President's address 2010 - PPTA committed and united

Address to the New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association / Te Wehengarua (PPTA) annual conference by the president Kate Gainsford.

Tena Koutou, Tena koutou, Tena koutou katoa
Greetings to you all

I want to begin by acknowledging the passing of one of our strongest supporters, Len Thomson, husband of Val.  Len was our most active non-member and many of you will have seen him at conferences and other PPTA forums, supporting Val in the range of roles she has taken on for PPTA and, as well, supporting the union.

Mauria mai nga mate

Kei runga i a koutou

Kia maumahatia ratau e

Ki a koutou nga mate

Moe mai ra koutou

As ever, it is my pleasure to welcome you to Wellington and to this conference.   I extend a particular welcome to delegates from Canterbury, who we all know have had a terrible time since the earthquake, and many of whom have a long and difficult path ahead.  It is great to have you here amongst our PPTA whanau.


PPTA strike photographs

PPTA, together we are strong.

And what a time it is to be together.   PPTA members are as strong, aligned, committed and united as at any time in our history.  We stand together: physically, collectively, intellectually and professionally.    Our strike on the 15th of September was an impressive demonstration not just of members' collective determination but also of our capacity to organise nationally.  I know that all of you here today played a part in ensuring the success of the strike and I want to thank you for your efforts.

I wish I could say that it was over and that you could go back to your prime focus - your students - but it's not.   As Winston Churchill said:

"… This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

There will be an industrial update this afternoon at which we will discuss plans for term 4 and for 2011 if it comes to that.    

A warning: we must be alert to the possibility that the government will respond to the rostering home activities with a lockout.  That means all teachers could be suspended, and lose pay for the whole day, rather than for an hour or two of rostering.

This would be an incendiary act on the part of the government but also fairly typical of its responses so far.   Executive is ready for scenarios like this and would, most likely, call on members to respond to a lockout with a full-day strike.

I need you to continue to keep members informed and engaged in branches and regions throughout the next set of actions, whatever they may be, and however long it takes.

The Ministry of Education misjudges teachers

The Ministry response to our September strike was foolish and provocative.  They set about attempting to confuse the public with claims that the average teacher salary was $70,000.  We wish!  If a G3+ teacher starts on $45,000 and gains annual increments having met expected appraisal and performance measures, they will eventually reach the top of the scale: $68,980.  How this becomes an average teacher's salary of $70,000 can only be explained in the same way that the average NZer becomes a 5'6” hermaphrodite!  It simply doesn't make sense. The Ministry has already misjudged teachers once - imagining that its initial claim clawing back everything that teachers hold dear would frighten members into a rapid  acceptance of the first offer.  Now it seems on course to do it again by unwisely ignoring the message of anger sent by the strike and seeing if it can provoke teachers into further action.  Of course, we know they act entirely according to government directive.

New Zealand government walked away from the opportunity for industrial peace

In spite of the simplistic analysis offered by a few sensationalist pundits, we did not seek conflict with this government.  It is they who walked away from the potential of the ministerial task force approach to give  students, teachers, parents and boards another three years of industrial peace on top of the eight we have had.   The message Dame Margaret Bazley, chair of the ministerial taskforce, gave the Labour Government in 2003 was that an objective mechanism which kept salaries current was required, so that the parties could use the period of industrial peace to work on ways of providing the sort of professional support that underpins effective teaching.

So why did the government walk away?   Two reasons suggest themselves:

  1. They had already determined that the costs of the global financial meltdown were to be borne by public servants through job losses, pay cuts and erosion of conditions;
  2. They are not comfortable with the notion of autonomous professionals who have a stated commitment to working together for the good of all. It offends their powerful belief in management prerogative.   Other professional groups such as doctors and radiographers have also found themselves on the wrong side of this debate, locked into a discussion that is more about authority and control - and the accountability and surveillance that accompanies it - than about patient or student well-being.

