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A few weeks ago the paper that Minister Parata took to cabinet about the funding review was released. It’s worth a read, but in the meanwhile, here are some of my takes.

One. Dropping the global budget.

I thought that this was likely from when Parata released the advisory group paper during the paid union meetings in September, the John Campbell interview she did that afternoon was as obvious as she could be about it before taking it to Cabinet. But it’s great to have it 100% clear now that this isn’t progressing – no fudging it and no attempt to make it an ‘opt in’ model.  The Minister listened to the sector, which is one of the main things we’ve been hoping for.

Two. COOLs delayed until at least 2020

The paper makes clear that there won’t be any COOLs (except for Te Kura) until 2020, as their funding model will be dependent on what happens in this review. While we’d prefer this part of the Bill not to go ahead at this stage and there’s still a huge number of questions, delaying any opening for four years gives everyone a good chance to try and get things like their regulation and accreditation right, and we’ll keep fighting against the privatisation parts of the policy.

Three. This paragraph


The first part rules out performance related targeting (something that the Minister saw a bit differently when she spoke about a few years ago at our Conference). So that’s great. But the second part is also very important – this addresses the concern that the ‘at risk’ funding would have to be used for the kids identified by the MoE’s algorithm. This seems to be a way to address the worst risks of a heavily targeted ‘social investment’ approach – i.e. it creates an overall school profile but then the professionals on the ground make the judgement about the kids in need.

Four. Much more comprehensive measures for risk

Initially the five proposed measures to identify the ‘at risk’ students seemed to be not much of an improvement on the way that decile is calculated (other than the removal of the number) and left a large number of students who are currently not achieving out. The proposed new factors, 19 in total, seem to have much higher predictive power, and could allow for a range of risks to be calculated, possibly attracting different levels of funding.

Five. Recognition that more money might be needed

Unlike in the first round of papers, this paper explicitly states that the government might need to put more money in to meet the needs identified in the review. Of course, it’s a long way from a firm commitment, but it’s also a shift in the right direction from the initial position which seemed to be everything was going to happen within the current funding envelope.


Concern: are we drifting towards vouchers?

While I don’t think that there’s a nefarious plan to create a voucher system, the per child funding amount certainly makes it a lot easier if Parata’s successor as Minister of Education decided to go down that track. But what’s perhaps more worrying is that a per-student funding amount could create a culture shift in the way that parents, students and schools interact, which might not be for the best. Attaching a certain ‘value’ to each child could nudge parents and students to be more likely to expect ‘their’ spending to be accountable to them and that they get to decide on how it’s spent (e.g. demanding access to ‘extension’ programmes that might not be appropriate for the student or so forth). The demand from parents who are home-schooling or sending their students to private schools for ‘equitable’ treatment may become difficult to ignore, when there’s a dollar value so clearly linked to each student in a public school. Another example of how this could play out is with the funding of supplementary COOLs. This raises the prospect of students being able to choose to split their funding between institutions, which may be good for them but lead to conflict with their host school which is left with costs that are not covered.

Of course, currently we have a funding system that follows each student pretty closely anyway, and in effect each student is worth a set value to a school – but I suspect it will be different when that value is explicit. As happened with the number attached to the decile system, the intent wasn’t to ‘rank’ schools but that’s what it became – numbers used for one thing can easily become something else once they’re in the public domain.


This may sound esoteric, but I think that there’s a risk that instead of people expecting that the state provides each learner with access to high quality teachers, facilities, resources (i.e. an education system), that we shift to a culture of ‘purchasing an individualised education programme’ for each learner – which could, eventually, dramatically change what we think of as public education. 


* Blog image, Give me Five!  Creative commons by marfis75 on flickr CC-BY-SA 

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Private companies using cartoon television networks to market online schools directly to children – it sounds far-fetched but it is happening in the United States right now.

PPTA was privileged to have US academic Gary Miron as our guest last week. He talked to parents, teachers and communities around the country about online schools in his country – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Professor Miron is himself a teacher and has decades of experience in education, including opening a school. He has done extensive research in the education field, including on charter schools, school choice policies and virtual schools.

He is an entirely credible voice and which is one of the main reasons we invited him to New Zealand.

We’ve hosted experts before and one of the risks is that they may be seen, by the ministry at least, as too much “in our camp” to be heeded. Gary Miron did not have that problem. He is for online and virtual learning – passionately so: but he has the evidence for what works and what doesn’t.

And what doesn’t is full time virtual schools owned and run by the private sector. His evidence shows, once money is involved, students’ achievement and well-being move quickly from the centre of decision-making.

The results have been “devastatingly poor” with thousands of students dropping out of the courses before completion. “How can we make them serve the children before the serve themselves?” he asks.

Gary talked about virtual schools, also called online schools or cyber-schools. Here in New Zealand our Minister of Education has called them Cools (Communities of online learning) (We suspect the acronym came before the name. The shame!).

In New Zealand we already have what’s called blended learning – where schools use a combination of face to face and online teaching and learning. It works well. There are so many options when it comes to the use of new computer and communication technologies.

“There’s a lot going on in your state schools already. It’s exciting,” Gary says.

Full time online schools have all curriculum delivered via the internet. In the US there are more than 500 virtual schools, which have around 300,000 students enrolled. Over 40 percent of virtual schools are owned and run by large for-profit education management organisations, accounting for around 75 percent of students.

The numbers have a lot to do with a massive advertising budget, marketing the schools directly to children.

“They put a lot of resources into advertising on children’s television channels such as Nickelodeon, Gary says. “It’s not the parents that are seeing this advertising; it’s the children watching television.”

And these companies certainly have the money to advertise, advertise and advertise some more (The K-12 Chief Executive is paid $17million a year). When student turnover reaches unheard-of proportions companies like K-12 don’t reflect on their practice, they simply advertise for more students.

Gary says the model is not working in the US because of the for-profit interest in the more corporate model being used. The focus is on getting numbers through rather than focusing on whether online learning is the right method for a particular student.

The model is based around having an educated adult in the household to assist the student, alongside the online teacher. Sadly, it is the most vulnerable students who are being targeted by these companies, and they are the least likely to have this support at home. Families with both parents working would also struggle.

Gary recounted a story of a grandmother contacting him in tears after desperately trying to get assistance from K-12, one of the US’s largest online education providers. She was trying to support her granddaughter but it wasn’t working. “They, just don’t understand,” she said. “I’m illiterate.”

Accountability measures are profit related rather than student related, which leads to an incredibly high attrition rate, Gary says.

Gary is calling for a moratorium on new online schools or adding students to current schools in the US. He believes they should put the brakes on it and develop a new model with input from educators, researchers and families.

He recommends oversight mechanisms to help ensure student interests are served before corporate interests and regulations around completion, recruitment and class sizes. He also recommends pilot-testing the new model before lifting the moratorium.

His advice for New Zealand? Take your time.

“Study and better understand current practices in state schools and your Virtual Learning Networks. Find out how best to support them,” he said.

He believes teachers and state schools should be incentivised to continue expanding their online services, through technical assistance and time and advocates a national support agency to provide support.

He believes new providers, especially private, for-profit ones, should be restricted – although they may have a role in developing and delivering individual courses.

His main take home message is to avoid rushing into reforms.

"Instead envision the future and plan and work systematically to improve and expand online and blended learning options for students.”

“The most important thing is not to rush.”




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My submission calls on politicians to show leadership and stop using the education system for short-term political ends and focus on the central role it plays in building a civil society.

Groucho Marx defined politics as “the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”.

Regrettably, this Bill meets all elements of that definition. 

Submission on the Education (Update) Amendment Bill

1. Introduction

I have been engaged with education for over forty years, as a secondary teacher, a parent, a member of a board of trustees (three years as board chair) and as a policy advisor for a teacher union.   In that time, I have seen many pieces of legislation introduced without proper care for the impact on schools and students and without the extensive consultation needed to avoid a crash landing.  This Bill continues that practice. It does not establish “a strategic direction that allows a focus on children and young people and their educational outcomes” as optimistically promised in the general policy statement but simply adds more competition and incoherence to a system that is already ad hoc, piecemeal and highly-stressed.  

The changes proposed in this Bill are not associated with improved educational outcomes and no evidence is provided for the claim that there will be real, as opposed to ideological, gains in respect of “efficiency, effectiveness and accountability”. 

2. Preamble: What would a top performing education system look like?

  • Top performing education systems share the following features:
  • Access to high quality early childhood education especially in poor communities;
  • Well-resourced comprehensive schools that don’t stratify students (either within schools or by schools);
  • Equitable resourcing with a special focus on socio-economically disadvantaged areas;
  • Sufficient trained and qualified teachers;
  • Teacher access to relevant professional development, appraisal and support;
  • Sufficient trained and qualified principals;
  • Support for principals, especially when they are new to the position;
  • Collaborative, high-trust relationships between schools and between central agencies and schools;
  • Parental involvement;
  • Widespread use of technology as a pedagogical tool to build better learning relationships not as a mass cost saver;
  • Valuing of coherency over fragmentation.[1]

Testing the proposed changes proposed in the Education (Update) Amendment Bill against these factors confirms that New Zealand is drifting further and further away from models of schooling that are associated with success.  The only one New Zealand would get a pass mark on would be parental involvement (Boards of Trustees) and that is being actively undermined by charter schools and now, COOLs.

