What’s Going On Here Then?

If you’ve been reading about Hekia Parata this week you’ll know she’s appeared before the select committee in charge of education demanding people ask her questions about ‘partnership schools’ because that’s what they’re called apparently.

This is typical. Rather than answer questions, let’s get caught up in a world of random semantics. Never mind that you look and sound ridiculous doing it.

I was going to say something earlier in the week but I just couldn’t be bothered. Just when I think she couldn’t get any worse, she then turns out more and more outrageous politi-speak.

She has all the worst bits from all the politicians gathered up inside one beast.

Then there was this little item published by Stuff. In it Hekia is talking about the decile system used to rank schools based on the income of the people living around the school. It is a tool used to determine funding. The idea is that more funding is given to schools with a lower decile. Schools in richer areas can squeeze their parents for a few bucks here and there.

Hekia says she doesn’t like the decile system saying it…

was ”very clumsy” and too often used as ”an excuse and an explanation” for everything that happened in schools.

This isn’t a mistake. These words fit perfectly with the neo-liberal model of educational crisis. Teachers are useless. They are using the failings of their students’ families as an excuse for their own “clumsy” failings.

Parata is either lumping all teachers in the same boat or having a go at those working the coal-face in lower decile schools. Either way, our students are poor and it’s our fault.

Having highlighted the failings of teachers in this area the next step will be to offer some kind of reform. What do you think? Dumping the decile system? In favour of what? Vouchers? Equal funding for each student?

It doesn’t matter what the reform is, I suspect any change will actually lead to a reduction in funding for those students in lower deciles. Words like “choice” and “freedom” will be used to sell it to us. Those parents in the poorer suburbs of our cities don’t have the freedom of choice that the likes of John Key with their several houses and $50 million sitting in the bank. They are both working to pay their power and rent so their kids can stay warm.

Although if you live near Paula Bennett they are probably spending their dole money on booze, cigarettes and P. For their kids.

The above commentary only relates to the first part of the article. Following Hekia’s nonsense mention was made of some interesting research from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

The report revealed there was a growing disparity between schools in rich and poor areas.

It found schools in wealthy areas were raking in about $1100 more in funding a year for each student than their lower decile counterparts, while teacher morale had hit its lowest point in almost a decade.

That’s what really concerns me. If there is any “evening out” of the funding so each child gets the same, or a voucher goes to the parents, then this gap will only widen further (I was going to say something about the teacher morale bit, but I’ll leave that for another time).

So rather than thinking about how we can make things better for our poorest kids, Hekia blames the wrong thing. Yet again. Blaming the decile system for the educational underachievement of students attending lower decile schools is like blaming the Jim Hickey for the rain on your wedding day.

The have-nots have shit all at the moment. Might as well give them less. They’re used to it and don’t vote for us anyway.

Mr B.


Stuff – Wealthy Schools Get More Than Poor


Family Time is Much Brighter

It was a wonderful family afternoon today. A walk to the park in the crisp afternoon sun followed by a well-deserved cuppa at the local cafe. One shoulder ride home later and a young son and his parents were tucked up inside safely protected from the cooling afternoon.

I went to the letterbox to check the mail. As I progressed up the path my mind wandered to how dull the day was becoming. The winter sun had blanketed itself in some high cloud. What I really needed was a touch of brightness. When I opened the letterbox, there it was.

Addressed to, “The Householder” an envelope direct from the office of the Prime Minister. Excitedly I opened the envelope fully aware the PM wouldn’t be just writing to anybody. He wanted me. The Householder.

Inside was a marvelous piece of work. A brightly coloured brochure, many shades of blue, telling me how the National Party had helped many, many New Zealand families over recent years.

There’s nothing better than standing outside your rented house in Geraldine, the town you moved to because you couldn’t afford the $500,000 2-bedroom motel units on offer in Auckland, and having a fantastic series of well thought out infographics staring back at you.

