2 tender is beyond me. Mind you, Wellington is a pretty big city and all those government departments and SOE head offices must be miles from each other…

The people we elect to spend our tax money need to be a bit more careful. Don’t just pick the cheapest option.

But a big thanks needs go to the retail banks of New Zealand who are featured on Campbell Live tonight as offering free overdrafts to teachers who’ve missed payments or gone into the red because of the debacle. At least someone is helping. It would be nice if that someone was from the government.

Hopefully we all get our end of year pay when that comes through in a couple of weeks.

Good luck everyone!

Mr B.


NZ Schools ‘8th’ Best in Whole World!!!

Hi all,

For the second time in a couple of weeks I’ve been laid up with some kind of virus. The throat is very sore but my brain is still working so I’ve spent the day doing a bit of reading. This article popped up on my twitter feed. It’s quite an interesting read – particularly since it comes from a Murdoch run News International paper (they also publish The Sun).

There are some interesting points the article raises. Firstly, our mates in Finland come out on top again. South Korea come in second. Here’s what the article says…

Finland and South Korea perform so strongly because, although very differently organised, both countries place strong emphasis on recruiting, training and supporting the best teachers. The report concludes that valuing and respecting teachers as professionals is they key, rather than factors such as pay.

So basically the government here should be looking at getting the best quality teachers they possibly can. Are they doing this? Um… no. Her Ladyship Catherine Isaac has been arguing in favour of allowing unregistered, unqualified teachers to be allowed to work in her beloved charter partnership schools. But it probably doesn’t matter that much. Maybe ask the kids and parents in Kaitaia what can happen when the right checks and balances aren’t in place. And that all happened in a system that DID have checks and balances! Not only that, but they are planning a ‘fast-track’ teacher training – 5 weeks at uni then straight into a class (possibly unregistered). Goodo!

Although the article says pay isn’t a factor, teachers in South Korea get about twice the average wage. Although I think that probably helps to entice people in to the system. In New Zealand our average wage (from the Stats NZ Household Economic Survey) was around $28,000. If we used the South Korean pay model we’d be on $56,000. Oh, we are!! That’s probably a good start then.

The most important point the article makes is this – made by study author Sir Michael Barber (a former advisor to Tony Blair):

The challenge then for policy-makers is less knowing what they should do than having the courage to act on the evidence (my emphasis).

Acting on evidence is so important in teaching. Informing your pedagogy through best practise. What are the great things great teachers do get great things out of their students? Certainly not having uncertainty foisted upon them through a series of misinformed school mergers. Certainly not having teachers deal with a payroll system that doesn’t work. Certainly not marginalising the teaching profession by labelling them as a bunch of intransigent unionists resistant to change in order to sell reforms to parents.

In New Zealand we are currently at a cross-roads in education. Do we go down the path of the United Kingdom and the United States of America with charter schools and private companies making profits from public money, teachers ranked by the test results of their students, and having super-schools with thousands of students? All of these reforms have one thing in common – money. Making money or saving money. It’s all about the cash.

Although we live in the capitalist world and we all get paid with money, sometimes it isn’t about money. Sometimes it’s about what’s best for New Zealand. But that’s the ‘Big Picture’ view which can be quite hard for a politician stuck in a 3-year electoral cycle. Just ask the environment.

Mr B.


Transcribed Minutes from Secret Meeting

These notes were transcribed by office temp Raylene Johnson. They are taken from a short meeting, or Crisis Discussion, held recently between representatives of the Ministry of Education and Australian-based Novopay operators Talent2. They were accidentally sent to me after I sent in an email request to Novopay asking for a copy of a payslip from August. The email was accompanied by the bank account details of all teachers currently working in New Zealand and Australia.

Meeting commenced: 9:15am.

Present: Lesley Longstone, John Rawlinson, NotCraig Foss

Lesley: ok… Let’s get this thing going. John, we’ve called you over to New Zealand because we’re having a few problems with your Novopay system.

John: No you’re not.

Lesley: Um… yes we are John. We’ve had well over 10,000 errors since the system went live in August.

John: No you haven’t.

