Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace of change in Education

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.

2 comments

  1. Tony Kane says:

    Hi Stuart.

    Always interesting reading your thoughts. I spent most of my teaching career in ‘low decile’ schools and then found myself, essentially accidentally, in charge of a ‘higher’ decile school. I don’t think that any of the proposed changes are going to make a blind bit of difference to student learning as a whole, any more than Tomorrow’s Schools did.

    The mythology is that high decile schools siphon the best kids from poorer areas either by gerrymandered zones or by some other devious selection. The truth is that zones can be proposed by Boards – who are obliged to consult other local schools – but decision-making is with the Ministry. The law enshrines the right of the child to go to their closest school.

    No change of system is going to alter where children go. We have entirely wrongly allowed NZ to develop suburbs divided on socio-economic and racial lines. How is a hub system going to resolve any of that and still allow the child to go to the closest school?

    Here are a couple of suggestions for real change:
    1. Where practicable, ie in cities where the vast majority now live, use a radical rezoning so that the make-up of schools both ethnically and in terms of wealth is as equal as possible. This needs free school buses so that travel cost is not an impediment.
    2. Ensure that there is no financial impediment for children’s learning. Free breakfasts and lunches, digital devices, uniform.
    3. Ensuring that children are at school by allowing schools to fine for deliberately keeping their children away, along the lines of the UK model.

    If that is all too much, then what about simple low-cost changes:
    1. Follow through on the promise that schools will get a guaranteed amount per student in return for giving up “donations”.
    2. Greater share of income for lower SES schools than is currently the case. It doesn’t matter what the mechanism is, decile or any individual points basis.
    3. Back in the day, there was a salary bar. You had to do country service to move to the top rates. That bar could be reinstated and young teachers would have to serve a minimum of three years in hard-to-staff schools.

    I don’t think people will “strut and fret” in the coming consultation rounds. It may feel more like trench warfare by competing interests. And unfortunately, I think we will be left with “hubs”, the old Education Boards that were so frustrating to deal with and slow to respond when I was on a school committee in the 1980s, and no improvement in learning. The 20% will still languish.

    Regards

    Tony

    • Stuart Middleton says:

      Thanks for your comments which I agree with. I think it was Voltaire who said “If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.” this current fashion for seeking changes often when none are needed is the result of ideology rather than ideas!

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