Discussions coming out of the Tomorrow’s Schools reviews have certainly become more about yesterday’s issues than any future shape for our education system.
It is unhelpful to be too tied up in the current state of education administration that has for thirty years been loosely based around a set of “reforms” expounded upon at length (in the Administering for Excellence Report), rather scrappily and incompletely transformed into a policy (Tomorrow’s Schools) and then only partially implemented. Successive governments have certainly indulged their appetite for leaving their mark on the nine-year slices of power they have had to play around with the educatuon of our children since then.
The current proposals championed by Bali Haque but, to be fair, hatched up by a larger group he led have created a new round of swirl based largely on the old issues.
The one that is getting a lot of attention is the proposal to have a set of regional hubs. We already have these in the form of the education ministry’s Regional Offices. But these are probably responsible for too large an area in terms of numbers of school students in some cases and and the tyranny of distances in others.
Tomorrow’s Schools had in it a proposal for Education Service Centres which would have achieved the increased assistance to Boards without distorting the roles the Boards have as a voice for communities. It has never been impossible for one board to have responsibility for two or more schools, it just hasn’t happened. Clusters are not new. And this idea is not a new one!
I recall a sound approach in South Auckland with the Southern Secondary Schools Service Centre providing great services to a number of primary and secondary schools clustered around the Papatoetoe district. This came out of the 1960s, flourished through the 1970s and 1980s and went on well into the 1990s under the Tomorrow’s Schools school service centre model. It provided a service and the Principals, staff and boards of the schools concentrated on doing their best for educational standards and engagement. It worked well.
Scandanavian schools are better than our schools largely, it seems, because thay have moderated the negative impact of having extreme social differences in the characteristics of their schools. One outcome of this is that here is none of the bragging about and flaunting of privilege that marrs the current discussions. There is a pride in the education system generally rather than the obsessive elbowing by individual schools that is going on in the New Zealand discussion.
There has been a leit motif through the discussions that have followed the release of the report that suggests an intention to tackle the social differences reflected in the current structures for administration which are possibly exacerbating them. This will require us all to work towards a more balanced involment of communities that will not only be good for “us” but will also be good for “them” and make us better as a country, stronger as an economy and prouder of our efforts to get NZ back to a point where all citizens have a chance.
With the softening of students numbers and the many reviews that are under way in education, it would be a lost opportunity if we were to ignore sensible change simply because old habits die hard. They way we are going it is likely that the principal actors will do little more than strut and fret their hour upon the stage and then be heard no more.