3. When is an update not an update?

I want to comment on two major elements of this Bill; the establishment of COOLs and the reconstitution of integrated schools as public schools and how those two initiatives fit into the context and operation of the school network. It is something of a sleight of hand to include these two items under the benign title of “Update”. In fact, they presage very significant change and deserved to have been introduced and consulted on separately. Their late and inappropriate appearance in an “update” Bill speaks to a covert agenda.

4. COOLs

4.1  It’s not about learning

New Zealand schools already use online learning to expand options for students but they do it in the context of a learning relationship which includes face-to-face support within a wide range of other collaborative school experiences such as drama productions, sporting activities and cultural pursuits. The COOLs proposal shears the emotional content from the learning relationship and reduces it to a content transaction.  It is a factory model designed to enable private, probably international, companies to make maximum profits from our children at the lowest possible cost.

4.2  Consultation, research and planning is completely optional

If the intention had been otherwise, there would have been full consultation (including an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of current NZ online programmes) careful consideration of the research and risks, a long time-scale for the introduction and an implementation plan.  Instead this proposal was added to the Bill at the last minute with only a very lightweight regulation impact statement.

4.3  Privatisation is NOT associated with better learning

The haste and the underhand approach suggests that the drivers for this proposal are cost cutting and privatisation not providing the best education for New Zealand kids. The appearance of this proposal at the same time as the failed bulk funding model resurfaces is not coincidental, either.  Unless schools can cash up their staffing, they will not have funding to purchase COOL courses.  The intention is clearly to screw down school staffing so that small rural secondary schools, in particular, find themselves unable to staff a range of curriculum options for students. They will then be compelled to adopt full online provision regardless of whether this is in the student’s best interests or not.  Long term, this can only mean the end of senior secondary provision in many small rural communities.   There does not seem to have been any honest attempt to apprise rural parents of this information or to consider the implications for rural communities which have already lost their hospitals, police stations and banks. 

4.4    “Rigorous” Accreditation?

It has been suggested that the sections on accreditation in the Bill (35T – 35 ZE) will protect children and the public from the abuses associated with overseas online learning providers. This is nothing but a triumph of hope over experience.  The frauds that may be perpetuated by these organisations are not easily discoverable and it beggars belief that the Ministry of Education with its low staff numbers will have any prospect of undertaking the sort of scrutiny that would be required.  Moreover, accreditation (or removal of accreditation) will be subject to intense political interest as we have seen in the case of charter schools.  Te Pumanawa o te Wairua in Whangaruru began failing a few months after it opened but the Ministry denied the existence of problems for over a year. It took two years to close the school at a cost to the taxpayer was $3.2 million. Similarly, the MPI fish dumping scandal, the visa fraud at private Indian tertiary providers and, most recently, the use of isolation rooms in schools, all reveal an understaffed, beleaguered and politically-cowed public service who are not in a position to provide the level of monitoring that this proposal demands.  The promise of “rigorous” accreditation is a sop with no practical application whatsoever.

4.5    Funding – a zero sum game

The most egregious aspect of the introduction of COOLs is one that will operate outside the scope of the legislation.  Every student that leaves a face-to-face school to enrol in a COOL takes funding and staffing with them.  This means the educational experience for every student that remains in the school will be impoverished.  In secondary schools, the loss of even a few students means the loss of subjects from the timetable, reductions in the provision of pastoral care and fewer sporting and cultural options.  In order to provide an illusion of choice for a few, the educational potential of all other students is being compromised.  Education should not be a zero sum game.

4.6    Fine words but no fair go

In this context, the Bill’s goal in s.1A(3)(a), of the National Educational and Learning Priorities that, “the system must focus on helping each child and young person to attain educational achievement  to the best  of his/her potential” is contradictory.  The system has no intention of ensuring all students get a fair go because for that to happen all New Zealand students would need to be able to attend an equally well-resourced and supported school.  That is manifestly not the intention here.  The COOLs are being set up to deliberately create an oversupply of places so that schools are forced to compete for students in order to retain sufficient funding and staffing to be able to provide educational opportunities for their students.

4.7   Students pay the price for underfunding

While it is sometimes argued that such market “discipline” will force schools to become more effective, the reality is that students suffer when schools go into roll decline. Moreover, intense competition for students undermines collaboration and fuels mistrust adding to the fragmentation and incoherency that is already such an undesirable feature of the New Zealand system.

4.8   Investing in Educational Success (IES) – so last year

There is no better example of how hopelessly ad hoc and politicised educational decision-making is than the fate of the government’s 2014 flagship programme, Investing in Educational Success (IES).    Schools have only just begun getting to grips with the challenge of collaborating after years of competing and instead of being supported in this challenging venture, they have been thrown a curve ball in the shape of competition from COOLs. Add to this the recent bulk funding proposals which will also increase competition and it becomes clear that policies are being developed on the hoof with no thought to consistency and practicality.  Taxpayers will rightly be concerned that the $359 million allocated to IES collaboration is probably going to be wasted.

5. Political Leadership

5.1  We have the solution; now to invent the problem

Groucho Marx defined politics as “the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”. Regrettably, this Bill meets all elements of that definition.

5.2  What does it mean to have compulsory education?

Nowhere does the Bill show any appreciation of the social contract between the State and citizens that is compulsory education. Parents do not send their children to school by choice; since 1877, the State has mandated that children must attend school. This is backed up by s.24 of the 1989 Education Act which authorises punishments for parents who fail to enrol their children in a school.  There was nothing whimsical about the 1877 decision. It arose from a long campaign to provide educational opportunities to all children, not just those who happened to have wealthy parents.  It was understood that an informed and educated citizenry was an essential part of nation building and that education was a right not a privilege.

It is unconscionable for the State to coerce parents into sending their children to school then take no responsibility for the quality of provision available.  The mantra of “parental choice” has become a catch-all phrase that enables politicians to shift responsibility for the provision of a well-resourced and supported national network of schools to parents.  Governments authorise the creation of many more schools than are actually needed, and then expect parents to shop round and find one that is suitable and which might accept their child.

5.3  Is it ok to have winner and loser schools in a compulsory system?

The result is the creation of an unequal network of winner and loser schools.  Popular schools raise additional money through “donations” and foreign fee-paying students which enables them to provide facilities and services far superior to those of schools in poorer areas.  This, in turn, creates an oversupply of “customers” enabling schools to select those students who will bring them most credit.

5.4  Winning formula – control student intake and charge fees.

Integrated schools have been particularly well-placed to take advantage of this market for two reasons: firstly, they have been allowed to charge fees/donations and while this is arguably against the law, there has been no political will to hold them to account; and secondly, the maximum roll device which was supposed protect local public schools from predation has been used to control student intake.   The result of this has been well-documented; New Zealand schools have polarised along ethnic and socio-economic lines. 

5.5  The lie that lies at the heart of parental choice    

The political response has been to hide behind the illusion of parental choice. Schools from poor communities are blamed for not being as effective as their well-funded cousins in the wealthy areas and the implication is made that parents and communities elsewhere are racist.  In reality the stratified education system we have is a very deliberate political device. It has not arisen by accident but has been systematically and cynically created to enable our political leaders to abrogate responsibility for funding and support for an effective network of local schools.  There is no better example of the complete failure of political leadership of education than the minister of education’s sophistry in claiming that charter schools and COOLs are simply adding to the options available to parents. She would be more aware than most that adding more schools to the network diminishes funding to others and thus overall quality and, as well, shifts costs to parents.

5.6  More school sites = less money for teaching and learning

No business would survive if it opened new branches in areas where customer numbers are in decline yet that is the way the New Zealand education system operates. No rational relationship exists between the opening of new schools and student numbers in any particular area.  Whanganui Collegiate was famously integrated even though there were already 1500 surplus places in surrounding schools and tiny charter schools are being regularly set up in communities that are already over-supplied with schools.  The result is a network of small, fragile, struggling schools that do not have sufficient student numbers to provide a broad range of options for students. 

5.7  COOLs will damage schools

While the market theory is that successful schools should survive while unsuccessful schools go to the wall, the reality is that schools struggle on with the odds stacked against them, trying to do the best job they can. Meanwhile cohorts of students passing through the school are denied the opportunities a compulsory education system should provide. COOLs will do nothing but exacerbate this problem.

5.8  Schools as pork barrels        

There is a whiff of pork barrel politics about this process. Politicians enjoy the photo opportunities and electoral kudos that are generated by opening new schools but understandably  go to great lengths to avoid the political opprobrium associated with school closure.  Consequently, the taxpayer is picking up the tab for multiple, small school sites and for extra staffing despite the economies of scale offered by a single, large institution. A school of 1200 students rather than 4 sites of 300 students each, would allow more investment in the critical part of education - teaching and learning.  Except for the case of isolated rural schools which are small by necessity (not through choice) scarce educational dollars should not be being dissipated across small, non-viable sites.

5.9  Let’s spend the money on teaching and learning

Fewer more robust schools would enable class ratios of 1:15 for all schools (not just charter schools) ensure that effective use was made of the trained and qualified teaching resource (rather than seeking to stretch it out by taking on untrained staff and using online delivery) and would guarantee that all schools were well-equipped and fit for purpose.  It would also stop the constant increases in charges to parents which are an inevitable concomitant to any system that wastes money on oversupply of places.