Lesley: Yes we have John. Just ask Craig here, the min…

NotCraig: (interrupting). That’s NotCraig. I’m NotCraig Foss. Treat me as if I’m not here. (waves hands in front of face) I’m not even here.

Lesley: Um… thanks NotCraig.

NotCraig: I. Am. NotCraig…

Lesley: If Craig were here…

NotCraig: …But he’s not…

Lesley: …I’m sure he’d be able to confirm the concern that both of us are having over this lackluster start.

John: I’m not sure I know what either of you are talking about. Talent2 have delivered a state-of-the-art payroll system for the Ministry of Education.

Lesley: But John, if you had there wouldn’t be any errors. Surely.

John: But Lesley we have. It says so on our website.

Lesley: Ok… let me just get that up on the tablet… ok so I’m on the Talent2 website now… which page do I click on?

John: (pointing) that one there… media slash PR.

Lesley: Oh… ok… (reading under breath) mumble mumble… top payroll operator… mumble mumble …have delivered… mumble mumble …just ask New Zealand Post… mumble mumble ….adequately satisfied.

John: So you can see from that press release, the comforting smile on my face, and the reassuring hand placed gently on your lithe wrist, that Talent2 has delivered on their promise of a payroll system for the New Zealand Ministry of Education.

Lesley: (smiling coyly) You’re absolutely right John. That is a really nice smile. And a strong hand.

John: Exactly. So are we all fine here?

Lesley: (giggling) Of course John. We’re completely fine.

John: NotCraig?

NotCraig: I think your website is really cool.

John: Good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some journalists to charm the pants off. I might see you later.

Lesley: Oh John… just in case anyone asks…

John: (smiling). Blame the teachers, Lesley. Just blame the teachers (exits).

Lesley: He was really very nice. I have every confidence in everything he just said.

NotCraig: I might dress as a bunny next Hallowe’en…

Meeting ends: 9:23am

NZ Children to be used for Experiments

Hello all.

I read a very interesting (and by interesting I mean insightful in a thoroughly disastrous way) piece on this morning. The upshot? Education Working Group chair Catherine Isaac says she sees the first round of charter schools as places for R&D. If you don’t believe me click on the link above and scroll right down to the end of the article. Isaac is reported as saying:

…the charter school policy is not business-driven, but an experiment aimed at lifting education outcomes for the bottom 20 per cent of pupils….

The article concludes with a direct quote.

“These schools should be looked on as the R&D arm of the education system,”

You can understand why the neo-liberal thinkers want to put these schools in Aranui in Christchurch and the southern suburbs of Auckland. Decile 1 parents are far more unquestioning when it comes to the education of their kids. They tend to accept that teachers are teachers, schools are schools, and the education their kids are getting is fine. Decile 10 parents are a bit more pro-active and questioning of the education of their children. They want to know ‘why’. I’m not saying either way is good or bad, I’m just saying that’s the way it is.

Since most of their kids go to Decile 10 schools, Neo-liberals totally understand the socioeconomic split in parental thinking. That’s why you will NEVER see a charter partnership school in Remuera, Ilam or Thorndon/Karori.

In short, the charter school policy being developed by the current government isn’t actually developed yet. It’s totally undeveloped or underdeveloped. In any case, Isaac and her working group plan to develop their policy by literally using your children as guinea pigs. When I say ‘your children’ I actually mean the children in the poorest areas whose parents won’t question the experimenting.

This proves that this policy is definitely, and without any doubt, based around ideology and NOT what is in the best interests of the kids (or learners as Hekia-speak calls them).

Also, it’s good to know that Fairfax and Granny Herald appear to have appointed themselves the new PR campaigners for the National Act education policy.

See you next time.

Mr B.

NOTE: if there are any whaleoil types reading this and scoffing saying schools have been R&D houses for years, you are totally correct. We research for BEST PRACTISE by looking at a vast number of teachers plying their trade in the classroom. Then we develop policy and pedagogy based on that BEST PRACTISE. We DO NOT put our kids in an undeveloped, experimental situation and then test a whole bunch of different things on them to see which one might work the best. That’s just plain dumb. Who suffers? The kids learners.