Thus, we saw the introduction of national standards.  This policy has failed to lift achievement in any country that has tried it.  But, it does provide the government with a very big stick with which to beat teachers.

Speaking of big sticks, you may be familiar with the old saying about flogging a dead horse.  It has an interesting provenance:

The Dakota people of North America passed on this piece of wisdom from generation to generation - "If you are riding a dead horse the best thing to do is dismount".  Some of our politicians (you know who they are) seem not to have grasped this sensible advice.  Instead they:

  • buy a stronger whip
  • threaten the horse that it will be replaced with a commissioner
  • rewrite the performance requirements for dead horses
  • appoint a committee of academics to study the horse
  • arrange to visit other countries to see how they ride dead horses
  • create some user pays PD  to increase the jockey's ability to ride dead horses
  • reclassify the horse as ‘living impaired'
  • Issue a plain English report saying "This horse is operating below the expected standard"
  • threaten to hire outside contractors to ride the dead horse
  • cut funding to incentivise the horse's performance
  • establish a PPP to run dead horses more efficiently

Where is this government's education plan?

Apart from the so-called national standards, which are touted as a miracle cure for all ills, this government doesn't have an education policy.  It has a financial policy which involves slashing public spending and public services while pumping taxpayer money into the pockets of the private sector.  They have taken the same approach with education.

The government has not received a good report for its efforts in secondary education.  We do welcome the shift from disconnect to acknowledgement by the prime minister that he would like to be in a position to offer a pay increase.  However, we need more than rhetoric.  Actions speak louder than words.  And, recently, this government:

  • has provided next to nothing for secondary students, under the Behaviour Action Plan ;
  • intends to rip out $19 million from secondary schools' ops grants next year,  in the guise of quarterly roll audits;
  • is part funding the youth guarantee by taking money from secondary schools and directing it into polytech and private providers;
  • is encouraging tertiary providers to offer level 2 courses which may put them in direct competition with secondary schools; and
  • refuses to support secondary teachers struggling with the huge workload of curriculum standards alignment and assessment.

A question for the Minister this afternoon: Does the government have a plan for secondary education other than actively running it down?

PPTA policy places teaching and learning at the centre of education

Contrast the government's track record with PPTA's ongoing advocacy for a coherent education policy that places teaching and learning at the centre, and which is based on an understanding that professional and industrial issues are fundamentally linked.

Government policy and privatisation of schools

The government certainly has a plan for privatisation.  Our conference paper on Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) or our preferred term "private profiteering” considers the evidence of failure of this policy in other countries that have conducted these unfortunate experiments.  The paper concludes that the beneficiaries of PPPS will certainly not be New Zealand taxpayers.  But, expect rich pickings for offshore companies and investors.  A PPP- built school may be a glorious place to be when fresh and new, but there is no incentive for a company to keep up the maintenance when the lease approaches its end.

And on the topic of privatisation I think that this month we have cause to be grateful that the Earthquake and War Damage Commission with its fund of $6 billion dollars, built up from New Zealanders' contributions since 1945, remains a crown-owned entity and wasn't hocked off during the various privatisation frenzies of the 1980s and 1990s. Contrast this with the situation in the States, where residents of New Orleans have struggled to get compensation from private insurance companies:  

Every neighborhood is full of horror stories about insurance companies that reneged on their promises, offered only pennies on the dollar in settlements, dribbled out payments, low-balled the costs of repairs, dropped long-time customers and sharply increased the price of coverage.[1]

As well as using dubious means to avoid payment, the private insurers have contrived to dump costs back on the taxpayer whenever possible.  Residents struggling to rebuild their homes in Louisiana either can't get insurance for hurricanes at all or have seen the premiums increase by 400%.    And some New Zealanders still think the market is the answer to everything, including public education!

Our public education system belongs to us all and must never become a private matter.

National assessment system: fair, robust and manageable

For parents and students to have confidence in state secondary schools, the national assessment system must also be fair, robust AND manageable.