6. Integration of the integrated schools

6.1  Private Schools’ Conditional Integration Act

As noted, integrated schools occupy a very privileged place in the New Zealand education system. Although the original intention of the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act was to save the largely catholic schools that were often serving very poor communities, it has become a device whereby wealthy private schools seek full taxpayer funding while continuing to charge “fees” and to select their students. 

6.2  Proselytising privileges

The original poor catholic schools have long gone and for the same reasons; the ability to charge attendance dues and “donations” in the context of roll maxima. The trend has been for catholic schools to become whiter and to move up the deciles.  Principals talk about the practice of “priest shopping” which is a means whereby non-practising Catholics get certified for entry to catholic schools.   While church attendance is in decline throughout New Zealand, rolls are increasing in integrated schools, suggesting that the taxpayer is paying for proselytising.

6.3  What happened to the “secular” bit?        

Consistent with the more pluralistic country New Zealand has become, a much wider range of religions are now represented within the integrated school network.  Some of these schools have views on gender roles and creationism, for example, that would not find favour with the majority of New Zealand taxpayers.  The concern would not be so much with the teaching of these views but with the fact that taxpayer funding is used for such instruction when the system is supposedly compulsory, secular and free.  Many of these schools are also very small and struggle to be viable so they add to the problems of over-supply and wasteful use of scarce educational funding.

6.4  Some parents pay for school transport; some don’t.

Integrated schools are also advantaged by receiving free transport.  Parents in urban areas who often have to pay transport costs to send their children to the nearest public schools will wonder about the even-handedness of such a provision.

6.5  Time for a difficult conversation    

This discussion signals the need for a more comprehensive review of integrated schooling and its place in the New Zealand education system.  At the very least, some consideration needs to be given to the possibility of establishing comprehensive,  interfaith schools in which  provision is made for appropriate modes of worship within the schools but the actual curriculum is not faith-based.  This model would meet the needs of those parents who want access to a particular religious doctrine but in a more tolerant and open-minded environment. Importantly, it would be more cost effective and allow for increased spending on teaching and learning priorities as opposed to property and facilities.

7. Conclusion

7.1  The crystal ball says…

This Bill sets up a back-to-the-future scenario whereby New Zealand returns to the pre-1877 regime with fee-charging “special character” schools for the children of the rich and a mishmash of uneven state provision, including online delivery, for the rest.  This cannot be in the interests of either current or future New Zealanders.  The public education system ought not to be a series of disconnected learning factories charged with delivering achievement outputs, as this Bill envisages.  Events in Europe and USA remind us of the ugly political and social consequences that may arise when the role of education in creating tolerant and informed citizens is compromised by cost-cutting, privatisation and the promotion of socio-economic, ethnic, religious, cultural and gender division.  Local schools are one of the few remaining institutions that actually promote community engagement and cohesion. We should not lightly dispense with them.

7.2  First, do no harm…

The honourable course for the Select Committee is to set aside the elements of this Bill that deal with COOLs and with integrated schools because, as it stands, they will actively and dangerously add to the incoherence and polarisation that currently characterises our system. There has simply not been sufficient consultation and consideration of the implications and the alternatives.  The process needs to start over with an honest and comprehensive national discussion about how we can best serve the educational needs of all New Zealand children and what online delivery and faith-based schools might contribute to that.  Imposing a top-down “solution” prepared earlier and devoid of any real understanding of the problem, will not do.

7.3  Inquiry-based learning – it works for kids 

In the past, changes of the magnitude proposed in this Bill would not have appeared without some form of extensive public enquiry or investigation; that this has not happened indicates a certain contempt for the democratic process.  The Select Committee needs to provide the sort of strategic, non-partisan leadership that is so lacking in New Zealand (and the world) at the moment via a review of educational provision in New Zealand.   In the absence of any political will to provide such leadership, a royal commission would be the least that the public has a right to expect. 


[1] This is an amalgam of factors from various sources. There is general agreement about the principles though not necessarily about the significance of individual characteristics. It’s not a secret recipe and it’s not rocket science.

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Posted by on in Charter schools

In one US state one of the main issues this election isn’t the Trumpocalypse, but is instead something that New Zealand MPs are also voting on today – charter schools.

Voters in Massachusetts are today deciding whether to lift a cap on the number of charter schools in the state, at the same time as NZ MPs are voting whether to repeal the Education Act changes that brought in charter schools in 2012.

And in Massachusetts, despite having a relatively high performing charter school sector, it looks like voters will reject the proposal to expand them. Recent polls show 39% of voters supporting the expansion of charters, while 52% oppose.

This is even with a huge amount of money spent by the pro-charter campaign ($22 million to $12 million against), and the fact that in Massachusetts charters can’t be run for profit or online – two of the factors which strongly correlate with under-performance.

The debate in Massachusetts has also signalled a shift in the politics of charter schools in the USA, with many democrats, including the influential Senator Elizabeth Warren, coming out against their expansion. Previously in many areas charters have had bi-partisan support, but that is changing.

Elizabeth Warren was quoted in the New York Times saying “I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.”

This video from the No campaign sets out the issue simply and succinctly, and applies just as much in New Zealand as it does in Massachusetts.


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Amongst many questions about the virtual schools bill that’s going through Select Committee at the moment, two big ones are about how they’ll be funded and how enrolments will work. These aren’t clear from the legislation; enrolments seems to be open access with the restriction of yet to be determined accreditation criteria, and funding is simply ‘allowed’ by Ministerial decision.

So it was helpful to receive a bunch of papers from the Ministry of Education a few weeks ago which showed a bit more of their thinking (though it’s a shame that they didn’t put them up with the Bill in the first instance).

Funding and fees

While there is still very little detail on this it seems that:

·         COOLs that are state schools or charter schools will be fully publicly funded and unable to charge fees to students.

·         COOLs that are private organisations or tertiary institutions won’t be fully funded and will be able to charge fees.

·         We don’t know whether ‘fully funded’ means at the same level as a face-to-face school or less – some papers point out that the costs are different for delivering online and face-to-face learning.

·         We also don’t know whether private COOLs will be funded at the same level as private schools now (around 20% of what public schools get) or the same level as tertiary institutions (around 40-50% of costs) or some other level.

·         It does seem clear that the current ‘double up’ of funding that exists when a student is enrolled at a face-to-face school but then does a supplementary course through Te Kura will be gone. This will make it far less attractive for small schools to access supplementary courses, as every student enrolled will cost them money.

·         Of course, we also don’t know whether there’s any new money that will be dedicated to this. I’m not holding my breath, as the papers that have gone through Cabinet don’t make any commitments.



Something that wasn’t clear initially, but appears to be what officials are thinking now, is that enrolments in COOLs that are private or run by tertiary institutions won’t be open access at all – the providers will be able to select their students.

This has pros and cons.

On one hand’ they’re more likely to select students who are likely to be successful in an online learning environment, so the ‘off –ramp’ risk for disengaged students is diminished. The downside of this is the equity risk, creating selective schools with higher proportions of ‘high achievers’ and non-selective schools with everyone else is a likely to lead to worse outcomes overall in the long run.

For a Minister who has spoken so much about increasing the achievement of students in our ‘long tail of underachievement’ this is a policy which seems very likely to at best do nothing for it, and at worst grow the ‘tail’ even more.

The other point about enrolment that’s still not clear is how the accreditation process will ensure that students who are at risk of not achieving in an online environment won’t be able to enrol. The Minister can put criteria for enrolment onto COOLs, and the obvious ones are things like the age range that a COOL can enrol, or the types of subjects and courses they can enrol people for. David Seymour’s solution would probably be, don’t put extra restrictions on, just shut them down if they don’t meet the achievement goals and in the meanwhile ‘caveat emptor’. I doubt that many in the MoE would be this cavalier, but it’s not clear what they’re proposing instead. There is some talk in the Ministry papers about essentially having something similar to the ‘gateways’ that currently exist for students wanting to enrol at Te Kura, to me this seems like the best option, but it then begs the question of what this massive change to the Act is about.


Registered teachers

Something else that the MoE documents show is that their thinking on the use of registered teachers changed during the policy development process. As late as June the Ministry said that one of the important protections for students in online schools was that they “will be required to employ registered teachers”, and that this would “help to ensure that teaching provision is successful in engaging students”.


A month later the papers show the Minister signed off that “organisations that are not currently required to employ registered teachers will not be required in the Act to employ registered teachers…” The reason for this:  to ensure that a wider number of providers can get in on the COOL action. So a critical protection for students was watered down to get more competition in the ‘market’.  


icon The changing role of distance education in New Zealand (MoE document- OIA release)

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Charter schools get funding for ghost students

Charter school are being funded for more students than they have enrolled. Due to a “guaranteed minimum roll” charters are funded for a minimum number of students – whether or not they actually have that number of students. Lucky.

Five of the eight charter schools are still being funded for more students than are attending them, despite some of them being in their third year of operations.

None of the eight schools are anywhere near to their maximum roll, with most of them having rolls around half the size that they are allowed to grow to.

Why is tax-payer money paying for ghost students?

Um, ideology? David Seymour?

Is there nothing better the government could be doing with that money?

Properly funding quality public education, for example, or fixing the teacher shortages, or alleviating the workload issues that plague almost every teacher in the motu?

Why haven’t their rolls grown?

There’s more money to be made when you’re funded for 100 students but you only have to teach 85. When all you care about is pies, free pie wins.

Also, maybe, their rolls haven’t grown because they’re not providing the quality of education students and whānau are used to from the public education sector?

