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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 Uncategorized

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.

1.    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 composition 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 Uncategorized

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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Posted by on in School funding

I was listening to the news the other day and the Education Minister said her new approach to resourcing schools was not bulk funding but you guys say that it is. So, when is bulk funding not bulk funding?

When the Minister calls it something else.

But WHY is she calling it something else?

Well, in this month’s semantic challenge, the Honourable Hekia Parata has presented a ‘global budget’ to schools as the ointment for ensuring students ‘most at risk’ get the resourcing they need - without breaking the bank (it’s the same gross amount in the system just spread a little differently).

And she’s saying that it will be “needs based”?

Part of it will be. Instead of the students in different schools getting a decile weighted amount, students will all have a fixed amount (as a voucher) and a targeted few will get some extra (voucher plus). Those schools with a big enough concentration of these needy students may even get as much funding as they do currently.

Hang on. I thought it was a good thing for targeted students to get more?

It could be – if it was sufficient. But in this year’s budget the amount set aside for these sorts of students was around $80 per student for the whole year. And some schools will probably get quite a bit less than they do now under the decile system – basically we don’t know what criteria will be used to identify additional need but it’s likely to be pretty narrow and resourced from part of the savings in removing the decile weighting.

That’s not exactly going to be a panacea is it? I thought the Minister said this would allow schools to be “more flexible”?

I guess you could say there were some new flexibilities. Sadly, the rub is that while the Minister’s plan ring fences money to maintain Ministry owned buildings it does not do the same to ensure that the best teachers are in front of students in small classes with additional support where it’s needed. Instead, those schools will be directed to tighten their belts and enticed to make staffing a movable feast.

So, staffing will be more flexible? Where will the rest of the money to ‘address need’ come from?

In Hekia’s ‘global budget’ salaries are bulk funded. That is, schools will be empowered to cash up staffing to find money for other operational costs. Unfortunately, this will likely mean increased class sizes and more precarious ‘fixed term’ positions, while schools hedge their bets over how much money they need for a new initiative or purchase.

But she tried increasing class sizes with Lesley Longstone! Everyone knows it’s a terrible idea….Won’t schools just keep small classes?

Some might. But when the amount of money they have to go round is insufficient, staffing is really the only movable part in the proposed model (unless you have lots of parent donations or international students. ie you’re currently a large high decile school). Meanwhile, John Hattie can be wheeled out as the silver bullet to real teachers’ knowledge that the more kids in your class the less ‘one on one learning’.

Hekia’s ointment is starting to smell a little sour. What else is wrong with her proposal?

Well, the vouchers for students (or a proportion of them) will apply to private school students too, meaning some of the education budget saved by removing the decile weighting will go into private businesses.

That doesn’t sound fair. Will the same voucher apply to those Charter schools?

Probably not. While they do get a huge amount more per capita than kids in state schools, the funding is probably locked into their contracts (and without offering the tiny class sizes they do their grades might not be able to appear as impressive – the Minister won’t want that to happen).

But, if I’m understanding you right a lot of previously lower decile schools will get less money and may have to increase their class sizes, private schools will get more and charters will still get the most. That can’t be right can it? The Minister said this proposal was more equitable!

It is.

How can that be?

Because she says it is.

Bulk funding works like this

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One of Minister Parata’s proposals in the surprise bulk-funding announcement is to offer private schools more money.  

During Question Time in the House on Tuesday 28th of June, it was confirmed this would likely be a per child amount, perhaps on par with the amount state schools receive.

If this proposal eventuated it would not just be bulk-funding, but a full-blown voucher system.  The political equivalent of National adopting ACT’s education policy.  Good if you send your kids to Dio, St Kents or Kings.  Bad if you are in the 97% of New Zealand families who go with state and state-integrated schools. 

So, do private schools really need all this new money?  I went on the internet to check-out their financial statements.

Many organisations (including PPTA) display their financials publicly on their website, but this does not appear to be the case with private schools.  Lots of photos of students competing in equestrian events and attending luncheons, but accounting is off the menu.  What could they be trying to hide?  Fortunately, some are registered as charities, so the charities register has the statements filed online.

Wow!!!  Check out Auckland Dio – It has not made a profit under $1.8 million since 2008.  In 2011, when they seem to have acquired an injection of students from earthquake-stricken Christchurch, the surplus was $3,574,784.  Top marks for opportunism. 