NZ secondary teachers are demonstrably successful in their teaching and are experts in assessment.  Building on excellence, this year's curriculum and qualifications paper, says that unless the government makes an investment in NCEA and provides proper support for teachers PPTA will take action.  Teachers must have limits placed on their senior assessment loads and government agencies cannot expect teachers to continue to carry the full burden of assessment alone.

The additional paper, from Manawatu/Whanganui and Auckland regions, NCEA Internal Assessment confirms the importance and the high priority members place on this issue.

These papers will challenge this conference. The debate will need to be informed and considered and conducted in a spirit inclusive of the diversity of views secondary teachers have on assessment.  We must embrace the complexity of the issues and avoid simplistic responses.

In an effort to inform the debate, PPTA is conducting our biggest ever on-line survey to find out exactly where the membership stands on these issues.

As the American writer H.L. Mencken said:   "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and… wrong.”

Leadership matters

We have a few things to say about leadership as well.  From islands to archipelagos, a paper about developing secondary school leadership responds to the plethora of initiatives and findings that are springing up – some led by the MOE, others by private sector consultants and providers.

"Leadership” has become a catchall phrase designed to mask the structural problems of self-management.  

Yet, we know that school leadership does matter – and needs to be unshackled from the rhetoric of compliance management and the many other unhelpful features of tomorrow's schools.

PPTA recognises effective leadership at all levels as critical to the effective functioning of a school.  The paper articulates clear policies on school leadership, and sustainable career pathways and development for teachers.  And the omens for teacher PLD are not good.  Whatever deficiencies you recognize in the current provision may seem mere irritations compared with what is about to unfold – or unravel.  The government is putting all school support services out to tender – starting with the leadership and assessment contracts – followed by all other PLD contracts by the end of 2011.  You can guarantee that the MOE will be looking to get increased value for its dollar or, put another way, PD on the cheap and further privatisation of public education.

Mind your language: developing a pacific languages strategy

We also welcome the call for PPTA to promote the ability for Pasifika students to learn and use their heritage languages and cultures at school as set out in Komiti Pasifika's paper, Mind Your Language.  It advocates for the development of a pacific languages strategy, something I hope conference will be able to support.  

O la'u gagana o lo'u faasinomaga ma lo'u malosi'aga.
My language is my identity and my strength.

Teachers Council a teacher led professional organisation

There is also a paper on the Teachers Council.  It reflects members' consternation and concerns about its value, role and function.  It is not exactly our most popular agency of late, what with fees increases and so forth, but nonetheless it is one that fulfils the important function of ensuring we have a demonstrably credible and qualified workforce.  The question is how to move the council away from being an arm of the government into a genuinely teacher-led body.

I don't want you to throw tomatoes at me at lunchtime but I think the Teachers Council response to the minister's vision for the teaching profession (or hallucination as we called it), shows what a powerful ally they could be for teachers, if freed from government control.   

As well as rejecting the vision's ideas about initial teacher education, the Council submission advised strongly against performance pay.

So, there is potential for the teachers council and the profession to be singing from the same song sheet – and what a powerful voice that could be. Imagine that, a Teachers Council of teachers, by teachers and for teachers.

Our paper considers what the scope and reach of the Teachers Council ought actually to be and spells out some of the complexities of the current situation, while offering ways forward, through its recommendations.

Promoting safer schools for teachers and students

Again, this year, we have a conference paper that considers the problem of anti-social behavior.  Promoting safer schools for teachers and students – where learning is the priority and systems are in place that support teachers in their classrooms – is an ongoing task – and one for which there is no easy fix or, as this year's conference paper puts it, no silver bullet.  The recent announcements of small increases to alternative education funding – along with a move to ensure input from trained and qualified teachers are positive signs.  The minister has also announced some changes to the RTLB service, which suggests that some of PPTA's advice has been listened to – there is a need for better and specialized secondary provision – there is a need for improved management of the service – schools need ongoing and centralized support for basic systems that support teacher and student wellbeing.

