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Tag: Christchurch

Pathways-ED: Shaken and Stirred


There isn’t a person in New Zealand whose heart beats, who has a functioning brain, who understands the value of empathy and support in hard times who wouldn’t agree that the citizens of Christchurch have endured and will continue to face the most difficult situation experienced by New Zealand citizens in the modern history of New Zealand.

Harder than the Great Depression? Harder than the influenza epidemic in 1918? The Erebus disaster? The sinking of the Wahine? The Napier earthquake? The earthquakes and the ongoing aftermath in Christchurch seem somehow to eclipse all of this. That might be because time dulls pain and moves on and us with it. It might be because the media have an “in your face” presence in it all that wasn’t present in a less technological age.

But the re-organisation of schooling in Christchurch is playing out in the media in a fashion that raises many questions about the nature of professionalism and leadership in such times.

The use of school students, many very young, to man the barricades must have a huge question mark placed next to it. If the issue was the seashore, human rights, housing in New Zealand, the 1981 Tour we would have no difficulty in being hesitant in keeping the little ones out of it.

And the scale of the issues is not reflected in the coverage. The issue is the future of a relatively small number of schools in a city which has been badly knocked around, schools and school sites damaged and a quite understandable decline in student numbers. Not only does this represent an urgent need to respond to this situation but also an opportunity to do so in a manner that moves the education system forward. And this at a rare time – there is money to achieve it.

There would be little point in rebuilding the system exactly as it was in the manner that St Petersburg was restored after the 900 day siege during World War 2. Here is an opportunity to provide a group of children with new and better ways of working.

Most principals in New Zealand can attest to the difficulty of getting capital works underway – there are simply no resources for it. And yet I speak with many teachers and principals who have great ideas for working differently, many not a lot different from those being proposed in Christchurch. The MOE Report Directions for Education Renewal in Christchurch makes good reading when read at a distance not with the overlays of emotion and self-interest that we would all bring to it had we personally been affected. Other areas are thankful that they have not had that catastrophic impetus for such a report but might also be wondering if such a “renewal” approach would be a good thing in their area.

It therefore doesn’t surprise me that I am told that opposition to what is being proposed in Christchurch is balanced with a good deal of support. There are schools and principals and teachers who warm to the idea of working differently, in new structures and in facilities that simply do not replicate the old.

But support is not what the media seeks – John Campbell rides to new levels in the ratings on the back of the negative stories from Christchurch schools and Novopay (helped also to a large extent by the laughable but not funny television programme that the other crowd have started in his time slot).

The layers of emotion that the media have dished up in the discussions in the Christchurch education stories have also not been helpful. The community sees a lot of tears on television, what is needed in education stories is a bit more grunt about professional issues (consultation has possibly been one but you can’t rewind those films) and clear evidence about student achievement and learning. An inconsolable principal might be greatly sought out by the media but no argument is not advanced by it. The wearing of politicised apparel, the making of protest banners (some of which have simply been a lesson in rudeness and disrespect) and the access that the media has had to children all raise questions.

The key professional issue that has been buried by the media in all this is that the kinds of changes proposed are ones that might profitably be spread throughout the entire education system. Where are the plans for the development of a new system that groups students in more effective ways, provides teachers with the spaces and tools that would enable them to teach to the high levels to which they are capable? A legacy for Christchurch might be that it led the way – education for the 21st Century might be to Christchurch what Art Deco is to Napier.

One thing we can be certain of is that when the dust settles the media will have moved on to another story in another place with a different group of protesting people, teachers and students will still be there doing good work, unnoticed and looking back and wondering about it all.



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Talk-ED: A fish rots from the head: The importance of good governance


The recent events within Cricket New Zealand suggest that some organisations don’t even need an opposition to be beaten – they are able to defeat themselves without any assistance. What staggers me is that once again a staggering failure of governance is allowed to pass. Victims are strewn all over the place, reputational damage affects individuals and the organisation and yet the Board sails on, unaccountable and unscathed. Well played, chaps!

On the other hand, governance of sport is consistently of a low standard. Take your pick, swimming, Otago rugby, rugby league are just a selection of sports governance which in recent times have managed to exhibit a wide range of issues at a governance level.

Over in the finance sector, failure of governance is rife.

Some of the issues in Christchurch and the responses to the quakes have been issues of governance rather than any operational ineptitude.

And in the education sector, governance continues to provide a challenge. A report[1] estimated that at any one time there were about 15% of the 2,557 Boards of Trustees in New Zealand that had issues of Board performance. This means that about 385 schools have issues. (You might well ask whether this is a surprise in a country where governance generally is weak – how can the nation’s schools be expected to find nearly 13,000 parents who have the skills and qualities of a Board Member.)

It is my experience as an observer of many schools that the key issue is actually knowing the difference between the duties of governance and the elements of management. Where Boards run into trouble is where they want to start running the school. That is why a recurring issue in school governance is the relationship between the Principal and the Board. These sometimes spill over into rather unpleasant public spats. And communities have a varied pool of experience available for selection to these positions – a selection that is made by the community which also will exhibit a widely variable level of competence to make such selections. It is all pretty hit and miss – not unlike our cricket team.

One of the great issues of school governance, in my view is that low-decile schools in which the issues are complex and not as straightforward as they are in middle and high decile schools and yet it is these very same school communities that have to provide a board that is, until it gets into trouble, largely left to do its best. When that best is not good enough, the state intervenes.

The various levels of intervention – requested by the boards themselves in about half the cases – can result in the board being replaced by a commissioner and this happens, the report tells us, in about 30% of the interventions.

The Boards of Trustees were never intended to be as isolated as they have become. Tomorrow’s Schools (which was the policy statement following the Picot Report on the administration of education) also proposed the existence of education service centres which  would be a relatively local mechanism to create support for Boards of trustees, community education forums that would give communities wider than the single cell of the school a voice and, finally, a parent advocacy council where parents could raise issues and seek solutions. None of that happened and the greatly exposed system of devolved school governance was thrown into the feral environment of competition between schools. There had to be winners and losers in that scenario.

Perhaps it is time to review the whole Board of Trustees set-up. With the notion of clusters and new ways of working making its appearance in the Christchurch re-organisation the way might be clear for such a review. The report Shaping Education: Directions for Education Renewal in Greater Christchurch (MOE / TEC / NZ Government 2012) has in it some exciting ideas for new ways of working – sharing resources, working to different times, new structures, mixing age groups, collaboration, school operating across different sites, shared facilities, new facilities, and so on. The ideas are flowing down there. One comment in talking about new structures talks of combining a “…. junior high school / senior high school focus, academic and trades specialisation all under one governing body…”

It’s tough in Christchurch at the moment but they will be creating a great legacy for New Zealand if they get the ball rolling on genuine structural reform of education. And none of those reforms is more urgent than looking at the governance of schools.

It is the role of boards generally to increase the value of the company for the shareholders. Therefore it is the role of the Board of Trustees of a school to increase the value in terms of the educational outcomes to the government. How refreshing it is to see that finally the Boards of Trustees are to be held accountable for the educational achievement of the school. The Education Amendment Bill currently before the House is greatly to be supported in this regard. After more than 20 years, school Boards are about to get on to the real work. Now, that will add value!



[1] Wylie, Cathy (2007) School governance in New Zealand – how is it working? New Zealand Council for Educational Research Te Rünanga o Aotearoa mö te Rangahau i te Mätauranga, Wellington


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