Rangi Ruru in Christchurch - $1,347,676 in 2013, followed by $1,449,320 in 2014.

More conservative profit margins can be found in Wellington where Marsden and Queen Margaret make six figure surpluses but not seven.

So, put bluntly, I don’t think the time is right to increase class sizes in state schools to provide a funding boost to private schools.  

Interested in your thoughts always.


Raking it in



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Governments have long blown off links between SES and educational outcomes (despite the erstwhile decile system being premised on this concept in 1995). Now, from the heavens, a school resourcing thunderbolt based on… socio-economic factors! (Albeit more ‘targeted’ ones). 

While we in the sector marvel as the sun rises on an approach where additional funding could arrive at schools where it’s needed, Ministers Parata and English temporarily bask in the glow of a funding sleight of hand that seems to have wide support in the tempestuous climes of the education sector.

However, grey clouds lurk.

We are told the MOE have better data to ‘identify need’ but ‘targeted’ funding to schools apparently requires a narrower approach to how ‘need’ is described. 

The list released earlier this year caused a sudden storm. Privacy issues aside, the ‘risk factors’ to guide school resourcing may not target the capacity of many families to support access to learning at school. If parents don’t earn enough to provide what their children require (when their children aren’t victims of trauma or beneficiaries) how will it work? 

Sadly, it probably won’t – in isolation.

In fact, without funding all state schools adequately to ensure local schools can provide enough, the transitory practices of many (usually lower decile) students will continue and the impacts on school funding when decile component is removed and only ‘targeted’ needy get additional funding may be like a lightning strike to (previously low decile) school operating budgets. Further, the additional resourcing for a ‘targeted’ few may actually do little to lessen the tail wind to the exodus of ‘non needy’ students whose parents already shop for higher decile schools – not believing that “decile is no proxy for quality”.

Without ensuring sufficient and stable funding for all state schools as well as investing heavily in those that need targeted support, the internal migration of students across schools may become a tornado wreaking havoc on our public system.

While ‘needs based funding’ sounds like something we should all support, the fog around the ministers’ true intentions needs to clear. Is it a chance to invest in public education as a priority, doing our best to give every student a reasonable start regardless of birth or background? Or is a new resourcing model an ill wind that will simply rearrange the current resourcing and breeze over the social apartheid that is currently occurring under deciles?

In particular, is the statement that funding will be modelled on the “size of the educational challenge” a red sky warning to schools that the isobars of accountability and the apportioning of blame will move closer and closer together – that is, a more punitive rather than aspirational system?

If the government’s intention is that all state schools are adequately funded - with more where it’s needed - the imminent resourcing review could lead to a balmy summer for schools and communities to continue improving; with access to high quality education at local state schools, additional supports for students (and educators) to bolster what is already provided and a schooling system that can be lauded as equitable. 

Unfortunately, it appears that instead of enabling all students to access quality education in their local community, the Minister is happy to rain education dollars into Charter Schools – which does nothing to support stability in state school funding. On the contrary, when operational funding to state schools is already insufficient, the freeze is on for 2016. Correspondingly, Minister Parata has been quoted as wanting to “protect parents’ right to choose” the schools their children attend – which suggests there will be little urgency to ensure true equity across state schools. In fact, if the Minister’s intention is to protect school choice and fund individual students then we are in the eye of the hurricane: parents will chase whatever rainbow they choose and take their pot of gold with them  (to the detriment of the school they have left) as happens now with Charters and quarterly funding- only worse. 

Rolling out more and more Charter schools and indexing funding to Private Schools without guaranteeing that the ‘global funding’ to state schools is sufficient is a bit like addressing global warming by selling carbon credits.

The myth of ‘free schooling’ disappeared like autumn mist over ten years ago. Therein, a small shower is unlikely to relieve the drought faced by communities who can’t rely on massive family contributions and foreign fee paying students. Sadly, English’s long range forecast does not seem to pay much attention to the impacts of increasing house prices and low wages on a family’s ability to stump up with the increasing cost of ‘free’ education in NZ.

Perhaps someone needs to tell him that if it doesn’t guarantee public education is adequately funded, a needs based approach is just hot air.

