Archive for Policies

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 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.

Bottling up the policy on Te Reo Maori

Hon Nanaia Mahuta thinks that the policy is compulsory Te Reo Maori in schools, Education Spokesperson Chris Hipkins thinks that well its important but….. While the rest of the MPs and most of the electorate have no idea what the Labour Party’s position is.

Never has the case been stronger for a policy of compulsory Te Reo Maori instruction and learning for all New Zealand school students but this is not the first time that the Labour leadership has lost its bottle on this one.

In the 1980s I was on a national curriculum group developing a syllabus for English in Form 6 – up to that point the sixth form had no syllabus and simply used examination prescriptions (who said the senior schools wasn’t all about going to university!).

A distinguished group of knowledgeable people (and me!) set about devising a strategy to teach about language at that level that was innovative and exciting. It was to be a study of English language based on a comparative linguistics approach. In other words, Sixth Form students were to learn about English language by comparing it to another language and that other language was to be Te Reo Maori.

There were compelling reasons for doing this.

Te Reo Maori was an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand therefore all citizens have some obligation to be acquainted with it.

More importantly, knowledge about language is more easily achieved when a student has a basis for comparison. In what ways is this language different from this other language that I already know? Most English speaking people who insist on and endorse the teaching of English grammar actually only learnt what they know about through an experience with another language. This was probably Latin or French, or German.

You do not need to know about English grammar in order to learn the language as a native speaker. But knowledge about how the English language works is essential if students aspire to be highly articulate and elegant in their expression and especially in their writing. So what better way to seek improvement of your first language (should that be English) than by studying a second language? And what better language to study than Te Reo Maori?

It is a language used around us – daily on television, radio and in many places and occasions in our daily lives – I hear much more Maori spoken than I do French or German.

Maori is also linguistically an excellent choice as it has a different vocabulary, an easy phonics system and a quite different structure. And it is an easy language to learn and pronounce. No!!! I hear some older people say but that is not the fault of Maori language, it is the consequqnece of not getting the opportunity to learn about it and to learn it at a time when we were young enough and our aural skills were acute enough to hear and retain the sounds which are different from English – another useful comparison.

So a policy of getting more Maori language instruction into schools is on very strong grounds and there is no danger of it not helping students to achieve higher levels of competence especially in English.

The dangers and risks are all political and that is where some courage is needed.

And who and when did a Labour leader lose his bottle? It was about 1985 or 1986 when the new Form 6 English Syllabus was circulated for comment and a certain lobby group within education got at David Lange and, goaded by allegations from the Opposition side of the House that NZ kids would all be gabbling Te Reo Maori but have no competence in English, and not for the last time he lost his bottle. It was enough for him to summarily dismiss the English Syllabus group which never met again.

New Zealand lost a chance to lead the way internationally to not only  bring an indigenous language into the mainstream curriculum but to also demonstrate the value of doing so to all the students who each require in order to achieve  and learn, knowledge about and skill in language at increasing levels throughout their educational journey.

So Chris Hipkins should stick his head up above the desktop and declare a strong policy of introducing Te Reo Maori into schools for all students. Not enough teachers, of course there is. They live in the street out the back of the school.

“Courage mon brave” and what a shame my own education sees me default to this exhortation rather than to “Kia kaha!”

 

Labour’s Lost Loves

You really have to wonder what’s going on. Here we are, 90 days out from an election and Labour at last releases some of its education policy. It’s a grab bag of unusual ideas at this stage – a copy-cat, a bribe to be good and a return to the scene of the accident.

The Manaiakalani copy of the digital device for all students in Years 5 – 13 is the best of the policies they have announced to this point. But the real challenge is not to see if the idea will work – they have shown that it will in Tamaki. It is not to see if parents and caregivers will stump up – they do in Tamaki.  It is not to see if it has a beneficial impact on achievement – it seems to be worthwhile in Tamaki. The real challenge is to see if an idea that works well within a defined project can actually be scaled up to be the normal way of working across the whole country.

There is no need for them to take this risk. The middle classes, the employed and medium and high earning parents are already giving these advantages to students. Many schools in middle and high decile areas are already asking students to bring devices to school. Again, and this is something of a repeated pattern for Labour, the policy is very poorly targeted. In seeking but not being seen to do something for its bedrock support it sprays the resource across everyone at wide groups of students both vertically (5-13) and horizontally (all schools) and while everyone is slightly better off, the key groups to whom priority should be given remain at a relative disadvantage.

Have they forgotten their classically un-targeted approach taken with the 20 hours free pre-school resource?

Then we have the “We’ll-Pay-You-To-Stop-Acting-Illegally-But-It-Is-OK-For-the-Rich-To-Carry-On-with-Gay-Abandon” Policy related to school donations. Schools that are Decile 1 – 8 will receive $100 per student if they agree to not ask for school donations. Yes, it will help low decile schools, no doubt about it, but remember that they are generally smaller than higher decile schools. And don’t forget that the $100 a student payment will be made to Decile 1 – Decile 7 schools. That is another “spray and walk away” approach to policy. the differences between Decile 1 and Decile 7 are huge, the differences between Decile 7 and Decile 8 are negligible.

The fact remains – demanding school donations is not allowed in neither law nor regulation. But Labour has said in almost conciliatory tones that it will not ask Decile 8 – 10 schools to take part in the scheme. Why would a Decile 10 school of 2,000 students forgo $1.8m in order to show solidarity with the low decile community? And why would a political party dare to take them on as a matter of principle?

I celebrate the extra cash that low deciles schools will get but this approach to deal with a reprehensible practice does not bring credit to those promoting it. Let’s have the financing of a few beers for those who don’t drink and drive, petrol vouchers for those who agree not to flee from the police when asked to stop, Countdown cards for those who agree not to shop lift.

This is bizarre!!!

Then we have the “Lower the Teacher/Student Ratio” policy.  It is almost a case of “Let’s-have-a-policy-that-denies-the-evidence” approach. The evidence is overwhelming – lowering the student/teacher ratio will have a low impact, if any, on student achievement. New Zealand’s pre-eminent researcher John Hattie has provided plenty of evidence that the effect size of lowering teacher / student ratios, especially the negligible -2 students impact of the policy will be not worth the effort. The scuffle with Minister Parata on the question of a couple of years ago saw the system lose some real potential gains (but not in the intermediate schools) and so we have the teacher union and principal associations appeasing policy back on the list.

And how much will this cost? Surprise surprise! About the same as the Government’s “Investing in Educational Success” policy will cost! Actually a key factor that will improve student achievement is the use of our most talented teachers and principals in spreading best practice. Is that not what Labour wants?

Elections are always fraught. Perhaps the issue is whether they are fought or taught!

 

Let the games begin!

Happy New Year! Well it is has been for the first four weeks and then all the political parties decided to tell us about their policies for education in this Year of the Horse.

And what did we hear?

First there were the Greens – poverty, poverty, poverty was the cry. This was a replay of the 1980’s when educators seemed unable to get past the fact that some students were hungry, in fact they were so obsessed by this that they forgot to teach the students how to read and write. Later in the weekend Labour was to get on this band wagon and opt for school lunches for the hungry.

There are many systems that provide food to students – the US and the UK both use eligibility for a free school lunch as a key measure of poor learners who learn poorly. The good news is that I am certain the students enjoy the lunches (although Jamie Oliver has a view about how good or nutritious they might be). But there is not a shred of evidence that there is a connection between the provision of free school meals and improvements in achievement on a scale that would suggest that it is other than a social gesture.

Labour made a grander entrance on the Early Childhood Education stage. Full marks to them for noting that ECE is important – it is more that important, it is central to sound achievement and equitable outcomes. But Labour didn’t wish to be too complex about all this.

Rather they preferred to bask in the glory of their (what seems to me to the failed) 20 Free Hours policy and, no doubt ignoring all the complexities of a schooling system that is not delivering equitable outcomes, decided to simply expand it – “20 Free Hours – no wait, there’s more – 25 Free hours.”

When the 20 Free Hours was originally introduced there was no discernable increase in access to ECE services. Similarly when the scheme was freed from any targeting there was again no discernable increase in access to ECE. Those who were using the resource were simply increasing the amount of ECE they accessed thereby consuming more resource with a disappointing and continuing lack of access for those who are unable to go to a quality ECE provider.

Most of these students who are denied the ECE benefits are Maori and Pasifika and they live in communities where there are simply not enough places. Take the Tamaki area in Auckland as an example: there are 7,000 little ones under the age of five who are trying to get into the 2,000 places available. You improve access to ECE services through providing more places. Labour tossed off a quick promise to “build more ECE Centres in high-need areas” but this was something of faint hope and perhaps an afterthought overshadowed by and of lesser priority than the popular promise to spend on seeing that existing services will get higher subsidies so as to have “100 percent qualified staff” – the barons of the sandpits rubbed their hands with glee – higher costs mean higher subsidies and higher fees, excellent for the balance sheet for the large centres that offer ECE services as a business rather than a service to the community.

You only have to look at where the new multi-million dollar ECE places (I almost wrote palaces) are being built – they are on the commuter roads where those in work are able to drop their little ones off at our expense while they go off and earn quite good money in a job.

The ECE 20 Free Hours is simply a badly targeted resource that has not worked. Of course it appeals to the middle class who have jobs and money and this is clearly a key target group for Labour. Otherwise how can you describe a baby bonus for the 95% of babies in families with incomes up to $150,000 as anything but a universal benefit? Again, those without a job, or ECE, continue to swirl in the poverty trap that generation will perpetrate.

That leaves National’s “let’s do something about leadership in schools” cluster of activities, policy initiatives that identify the school leaders who perform and give them a role in which they have a license to change the quality of leadership in schools beyond their own. This policy is a bit of a body blow for the educational leadership industry found in the universities which put on a brave face about the years of first principals, aspiring principals and the raft of qualifications in educational leadership which appear neither to have cut the mustard nor to improve achievement.

This is the policy that seems most likely to succeed. Educational Leadership is at the heart of lifting educational achievement and there have been grumblings about the quality of school leadership in New Zealand for some time. The additional allowances are generous so there is no excuse for involving only those who have proven to be capable in leading teachers.

It is interesting to note that in Finland, every pre-schooler gets to go to an ECE programme, every student gets a free school lunch and nobody gets to be a principal without the additional qualifications and the experiences that the position requires rather than being selected by the educational equivalent of the local bowling club committee.

At last we seem to be taking heed of those systems that are successful rather than claiming as our birthright the right to replicate the failed policies and doomed practices of the Anglo-Saxon systems.

 I await with bated breath the announcement of policies that will lift the performance of the school system:

  • policies that have a zero tolerance for the failure to gain basic skills at primary school;
  • initiatives that will stem the flow of disengaging students;
  • challenges to the sectors that have become walled cities that destroy the seamless pathways that are so central to success;
  • engagement of business, industry and commerce in the business of schooling, especially at the secondary and postsecondary levels;
  • cross-ministerial initiatives to address the back-log of educational failure – the NEETs of which New Zealand continues to accrue amazing numbers of young people not in employment, education or training.

And that’s just for starters.