Perhaps charter bosses are beginning to realise they’ve made a big mistake. We did tell them so.


2016 Guaranteed Minimum Roll

Actual roll October 2016


South Auckland Middle School




161Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Paraoa




The Rise UP Academy




Vanguard Military School




Middle School West Auckland




Pacific Advance Senior School




Te Kapehu Whetu - Teina




Te Kura Māori o Waatea












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Posted by on in Uncategorized


For several years in the 1990s, Helen was the industrial advocate for NZEI including jointly bargaining the area school collective agreements with PPTA. In that role, she demonstrated the same determination, fierce intelligence, persuasive manner, kindness and sense of humor that subsequently  characterised her leadership of the union movement.

There would be few advocates who could match Helen for sheer intelligence - both kinds - intellectual and emotional. She saw the implications of words and proposals long before anyone else did. Her family pedigree on her mother's side included high court judges and she had an instinctive understanding of the law (which she subsequently converted into a degree).  Sloppy arguments were demolished quickly, though never with smugness, one-upmanship or malice. The other side of that was her ability to spot where the deal was and if getting it required compromises, she never put her ego in the way of a solution.

As a negotiator she was skilled at managing relationships on all sides. Despite, the stress of lengthy, and often futile hours of bargaining, she stuck to the issues and never lost her temper.  She loved the work - believed in it  - so could always find something to laugh about even after long and desperate days at the table. 

One of her truly admirable qualities was her refusal to bear grudges - union relationships were tested by joint bargaining but Helen never wasted time digging up old grievances or seeking revenge. It was always about getting the best result for members.  She did it spectacularly in the 1996 campaign for pay parity for primary teachers.

I know Helen had much more to do in her life and it is cruel and sad that she has gone long before her time.  She certainly gave us all an  object lesson in how it is possible to face death with honesty, good humor and courage all the while continuing the fight for the voiceless.  

It was a privilege to know her and my thoughts are with her family.  Arohanui Helen, Haere  Ra.

Bronwyn Cross 

Tagged in: Helen Kelly
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Posted by on in Online learning

For such a potentially seismic shift in the education landscape, the origins of the COOLs policy seem rather innocuous.  The contrast from the coalition deal that brought in charter schools couldn’t be more marked – instead of ideologically driven politicians with a plan to deal to the public education system; this was driven by well-meaning but ultimately naïve educators – people who should have known better.


What happened next though, rushed legislation, assurances from the Minister that the detail would be dealt with in the contracts and accreditation, no detail on the funding… They both start to look rather similar.

But let’s rewind a few years and look at where this came from.  In 2014 Te Kura’s  Briefing to the Incoming Minister raised the issue of opening up access for students to enrol full time with them, rather than having to go through one of many complicated ‘gateways’. This is hardly surprising.  Schools with capped or restricted rolls often feel as if they’re unfairly done by and want to increase how many students they can take, viz integrated schools and their regular applications to increase their maximum rolls. In the context of Te Kura, they also point out that their funding hadn’t kept up with costs (which is no doubt exacerbated by the fact that they’re the only bulk funded school in the country, but that’s a whole other story…)

At the same time as making the request for open access, Te Kura also pointed out the impact that this would have on the regular school network.  Quite reasonably, they stated:

“The sector is likely to view this proposal with caution, however, because of the possible effect on the rolls of some schools. To mitigate this risk consultation with key sector bodies on the proposal is recommended. A cap on the number of students who can initially enrol through this new enrolment gateway is another mechanism that could be used to manage the risk.”

Fast forward to the end of 2015 and the leadership of Te Kura is again in the Minister’s ear about opening up access and getting rid of restrictions on enrolment.  The argument they’re making now is not that different to the one that charter school backers made, i.e.  They can offer something uniquely excellent for students who are failing in the current system:

“Te Kura could act as an alternative provider (or provider of choice) for students whose needs are not being met elsewhere in the system”

Again though, they note that there will be negative effects on other schools from this. The solution they propose is that Te Kura works with schools to manage students shifting between.

And here it gets interesting. The Minister bites, and agrees to open up access to Te Kura. But, and these are big:

1.       It won’t just be Te Kura, if there’s open access, there’s going to be competition and other providers can get in on the act.

2.       She’s not going to talk to the sector about the problems they raise, and will just put it through in the Education Act changes later in the year.

June 2016, and the Education Act changes are being planned, with officials at the MoE and Treasury busily working out how to put this into place.  Up to this point the competition with other providers that the Minister gave as the quid pro quo to Te Kura only is for “schools or tertiary education organisations” to become online education providers. A couple of days later, the response to the cabinet paper notes that this has expanded, to “private entities”, and the picture is complete. Every school in the country will be opened up to competition from private providers offering government funded full-time online learning, which any student can choose as of right.

This all opens up a heap more questions:

1.       What evidence does Te Kura have that opening up access will be good for students that are failing currently? Especially now that the Minister and Ministry are saying that COOLs aren’t for the most at risk students but just kids who want different choices?

2.       Who recommended that the trade-off for open access should be introducing ‘contestability’ in online learning, and what evidence did they use?

3.       Why did the Minister and Ministry decide to expand from opening online provision up to other schools and tertiary providers to anyone with a computer & delusions of running a school?

4.       Why didn’t they follow the process that Te Kura suggested and talk with the sector about this first?


It’s strange to picture the experienced public servant Karen Sewell, chair of Te Kura’s board and former head of the MoE as the ingénue Pandora, but it looks an awful lot like that’s what’s gone on here.  I'm trying to remain optimistic that the little fluttering ‘hope’ left in the box is the Minister’s humility and ability to recognise a misstep, and pull back from this before it’s passed into law. Unlike for Pandora, there's still a chance to slam this box shut, and try again when we're better prepared to deal with what could come out. 

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Posted by on in School funding

(Posted on behalf) Thoughts from a reader of the Ministry's Education Funding System Review

The issues of global funding and equity funding have been well canvassed publicly, but there are other background papers which contain some disturbing commentary from the Ministry.  Everyone with an interest in secondary schools should read the background papers to see how the Ministry views them.

Below are some snippets (and comments on those) from four of those papers.

Property Background paper

In explaining why the Ministry does not promote centralising funding for property they argue that it:

“Changes incentives at school-level (e.g. won’t accept substandard conditions that they may have under the status quo)” Page 9

“Requires total property maintenance funding Ministry receives to be adequate to cover maintenance outcomes sought – significant risk of cost escalation for Crown” P9

The implications are of major underfunding of property and the substandard conditions that students and teachers are required to put up with every day because of a deliberate choice to  underfund state schools by the government.

Isolation funding Background paper

The Ministry refers to supplementary isolation funding – but they are also saying that fewer, only the most isolated, schools would get isolation funding.  This would supplement the school’s general per student funding if the school is isolated, but their intention is that most schools currently receiving isolation funding would no longer have it.

Funding to support small schools Background paper

The Ministry is referring to small schools as those wb2ap3_thumbnail_closedschool.pnghich are 200 or fewer students.

Base staffing and base funding
“Overall, it would appear that secondary and composite schools are relatively generously treated as compared to primary schools across all roll sizes” (p5)
“… the base level of staffing provided … appears relatively generous compared to primary schools.” (p8)

And an issue for the ministry with respect to composite schools is “the appropriateness of the level of support provided through Base Curriculum Staffing and Additional Guidance Staffing where the secondary roll is very small.” (p8)

Their analysis is that there are “opportunities to reduce the level of funding that is provided through base funding arrangements.” (p8)

The suggestion is that primary and secondary schools should be treated similarly in terms of base staffing (and that means at the lowest denominator).

The clear implication of the Ministry’s thinking is the reduction of staffing and base funding in small secondary and composite (area) schools.

The problem here is that the Ministry does not appear to understand that base staffing in secondary schools supports a minimum option width for secondary students whereas base staffing in primary schools supports a manageable average class size, and that the costs of specialist education classes are higher, especially at senior level than are the costs of generalist  classes.

The base resourcing differences are not arbitrary – they represent real differences in costs of small specialist and generalist institutions.

Per student funding Background paper

The intention is to flatten out year level funding. The Ministry indicates that Victoria (Aus) is the model they would like to align with. The Victorian model transferred $65M from secondary schools. The equivalent model here would result in the loss of resourcing from secondary schools equivalent to an average of six FTTE teachers worth of resourcing per secondary school.

Again, the Ministry demonstrates no understanding of why the education costs of senior students are higher than those of junior students.

General comment
Implementing the Ministry’s proposals would collectively strip resourcing from secondary schools, but most particularly from small and remote schools.



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Posted by on in Education

It can be assumed that Roger Partridge attended school, ergo he is an educational expert.

But, in this exclusive we can reveal that he is actually… a superhero; able to ‘fix’ education with a single rant.

A global budget (which Principals, teachers, parents, Boards and support staff oppose) is actually about ‘innovation’. Bif! 

Having less money in schools for the very people who provide additional support for our most needy such as Teacher Aides and ultimately fewer teachers so that every kid can have an iPad instead will improve outcomes. Bang!


Having bigger classes because of a reduction in staffing to pay for other things will enable higher accountability and lift teaching quality. Pow! 

Alongside such socially minded vigilantism, Mr Partridge also gets time to read. 

