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Getting the policy kettle on the hob!

There are rumours that there is an election on although the world of education would hardly know it.

But I guess the announcement that there has developed a coalition of the unwilling with regard to the Investing in Education Excellence (IES) – a troika of tantra.

This alliance between the NZ Principals Federation, the New Zealand Education Institute  and the Auckland Primary Principals Association beggars belief. Are these people simply against anything that the Governmdent suggests? Are these people blind to the opportunities presented by initiatives such as these. Are these people really caring about the achievement of young people?

There seems to be a high level of what the French call les déclinologistes about these organisations. What they are in favour of is being against whatever is happening. Their default position is simply “It’s a bad idea” or “It won’t work!” or “We should have been consulted!” We have no clear idea of what they are in favour of.  An idea can only be beaten by a better idea and their rejection of ideas is never supported with better ideas.

Not that they have this on their own. With an election about 100 days away we only have a sketchy idea of education policies from most of the parties.

Of course, as usual, the party in power has the inside running being able to point to what it has been doing over the past 6 years as evidence of its values and directions. So National Standards, Better Public Service Goals, Youth Guarantee and the IES are all major intiatives that those opposing them can only top by a better, or clearer policy. And they are not yet forthcoming.

Labour seems not to have an education policy – the leader tells us to be patient “We have a whole telephone book of policy!” he says on the television. Well, one hopes not. Just a couple of clear, targeted policies that are likely to lift achievement. And they need to be positive ones, new directions, better ideas.

So it was refreshing when the three most unlikely political mates stood on the stage together and Laila Harre, with arm held aloft by Kim Dotcom that the Internet Party would campaign on a policy of free tertiary tuition. Now there’s a big idea. If this policy is not seen to be touting for the votes of the moderately to well off, she will have to take account of the fact that increasingly tertiary education is free and is being gradually increased in a very targeted way.

First came the cluster in initiatives under the Youth Guarantee policy that started with Fees Free places in tertiary for those aged 16 – 19 years. This simply righted an iniquitous situation in which students aged 16 – 19 years could have access to free education but only if they remained in a school setting. The 20% who have dropped out of school and those who preferred to continue their education and training on a different setting were denied access to this right. So that gets a tick! Then there is the reality that now all Level 1 and 2 programmes in a tertiary setting are fees free. And the recently rolled out Maori and Pacific Trades Training policy offer fees free places to Maori and Pacific between the ages of 18 and 34 Years. So gradually, tertiary tuition is being made free for priority groups.

It being a proud boast of the university sector that their graduates get excellent and highly paid jobs – so the argument to extend it into that sub-sector seems relatively weak. Although, it must be acknowledged that again the universities are targeting priority learner groups in different ways with fees relief.

So the opposition parties are between the rock of what the Government is doing and the hard place where good ideas are scarce if the old default negativity is not to rule.

Each election for about twenty years now I have generously offered even-handedly to all parties a list of policy areas that they would be welcome to use. It has been a source of great disappointment that so few are taken up.

Stuart’s list of policy suggestions – free to a good home.

First-in-Family Guarantee

We know that when a family has someone complete a tertiary qualification and they are the first in that family to do so, the family is transformed to the extent that tertiary education becomes a goal for other family members from then on.

Sector Reform

The current sector arrangements were never designed to do the job they are now required to do. In fact, there is an element of truth in saying that they were never designed, full stop! The not-fit for-purpose sectors that we currently have create transitions that are dysfunctional for many. And reform needn’t be dramatic – combine ECE with Primary Years 1-6, combine Primary Years 7-8 with Secondary Years 9 – 10. Put secondary Years 11-13 into the tertiary sector.

Before we are overtaken by howls of outrage, this might all be simpler than we think, we’ll continue to see school plant in use appropriately and would have a dramatic impact on the negative elements of transitions in New Zealand.

(Further details available on request.)

Early Childhood Education

Establish two-year ECE unit / service established in every primary school. No land purchases required, governance already in place and smooth transition into primary schooling.

That is enough to get the policy ball rolling.


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