Archive for Politics

Nifty Shades of Pay

It’s official – the Labour Party has got its first piece of education policy out there for all to see.

Progressively from some distant point in my lifetime, students will not have to pay fees to go into tertiary education. It has a good sound to it – student debt is ballooning, many leave the country to avoid it, others are stopped at the borders because they did forget it. Nostalgia sweeps across the community for the good old days when we went to university for free. Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end…..

But like a lot of things they did. Someone decided to introduce student fees and student loans. Did the Labour Party have a hand in this at any point? If not at the beginning then certainly many opportunities and elections have come and gone and they have remained somewhat silent. But now it is centre stage.

It really is an exercise in stuffing the genie back in the bottle. How do you introduce this policy without creating a new level of injustice for the generation that gritted their teeth and paid for the excellent education that they have had. Parents helped out in some cases. But a lot of young people simply had to go into debt.

I have written that we would have to pay a price for teaching a generation to be comfortable with and live with debt and perhaps that has turned out to be true. But there are other issues to be confronted in trying to recapture the good old days.

Is it to be a free-for-all by being free for all? Or will Labour have to learn to live with targeting the resource – something that has not been a favoured approach in the past. Well not in recent times – way back there was an element of “those-who-can-pay-should-pay” in the welfare state. The much vaunted 20 Free Hours of Child Care was a more recent example of a badly targeted resource. It didn’t increase access but simply enabled the middle classes to extend the number of hours they could put their young ones in day care etc and get on with the resumption of their careers.  Well, they had to, that’s the economics of being a family and having a house and a car these days.

You see, there seems not to be a lot of evidence that those who can go to university by being well-prepared academically don’t get there. Throw open the gates and the numbers will not increase without a dramatic increase in the success and level of preparation among those in communities not well served. And that is where the money should be targeted.

A few ideas for those developing policy

Put the money into the things that will bring about a more equitable spread of ability to access tertiary education.

Put the money into quality early childhood education that is characterised by programmes that prepare young ones for the task of becoming educated. Make it culturally empowering, create a multilingual setting complete with other services in health and support. Make it possible to have intergenerational learning so that families are given the tools to have success. In short spend the money where it’s needed and not throw it into what is essentially a subsidy for the commercial providers who build multimillion dollar castles on major commuter routes, placed for the convenience of middle class commuters rather than the communities.

Put the money into supporting “first-in-family-to-go-into-tertiary-education” scholarships for the pioneers in a family who change the world for all who follow. This could be perhaps the most radical and transformational thing to do. Families in which a member successfully completes a tertiary education is one which sets up tradition of going to university or into other forms of tertiary education. Look at the pakeha community – is that not true?

Take note of the developments currently happening in tertiary education. Youth Guarantee places are available for 16 – 19 year olds to continue their education in an ITP rather than a school without paying fees and with a little help with transport. This puts right a long established inequity which gave to young people the right to stay at school until they were 19 years old and fail as much as they liked (or didn’t like). Now they can leave school at age 16 years which the law says is OK and get on with an education that leads to employment and a fulfilling future without the burden of debt.

The Maori and Pasifika Trades Training goes a step further and provides not only fees-free opportunities but also the support to develop personal and cultural skills and be assisted through the process of entering employment. This is a good investment and trainees will look back on this, just as those who went thorough the old Maori Trades Training Programme do now, and give thanks for the money spent well.

Spreading money around tertiary education as if it were some kind of aerial fiscal fertiliser simply won’t do it.

And will communities tolerate the targeted spending of money to get additional people into tertiary education? Of course they will if they can see an improved community generally, one in which inequity is lessened and skills are developed. Most would say that it is a nifty way to pay!

 


 

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Te Ara Whakamana is New Zealand’s largest forum dedicated to education and employment pathways and transitions.  Now in its sixth year, this event brings together educators from both secondary and tertiary sectors, industry representatives, policymakers, and researchers to share good ideas and practices, and to be challenged by different perspectives.

Earlybird registrations are open now.

Go to:   https://akoaotearoa.ac.nz/tearawhakamana2016 

And the winner is…. !

Nashville TN

“ I want to tell you that you are greatly under-rated!” he said to a resounding round of cheering and clapping. You can’t go wrong when you say that you say to a group of educators.

So began US Secretary of Labor, Thomas E. Perez, in addressing the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) Awards Dinner in Nashville TN last night.  A crowd of 1,000 educators gathered to acknowledge the sector leaders in quality in a range of categories. Interestingly, also included were an ACTE Business Leader of the Year, an ACTE Business of the Year, and an ACTE Champion of the Year Awards. It was great to see that the awards acknowledged that partnerships and support outside of the sector were critical to the successes.

The Secretary of Labor apologised for the way in which governments (both state and federal) had turned away from career and technical education in the false belief that the American Dream could only be achieved if every child was headed towards college (university). Now, he argued, the effort put into career and technical education was central to economic prosperity and he underlined the critical importance of a skilled workforce.

As usually happens in such speeches, he dwelt on the amazing record of the Obama administration in creating jobs and used this to segue into the theme that despite this, too many young people lacked the skills to fill the positions. There was a need, he challenged the audience, for educators to “re-invent yourselves”. This would require a “dramatic re-design of how people are prepared with the skills to succeed in the future.”

He outlined his view that there would be three clear factors in this: it would be demand-driven, there would have to be multiple pathways and any success must be scalable. I gave a one-person silent cheer to this. I like demand driven, I adore multiple pathways and I am totally puzzled at the push-back in New Zealand on pathways that have been shown to succeed in achieving just such a set of goals.

He then spoke of what seems to be a uniquely American view that it is really the middle classes that are the victims. He described the middle classes as facing an “existential crisis.” No it could be that “existential” has an American meaning just as “momentarily” has. But I really do not know what he means. The portraying of the middle class as the victim in the changes of the last forty years and in the performance of the education systems is too cute for words. But then he provided the clue. The ‘multiple pathways’ he wanted were to be “multiple pathways to the middle classes”.

The citation for his award as ACTE Champion of the Year for Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor of Austin, Texas, spoke of ”industry / education partnerships” and the importance of high school students having “hands-on experience” and “experiential learning” that would lead to career exploration and an improvement in “employability skills”. A particular project with which he was associated was one in which students after “two years of coursework are offered paid internships during their senior (i.e. final) year.” He has placed high value on the students’ developing employability skills and noted the value of work experiences in achieving these. He had led the City of Austin in working with the Austin Independent School District in achieving this.

New Zealand should find ways of acknowledging excellence in such partnerships. This had been an excellent evening and to achieve this in such a vast country should encourage us to think that we could do this easily in such a small country as ours. I have a plan in mind!

 

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 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.