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.