PPTA can take some credit for the progress that is being made and, although we remain disappointed at the resourcing "crumbs” directed at secondary school behavioural problems, we are pleased to see it on the Ministry's work programme.   There is still much to be done in this area and the Ministry initiatives require close monitoring and evaluation.  It  is certainly not encouraging – and nor does it foster goodwill –  that the MOE's negotiators have so far refused to give any consideration to the health and safety components of our current STCA claim.

Forging common direction through debate

I look forward to hearing the debates on these papers, and the free and considered expression of members' views.  I know that by the end of the conference we will all have learned something, understandings will be enhanced and a common direction will have been forged.  That is the way; we may disagree about how to proceed but once a decision is reached we will move forward together to achieve our collective goals.PPTA waka

He waka kotuia kahore e tukutuku nga mimira

A waka that is interlaced will not become separated at the bow.

Contrast that wisdom with the way education policy is developed in this country.  I'll explain it using a story called the Education Boat Race.

The development of education policy and the education boat race

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then we'll begin… Once upon a time…
The New Zealand and the Finnish ministries of education decided to have a competitive boat race on the Waikato River. Both teams practised long and hard to reach peak performance. On the big day, they were as ready as they could be.

The Finnish team won by 100 metres!

After that the New Zealand ministry was discouraged by the loss and their morale sagged.  The Minister of Education, Hon Anne Tolley decided that a reason for the failure had to be found. A Continuous Measurable Improvement Team of "academics" was set up to investigate the problem and to recommend appropriate corrective action.

Their conclusion: The problem was that the Finnish team had 8 people rowing and one person steering, whereas the New Zealand team had one person rowing and 8 people steering.

Tolley's next move was to hire consultants to do a study on the problem.  A number of meetings and thousands of dollars later, the consultants had developed a solution which they called "a vision for the rowing profession”.  It concluded that "the rowers needed more professional leadership”. To ensure that New Zealand won next time they proposed a new approach. The management structure on the boat was changed to "4 Steering Managers, 3 Area Steering Managers, and one Staff Steering Manager” and the person rowing the boat was given a new performance system so he would have more incentive to row harder and have his excellence individually recognised.  The Minister was pleased with the report and expressed her confidence that it would lead to improvement in New Zealand's achievement in the next race.

The next year the Finnish team came in two-hundred metres ahead of the kiwis!

The NZ rower was sacked for poor performance, the plan to construct a new boat was contracted out to a PPP, the old boat, paddles and other equipment were sold off and the savings distributed as bonuses to the consultants.

And that brings me to the finish, or the end if you like.

A vision for a collaborative professional education plan

We could be smart about education policy and take a leaf out of Finland's book.  It is the world leader in education after all.  What do they do that is different?

Teachers and principals in Finland are respected and are unlikely to have a so-called "vision for the profession” dumped on them from on high; they are well paid and unlikely to face a refusal to discuss professional issues in their contract bargaining; they are trusted and that doesn't mean setting up an email address called hightrust - that means: no restrictive national evaluation system for teachers' work, no ERO, no league tables. 

They are trusted to get on with teaching without the need for constant high stakes assessment; only in year 13 is there a national qualification.  Time for meaningful collaborative professional development is provided.

PPTA strike photographsBest of all, governments from all sides of the spectrum have developed an education plan for high quality schools for all rather than for the favoured few. So politicians resist the urge to dig up the tree of knowledge every three years to see how well the roots are growing.   In Finland, change is managed, considered and carefully implemented.  It's nothing to do with how education is funded and everything to do with what is valued.

This year we have papers that lie at the heart of quality secondary schooling – leadership, behaviour, curriculum and assessment, funding and governance.  As delegates, all members rely on you to make decisions that build and maintain PPTA's strong professional and industrial platforms for the year ahead.   I am confident that we will come out of this conference stronger as result of the debate and with renewed determination to lead the crucial fight for public education and a ratifiable settlement.


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