Hekia Parata: I’m all ears – especially my ears

New Zealand has a very good education system. That’s beyond debate. Can we make it better? Yes, we can and we must. We must make it heaps more betterer.

As a passionate New Zealander and as a mum, I want to see an education system that delivers quality learning for every child and young person every day. Their achievement matters, to their families, their communities – and to me.

I visit schools right across New Zealand on a regular basis, and after the torrents of abuse have died down, I speak to teachers, principals and parents about what I, as the Education Minister, can do to support them to ensure our kids are achieving.

For example, I can open my mouth and tell them to do things I think are important. They can listen to me or they can strop and moan like a grumpy old man.

The proposed changes that we’re making in education are all about putting our kids at the centre of the education system, lifting the educational success of every young New Zealander.

This means ensuring we get the right amount of funding for each child. There are so many options in modern education. Back when I was at school in Ruatoria we had nothing. No pencils. No books. We didn’t even have a classroom or a teacher. There were 753 students in my class. At the start of the school year they took us to the top of Mt. Hikurangi and left us there. You graduated if you could make it back to Manutahi School by the end of the year.

That was real learning. And even though I never had a teacher, my teacher was the best teacher I ever had.

These days school need to be supported in making the same kind of courageous decisions for kiwi kids. Each year we spend over $11 billion on education.

As I’ve often said, “That’s a shipload of money,” because so many people I know use that term when referring to a large amount of something.

We increase spending each year and the spending review we are currently engaged in is looking at everything. We want to provide schools with more flexibility and choice. We want them to be able to be flexible enough to say, “Hey… We’ll paint the junior block and put a beginning teacher straight out of university in front of our most vulnerable learners.” At the moment they can’t do that.

School communities have to spend some of their money on teachers. That’s such a shame.

I’ve consistently listened to the teacher unions since I came into the education portfolio, regularly meeting with them and working with them on a number of important initiatives. I’ve also told them they are just plain wrong. There’s nothing more motivating than an Education Minister telling teachers how wrong they are.

This is about lifting the learning potential of every child. Our spending cuts in the Early Childhood and Special Education sectors have allowed kiwi children to grow and prosper.

It’s about preparing young New Zealanders for a contrary, challenging, exciting world where they will spend their working lives sitting 3 hour external exams and being assessed against their workmates as to whether they meet the standard.

Or not.

* Hekia Parata is the excellent Education Minister of New Zealand

Better Funding: More pies for all!

I like pie.

As a born and bred New Zealand man with 46 years experience living in this world, I have come, over the years, to adore pie. The pie I most enjoy is Pepper Steak, but I have been known to partake in Steak & Cheese, Slow Roasted Pork Belly and good old-fashioned mince.

Pie sharing is something I’ve had a problem with – particularly single pies. You know, those pies which sole reason for existence is to be consumed by one person. If they were meant for sharing the deity responsible for pastry goodness would have made them larger.

That brings be to family pies. These pies have been built for sharing. They are larger than the single-serve pies previously mentioned. They are called family pies for a reason.

One of the most important things about family pies that they are shared evenly across the family. The family that doesn’t share the pie evenly will not be a happy family.

That is what the National-led government and their glorious Undersecretary for Education David Seymour are wanting to do with education. worth-fighting-for

They are going to take the $11 billion family pie of educational funding and devolve the decision-making on how that pie is eaten back onto the various Boards of Trustees and principals heading New Zealand’s learning institutions.

Why take the blame for increasing class sizes, under-resourced teaching and learning and operational spending decisions that put furniture ahead of hiring another learning support worker? That just makes the government look mean. Why should they look mean all the time? They make so many hard decisions and every three years people get to vote for them (mainly based around their decision-making). What if all these decisions were made BY OTHER PEOPLE? What if we started quietly reducing the size of the pie? What would happen then? We could reduce the size of the pie and other people will be left trying to sweep up the crumbs and any smears of gravy they can find. Those decision makers would still have to make the decisions BUT THEY WOULD HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THE SIZE OF THE PIE THEY ARE CUTTING UP!!!

OMG everyone! Yes… that’s right. OMG (not to be confused with 80s mellow synth poppers OMD).

If OTHER PEOPLE like parents on the boards and principals said, “We can’t afford to hire that person there to help our teachers deliver a robust learning programme,” then we could say, “Well… you know… we’ve given them billions of dollars. How they spend it really is up to them – the school communities.”

OTHER PEOPLE will end up burning the pie, dropping the pie on the floor, crushing the pie with a miss-placed size 10 Hush Puppy and BAMM! The pie is ruined.

No more pie for anyone.

And you know what? I didn’t ruin the pie. THEY did. Yes… them over there with their committee and their meetings and their decision-making. THOSE people ruined your pie.

