ACT: back to the future

Reports done. Portfolios done. Learning conferences tomorrow and Tuesday. This means that the school year is half over and I have a wee bit more time to rant, rave and rail against the dominant neoliberal hegemony.

According to the last few polls the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, funded in part thanks to generous patrons who’ve not lived in the real world since the 1980s, are currently topping 0.4% in the latest 3 News/Reid Research poll. That doesn’t mean much in the MMP environment other than nobody wants to vote for them and anyone who does will be doing so under much duress and with a fair amount of bile tickling the back of their throats.

Imagine being a National Party vote having to vote for ACT or the good old “zero percenters” UnitedFuture in September. You would just feel horrible (possibly not as horrible as all those progressive voters from the Green & Labour side who will find themselves having to vote for National to counter the tactical voting from the other side).

As the election campaign kicks into gear we’re getting a number of policy announcements. As you would expect, I will focus on critiquing the education side of things.

If you watched the news yesterday you will have noticed some coverage of ACT’s education policy announcement. Jamie Whyte, the new leader of this desheveled group of over-rich 80s throwbacks, has announced a three-pronged attack which they will use when negotiating their next coalition deal with National (far be it from me to point out their current polling puts them at about a tenth of the margin of error so surely their main focus should actually be increasing their vote to the point where they rate more highly than the party that wants to legalise doobs, not talking coalition deals after they get into parliament).

Back to their three-pronged attack. More charter schools, give state schools the chance to become charter schools and they’ve also brought up the age-old subject of “vouchers.”

Someone pointed out yesterday on twitter that the ACT education policy seemed to be designed to increase house prices in Epsom. Indeed.

Here’s what Mr Whyte said:

I expect that a large portion would choose to be free and that we would see dramatic improvements in the performance of schools, especially those teaching children from poor families.

Giving schools the “freedom” to choose to be charter schools? Excuse me… schools already have a huge amount of freedom. At my school we have to comply with the Education Act, but I and my fellow teachers get to do pretty much what we want – free of any government intervention. We create the learning for our kids, with the support of our local community, backed up our… should I say it…. school charter. Yes. That’s right. Our school, our government school, has a charter. It’s our raison d’être.

Dear right-wing. All schools have a charter. We are all charter schools. We are all funded by the government.

But joking about joke parties aside, ACT’s education policy won’t work. He’s saying we would see dramatic improvements in the performance of schools. Where’s your proof? Where is your proof that privatising education is going to lead to dramatic improvements in school performance. Here?

It’s very easy for the rich, white-haired men like the tens of those I saw at the ACT meeting where the policy was announced, to move between areas. Rich people are able to go school hunting and house hunting. They have the freedom, thanks to their wealth, to do as they please. New iPhone, new house, new school, new trip to Club Med etc.

Unfortunately the “poor” that Whyte so colloquially refers to in the above quote don’t have the freedom that allows them to choose. They can’t just sell up and move to Epsom or Khandallah or wherever – if they even own their own home. No. Freedom of choice is much easier if you have freedom of cash.

It’s called social mobility. The ability to move upwards from your current lot to the lot of those higher up the class structure / food chain than you. Swimming against the “trickle down” theory the likes of Whyte have been spouting for years.

Social mobility is a lot harder, if not impossible, if you don’t have money or are not white (like Whyte – pun definitely intended).

I don’t begrudge those who “have.” What I have a problem with is those who “have” (like Whyte) who then decide that everyone in the country has the freedom I have. If you live in Mangere and work a couple of jobs to provide for your family you are not going to head out house hunting on the weekend because the school over the harbour is “better.”

Alternatively, could you see the likes of David Seymour selling up his Remuera home and moving to Otara because the local primary school is having great results on their National Standards achievement data?

No. Neither of these things are happening because the neoliberal education policy of privatisation, vouchers and “choice” is about funding the educational experiments of the superrich. Billionaires design these policies, not teachers. Billionaires then lobby politicians, via healthy donations (expecting absolutely nothing in return of course) because they would love the free cash subsidy a charter school gives.

And that, people, is what the ACT education policy announcement is about. Government subsidies for business.

Where’s the Taxpayer’s Union when you need them?

Mr B


3 News Reid Research Poll (latest): 3 News, June 2014

I’m not going to source the NZ Herald article. A link is enough (that’s a protest after last weeks nonsense)


Things that caught my eye this week

As I struggle to wake up this morning after a most exhausting penultimate week of the term, I thought I’d share a couple of articles that appeared in the Guardian this week.