Until Bill and Hekia (and no doubt Under Secretary Seymour) present an actual model, discussions about their true intentions may be a storm in a tea cup -but when representatives from the education sector approached Minister Parata to be involved in getting a new approach to ‘resourcing need’ right their warm front was met with a cold snap. 

We can only hope that we won’t be left out in the cold for too long. 

Link to the Eagle Weather wheel

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With employees becoming "workers" and employers now "persons conducting a business or undertaking" (PCBUs) I have received a lot of questions about the new Health and Safety at Work Act:

Frequently Asked Questions

Q    Am I now liable for accidents/incidents that happen in my teaching area?

A    No more than you have been since HSE 1992, and only when you have been negligent or failed in a duty of care so no change

Q    Does this mean the end of Education Outside the classroom (EOTC)?

   The intent is not to curtail any EOTC, what it means is that qualifications/experience etc are current for staff who run trips and external providers need to be consulted and have their qualifications etc confirmed. You should have been doing this anyway so no change.

Q    Will we have to close access to school facilities after hours?

A    No, the requirement is for the facilities to be fit for purpose at all times, if the facilities are safe during the day, then public use outside of school hours is fine. Case law has prosecuted boards when facilities have been deficient causing serious harm or death outside of school hours but this should have no effect on staff, it is a  board issue.

Q    What about school pools and access?

A    Provided that the pool is properly fenced and locked when not in authorised use, processes are in place for supervised out of hours use and these processes are signposted then there are no issues.  The school cannot be held responsible if someone scales a fence with a locked gate and harms themselves in unauthorised use of a pool (or any other facility).
There is no liability for anyone on site for illegal purposes.

Q    Am I personally liable for Health and Safety of my outdoor education classes?

   No it is the duty of the board to ensure the safety of all workers and others ( this is where students fall under the new Act) this would include practices and processes for staff to follow that ensure Health and Safety for all in its care, however if the policies and processes are ignored then the liability may fall on the teacher.
This has been the case previously, no change.

Q    Do I need to have risk analysis and managment systems (RAMs) for all experiments that I do every time I do them?

A    No, they should have been verified before they go into the management doc/scheme/planner or whatever you call your existing planning programme. This is best practice and should be currently being done so no change.

Q    Should we let kids climb trees?

   Do you let them already? Yes then no change. It has to be contextual, 50m tall Norfolk Pine probably not, 6m Apple tree probably, just apply common sense.

Q    Will I need to close or limit my hard materials workshop classes?

A    If you have sound teaching practice regarding machinery use then there is nothing to worry about. It may be advisable to update your record keeping of when and how you have approved students to use certain machines. It would pay to have a record of what machines were demonstrated and the safe use of them and when this took place.

Q    Am I now financially liable for incidents?

A    No you are not suddenly now liable. You have been liable since the 1992 Health and safety in Employment Act introduced 3 tiers of fine with a maximum of $500k for death or    serious harm, interestingly nobody batted an eyelid at this figure which is now inflation adjusted to $808k but now the $600k has been announced everyone is up in arms and talking houses in trust etc. Nobody in the Education sector has been prosecuted since the 1992 Act was introduced and unless you are negligent and fail in your duty of care leading to serious harm or death then nobody will be fined this amount in the education sector. This has been the case previously so no change.

Q    What responsibilities as a Teacher do I now have?

A    Teachers must:

Take reasonable care for their health and safety

Take reasonable care that their behaviour does not adversely affect the health and safety of others       

Report any incident, risk or hazard to an officer or health and safety representative   

Comply with any reasonable instruction form the PCBU* (Board) to allow the PCBU to comply with the Act               

Cooperate with the PCBU’s health and safety policies or procedures inform visitors etc of any known hazards or risks in the workplace (*A PCBU is a ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’. )

Q    What is the role of a Health and Safety Rep?

A    A Health and Safety Representative (HSR) performs a number of functions including:

Representing school workers generally on health and safety matters

Investigating complaints from school workers about health and safety issues at the school

Representing a school worker on a specific health and safety matter (including a complaint) if asked to do so by that worker

Monitoring health and safety measures taken by the Board of Trustees and providing feedback to the Board about health and safety compliance

Inquiring into anything that appears to be a health and safety risk to school workers arising from the activities of the school and making recommendations to the Board of Trustees on work health and safety 

Promoting the interests of school workers who have been harmed at work, including arrangements for rehabilitation and return to work

Issuing provisional improvement notices in the school workplace 

Being able to direct workgroup members (school workers the HSR represents) to cease work. 