Not me. I was in Wellington the whole time.

God forbid my pie metaphor has diminished the argument, but my point stands.

If we let the National Party loose with their plans for the education system, we will, I absolutely guarantee you, lose the wonderful system we have built up over the last century.

They will wreck it and the people who will lose out from this failed experiment are our most vulnerable asset.

An infographic about pies
An infographic about pies

Bosses concerned about workplace layouts

Hard on the heels of the Secondary Principal’s president Sandy Pasley suggesting the government’s planned half-billion dollar investment in Innovative Learning Environments could be a massive waste of money and they should give it to her instead, the New Zealand Employers Federation has expressed its concern about the layout of some of the country’s workplaces.

Earlier today on the Paul Henry AMP advert, Pasley said many principals were concerned that the big barn-like spaces, the hallmark of every ILE she’d ever seen or heard about from other Decile 10 principals, hadn’t been researched as to whether they improve achievement.

Not to be outdone, the head of the New Zealand Employers’ Federation, Brian Nationalpartysupporter, said he was concerned that a number of workplaces were heading down the same route.

“Time and time again,” he told a lunchtime meeting with Mediaworks producers at a bar in Kingsland, “I walk into these massive open-plan workplaces where there is very little work being done. Workers are under the tables playing Minecraft or Snapchatting their friends. The other day at Dominion Breweries I saw the loading bay crew all fiddling about on Tinder. Ridiculous.”

He went on to point out that the most successful businesses were those where the workers sat silently in rows of desks while their manager paced up and down at the front of the office lecturing them on what being a “good worker” was all about.

“Open plan spaces just lead to all sorts of collaboration and innovation,” he concluded.

The lunch meeting finished at 4:45 when Mediaworks had to leave for their weekly meeting with the National Party.

Everything stays the same?

We were all there watching on election night. Watching when a compulsive fibber was re-elected to the premiership and promptly promised to, “work for all New Zealand.” Yet another mistruth. But who’s counting?

One of the twitter conversations I followed on the night but didn’t engage with because I was so furious (at the result, not the conversation) was between a few teachers.

We were discussing how, now that National had the “mandate,” the entire education system was going to be thrust into a state of flux as all manner of weird policies were thrust onto the education system.

This weirdness was exemplified a few days later when a 12-year-old was appointed Undersecretary to Education. What the hell is that? It sounds like one of those double entendre from a Carry On film (“Ooo err Madam Undersecretary…. etc).

With ACT now a joke political party, the term sock puppet pops into my head whenever I hear them. Actually, when I think about it, I have not heard from them since around about the time David Seymour gave his maiden speech to parliament promising to, “lift all New Zealanders out of poverty by reducing their employment conditions, wages and housing opportunities.” I’m paraphrasing, but I think that was the general gist.

Back to our discussion. The idea was that no matter which government was in, or which policy was being implemented, nothing much changed in our day-to-day lives as middle class public servants.

At the time I thought about this and I thought that was possibly fair enough, but the longer time has gone on, the more and more I realise what an utter cop-out this argument is. It’s the argument of the people who voted National but don’t like their policies.

Every single National-led government since I’ve been born – Muldoon, Bolger, Shipley & this current bunch (too young to remember Holyoake) – have implemented policies that have had a huge impact on a vast proportion of the population.

  • Cutting benefits – let’s reduce the income of the poorest people in New Zealand. That won’t have any impact on anyone. I’m sure nobody will resort to crime to cover the money missing from their weekly balance so they can feed their kids.
  • Student loans – let’s make students borrow to pay for their education. That won’t have any impact on the people graduating. I’m certain they will all stay in New Zealand and not go overseas so they don’t have to pay their loans back.
  • National standards – let’s measure every child in New Zealand against a set of arbitrary figures that we promise will not be used to measure schools against each other but then we publish them on a publicly accessible website and say “we don’t like what stuff.co.nz are doing, but . No… this won’t impact on the teaching profession. Labelling a student “well below” for the entire time they are at primary school will have absolutely no impact on them, their families or their teachers.
  • Novopay – let’s outsource our payroll. That will have very little impact on anyone. At all. Because the people at Talent2 said so.

These are just a few policies. There are many, many more (90 day stand-down period anyone?) that have huge impacts on people’s lives.

Here are the stupidly weird things that are being proposed by this government (and by proposed I mean they are being put out for “consultation” with a committee of rubber stampers before being foisted on a beleaguered profession.

Hekia Parata has started making noises about the decile rating system. She was making these noises before the election. She likes talking about it being “messy” and “misunderstood.” The government want to move to a different funding model they have more control over. How can they achieve this? By linking funding to achievement. Your school will get money based not on the socio-economic standing of the residents within your zone, but the performance of those children against an arbitrary standard.