Infographics like this:

Screen shot 2013-06-29 at 7.45.17 PM

What Mr Key is saying is absolutely true. My after-tax wages are increasing faster than I can keep up. Yes my student loan repayments have increased, and yes GST has increased, and yes food prices, power prices and petrol have all increased in that time, but my wages are definitely higher than they were under the previous Labour junta.

Screen shot 2013-06-29 at 7.47.13 PM

It’s wonderful to see the National Party in schools teaching our children. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a politician with no previous experience mucking in and getting his or her hands dirty educating our children – especially those in the poorer suburbs. What’s even more exciting is how they’ve not let statistical analysis or margins of error get in the way of their pronouncements. Really super stuff.

This was the brightest moment in all of the brochure.

Screen shot 2013-06-29 at 7.47.51 PM

Fantastic! $5.6 million saved. This is indeed very bright news. $5.6 million is enough to build a 19.2 metre length of nationally significant roadway.

Put on your shades my friends because the dazzlingly bright future is already upon us.

Mr B.

Remove Education Policy from the Politicians

Yesterday I read an opinion piece by Gareth Morgan over at interest.co.nz. Yes it talked about tax policy which, by any stretch of the imagination, can be about as interesting as the pregnant pause and dramatic music combination between the words, “The person going home is:” and the name of the actual person going home (you pick the reality show – I’m thinking X Factor myself).

There are some very salient points made by Morgan throughout the article. He talks about the distribution of wealth which needs to be realigned because it currently favours those with wealth – in particular property.

We all know this anyway. Poor people have little if any access to the fabled chartered accountants that are so good at redistributing said wealth so it remains un-taxed. The wealthy through their accountants have made an art out of ‘tax minimisation’ as our Revenue Minister calls it (one man’s minimisation is another man’s fraud).

Morgan’s main point is that tax policy is far too important and specialised to be left in the hands of politicians with their ridiculous (my word) ideologies and short-term thinking. He points to Labour setting up of the Reserve Bank 30 years ago to oversea monetary policy as an example of the government realising it was far too important for someone as ideologically unbalanced as Muldoon to be in charge of absolutely everything (carless days!!).

Leave the monetary policy development and implementation to the experts, says Morgan.

This got my brain into a very lateral ‘My Thinks’ mode.

Education is far too important for our country to let it get bogged down in the ideologies of any political party.

Wouldn’t it be better to have educational policy implementation in the hands of a board – like the Reserve Bank board – where the majority of the decision-making is left to the experts and based on the most current pedagogical research?

Isn’t the future of our country, our move to be a 21st century economy that relies less on the might of Fonterra and other primary industries, far more important to be given to the mindsets currently occupied by a financial gambler, a farmer, a radio host and someone so absurdly petty she demands everyone uses ‘partnership schools’ or she won’t answer any questions because she doesn’t know what type of schools you are talking about?

Parents (and soon to be future parents): do you really, really want the education policy for your children to be developed by people with absolutely ZERO educational expertise?

Or to put it another way: would you prefer the policy that dictates the future direction of New Zealand education to be left in the hand of a group of specially trained researchers and educators who bring years of experience in the sector to their policy making OR leave it to people who rarely think beyond the next polling day – a maximum of 3 years away?

Unfortunately this would never happen in New Zealand. It’s far too visionary.

Mr B.

Post Script: being ‘of the left,’ don’t think for a moment just because I’m talking about National, I don’t lump Labour, Greens, NZ First etc into this mix. Each party has their own ideology. What this means is that every time there is a change of government there is a potential change in the direction of education policy. This is even particularly relevant now as we lurch to the far extremes of the ideological spectrum and the mess currently being created has to be cleaned up by the next government (hopefully coming in at the end of next year).

Post Post Script (extra thinks): The reality of my educational nirvana devoid of political interference will never come to pass. Monetary policy doesn’t cost very much while educational spending is in the tens of billions. They’d never let control of that kitty to any expert.


interest.co.nz: Gareth Morgan wants to take the setting of tax policy away from politicians and give it to experts

Public vs. Private. Again.

This morning I read a tweet from the Christchurch Press. It linked to this article featuring a list of schools who received the most taxpayer funding from a New Zealand Qualifications Authority fund designed to help students with special needs sit their exams.

