Archive for August 2014

A Day in the Life of the Principal of Election High

Another day of meetings.

9.00am Pam Corkery, 3K

Principal   “I won’t mince my words, Pam, although I wish you had minced yours! You can’t talk to others like that, you can’t call them those vile things. Can’t you control your temper?”

Pam   “ I simply said everything that people had been thinking about the them, Sir.”

Principal   “That may be so, but you have brought great discredit to the school and I am going to stand you down!”

Pam   “But does that mean I shall miss the Ball?”

Principal   “Yes! And that is appropriate considering how comprehensively you dropped it!”

10.00am  John Key, Head Boy

Principal   “Come in, John. How are things going? I though you played rather well in the First XV match at the weekend.”

John   “Thank you, Headmaster. Their front row was pretty weak I thought.’

Principal   Yes, and their game plan wasn’t up to much. They simply ran around the field following us all the time.”

John   Well, I told  the boys before the match to keep the tempo up. Frankly the real danger was interference from the sideline. Remember that last week someone stole the ball!

Principal   Do you see any problems coming up in the last four weeks of the competition?

John   Not really but the MMP Final is always close. We want it more than them, we’ll give it 100%, it could be a game of two halves, at the end of the day, it’s not over until the whistle blows. Do you think we could use pyrotechnics before the final?

Principal   Oh, I think that’s the bell – I probably have to go and do something, go into the ring, go and vote, go to assembly?

1.00pm  Laila Harre,  Leader of the Election High Student Amnesty Group

Notice to Staff:

You will recall that Laila Harre was with us for some time until she shifted out of our zone. I wish to advise you that she has returned to Election High. I want you to make her feel welcome but I need to draw your attention to several things. When last she was at this school she showed great promise but unfortunately it seemed to be frustrated by the people she was mixing with. I am told that she has become associated with another interesting group which could prove to be an issue. Please keep the deputy principal aware of any problems you face.

12.00 noon  Jamie Whyte – new to the school, with caregivers

Principal   I wasn’t expecting a group of adult caregivers with Jamie.

Spokesperson   Well as you know ACT has great compassion for orphans and those who don’t quite fit. We are a firm of solicitors, Prebble Douglas Hyde and Banks and we assist them in this work. We have come to sort out Jamie’s enrolment at Election High.

Principal   Would you like a cup of tea? No, well let’s talk about the subjects that Jamie would like to do.

Jamie   Philosophy. I would like to do philosophy.

Principal   Excellent, I studied philosophy. It has stood me in good stead, I win most arguments with Form 4 boys by cleverly employing the syllogistic techniques and then closing the discussion with an apposite quotation from Plato. I find the allegory of The Cave a little beyond them, but that doesn’t stop me.

At this point the groups settles back into the couches in the office knowing that this meeting would in all probability be long.                     

 

Policy that should be read

I promised some more discussion on the policies of the Labour Party as we head closer to the election although policy is taking a bit of a back seat at the minute!

Here are a few other ideas that Labour has put into is Education Election Manifesto.

·         Raising the standard of entry into teaching.

To start with “requiring the Teachers Council to” is to design the cart well before thinking about the horse. The standard of entry will not in itself be able to be raised without lifting the degree to which teaching is an attractive pathway for new graduates and for those seeking to change careers. A better place to start is to remove the significant differences between qualifications required for entry into different sectors, something which serves to narrow the options that adult learners should have open at the point of entry. The Scandinavian approach is to have a very standard level of first degree (usually a masters level qualification that is then given a small degree of specialisation for the levels at which a teacher wishes to teach at).

And they only accept into teacher education programmes about 10-15% of the applicants compared to the numbers taken in to programmes in New Zealand.

But perhaps the biggest impact would be had by current teachers and the organisations that represent them focussing on lifting the respect that the community has for teaching and for schools (this is the easy bit) and the parity of esteem that we hold each other in (this is a harder ask) and, finally, showing a degree of self-control as a profession that would see education issues discussed professionally in professional places rather than becoming nasty squabbles played out in the newspapers and on TV. Respect of educational leaders in any government and in our Ministries would also encourage good people to believe that they too might be respected with respect.

No issues at all with the sentiment, but simply “requiring the Teachers Council to a,b,c, and d” and increasing resources for schools won’t cut it.

A good idea in this policy is to revisit the supporting and bonding of teachers at the time of entry and progression into teaching. This need not be cash payments but might in fact be the forgiving of the debts incurred in training etc. and can be equalised between new teachers in some way.

·         Support a self-governing teaching profession through the introduction of a democratic process for appointing the Board of the new Education Council.

This is a continuation of the teacher unions’ positions which have dominated the discussion about the new Education Council to this point in time. It is sensible for Labour to include it in its manifesto and to give this view an airing in this way.

·         Scrapping National Standards and Charter Schools

Two questions are asked on these:

What assurances would Labour give to parents that the skills of language, reading, writing and mathematics are being adequately taught?

And I do mean a response that is stronger than either “Trust us we know what we are doing!” or “Never mind the quality, feel the warmth!”

What damage have Charter Schools inflicted on the system since their introduction?

We need to bear in mind a number of factors and remind ourselves that Maori needed to have their schools in order to have their needs more fully met, that Catholics have always had their own schools, that those who would believe in different ways of teaching such as Montessori approaches have their own schools. The international trend is towards difference in schools not increased sameness.

The US has its Academy Schools, its Charter schools, its Early College High Schools, its Lighthouse schools and so on. The UK has its Free Schools, its Studio Schools, its Academy classes, its University technical colleges. All of these are premised that working differently gets different results and that is something we certainly need. Here in New Zealand we have the MIT Tertiary High School, Trades Academies, Secondary Tertiary Programmes, Schools of Special Character, State Integrated Schools and Partnership Schools – all of which provide positive pathways in addition to those offered within the state system

I have visited many of these schools of difference in these countries and like state schools, the best are superb, the middle achieving ones are middling and the poor ones are just that! They aren’t silver bullets! But they can’t be simply written off either.

They do offer opportunities to many students – the gifted and bright, the struggling, the disengaging – that state schools of sameness cannot.

And, these alternate schools do have a message for the state systems – change or watch the change happen around you.

There’s more of course in the Labour Election manifesto and it deserves to be read.

 

 

The first of several chats about policy

 

 

As promised folks, here are some thoughts on the Labour Party’s education policy.

It starts at an excellent place, reminding us of the Fraser / Beeby commitment to have an education system that offered choice, that offered equity and which respected all learners. This is a mighty aspiration for an education system to have and action is needed now if it is to fade away to become simply the rosy glow of Shangri La.

So with this in mind, what are the highlights as identified by the Labour Party and featured on the front page of what is a bulky document and will these key policy planks significantly contribute to those aspirations? Yes, A Little, Maybe, or No.

1.            Reduce class sizes

NO

We have been over this before. They need to change the tune from “Kumbaya” to “When will they ever learn?” on this one. Let me repeat myself – more teachers doing the same thing will get the same results. It is not the number of teachers that will make the difference but what they do. It is not the number of children in the room but what the teachers do and how well they do it that will lift the quality of the outcomes. Class sizes as an argument has no credence any longer.

2.            All school children to have access to digital devices

MAYBE

This seems a big ask but do we have an accurate idea of the current levels of access across the different communities that goes beyond wild guesses and untested assumptions? It might be able to be achieved easily and quickly. On the other hand….. And again see above. The impact of this, which is inevitable somewhere ahead of us, will largely be the result of the use teachers make of the technology. Using new technology to replicate old practices will not work. But the excitement and possibilities of this policy are huge.

A key issue might turn out to be the provision of equipment using public funds that could well have even greater use outside of school and in that sense could be seen as public funding of private activity. But perhaps that would be an excellent thing as well.

3.            Funding schools that can’t get “voluntary” donations (aka School Fees)

A LITTLE

I would have preferred to see this “inequity illness” being tackled directly rather than seeing the symptoms being treated. Yes, the schools that can’t get school fees out of parents will benefit a bit but this will not address the inequities created by the practice of flouting the rules and laughing all the way to the bank or the trust fund.

4.            25 hours quality ECE for all 3-5 year olds

???

There is no argument about it – quality ECE makes a difference. But Labour has done it before and could be about to do it again. A resource of this kind that is untargeted will increase inequities of access. Just observe the growth of palatial ECE centres being built

5.            Fund education to maintain it ahead of inflation and population growth 

MAYBE

There is a fairness about maintaining funding at levels that reflect inflation and population growth but this is simply prudent management of the system. Actually it is a little absurd to bring population growth into the equation when schools are funded substantially on the basis of roll numbers!

So those are the “highlights” identified by the Labour Party. But in the excitement of The Shopping Channel – “Wait! There’s more folks!

·         Cancelling the Investing In Education Success (IES).

The Labour Party perceives issues with this Government programme which will see top teachers and principals helping schools to lift their performance through best practice, proven management experience and demonstrated extra flair that such IES persons will be expected to display and indeed will have been chosen on that basis. The real trouble that the Labour Party has with it is that the teaching unions and some other teacher organisations don’t like it and when it comes to Labour Party policy they like to have things as they would wish them to be. And their wish is their command.

When IES is rolled out, wait for those who now are strong on their condemnation crying out “Pick me! Pick me!”

Ironically a Labour Policy is to establish a comprehensive school advisory service to share best practice and act as a mentor and advisor to teachers throughout New Zealand. And, what’s more they will “establish a College of School Leadership that will operate as part of the school advisory service, establish the minimum qualifications required of those applying for school leadership positions, ensure that quality professional development programmes are available for all new and existing school leaders, have the power to second up to 100 existing school leaders into the College for a period of up to 2 years to act as mentors and trainers.”

Finally, there is a commitment that will see it “RAISING THE STATUS OF THE TEACHING PROFESSION!” A great first step in achieving this worthy idea would be to ask the education organisations and especially those who work for them to stop lowering the status of the profession by their déclinologiste behavior (i.e. adopting a constant anti-everything-that-is-suggested stance and their concerted ad hominum (and ad feminum) attacks on people).

 

 

The Wheels on the bus go round and round

 

At long last they are out of the starter’s blocks for the election. Well not quite. The Labour Party turned up in their red tracksuits and opened their campaign in good style at the Auckland Viaduct.

They unveiled not just policy but also a Big Red Bus with a big picture of David Cunliffe dominating the side of it. That puts paid to the argument that the election should not be only about the leaders!

But the good news is that education did get a mention and inevitably the initial outlook was gloomy.

On the current path Education is being undermined.

Undermined by charter schools.

Undermined by league tables.

Undermined by fiascos like Novopay, like unlawful school closures, like paying hundreds of millions of dollars to take good teachers out of their schools and turn them into middle management.

This is all predictable stuff and has already had analysis and comment ad nauseum. Old, old, old, boring, boring, boring but I bet they loved it.

We know the best education is critical. That’s why we stand for a strong, affordable, world-class state education that is there for every Kiwi kid.

Of course, we all stand for this; it is achieving it that is hard. It is agreeing on what that “world-class state education” might look like that causes great anxiety. So, what did they have in mind? Three suggestions on the day emerged:

1.       To achieve that we’ll ensure our kids have access to digital devices and 21st century learning spaces.

Nothing new here really. Digital devices seem like a good idea How you achieve it? And what agreement is there yet about the use of them and the readiness of teachers and schools for such a scenario? These are big unanswered questions. But there does seem an inevitability about such a move – it will happen one way or another probably and there might be some sense in letting it take its course and focussing on access. Devices will alter the dynamics of classroom and teachers might not maintain the same kind of leadership role that they have conventionally had.  And education has something of a track record in taking technology and using it as if it were the previous generation of technology. In other words, taking new technologies and using them not to change schools, but to replicate them.

There might be no such thing as a 21st Century teaching space in itself, only spaces which are equipped to support teachers in teaching in ways and with materials that are appropriate to the 21st Century. It is a wholesale overhaul of the education system, not a simple refurbishment of the plant.

2.       We’ll offer schools $100 per student so that parents – and even kids – are no longer pressured to pay so-called “voluntary” donations.

This is too silly for words but good news for many low decile schools which will now get a little bit of untagged money to supplement the amount they currently get that is decile related. Meanwhile the rich state schools chuckle and carry on flouting the law.

3.       And we will make sure that class sizes are smaller and kids have more one on one learning by hiring 2,000 more teachers.

Two thousand seems like a scientifically calculated number that has a good ring to it. But the short sightedness of linking it to class size is obscuring the real difference that two thousand teachers might make if teachers worked more collaborative, in teams and with complementary skill sets. It is nothing to do with the size of the class. This might be a good policy, who knows, but to describe it as addressing class size simply put it up to be shot down as the evidence is compelling – class size does not in itself bring about change.

Our education policies are about excellence, opportunity and fairness.
We’ll make sure that every student, no matter where in the country they are from, or how
wealthy their parents are, gets the education they deserve.
That’s how we will get the society where everyone can have opportunities to get ahead.

And some rousing and appropriate good sentiment to close this section of the speech. “Who could ask for anything more?” as the sold song goes.

Well, we all could and Labour has plenty more. They now have a substantial document that details the education policy and I look forward to writing about that next time.

It is hard for an opposition party to bring fresh ideas into an arena in which they have for six years opposed most of what has been happening. But that is the key to a fresh start that elections offer to the community. Telling voters what is wring is a waste of time – they will either believe you or disbelieve you. Offering new and fresh ideas that are rooted in reality and which seem feasible is the stronger path to move along.

And that will be the basis of the look we take at the rest of the published education policy next time.

The science of earthquakes prediction by the bovine community

They say that cows are warned about earthquakes for they occur by a sense that something is changing, that something is about to happen. This might be true. Although I have no bovine features, I too have a sense that something is about to happen.

I sense that after a number of years, for me about eight years and for the education system perhaps five, I see signs that critical shifts are about to happen in the schooling system in New Zealand.

Back in 2008 and 2009 when I argued for legislative changes that would allow MIT to start its Tertiary High School I was motivated by a sense that the changes were not just about that programme but were in fact changes that would lead to side developments that would be in the interest of students who were underserved by the education system.

The changes to the law (which allowed for many other changes) were specifically made to allow the Tertiary High School at Manukau Institute of Technology to go ahead. But the next year, in the 2010 Education Amendment Bill, those changes were expanded to allow for other secondary / tertiary programmes to be introduced. By then the Trades Academies were starting to get a policy around them and a shape to what they might look like. Youth Guarantee had morphed from a couple of words in an election campaign into a policy setting.

Increasingly the discourse was using words such as “multiple pathways” and “transitions” and “partnerships”. Of course there was resistance as the tired and well-discredited cries of “give schools the resources – they can do the job”. But that was simply code for “give us the money and we will do the same old thing for the same old results.”

It is now not hard to find excellent examples of……

Trades academies, which are giving students the experience of trades, oriented disciplines in Years 12 and 13. And this in no way resembles a return to the old technical streams. These programmes are taught in ways that give students an experience of the kinds of training that will, would, get, should they make a decision to follow that pathway. The work they are doing is real and done in the same setting as others being trained for the trades. There is an authenticity about it that goes well beyond the school-based technical stream programmes which could certainly produce highly skilled craftspeople in the metal and wood crafts, outstandingly skilled and clever, but it isnot trades as we know them in this iteration.

The trades academies are conservative in that they are restricted to Years 12 and 13 typically and they pose little challenge to the structures of the schools with their simple one day a week out of class approach. But they are a great start.

Partnerships. There are examples of sophisticated relationships and partnerships between schools of different levels. Intermediate schools show that they can work with contributing primary school in the one direction and with high schools in the other. Again, this is conservative but it is a start. Excellent partnerships can lead to managed transitions more easily than a bunch of slightly hostile folk sitting down together to initiate them.

Some schools are forging great relationships with community. This is clearly evident in much of the work being done by wharekura and there are examples where such schools are outperforming many high decile schools that pride themselves on their results.

While this is something of a revelation to some, to those who have promoted such developments, it has always been a clear and confident expectation. Students who have access to vocational and technical education earlier, who can work in different ways, who can see themselves in what they do, who are culturally respectful simply perform better than they would have. In fact they perform to stunningly high levels.

The relationship between tertiary and secondary has developed in some instances with remarkable speed to find ways of working together.

And there is starting to develop a view that 14 years to 18 years is where the action must be concentrated. And not just for “low performing students” or for those who disengage from the education system. Changes have started that have wide implications for the future, implications that suggest we could start to perform in ways that match the education systems we envy. It is dangerous to be not doing well at school at the age of fourteen in New Zealand.

High performing students in the UK are being given the opportunity to start university level STEM qualifications at the age of 14 years and are then ready to pursue postgraduate study or to go into highly skilled technical employment at age 18 years. Lord Baker who is a key force in this development explains they they “start at age 14 because 15 is too late to specialize and they finish at age 18 because 17 is to early to start employment.”

Just as cows might sense an impending earthquake, I sense that a shake-up of another kind is on the way! But this one while causing distress to some will by and large be wholly to be welcomed.