The first outlined how much time teachers in England and Wales spend on their various work tasks. As it turns out just one third of their working time is spent in front of children.

Teachers in England spend only a third of their working week instructing pupils face to face, despite working longer hours than their counterparts in other European countries, according to the widest survey of teaching carried out to date.

If you extrapolate that out to, say, my working day. I spend four and a half hours in front of my class – that makes 22.5 “in-front-of-class” hours, so I would be working over 60 hours a week. It certainly felt like it this week with reports!

While only around one in three teachers said they felt the value of teaching was appreciated by society, that figure was well above many other countries, such as France, Sweden and Spain, where fewer than 10% felt that it was valued. More than four out of five teachers in England said they were satisfied with their job, while only 8% said they regretted becoming a teacher.

If we were to carry out a similar survey here in New Zealand I think the figures would be a bit higher that in England, but over time they would be falling. After all, if we have learnt anything from all those National Party actual conflicts of interest this year, perception is everything.

The other story that caught my eye was an article profiling the inspection of schools by Ofsted resulting in headteachers being forced out following a less than satisfactory review.

…is one of many headteachers to have lost their jobs, or been forced out quietly, in Kent. More than 20 primary and secondary headteachers in the county have been removed from their jobs in the past two years and either suspended or put on “gardening leave” while their futures are decided following Ofsted inspections. It is believed, though not confirmed by any official statistics, that up to 40 others may have been encouraged to resign quietly.

With the Investing in Educational Success (IES) plan high on the government’s reelection agenda, I thought this struck very close to our educational bone here in New Zealand. Having devolved school governance to the community with Tomorrow’s Schools back in the late 80s, our current neoliberal overlords are wanting to wrestle that control back through a massive reorganisation of the structure of school management in this country.

Change principals, expert teachers, lead teachers or whatever they will be eventually called because the media & parents have turned those monikers toxic as they did with the term “charter school,” will be used by the government to implement the current policy direction. You will only be able to apply for one of these jobs if your national standards achievement data is going in the right direction. Don’t even bother if it ain’t.

But I digress. The phenomenon of principals being forced out in Kent will be replicated here if the IES is allowed to eventuate. “Experts” or “Leaders” will be measured based on the achievement data of their school. Thusly, schools will be deemed to be “failing” if their achievement data doesn’t move or, God forbid, goes “backwards.” We will see more principals on “gardening leave” as ERO orders them out of school and parachutes in hand-crafted managers to mould the school to the liking of the minister.

We will be managed from above and devolved school governance will be a thing of the past.

When voters parents realise this I don’t think National will do very well with the soft centre-ground of woman voters who quite like John Key. If they see their children’s education under threat, that spells doom for any elected government.

It’s our job as campaigners of free public education for all to get that message out there to the parents of New Zealand. Then perhaps, just perhaps, there will be a change in government in a few months and we can assign the John Key led debacle to the annals of history as we have done with Muldoon and Jenny Shipley.

Mr B.


Teachers spend less than half their working week in the classroom: Guardian – 25 June, 2014

The headteachers paying the price for failure: Guardian – 24 June, 2014

Exciting Times!!!

As we come in to the half-year holiday I thought I’d take a few moments to reflect on how excited I’ve been about the latest developments across the New Zealand educational landscape.

I’ve spent much of the last fortnight assessing my students, writing reports and generally getting things ready ahead of the mid-year break.

If there’s one thing I love more than assessing my students, it’s watching them participate in those assessments. There’s nothing more rewarding as a teacher to see 25 kids all sitting up straight, with sharpened pencils, awaiting the commencement of a 60 minute test for reading, writing or maths. As I see them struggle through the hour, asking questions about the various test items they appear not to understand only to have me say, “I can’t help you there because that’s what I’m testing,” it excites me hugely that the data I gather from these assessments is ultimately going to form the cornerstone of my overall teacher judgements.

What is even more enthralling is the fact that my overall teacher judgements, the assessments I make of my students as a professional, are sent to the Ministry of Education where, through no fault of any particular public servant or politician, they are published on a website where they can be downloaded by any media organisation and all New Zealand children and schools can then be ranked from smartest to stupidest.

To hear the joyful sighs of excitement in my students’ voices when I announce yet another assessment fills me with hope and sanguineness as we head towards the mid-year holiday – a holiday in which I plan to do absolutely nothing in relation to my class’s education; a holiday where I plan to sit on my couch and watch television and play space invaders on my computer; a holiday where I will drink myself to oblivion every afternoon because I’m not in school and 2 o’clock is beer o’clock; a holiday where I will not see my school until 8:27am on July 21.

