The 2013 Budget announcements raise some issues. $63 million is to go to a programme called Positive Behaviour for Learning (or PB4L as it seems to be called).
Have we lost the plot seriously when such a programme is necessary and in fact become a priority? The Ministry of Education website gives useful information about the programme and I learn that 10,000 parents will be involved benefitting 30,000 children and that 8,260 teachers will receive something called the Incredible Years – Teacher Programme which will benefit over 180,000 children. 628 schools, 328,873 (a very precise figure) students – the numbers are impressive. There is apparently an Intensive Behaviour Service which will be available for 100 of the “most challenging children”.
Add to this the number of RTLB positions around the country and the additional PDL programme that seem to be out there and a picture starts to emerge of a system in which the teaching force is being very seriously challenged on a daily basis and in classrooms.
Is it time for someone to climb to the top of the tree and call out “Wait a minute, we are headed in the wrong direction!” as the team below continues to hack through the jungle with enthusiasm and a semblance of effectiveness (to use the Stephen Covey image).
Is it time for us to consider a return to some basics and ask whether we need to develop a Positive Learning for Behaviour programme? In such a programme there would be an unrelenting push to see that all students have a quality early childhood experience which focuses on preparing the little students for school and this includes developing the acceptable behaviours that allow for adequate functioning in a school. Do we even have a description of these behaviours or a programme to develop such behaviours or advice for parents about these behaviours? Is this what PB4L is going to do?
Drive around Auckland and see the palatial ECE centres that private money is building and ask whether state resources in these areas are being used well and are targeted in any kind of defensible manner? The cowboys know that there is “gold in them thar hills”.
Is it time for us to seriously simplify the curriculum. Narrow it down to the skills and habits that constitute a useful basis for educational progress. Success does wonderful things to learners. Being able to cope enhances learners. Getting help strengthens learners. Are teachers supported in this? Are the extraordinary resources being gathered to help teachers actually targeted at activity and assistance that works?
The Finnish approach of having multiple teachers in a classroom seems to get results. Are we seriously considering this?
Finally we need to seriously ask why student behaviour at the beginning of the 21st Century has become a central issue in educational discussions. I would hazard a guess that the answer is a complex collection of things which in themselves are easily understood.
Poor physical health – we ought to be able to knock that off.
Hunger – the best approach to hungry children is to give them a feed. Most systems feed their school children, some through targeted and means-tested approaches while others (dare I mention Finland again?) feed every student because it is easier than trying to target such a programme and much less discriminatory.
Pressure on families through poor housing is an issue that is flying under the radar which swings wildly with excitement about how the middle classes can or cannot buy houses and how the middle classes are buying more than one house and how…. anything but the sad and tragic truth of those who are poorly housed.
Too many students are continuing to “progress” through the system but are making little progress in the system. Failure sticks to and accumulates on students like mud to a blanket. A student who fails to learn at one level is highly unlikely to learn at another and yet we send them on. The failure trajectory for students starts early and lasts for a very long time. The sorts of figures tossed around for PL4B do not inspire a confidence that this is a targeted programme.
It is certainly my view that teacher competence is not as big an issue as competent teachers doing the wrong thing. If we are to have positive behaviour for learning we probably can only achieve such a state through learning. It is a vicious circle that with support teachers can turn into a virtuous circle. Good behaviour in schools is a consequence of learning not a pre-requisite for it.