Hattie’s research (which was trotted out in 2012 when removing a minimum number of guaranteed trained staff in schools and maximum class sizes was last attempted by the Neo-Liberal warriors) does claim that high quality teaching has a significant impact on educational outcomes- it’s kind of a no-brainer but researchers are good at repackaging those and ideologues good at paraphrasing them. However, as far as I’m aware that research did not correlate increased accountability measures, performance pay and larger class sizes with improved outcomes…. (Don’t worry Roger, you’re not the first to take liberties with Hattie’s research to substantiate your own reckons and despite the more nuanced films of the 2000’s we still don’t expect our superheroes to use brains over brute force every time!).

Nevertheless, the plots to narratives in this oeuvre do often find the hero enmeshed in traps due to their relative lack of intellect compared to the man on the street, adding tension to the final showdown. As such, pointing out that Hattie’s meta-analysis also found that feedback was critical to improvement for learners may be a bit beyond you- let’s give it a shot: what is the likelihood that feedback will suffer if there are ever more sardines in the classroom tin or teachers are even more busy than currently, filling out forms to meet accountability measures? 

Perhaps Superheroes can do maths too? Don’t worry if you can’t, modern day avengers don’t need to get bogged down with such detail as they leap several ironies in a single bound.

What the masses needs is a superhero. Cape flowing, undies on the outside, muscles rippling and an unequivocal focus on doing what’s right. A warrior who knows who the enemy is and will stop at nothing til they are brought down – and Mr Partridge knows who the enemy is:

Those nasty unions (who advocate for improved funding so teachers don’t have to buy kids lunches and books, so fees for ‘free’ education don’t have to skyrocket, so the kids who need extra support don’t have to miss out if the school hasn’t got enough in their pot or their families can’t afford it, those terrible unions who have advocated for PLD so that teachers can be the best they can be, who have the audacity to desire stable and healthy working conditions, those ne’er-do-wells who are anti progressive despite making the current government’s flagship Communities of Learning policy workable rather than an ideological carpet bomb) - it’s all their fault.

With the vision and power of your eponymous namesake, those low quality and protectionist teachers will be no match for “a partridge in their pedagogy.”


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The Ministry of Education has finally released the background papers for the funding review so now we have further evidence (if it is still needed) of the existence of a comprehensive plan to use the opportunity provided by the review to undermine public education in New Zealand. 

Ministry of education proposes to reduce resourcing for small rural secondary schools

The most amazing of these papers is the one euphemistically entitled Funding to support small schools.  It does nothing of the sort. Instead it proposes the same failed answer that the ministry proffered recently for the funding of special education in New Zealand  - that is to take money out of schools to fund earlier intervention. This time, the ministry believes it has found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow called small rural secondary schools.

“Overall, it would appear that secondary and composite schools are relatively generously treated as compared to primary schools across all roll sizes.”

Ministry of education fails to understand why or how resourcing delivered to schools ... and fails to ask!

I am sure we are all delighted that the ministry of education which funds schools and prepares the staffing orders that deliver teachers to schools, and manages the processes whereby schools reduce staff, has finally noticed that funding and staffing formula are more generous for small schools. It is less delightful that they do not appear to understand why that it is.

Let me spell it out.  Small secondary schools are more generously funded and staffed in order that they may provide a range of senior subjects for students. The formulae are necessarily different for primary and secondary schools because of the difference in staffing a single teacher for each class at primary school and providing a range of teachers in order to offer students a variety of subjects at secondary levels.

It beggars belief, firstly that ministry staff don’t understand this and secondly that they did not think to either visit a rural secondary school or at least phone a principal and ask them what they did with the cornucopia of staffing and funding the ministry so generously provides.

Small rural secondary schools require staff to deliver specialist subjects at senior curriculum levels

Instead the ministry invents a straw man – two separate funding formulae (to serve two different purposes) must be questioned as to  “appropriateness”.   Actually it is entirely appropriate because these schools have a mix of primary and secondary students and must deliver generalist and specialist programmes. 

"The key question is the appropriateness of applying two different approaches to addressing the implications of small size to a single institution. Such schools are likely to view themselves, and operate as, a single institution – not a separate intermediate and secondary school." 1

It does not seem to understand either, that the formula operate as a transparent, national distribution mechanism and that it is most unlikely that a school would ever treat its staffing as anything other than a single package.  (Not wishing to overegg the pudding here – that would not have required much effort to find out.)

Convenient misunderstanding, when working within capped budget terms of reference

Perhaps the ministry was deliberate in not trying to find out what happens on the ground; given the capped budget for this review it may have preferred not to know about the serious equity problem rural secondary schools face.  It certainly would not like to hear that they are more likely to be underfunded than suffering from the embarrassment of riches that the ministry presupposes.

A secondary student in an urban area will not only have a choice of schools but also a large menu (probably 50) of subject options from which to choose. The choices are much narrower in a small rural school because they are necessarily small.  This provides something of a challenge for keeping students engaged so rural schools supplement the narrow curriculum by drawing on the resources of Te Kura and by actively supporting the Virtual Learning Network (VLN)   - but they still wouldn’t get anywhere near 50 subjects.

So when the ministry muses that,

"The justification for linking the level of Base Curriculum Staffing and Additional Guidance Staffing to the number of year levels is unclear"

it is either being disingenuous, deliberately misleading or completely ignorant. 

Having completely failed to understand why small rural schools need more support than large urban schools, the ministry is able to leap to a convenient solution:

"The analysis indicates there are opportunities to reduce the level of funding that is provided through base funding arrangements. This would allow more funding to be delivered on a per-student basis."

COOLs to save the day - senior curriculum not required in rural schools

So the ministry is proposing to change the staffing and funding formula to make it almost impossible for rural secondary schools to operate a programme much past year 8.  It doesn’t see this as a problem because it anticipates that the money saved from not providing senior subjects can be diverted into COOLs and because ministry staff don’t live in rural areas. (From this paper it appears they don’t visit or phone either…) 

Whether rural communities want the choice about face-to-face senior curriculum delivery removed entirely and replaced with a model that is not even out of its beta phase, is not clear.   Given the central role secondary schools play in rural communities and the difficulty of attracting people to towns where there is no secondary school, one suspects rural communities will not take this lying down. 

Secrecy of process, lack of consultation with rural communities

Parents and students in rural areas who have very few educational choices will not be impressed with a proposal to decapitate their local school in order to fund a rich menu of choices in urban areas.  That would be why the ministry carefully avoided putting this plan out for testing in its recent consultation meetings – better to keep everything secret and avoid unpleasantness.

Small rural schools closed to fund charter schools

The most disgraceful part of this exercise is that there would be no need to hold up rural schools up at gun point if the government insistence on opening small schools and charter schools in urban areas where there is absolutely no demographic demand, were to cease. 

1. The ministry adds that this causes problems when staffing junior and senior highs to which we might respond that is not the fault of rural secondary schools but a failure on the part of the ministry to consider the staffing implications at the point these schools were on the drawing board. 

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Posted by on in Online learning

A number of people have been writing recently about how the reaction to COOLs has been ‘hysterical’ and just the ‘sweeping assumptions’ of the usual Luddites and conspiracy theorists.

While I had a strong reaction, I don’t think it was a knee jerk. There’s a huge amount to read on the changes in the Education (Update) Amendment Bill.  I’m wading my way through it, and have found a lot to like in there. Generally, and  I think in this case, I try to assess new ideas on their merits rather than on who they come from.

So with some more time to reflect, and having read a number of people who are saying let’s look more closely at this, here are some more balanced thoughts.

So what's cool about COOLs

1. Promoting online & blended learning

Learning online is here and provides wonderful opportunities. Ten years ago I was using skype to link my classes up to experts around the world, they were writing blogs and so forth, and the possibilities of technology to enhance learning have increased since then. The examples given by politicians in the speeches in parliament about this, of the Pūtaiao teachers sharing their lessons with kura around the country, of students on Stewart island learning Mandarin, all demonstrate some of these.

Removing the barriers to better (not necessarily the same as more) blended and online learning is something we need to do. It’s good that people in the Ministry are thinking about this.

2. Te Kura possibly needing a change

The legislation and funding of Te Kura reflects a different era, and it’s probably timely to have a look at it. Recognising that online/distance/supplementary learning isn’t just provided by Te Kura now, and how to better support and enable that is also worth doing.

3. Support for the VLNs

The COOLs legislation gives the potential for the VLNs to be funded and supported much better than they are now. The recognition in the RIS that they run on good will is important, and it’s not surprising that some of the support for COOLs has come from this area.

And what's UnCOOL?

1. Process

Announcing major educational change at the point that it’s about to be put into law is appalling. The government didn’t even do that with charter schools. The opportunity for meaningful change through the select committee and committee of the whole house process is minimal –partisan politics dominates far more than good policy making at this point, and frankly most of the people involved are more interested in the optics than getting a good result.

2. Lack of consultation

The leadership of Te Kura, as far as I can tell, were the only people consulted with. This would be fine for technical changes to the legislation that governs them, like what’s happened to NZCER lately, but this has far wider implications that Te Kura. The Minister has her Cross Sector Forum for this very purpose. The consultation on the rest of the changes in the Act was actually meaningful,  they made changes as a result of the input. Why on earth not do the same with this?

3. Poorly researched

There is only one document that the Ministry has released to show the basis for this policy change, which is highly unusual, given there’s usually a bundle of reports, cabinet papers and so forth when there are significant policy developments like this. The research in that one paper is woefully bad.