That is why I love teaching.


Mr B

Knowledge Ventriloquism

This week I spent some time today as NZEI worksite rep (cue “typical unionist” calls from PM’s blog buddies) sharing some union information about the new government positions. Those wonderful things we like to call “change principals” and “expert teachers” were discussed and all agreed…

Why can’t we spend the $359 million on teacher aides?

Why indeed.

This came after I read an interesting posting from EduShyster about a topic called knowledge ventriloquism – I’ll let the man who coined the phrase, Ken Zeichner, define it for you:

It’s a particularly useful concept these days. Basically what you have is an echo chamber effect where think tanks and other advocacy groups just keep repeating each other’s claims until they are thought to be true. There’s a research component too, except that the research isn’t independent. In fact, you can usually predict what the findings are going to be based on who is doing the research. Cherry picking is another essential component of *knowledge ventriloquism.* Advocates of a particular position or program will selectively choose certain findings and ignore others. The problem is that by the time any of this reaches the mainstream media and the headlines, any nuance or complexity is lost.

In short, lies are repeated again and again and again by all sorts of policy-friendly advocates until they become the truth.

Of course, in New Zealand, our policy-friendly advocates aren’t think tanks or educational researchers. No, they are a pair of blogs. A pair of blogs who like to pass themselves off as informed voices of the right when all they actually are is a pair of blogs written, in part, by the National government.

These are New Zealand’s key champions of charter schools, education reform and principles sorry principals that can change.

These are our knowledge ventriloquists.

Not a teacher among them.

Mr B

What drives the data?

Yesterday afternoon I returned home from a day at school report writing to read the latest Daily Blog instalment from by best twitter friend who I’ve never met (BTFWINM) Dianne Khan. Her post makes many salient points about National’s Standards. I will let you read those for yourselves, but one rhetorical question she posed stuck in my mind…

Those in favour of National Standards argue that “Providing high quality data that helps us all to understand and support a student’s learning is one of the ways the Government is working to raise student achievement and ensure this happens.”
If that’s so true, why do charter schools and private schools not have to use National Standards? (my bold).

This is a fantastic question. Why are these other schools not part of the data driven regime?

There are probably a number of things that need to be mentioned…

    1. Hekia Parata has said this herself – National’s Standards are about the collection of data. She says you cannot improve educational achievement without first taking some kind of measurement. Once you have taken two measurements, then you can do something about it.
    2. It’s ok to measure the hell out of primary schools. The vast majority of primary school teachers will toe the line, fill out the forms and work within the system. I’m not sure you would get the same welcoming attitude if National’s Standards were imposed on secondary schools with the same fervour (probably not a relevant point, but it just came to me so it’s going in!).
    3. Measurements and data (the model of neoliberal justification – I measure, I cut if you don’t perform) have been used for many years now. They live by their data. That also means that they die by their data. If the were to even for a second consider measuring the achievement of charter school students, they would instantly open themselves up to the very scrutiny the were wanting to avoid for their fabled chartnership school policy. One you measure something, the next time you measure it, if it goes up you’re a total success. If it goes down then… well, you’re tomorrow’s fish & chip wrapper.

It’s quite clear that National’s Standards have never been about “…providing high quality data that helps us all to understand and support a student’s learning is one of the ways the Government is working to raise student achievement and ensure this happens.”

No. National’s Standards are about creating a data set that can then be used to punish teachers, principals, boards of trustees and school communities considered to be “failures” by the data.

“No,” said Anne Tolley, “we won’t be releasing the data to the media so they can create league tables. That would be counter-productive” (or something).

Here is a media-owned website constructed using the very same high quality data National said they were never going to release to the media.

The last thing the government want occurring with their flagship education policy is for the media to be sniffing around in charter school achievement data and publishing those results. That is why these schools were removed from any public scrutiny through the Official Information Act. That is why these schools run under a veil of immense secrecy.

This means the government has total control over what the media see and publish. Press releases written by unseen, unnamed PR boffins given to media to publish. Media publishes said press releases without any in-depth analysis. Charter schools are going along nicely thanks. Look at all the new uniforms, happy children and whizzy new computers and stuff. Those kids are doing well aren’t they?

No. National absolutely does not want the data to help prove their policies are leading to a fall in student achievement.

That’s not what they were sold as.

Some Sunday thinks for you. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Mr B.


National Standards – Resistance is not futile: The Daily Blog – June 14, 2014

School Report website: