2013, the Year of the Snake and a whole lot more besides.
No doubt some of the old issues from 2012 will continue to percolate if not go on the boil. Novopay now has a new Minister looking after it. It was a good move to remove the distraction that this has been from the very critical issues of schooling that we face. Not that the teacher pay issues are not critical but it is essentially a technical issue.
There are a couple of questions that I have wondered about in all this business. Why has the School Trustees Association been so silent and at a distance from all the troubles? After all they are the employers of the teachers and the employment issues created by the whole affair is between teachers and support personnel and their respective boards.
The other question that has yet to be answered is about the quality of data input. There is an old I.T. term, GIGO, that has been the source of many a solution. It stands for Garbage In Garbage Out – in other words, a problem can exist through errors in input. That so many teachers and others are being paid correctly suggests that this is not the source for many but the nature of the gross mis-payments which has seen some teachers paid grotesquely huge amounts might arise through misplacement of decimal points or reversal of variables or something along those lines.
The State sector has a history of failed I.T. projects and one hopes that this is not another one.
The other 2013 issue will inevitably be the Partnership School Kura Houora development. First the Education and Science Select Committee hearings and then the selection of sponsors and then… Meanwhile across the Tasman it all happens almost under the radar. Queensland today launches 26 Independent Public Schools which are to be given greater freedoms in funding and its use and in the appointment of staff. Mind you, they already have the fire and the floods, if plague and famine appear we will know that they have offended the gods! In New Zealand we have to be content with the offence to the idea taken by the teacher organisations.
I was amused at the image of the teacher (male) sitting with his feet up on the teacher’s desk which appeared in one of the anti-charter school advertisements. I was amused because a couple of years ago, a campaign in favour of charter schools and academies in the United States denigrated the public schools with the image of, you’ve guessed it, a teacher with his feet up on the teacher’s desk. An ordinary idea can only be beaten by a good idea and that can only be beaten by a better idea – so where are the ideas that will see clear and more equitable education outcomes from our education system?
We know that the experience of charter schools in other countries has seen excellent ones, mediocre ones and downright poor ones. Interestingly the proportions of these categories is about the same as the proportion of excellent public schools, mediocre public schools and poor public schools. We have about 2,800 schools in New Zealand, establishing three partnership schools will hardly be a silver bullet nor will it bring the house down. But why would we not believe that we can have three excellent ones?
Finally I note that Teach First NZ, the pressure cooker programme which sees an intensive pre-service teacher education programme precede teaching in the schools with on-going instruction and support, has placed its first crop of recent graduates into schools. It was interesting that one of our university Education Faculties led the charge with this. A similar idea proposed thirty years ago to meet the needs of multicultural schools, a new phenomenon then and largely a mystery to teacher educators, was rejected by all concerned at that time. But good ideas have a habit of resurfacing.
I have had the pleasure of working with several schools in those get-back-to-work PD days that herald the imminent arrival of the challenges. I am continually buoyed by the quality and enthusiasm of these groups. A good way to start the year would be to commit to the goal of high esteem for teachers, schools and education, less of the negativity from the leadership, less of the polemic, lower fear of ideas, brutal honesty about outcomes, a drive back towards simplicity of purpose and fun. That would be both a good start and Finnish.