4. Evidence against full-time online schools

There is a wealth of overseas evidence about blended and full-time online learning.  A lot of it, especially for full-time online schools is poor. This isn’t something that’s hard to find or controversial – a lot of promoters of online education are saying, “Hold on, let’s find out what’s going wrong before we go further down this route.” Did the Minister or Ministry engage with this? Not at all; they conflate full time on-line with blended (which is entirely different and they know it) or ignore it and claim that people raising criticisms are ‘fighting the future’.  

5. Open choice

There are students for whom attending a bricks and mortar school is very difficult, whether for health, location or other reasons. These students need other options, and currently Te Kura offers that. Maybe there could be other schools which could do this too. But opening up full-time online learning to all students as a first choice option goes well beyond this.  Was there any discussion about doing this before this legislation emerged? Not that I saw.

 This legislation sets up online schools in direct competition for students with every other school in the country. Students who may be entirely inappropriate to attend an online school will be able to do so. Yes, we value choice, but it’s a good that’s weighed up against others – this puts choice as the foremost good at the expense of all the others, such as protection for vulnerable people, collaboration, efficient use of resources and so forth.

6. Private providers

This legislation is even broader than the charter school legislation in who can get accredited, and funded. In the UK, which has in many ways gone much further down the education privatisation route than NZ, for-profits are not allowed to run schools directly (though they can be contracted to manage them). There are many good reasons for this.  Further opening up the education ‘market’ (over $6 billion a year in public funding goes to schools) could be lucrative business, and even not-for profit organisations in this space often behave a lot like for-profit corporates. What’s the problem with public provision and boards of trustees governing schools? Neither the Minister nor the Minstry say what it is – except that the policy makers think that private providers may be more innovative. Again, no evidence presented, nor any downsides.

7. Unregistered 'teachers'

The Education Council has explained the problem with this well, so I’ll just link to Graham Stoop’s very good statement.

8. Permissive legislation

This is a bit of an esoteric issue, but it’s actually an important point for how our democracy works. This bill, like a number of recent ones, sets up legislation which is very broad brush and open, and leaves a lot of crucial details (like how these schools are accredited, monitored, evaluated, funded, contracted with… ) to be dealt with in regulation. This isn’t subject to the same level of parliamentary scrutiny, and is basically just written by officials and signed off. The legislation for online schools as a result of this is slimmer than for charter schools or private tertiary establishments, meaning that the responsibility for a lot of the way that they will work is left to bureaucrats rather than MPs who can be held accountable.

9. Contradictory to other policy

Of course the obvious point here is that the competitive market model that these are premised on flies in the face of IES and the new world of collaboration that this is supposed to herald. But even more grating, other bits of the Education (Update) Amendment Bill push in the other direction from COOLs – for example the greater ability of the Ministry of Ed to make schools put on zones. Remember, zones were scrapped to promote choice in the 1990s, with disastrous outcomes, but have been reintroduced and gradually strengthened since. On one hand this legislation is saying, we need to be more active in managing the school network and if that means limiting choice to a certain extent, so be it, and on the other it’s opening up a free for all.

10. Being made up on the spot

It’s also clear that the Minister has been feeling the heat on this and may be backing off from some of the more controversial bits of the policy. See here for example. It's far from an ideal way to make such critical decisions.

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Posted by on in School funding

It was always a risk that our opposition to bulk funding may not be supported by the media or within our communities. We knew we had to do it though, and together with NZEI Te Riu Roa we’ve stood strong and painted the picture of the education system we’d like to see.

A properly funded education system would prioritise teaching and learning and put our young people at the centre of decision-making. It would value teaching staff and recognise their wisdom when it comes to what’s right for kids.

People get it. And they’ve been writing to tell us – it’s heartening.

Here’s a lovely email we received the other day from Paul Rae of the NZ Seniors Party. It says it all.

“The NZ Seniors Party agree that the proposed "Global Budget " by government is a step back in time, back to the 1990's. Bulk funding does not work it will only lead to a lower standard of education for our children.

This government is putting costs in front of education, the only thing this proposal will achieve is larger class numbers with fewer teachers to teach in them.

Education along with the health sector should be the two main sectors funded by government with more not less being invested in both.

Education should be run by those qualified to do so, not by overpaid bureaucrats and accountants in government.

NZ Seniors Party stands beside our educators in rejecting this proposal as will I am sure the parents of the children affected by it.

Our children are our future, they deserve the best education available - bulk funding is not the answer.

Common sense has gone out the window, it did not work on the 90's and it certainly will not work today.”



Tagged in: Bulk funding
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For most countries the value of education as a social enabler and public good is patently obvious.  So much so that within the Global Community the right to education is not only enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but has also been included within the United Nations Strategic Development Goals (SDGs), which require nations to work towards free public education, sufficient qualified and trained teachers and equity of access for all.

For these reasons it should be unsurprising that investment in public education across the world has occupied a significant proportion of government spending. So it should.

Unfortunately, this investment has come under increasing attack due to the expanding influence and control of Neo Liberalism on global economics (and by extension the nation states that adopt its mantras). While the assault has not been as quick or as direct as in other sectors, forays into educational ‘markets’ have well and truly been launched.

Infiltration and privatisation of state education across the globe, however it is dressed up, has a single goal: access to the money. Edubusinesses have made inroads into state budgets everywhere you turn, through a range of what the CEO of Pearson Education calls ‘entry points’- whether it is through Teacher Training, PLD or Charter Schools. Once established, these corporate interests quickly spread their tentacles into curriculum, legislation and ultimately the full privatisation of public education. And they are voracious.

Of course, the profit motive has obvious implications for the quality and sustainability of education in those countries which have enabled access for corporate players. Edubusinesses are driven by profit: the largest cost in providing education is teachers, the solution is to enable untrained (low cost) teachers. The next highest cost is typically the physical infrastructure, that is school buildings. The solution is to deliver ‘education’ online.

Ironically, instead of pushing back against such reforms, many nation states have assimilated- parroting words such as ‘choice’ and ‘competition’ to encourage and promote access to their domestic education markets. But once established, there is often no ‘choice’ at all, as- like some extraterrestrial parasite-  they expand and occupy larger and larger sections of their host’s resources.

The underfunding of public education is one hallmark of countries that provide access to corporate players. While some governments initially see a reduction in government spending as a positive, such a view is always incredibly short sighted because the long range costs are disastrous for kids, communities and countries. Not only does reduction in funding have catastrophic implications for the public system but typically the transfer of public money to private interest is accompanied by other sweetheart deals such as tax refunds, decreased regulatory oversight and other ‘flexible’ benefits.

Jurisdictions such as the U.S.A have seen state education institutions become so underfunded that the quality of education is a national shame. Sadly, the privately run Charter Schools have performed little better than the public schools (while returning ballooning profits to their corporate motherships). Online educational provision has also failed spectacularly (students who learn online are described as sometimes being years behind students in mainstream classes). Furthermore, because these schools have the ‘flexibility’ to set their own curricula and operational processes they frequently prohibit access to the most needy and turf out children with complex needs with absolute abandon – leaving the underfunded state schools to try and pick up the pieces- and take the blame.

Across the African continent a string of schools titled APEC (a subsidiary of Pearson Education) provide ‘education’ within a tightly controlled curriculum (on the taxpayers’ dollar) that provides all the education these students need to prepare them for …minimum wage positions in call centres owned by APEC themselves. Not only this, but Pearson Education sponsored charters in other African and South East Asian countries are lobbying for governments to abrogate their obligations under the United Nations SDG on education by allowing ‘low cost’ rather than ‘free’ education in their schools so that they can collect money from both the state and the consumers. (According to Education International the ‘low cost’ rate in Kenya is 40% of the average daily income of poor Kenyan families- for just one child).

If any of this sounds familiar it's because it's here already. Charters, COOLs and changes to legislation to enable untrained teachers to be in front of our children are writ large on our current Minister’s approach to ‘re-imaging’ education in New Zealand.

Sadly, it appears that Hekia Parata has drunk the koolaid: The proposal to cap school operating budgets and devolve responsibility for staffing to Boards and Principals is a Neo Liberal strategy for anchoring and reducing costs (following the model of private and charter schools who pay their managers more and staff less or increase their class sizes to reduce staffing costs). She has even said in the media that her COOLs proposal is an opportunity to “open up access to New Zealand's education market”.

Correspondingly, Under Secretary for Education David Seymour’s proposal that all schools should be able to become Charter Schools and ardent support for fully online schools run by corporate players is not his own harebrained idea- it is BORG consciousness which predisposes him to salivate at the prospect of further aliens feeding at the trough.

They are not alone. First contact can be traced back to Tertiary Education Minister, Steven Joyce, who has deliberately underfunded the tertiary sector so that they are incentivised to seek out private investment and foreign students. (The sad reality for foreign students who pay a premium to access tertiary education in New Zealand is that many are funded by families in home countries that can barely afford the expense, meaning they and their families are reduced to living below the poverty line while they study: “it’s life Jim, but not as we know it”). The marketisation of our universities, with the concomitant focus on profit has put in place financial barriers that prohibit access to many in our own country and increasingly gauge those who prioritise higher education. Of course, even this is not enough for the ravenous Edubusinesses that run these institutions: they are already bulk funded (resulting in support staff often being paid the minimum wage) and are being forced into performance pay (which in Neo Liberal dogma ‘improves productivity’, but in reality only increases inequality by putting in place barriers to increased income for most staff or driving more and more work for less pay). And they won’t be slowed: Minister Joyce has been removing staff representation from governing boards since 2009 - and replacing them with ‘business people’.

