On the day that the Minister of Education assured Auckland Primary School Principals that Christchurch was not the start of a wholesale review of schools in other areas, the need for just such a review in Auckland was made apparent in a NZ Herald article.
I am not into conspiracy theories so the assurance from the Minister should be taken at face value – it is what it seems. In Christchurch the cataclysmic events of the earthquakes put the city into a situation where response was required and urgently. Children have to be educated, schools have to be provided. So looking at the provision of education was urgent, changing the way schools worked and worked together and looking at the options for young people was a self-evident and sensible way to proceed.
But there is one critical difference between Christchurch and Auckland. The school rolls in Christchurch have shrunk while in Auckland school rolls have increased and are predicted to increase dramatically over the next forty years. The report in the paper tells us that the MOE has to find space for 150,000 more student s in Auckland by 2050. Much of this growth, 70% probably, will be within the existing city urban limits. In other words, 70% of the growth has to be absorbed in areas where there are already schools.
Building new schools is an option but land will be at a premium in these built-up areas where intensification of housing will be the modus operandi of the planners as they seek to achieve this bigger city in numbers but not in sprawl.
One thing is abundantly clear – education in Auckland will have to change the way it works and this could have an inevitable flow-on effect across other areas of the country. But as soon as this is signalled the trenches are dug and the old education default position trotted out. We don’t want to change. What we are doing works well. That could be true, but what the journalist calls a “population tidal wave” is headed our way and change we will.
The problem is that territory won is territory to be defended. Of course those in a school now, those with children in a school now, feel good about the school – they have to, it is a natural response. But those children will grow up and leave the school. Similarly Principals and teachers working in a school will feel good about the school – they have to otherwise getting up in the morning is too hard. But they will move on one day.
“Now” and “us” is not a very good place to start planning for the future which will be “then” and “others”. Stephen Covey tells an anecdote in which a group is hacking their way through the jingle with great energy and high levels of efficiency. One of them climbs a tree and takes a look around. “Hey!” they call to those on the ground, “we’re going in the wrong direction.” But this repeated anew information is ignored until those on the ground, irritated by the person up the tree call back “Be quiet! We are having fun down here!”
To say that things must change is not to say that what is happening is of itself poor quality or wrong or not enjoyable. But it might not be what will be needed for another time and in the future. Someone has to “go up the tree” and see with a little more clarity than those on the ground just what the direction needs to be.
The MOE did just this in Christchurch with some appropriate urgency. Auckland has the luxury of time. Of course if Rangitoto was to blow up and enter a prolonged period of eruption (scientists tell us it is theoretically capable of this) then our protestations about change will seem about as pompous as Pompeii. The Unitary Plan – the great chart of the unexplored future for New Zealand’s biggest city and a key reason for the amalgamation of the territorial local authorities – has the purpose of painting a picture of the future of Auckland.
Instead of resistance, educators would be well advised to welcome such an opportunity for change that can be planned for. Some quick fixes might be needed which impinge on the current ways of working – increased numbers of students on school sites, expanding the age ranges in schools and so on.
But the future needs to be planned and orderly. The nature and place of what we call sectors could be examined. The way governance is achieved could be looked at. The very notion of a school zone could be challenged and perhaps a place seen for differences between the curriculum and programmes in different schools. This and other ways of increasing choice for parents could be examined.
We should embrace this opportunity for change in Auckland schooling.
One of the key issues according to some in Christchurch, well it seems so at a distance, is the fact that there has been a feeling that change has been foist on people, that they have not been consulted or consulted in the right way or at the right time, that communities have been ignored. Others assure me that this is not an entirely shared view. There are those who welcome much of what is happening.
In Auckland we can make sure that there is consultation by taking ownership and control over the changes that we will face, work in a measured manner towards options and directions. Perhaps an Auckland Education Commission set up to take the Auckland Unitary Plan and produce a blueprint for change in schooling in Auckland would be a good thing to consider. This need not be rushed; the MOE can look after the few issues that need urgent attention.
The future demands a calm and thoughtful, widely discussed approach. It will never be too early to start this. But it is often too late when people are willing to get involved in such discussions. If being the world’s most liveable city is an aspiration, we need to get thinking soon.