A latte and a lie down - education musings on a Sunday morning

Robin Duff, New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association / Te Wehengarua (PPTA) president, reflects on the market approach to secondary education in New Zealand.

July 2011

A latte and a lie down - education musings on a Sunday morning

One of Sunday's simple pleasures is to sit down with a cup of tea (or a latte) and the Sunday papers. Sun or rain, they bring a mild sprinkling of news, views and "“ often as not "“ some gentle downright silliness. A perfect antidote and delay to the inevitable Sunday night marking and planning precursor to the working week.

Education dollar scramble in the morning paper education supplement

This Sunday was supposed to be business as usual "“ tea brewed, paper in, weather marginal. But it's June, it's nearly the end of term two, and the grand scramble for the education dollar is upon us. In case you're wondering, I'm talking about the education supplement. A perfect disruption to a frazzled educationalist's Sunday morning r "˜n r.

Of course the private schools will be advertising. They actually believe in market solutions to education, while the tertiary sector waves its various leaves and branches to lure school leavers into its jungle "“ no surprises there. But, to find a handful of state schools in the mix as well is testament to the extent to which we've all bent over and taken six of the best from the market.

Spending precious teaching time and education money on marketing institutions to teenagers

It's not a new song, but more than ever we see secondary schools and tertiary providers tripping over each other in an unseemly scramble to fill our classrooms. Schools, trades academies, private providers, polytechnics, workplace training schemes, even a tertiary high school are all lining up under the shadowy umbrella of the youth guarantee.

Reclining in the Sunday morning sun, I feel compelled to wonder how much of the time and money spent on maintaining a market approach to capturing the teenage market might be better spent on quaint old-fashioned things like resource development, offering teachers time to share practice and implement the new curriculum and realigned standards, and to support the pastoral initiatives that help kids stay in education.

Supporting schools and teachers to encourage and support students

Weirdly, teachers are not alone in wishing for these things. At the recent National Association of Secondary Deputy and Assistant Principals conference Judge Becroft called for schools to be better funded in their attendance and engagement work. As far as he can observe, schools are working as smart as they can already. What they lack is money. Similarly, the team behind the best evidence syntheses know what schools need – time to absorb and implement the practices they prescribe.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Education continues to strip out advisory services – oops, I mean, to take a blue skies approach and open the contracting process up to the market – and under-staff its own curriculum and secondary outcomes teams. Turns out talk really is cheap – implementation is another matter.

Time for long term political commitment to evidence based investment in supporting adolescents

Slightly off to one side of all this the Gluckman report asks whether governments of any stripe might put aside their need for adversarial, term by term initiatives and policy churn in favour of some long term commitments to evidence-based investment in improving long-term outcomes for adolescents. That's a big sentence – and a big question – especially on a Sunday morning. You can almost feel the storm clouds gathering.

Transformation of the Resource Teachers Learning Behaviour (RTLB) service

It will be interesting to see what our political masters are prepared to do with advice of this magnitude. Signs that the ministry has either the will or the ability to work on this are few. Just look at their current solution to sector dissatisfaction with the management and function of our Resource Teachers Learning Behaviour service. The Education Review Office has reported that the cluster management model is not really working. The ministry's response is to create new mega-clusters, with a new layer of management and accountability functions and (big surprise) a tendering process to select the new lead schools – who will bear singular responsibility for all the employment and operational risk of the new clusters. Oh, and this "transformation” must be cost neutral. No more money for you, schools.

If the ministry were honest it would take charge of the Resource Teacher Learning and Behaviour service, house it within Group Special Education and admit that a centralised approach would constitute a fairer and more efficient use of scarce resources.

Consistent evidence based approach required - support all schools to support all students

Apparently, when it comes to managing an itinerant service to support kids with learning and behaviour issues schools are all supposed to play nice and hold hands. But, when it's time to haggle for next year's student population it's game on – open days, paid articles and advertising, feature articles, websites, you name it. Even with enrolment zones the days of cheering for the school down the road are long gone.


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