This is not a conspiracy theory- the invaders are here already and have been welcomed by our government: and they are coming after our kids.


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The  three latest ideas from the Ministry of  Completely Off-the-planet Outrageous Loopy Schemes or COOLS (AKA Ministry of Education)  have something in common besides being completely wacky . 

In all three cases, bulk funding, screwing over special ed kids and now massive online learning schools, the ministry imagines a greater role for itself in monitoring and supporting schools.  It says in relation to bulk funding that schools will need more financial help, it promises more early detection and support for special needs students, and it assures the public that the COOLS will be rigorously monitored and audited.

Quantum physics tells us that there's a planet where that might be true but it's not this one.

Currently schools go bankrupt and the ministry doesn't have clue about it - and a whole cohort of kids can pass through before they do anything. This is partly because they don't have the capacity or enough competent staff to properly monitor schools' spending but also because they are chary about intervening in  self-managing schools.

Surely no one believes that the ministry really has ability to provide timely and consistent help to schools struggling with special needs students. (I know that in a typical triumph of surface over substance  the Minister has banned that term but too bad)

Then there's the rigorous accreditation process for Cools.  Anyone remember Whangaruru Charter School?  It took two years to close it even though it started failing in the first month of operation - and we still haven't got the farm back.  For most of that time the ministry denied there was a problem while putting in its own staff to try to sort out a private business. There is not a snowball's chance in hell that they would intervene when the provider is an American online company registered on Wall Street. Too politically hot - with or without the TPPA.

The ministry doesn't have the competence or capacity to manage this process and given the political delicacies, they won't be looking too closely at any of these little taxpayer-funded sinkholes.  In any event, overseas experience says that these fly-by-night affairs lie and cheat and it takes a serious crisis, often a whistleblower, before the truth is revealed.  In the meantime, the kids are left to fail. 



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Is Peter Hughes the luckiest man in the public service, or would this trifecta of fails have been avoided if he was still in charge?

To recap. A few weeks ago we discover the bulk funding zombie is back, rebranded as the ‘global budget’. The sector revolts. Then special ed changes are announced that will shift resourcing from schools, at the same time as telling us there are significant increases in demand. Parents of special ed students go wild. Finally, an announcement that we’re getting publicly funded, online schools and, worst thing of all, they’ll be called ‘cools’. Everyone freaks out (stuff commenters most of all).

I don’t know where Hekia can go from here. Maybe she’ll have another crack at the payroll system, and call it ‘coolbucks’.

But seriously. These are some appalling policies.

Let’s look at the latest one. The Ministry of Ed consulted on some changes to the Ed Act late last year - most of it was reasonably uncontroversial, and on the parts they consulted on there are some decent proposals. These do things like introduce a purpose statement, simplify reporting for boards, and one pretty good change which is make it somewhat easier for the Ministry to enforce school zones.

But did they consult about introducing online schools? Not at all. This section of the bill was completely outside the scope of the consultation and dropped on Tuesday like a most unwelcome bird poop from blue sky.

All we have to go on in terms of policy background for this is the regulatory impact statement (RIS), something that ministries are obliged to produce for legislation. No cabinet paper, no research report. And what a risible RIS it is.

There is no research cited that supports the main contention that online only learning for school age kids is something that we should be encouraging, or that this model, of private providers competing with public schools, is the way to do it.

The main piece of research that’s used, referenced twice even, is from an obscure journal and is about blended learning rather than full online. And blended learning isn’t something that you need to rewrite the Ed Act to achieve, as anyone who’s set foot in a school recently would know.

So it should be good that the RIS does refer to the National Education Policy Centre (NEPC) Virtual Schools Report 2016.This is balanced and authoritative research from a credible university, based on masses of studies of online school results. But how the Ministry uses it is either an undergrad C- essay or straight up dishonesty.


“Research on open-access online learning suggest that full time online learning has certain advantages. Because it is more flexible that its face to face equivalent students can study in a manner that suits their other commitments or personal preferences. It can also provide students with increased exposure to self-directed learning and technology that they may not have experienced in face to face schooling. Increased flexibility and agency over their learning may increase the likelihood of students’ ongoing educational engagement and in turn their achievement. [This para has no references ]

However, student outcomes in this setting are variable [reference here to the NEPC study] and while “online learning may allow for educational improvements… it certainly does not guarantee of these potential benefits”.

This is like saying Donald Trump has variable support amongst educated urban liberals. The NEPC study is absolutely damming of online only schools. “Virtual school outcomes continued to lag significantly behind that of traditional brick and mortar schools” and so it goes on. Because of this, its main policy recommendation is to stop opening more of them until they work out why they’re doing so badly. The Ministry’s RIS doesn’t give a whiff of this.

The most high profile recent report on online schooling, Stanford University’s Online Charter School Study, 2015, isn’t even mentioned in the RIS. Its main findings include “Academic benefits from online charter schools are currently the exception rather than the rule”.

So there are two things that could be going on here. One is that the Ministry is too scared to provide the high quality advice it’s supposed to give; the other is that the Minister told them that she didn’t want to hear it. Either way, it’s a mare.

Peter Hughes dodged a bullet (or three) moving to the SSC when he did. The list of applicants applying for his old job could be very short if your day revolves around trying to manage the relationship between an out of control Minister and overworked officials who can’t give free and frank advice.


Splat - pharion (bird poop)


(Blog image 'Splat' from Pharion via http://orig13.deviantart.net/c75c/f/2011/213/0/1/splat_by_pharion-d42byj4.png)

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Posted by on in School funding

Who is actually surprised that proposed changes to Educational Resourcing are being sold as providing ‘flexibility’ for schools?

Not teachers.

Disappointed certainly. But not surprised – and we shouldn’t be: Buzz words like ‘flexibility’ have long been part of the dissembler’s lexicon. Let’s call it what it is – bald faced lying to hide the fact that this is an attempt to cap (and ultimately cut) the cost of providing public education in New Zealand. Again.

Worse. The Education Minister’s disdain for those in the profession is apparently so pronounced that she believes dressing up a failed market ideology (bulk funding) with weasel words will somehow hide the Crown’s refusal to guarantee free, high quality education for kids in the state system.

It won’t.

The proposed Resourcing Review papers to Cabinet not only show a lack of will to resource education adequately, (there is no new money), but also seem to promote passing the buck for this failure to schools – under the guise of ‘flexibility’.

Of course, the premise that Boards and Principals can carefully manage their staffing budgets to ensure sufficient cash is available for other operational costs is patently false when they will have less in the pot– And that’s the reality for secondary schools: Less money.

Already secondary operating budgets are insufficient and under the Minister’s proposals most will get smaller, as decile weighted per student funding and base funding are removed and per capita funding for different year levels are flattened (for secondary that means cut). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that there is simply no way for the current curriculum breadth and class size controls to be retained with less money. Rather, with a fixed ‘global budget’ schools will be tasked with robbing Peter to feed Paul, and those schools who can’t rely on massive donations and foreign fee paying students will starve. (The $1.79 per day for ‘needy’ students under this year’s additional ‘needs based’ resourcing should prove the point). Further, those previously lower decile schools who don’t have sufficient concentration of more narrowly defined ‘needy’ will see even bigger holes in their budgets that will leave them with few options beyond increasing class sizes by cashing up teachers.

The Minister failed to push through larger classes earlier in her rule, now she’s trying again by stealth, and setting up Principals as the patsies.
Last week she said it was Principals who “decided class sizes” – here again she is being ‘flexible’ with the truth: The staffing formula (that would be removed under the global budget proposal) actually guides class sizes. (However, by enabling reductions in staffing ratios under the global budget proposal the buck can well and truly be passed).

Of course, such gumption may be lauded by some outside education, but for those who actually work in schools, the hubris of an Education Minister who says that ‘needs based’ resourcing premised on the ‘size of the educational challenge’ is her focus when her proposed model will likely deliver less money to schools and lead to increased class sizes so that teacher salaries can be spent on something else is not just galling, it is taking political doublespeak to a disgusting nadir.

The sad reality is that instead of having a much needed investigation of the real cost of educating our children, the proposals rearrange the deck chairs and look to blame somebody else.

As you read this, schools are being enticed to make staffing a movable feast in the Ministry’s travelling roadshow – using glossy presentations and words like ‘new’ and ‘flexible’. (Of course, when Principals and teachers say it just won’t work the Minister’s language changes – such as last week’s Q&A where the proposal was described as ‘improving the line of sight’ for Crown spending. If value for money is the real motivation why do we still have Charter schools?)

The truth has to come out: Ring fencing money to maintain Ministry owned buildings and not doing the same to ensure that the best teachers are in front of students in small classes with additional support where it’s needed speaks volumes.

Of course we are told that nothing is definite yet –but at the same time we are told in the media that we mustn’t question the sense of such ‘flexibility’ and that individual boards deciding how much bang they get from their staffing buck will be ‘good for learners’. Pigs might fly.

Thankfully, nobody has been insane enough to come out in support of the global budget proposal -but given the Minister’s prior form with ‘consultation’, education unions, principals groups and other sector leaders have taken the extraordinary step of calling public meetings to actually tell the truth that is hidden behind her verbiage.

