As the government slowly pushes forward with their charter school plan, I’ve been thinking about the motivations behind the policy. I have a couple of questions. Firstly, who are the people pushing this policy? Secondly, how qualified are they as educators? To answer these questions I’ve done a bit of research into the current and former members of parliament. Here are my results.
- John Key, Prime Minister: Bachelor of Commerce from Canterbury University. He’s at the top of the list because as Prime Minister he is really leading the charge on any policy. His background is banking and finance. Key has never worked as a teacher or worked in any other position in education.
- Hekia Parata, Current Education Minister: MA from Waikato University. She worked in various ministries and served on policy advisory groups before entering parliament. None of her positions involved work for the Ministry of Education. Parata has never worked a teacher. She was a ‘senior fellow’ at Harvard and a ‘senior executive fellow’ at Oxford – both universities and not primary or secondary schools.
- John Banks, Associate Education Minister: Attended Heretaunga College and Avondale College (no university qualifications). Banks has done a range of things in his life – broadcaster, Auckland mayor, minister in a former National government. He has never worked as a teacher or worked in any other position in education.
- Catherine Isaac, former ACT Party President, Partnership (Charter) Schools Working Group Head: BA from the University of Canterbury. Like Banks, Isaac has worked a range of different jobs in her career – journalist, public relations (Awaroa Group) and served as a member of the Welfare Working Group. Although she has never worked as a teacher, she has served on the Wellington College boards of trustees.
So to answer my first question: Who are these people? They are politicians and/or public relations people from the ‘right’ of New Zealand politics. None of them have ever worked as a teacher or spent any time carrying out educational research.
Of course, righties will be reading this muttering to themselves, “I don’t have to be a teacher to have a view on education.” You are perfectly correct in that view. Everybody is entitled to have a view on education. My point is that these people have little or no experience working as teachers YET they are developing (and soon will be implementing) policies that will change educational outcomes for New Zealand children.
How do they know what they are doing is going to have a positive or negative impact? Their policies are being developed using overseas experience and research. Is this a good thing? Some will argue yes. Some will argue no. Only time will tell whether our experiences with charter schools in this country will be positive or negative.
As a qualified and registered teacher and a long-time observer of New Zealand politics my gut feeling is this: New Zealand politicians from all sides like to fudge the truth or withhold it. You only have to listen to Hekia Parata’s nonsensical political ramblings as she tries to defend the government plans for Christchurch schools while trying never to actually promise anything unless it comes back to bite her later.
I believe the people running our education policy at the moment are motivated by things other than educational outcomes. You only have to look at how the charter school policy popped up out of nowhere as part of the National-ACT coalition agreement. If National really believed in this as a positive policy, as they tell us now, they would have tried to sell it to us before the election. They knew that it would have been a hot election issue and so hid it from the electorate – just as Labour brought in their neo-liberal agenda in the 1980s.
Conspiracy theory? Read Nicky Hager’s Bruce Jesson Lecture from a couple of weeks back. It highlights a range of different issues but the main one is how political parties convince the mainstream media to keep repeating ‘mantra’ lines to get the public to accept biased ideas. He gives an example of an ACT strategist advising Don Brash. It would be safe to imagine all PR people advising politicians from all sides to work from the same play-book. Is it a coincidence that the person leading the charter schools working group is a PR consultant? I don’t think so. It is far easier for a PR person to sell something that is unpopular.
Be clear on this New Zealand: at the moment Catherine Isaac is telling us there is no profit motive for charter schools. This will change. Charter schools will end up being run for profit using taxpayers money. Maybe not right away, but certainly after a few years.
This is where the NACTional education policy will take us and it must be stopped.