No. That won’t have any impact on the teaching profession.

How will schools work if this funding model is implemented? Well, if my funding levels required me to have more and more students achieving at the National Standard, then that’s precisely what would happen.

In the US where this policy has been in place for a while we have results fraud going on and special needs (or ESOL) students being excluded from even being assessed against standards in the first place (First rule of statistics: always boost your statistics by removing statistics that wreck your statistics).

People need security. If you are going to take their security away they start making stupid decisions. If my pay is going to be partly decided by the performance of the students in my class, then some decisions I might start to make could possibly be in the best interests of me. If my school is going to be funded partly on the basis of the performance of students against the National Standards then perhaps those students are going to perform awesomely against the standard.

As someone pointed out the other day, the year they bring in “value added” performance pay will be the year we have a massive spike in our National Standard results.

For whatever reason, well over 45% of people who turned out to vote that day in September decided to re-elect a lying money trader (is there any other kind?) to the premiership. If you are going down that route, then you need to expect the policies you are going to get are in line with those of a lying money trader.

Those from an industry that contributed the Global Financial Crisis should never have any control over any decision-making processes at any level of government.

Just sayin’

Mr B.





Would the real National Party please stand up

This election campaign is turning into a joke. National, through John Key and to a lesser extent Steven Joyce, appear to be telling us either not to believe emails people from their side wrote or that somehow a smear campaign involves the release of actual emails actually written by actual National Party people. Smears usually involve lies, not truths. That’s called accountability. Their deny-everything-at-all-costs-in-the-hope-it-goes-away strategy has lasted a week and a half. How long can it go on? I’m sure @whaledump will tell us.

When I’m teaching I’m always asking my kids to take responsibility for their actions. You made that choice, you have to live with the consequences. Blaming this mystical “Left” for everything is a total cop-out. You wrote the emails. Man up.

Now that that’s out of the way I wanted to let you all know of the single most disturbing thing that has happened during this election campaign. I know you’re all probably thinking what is there something MORE disturbing a secret agenda to use right-wing blogs to discredit political opponents while outwardly exhibiting an “I’m-above-all-that-nonsense” facade?

Last week NZEI voted overwhelmingly to reject the government’s Investing in Educational Sycophants policy. As a large group made up of thousands of teaching professionals we have decided that this policy stinks. We know in our hearts that $350 million would be much better spend at the bottom end of education – the coal face – where it is needed most for special needs, reading recovery, quality PD for teachers, etc, etc, etc. The list is actually endless and would require billions if it were to be done properly.

Of course, the Prime Minister in his infinite wisdom, has declared the NZEI rogue. We are, it turns out, playing politics during an election. This statement requires some unpicking. The man who has, for the last six years, allegedly run a sophisticated behind-the-scenes “black ops” campaign allegedly using the SIS allegedly for political gain, is telling teachers they’re playing politics? The man and party who have made a career out of secretly playing politics are levelling similar accusations toward teachers. All we are guilty of (and we’re not, that’s just a turn of phrase) is telling the National Party we don’t believe a management system enforced by a right-wing government keen to impose education policies that have failed in Sweden, the USA and the UK, is in the best interest of our students. Apart from all this, isn’t an election EXACTLY THE RIGHT TIME TO BE PLAYING POLITICS? What we should shut up until the election is finished? What an utterly preposterous thought.

National are now using the George W Bush catch-cry made so popular after Saddam Hussein bombed the World Trade Centre in 2001 – you’re either with us or against us. You either believe in our policy or you are educational terrorists.

Thanks for the vote of confidence and high trust model.

If you want proof of what John Key really thinks of teachers, watch this item from OneNews last night. Fifty seconds in to the item he is reading off a prepared statement. This obviously means he wants to get the words exactly right, otherwise he would be doing the usual making it up as he goes along routine to appear relaxed in a say what I like kind of way. Here’s what he says:

A branch of the Labour Party – the NZEI – were against this initiative from the start, despite working with Labour on a very similar policy.

He then goes on to say he doesn’t want to enforce the policy on the sector, but he may have to.

Consider just last week Hekia Parata was saying on the Nation that the policy was optional and schools would not have to be involved if they didn’t want to (4:30 in to the debate).

What has changed?

I’ll tell you what’s changed. National have been the bad guys for a week and a half and now they want someone else to have a turn. Enter teachers.

And so it continues.

The most important point in all this? According to the Nation survey results highlighted before the Parata / Hipkins debate, over half of New Zealanders (52%) support Labour’s policy of improving teacher ratios. 40% of people are going for National’s policy.

I trust parents to understand who is actually playing politics with education.

Mr B.