Of course, teachers and unions will be vilified for such an action – but it is simply too important to sit quietly and hope that the Minister will be ‘flexible’ because we know through painful experience the value she places on teacher voice: She has already characterized our public consultation as ‘industrial action’ and called unions ‘misleading’ and ‘mischievous’. She has continued to play word games around the name ascribed to the latest iteration of bulk funding. She has defended a proposal nobody in the sector wants at every opportunity while wiggling out of questions about impacts in parliament by saying, “she will honour the consultation process” and at the same time telling the media she will reserve the right to do what she wants anyway.

With the Advisory group due to make its submission at the end of the month, we need to speak with one voice to ensure her ears don’t stay painted on – the implications are just too great if we don’t.

Better funding not Bulk funding 

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Posted by on in School funding

Unions representing over 60,000 teachers, principals and support staff say they don’t want the proposed Global Budgets to be part of the Education Resourcing Review. They’ve advised the Minister’s Advisory group of this and are going out to consult with their members. Meanwhile, the Ministry has had a roadshow for principals, selling the ‘benefits’ of Global Budgets.

(The differences between these consultation meetings must be stark because the Minister is ‘disappointed’ with the unions’ move while pressing on with her own).

Despite such vagaries around ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ consultation, the Minister has defended Global Budgets (that the sector don’t want) saying they will increase ‘flexibility’ for principals and Boards (who mostly don’t want it).

If it’s ‘only a proposal’, and if she wants consultation to result in something that ‘works for the sector’, why is her response to vilify unions and praise the proposal’s flexibility?

Is it because the flexibility she is selling gives schools the ability to cash up teachers to pay for other things because schools are underfunded?

Shouldn’t open consultation involve asking parents if they want their kids in schools with narrower curriculum or larger classes, (instead of trying to put lipstick on a pig)?


(Letter to the Dominion Post editor 10 August 2016)


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Billionaire Steven Jennings has blamed teachers as the cause of lower rates of achievement in low decile schools. Not only is the whole education system ‘failing’ according to Mr Jennings, but poor teaching and nasty unions are entrenching inequality for (predominantly) Maori and Pasifika students.

Of course, the facts suggest otherwise. Participation, retention and achievement for Maori and Pasifika learners is improving every year, while international surveys show that New Zealand teachers rate amongst the highest in the world. Further, Ministry of Education statistics actually show that when socioeconomic factors are controlled for, the achievement of students in lower deciles is comparable to those in higher decile schools.

While nobody would suggest that everything is rosy for all Maori and Pasifika learners (or, for that matter, all low decile, alternative education and special education students), a blanket pillorying of teachers because statistics show a percentage of these learners aren’t achieving at the same level as kids in higher decile schools is not only unjustified – it is deliberately misleading.

Prior to New Zealand’s entry into the ‘free market’ (where Mr Jennings began accumulating his massive wealth through his involvement in the selling down of state assets), 50% of secondary school students failed their national examinations. That was how the system worked. Nevertheless, many of these students had access into trades and employment in local industries which are now largely gone (a result of the deregulated ‘global market’ which moved manufacturing to the lowest wage economies in order to return the greatest profit). The greatest impact of such ‘free market reforms’ were of course on those groups who had previously worked in these industries – predominantly those who had not been on the right side of the bell curve at school.

While an education system that provided pathways into the types of work the society needed probably made some sense – sadly, the deregulation and competition that these reforms engendered saw a massive increase in inequality. That is, those who benefitted (such as Mr Jennings) did so at a time where the employment of ‘lower status’ workers became much more precarious.

Where were teachers in all of this? They, (through their unions), worked to change the system.

The development of a broader Curriculum in the early 2000s (with a focus on students being able to demonstrate their competencies against a range of objectives across and within curriculum areas rather than in a high stakes exam) paved the way for more students to achieve – (However, no assumption was made that this would mean all students would subsequently achieve all of them: The strengths and interests of learners are of course diverse). Sadly, the great strides taken by ‘lower decile’ students since this change have not yet been able to offset the entrenched deprivation of those communities whose jobs have been moved offshore because the labour is cheaper or who have found themselves victims of casualised and unsavoury employment practices.

The impacts of entrenched poverty should need little explanation: students whose families cannot afford food, uniforms, access to technological devices, students who arrive at school carrying the burden of stressed and at times help-less parents who exist from week to week and are afraid to check the letterbox for fear of the next bill - preparing these students for assessment is often not the same job.

Despite this, teachers are having an impact: the engagement and achievement of many of these students is increasing at a time where house prices make it difficult for even white collar workers to get on the ladder, by individualising learning programmes, building culturally responsive pedagogy and sharing best practice. And largely, they are doing it themselves (continuing with strategies to meet the needs of groups of learners even when the Ministry of Education stops funding proven programmes such as Te Kotahitanga).

Sadly, when billionaires are given a soapbox these facts don’t seem to be examined too closely. Instead, Mr Jennings suggests that 10% of teachers are failing (likely a calculation based on the fact that a tenth of teachers are in the lowest decile schools) and has even taken aim at teacher appraisal, saying 99% of teachers are promoted every year – a figure he appears to have plucked out of the air.

Here again Mr Jennings seems happy not to let the facts get in the way of a good time. Teachers are appraised against the 12 Professional Teacher Criteria every year (which involves classroom observations of their practice and providing evidence of their competency against these criteria), they undertake Professional Inquiry, must participate in Professional Development (which they often have to find and fund themselves – in their term breaks) and are increasingly held to account for the achievement rates of their akonga. In fact, the steadily increasing bureaucracy involved in teaching is causing some teachers to leave the profession – because it takes them away from teaching, exponentially increases the scope of their professional role (without providing access to professional support) and increasingly holds them accountable for redressing factors outside their control.

While those of us in the bottom 90% of earners might see it as pretty cynical to interpret high rates of promotion as suggesting we need more appraisal to weed out more teachers - it appears Mr Jennings has no such scruples. He, and other ‘educational experts’ such as Mainfreight Chairman Bruce Plested, suggest that Performance Pay for teachers is the answer. (One wonders how much extra teachers might be offered. Starting salaries are in the $40,000s -no wonder teachers can’t afford to live in Auckland). Ironically, if a Performance Pay model was implemented in New Zealand that took account of the additional hours teachers put in to provide education to students from diverse, impoverished and challenging backgrounds it would bankrupt the country. (An alternative economic model would be bulk funding where you cap how much $ there is and take the extra for the crème de la crème from those at ‘the bottom’: not so helpful in generating collaboration or retaining new grads one would imagine).

In contrast, Teachers and unions want all teachers to be supported to be great teachers. We take the view that this requires professional development and collaboration.

Even if you could create a set of criteria to gauge top performance that took account of the complexities of the job and the variance in what learners from different backgrounds bring, without access to mentoring, professional development, a significant reduction in bureaucracy and space to collaborate and share best practice the idea is fraught.

Where highly paid ‘expert’ teachers have been marketed in other countries they have failed spectacularly to bootstrap professional practice. Borrowing a model that says you rain money onto the top echelons at the expense of those at the bottom simply doesn’t work – it means you have less teachers willing or able to put themselves through the ringer, lower trust and a pecking order that erodes collective endeavour. Mssrs
Plested and Jennings need only look around to see what happens when you run this market ideology – you end up in precisely the situation they decry as our nation’s shame: massive inequality.

If you summarily dismiss 10% of the workforce as Mr Jennings does, or implement a more competitive model as Mr Plested sees fit to endorse, you increase class sizes for everyone left, create barriers (on top of the financial ones that currently exist) for our brightest and best to consider teaching as a career and continue the precedent of blaming teachers for things outside their control.

Of course, vilifying teachers as the cause of inequality and suggesting they need to be held to account with more draconian appraisal (for the princely sums they receive) is unlikely to help recruit and retain good teachers – there is already a supply crisis for teachers who can’t afford to live in Auckland and it appears that the Education Council are bumbling their way to erecting further barriers for relievers, itinerant teachers and new grads who can’t get permanent employment.

Surely as someone who has benefitted from deregulation, Mr Jennings’ can understand that increasing bureaucracy, demanding additional barriers to advancement and blaming teachers for social ills is unlikely to improve recruitment and retention of high quality teachers.
Unfortunately, this understanding is missing from his oligarchic pronouncements to our nation.

While it is acceptable for a man who surfed the wave of privatisation in the 1980s to have a personal view of the power of the market, perhaps he should turn his focus to ‘fixing’ Auckland housing – and let teachers teach.


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The Education Council was established with much broader functions than the previous registration body despite thousands of teacher submissions. Nevertheless, after hand picking her Council members, Hekia Parata has said she looks forward to when teachers pay the Council rather than unions for professional leadership.

Sadly, the Council can’t even get teacher registration right. They have increased bureaucracy for teachers, demanding three times as much evidence of their professional practice and have instituted a 12 week course costing $4000 for provisionally registered teachers.

The TER Course requires relievers, itinerant music teachers and new grads who haven’t been able to secure sufficient work, or haven’t received sufficient mentoring at their employing schools – through no fault of their own - to find the cash and spend 12 weeks unpaid to do a ‘one size fits all’ refresher.

Despite the union making a submission in 2009 that the model would impact these teachers, a Council spokesperson announced on television this week they are ‘just becoming aware’ of situations where the model might have implications.

If Education Council want to be ‘leaders of the profession’ as Hekia terms them, being truthful and getting their core business of teacher registration right would be a good start.


(Letter sent to The Editor of The Dominion Post)

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