Early on in the article we get this statistic:

The school that received the most taxpayer support for its students was King’s College in Auckland – 24.4 per cent of its 180 students sitting NCEA exams got funding for special help.

So what we are learning here is that of all the King’s students who sat NCEA, one-quarter of them were of in such a dire state they needed state assistance to sit their exams?

Yet more public money being siphoned off from delivering services to New Zealand children who are actually in need.

I wonder how many parents of those students ‘minimise’ their tax obligations thus contributing less to the actual fund they are drawing from than those who pay their GST on petrol, fruit and vegetables and prescription medications?

Near the end of the article we learn this:

…about 60 per cent of decile 1 to 3 schools made no requests for assistance for their pupils…

That sums it up really.

I wonder how many of those schools actually know about the special assistance fund?

Mr B

Post Scripts:

If you are interested in applying for the grants for your children here is a link to the conditions of entitlement on the NZQA website.

Good work on the government for realising this is a rort and doing something to better target the assistance (in my view, if you opt out of the public education system, then you should opt out of the benefits it entails. I suppose the counter argument to that is if you don’t use the service you should get some kind of tax refund… you know… like National gave the well off straight after they came to power…).

If you are interested in applying to King’s for admission for your young boy here is a link to the fees page on their website.





Charter School Operators: The Christchurch Empty Schools Trust

My Thinks have been working hard this week interviewing the preferred bidders for the government’s new charter school chain. For our final profile our reporter heads down to Christchurch to interview a leading light in education down there. 

It’s a cold Friday afternoon in central Christchurch almost three years after a series of earthquakes changed this city forever. Beside me stands Anthony “Tony” Gerard. He’s head of the Christchurch Empty Schools Trust who are licensed to operate charter schools in the city. In front of us stands another recent addition to his collection. He holds the deed for the school in his hand. A smile spreads slowly over his face.

Earlier on this year the government announced they would be closing many, many schools in the earthquake ravaged city. Rather than being up in arms, former real estate agent Gerard saw an opportunity, particularly after a private seminar at a regional political party sub-conference hosted by several Internet writers.

“We realised when the government announced this policy there would be a sudden glut of schools on the market,” he says. I hadn’t actually asked a question, but it was good to receive the unsolicited information.

“We didn’t want the value of these sites to begin falling,” he continued, “so a group of un-named business associates set up a trust with the goal of purchasing cheap educational facilities from the Ministry of Education and turn them into charter schools.”

It is a welcome relief to have someone who appears to be a National Party supporter so open with their behind-the-scenes activities. I ask if they set up the trust with the mind to develop the organisation into a charity.

“Oh no,” he replies, “we set up the trust so we wouldn’t have to pay taxes. That’s what everyone does, isn’t it?”

Before I can answer further more information is forthcoming.

“We are really looking toward the future,” says Gerard, “when we can turn these empty schools into schools.”

Gerard goes on to explain the trust’s plan to set up several charter schools across the city. The schools will be modelled on American charter schools which often open up in recently closed schools. He says the most important thing about their plan is their very close links to the nation’s ruling party.

“This plan wouldn’t work if we didn’t have these close ties,” he explains. “If we know which school is going to close next, months before any members of the public, including the school, find out, then we can put in place various plans, shell companies and blind trusts to ensure that we make a healthy profit on our investment.”

As we walk around the empty grounds of school, once home to hundreds of chattering voices, you can’t help but think this is a man with a unique vision for education.

“The idea is to get everything set up so that schools that close on the Friday can reopen on the Monday morning at 9am with the same pupils attending classes in exactly the same buildings with brand-new teaching staff from a vast range of professions – many of which aren’t teaching. The only thing that will change is the management – managers will run everything. We’re a business. There’s no need for principals.”

As we walk out the school gate and padlock the chain, it’s hard to believe that on Monday morning this school will be buzzing with the sounds of the very same children who left just half an hour ago. I turn to the car park to find only a couple of teachers remain carefully reading the conditions of their trespass notices.