Q    What is the role of a Health and Safety Committee?

A    A Health and Safety Committee:

Facilitates co-operation between the Board of Trustees and school workers in instigating, developing, and carrying out measures designed to ensure the school workers’ health and safety at work

Assists in developing any standards, rules, policies, or procedures relating to health and safety that are to be followed or complied with at the school 

Makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees about work health and safety.

Q    How many Health and Safety reps (HSRs) may we have?

A    The prescribed minimum ratio of HSRs for a work group is 1 representative for every 19     workers. If the number of workers divided by 19 does not equal a whole number, the number of health and safety representatives to be elected is increased to the next whole number. e.g. 10 workers = 1 HSR,   23 workers = 2 HSRs

Q    How do we get the Health and Safety reps?

   Any 1 worker may request elections for Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) or the PCBU may decide to call for elections (regulations apply as to how this happens)
Q    How do we get a Health and Safety Committee?

A    Any 5 workers or 1 HSR may call for formation of a Health and Safety Committee (HSC) or the PCBU may decide to appoint one (regulations apply as to how this happens)

Any other questions email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



More information:

STCA Part 12 Health and Safety

ASTCA Part 10 Health and Safety

Better provision for due diligence: Health and Safety at Work Act (page from PPTA News April 2016)

New legislation raises the stakes (Health and Safety Act 2015) (page from PPTA News October 2015)

weblink Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

weblink Ministry of Education health and safety resources

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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In my travels around the regions presenting the Health and Safety seminars I have encountered a wide variety of questions and concerns, most of these are covered in the FAQs on the website however there are a few common issues that have arisen. The MoE have published a superb guide called Health and safety at Work Act 2015 A practical guide for BoTs and school leaders. Every organisation involved in the education sector worked collaboratively in its production. The guide was emailed to all schools and STA undertook to send a hard copy, the problem is that no-one seems to have heard of it let alone seen it. Here is the link

 MoE Guide to Health-and-Safety-at-Work-Act-2015.pdf

It contains a host of tools and information designed to keep you safe and compliant with the law. It provides a series of templates to allow you to self audit at no cost.

Principals in particular seem to have been left out of the loop in terms of the new Act and are making random and often illegal decisions, for example, a Principal making all HoDs do the HSR course in their school holidays. This is not only in contravention of the requirement for HSRs to be elected by the workforce but also contravenes the requirement for the elected HSR to choose their own course at a time that suits them. Another bad case is DPs overriding elected but not yet trained HSRs to take their place on the initial training course. A third common issue is reports of extra or increased paperwork being demanded to cover EOTC trips. The 1992 HSE Act should have covered all of this and no school should not already have robust systems, if they haven’t what have they been doing for the last 14 years? A new EOTC guidelines document has also been sent to schools and here is the link EDU12339_EOTC Guidelines_5.pdf 

Principals have also been telling staff that they are liable for actions that clearly belong to the PCBU such as other workers entering offsite units without communication, coordination and cooperation. The offsite teacher with no knowledge of this cannot then be held liable if something happens on their site.

A lot of misinformation seems to have been promulgated by so called H&S consultants in order to charge a small fortune for unnecessary external audits

Don’t do it!!

they are a waste of BoTs precious ops grant money, money that is hard to come by and better used elsewhere.

NZSTA have run a heap of workshops for BoTs and Principals at which an excellent resource called Effective  governance Health and Safety at Work Act was distributed, unfortunately not too many schools have seen this either, contact NZSTA to get a copy.

The law requires PCBUs (BoTs) to  

1 engage, so far as is reasonably practicable, with workers who carry out work for it and are directly    affected, or likely to be directly affected, by a work health and safety matter, and

 2. have practices that allow workers who work for the board to have reasonable opportunities to  participate effectively in improving work health and safety in the school on an on-going basis.      

These are known as worker participation practices.

Failure by the board to meet either of these duties is an offence under HSWA.

I am amazed at the tales I hear where BoTs and Principals clearly have no idea of how to implement the Act and are imposing weird and wonderful systems on workers and urge you to contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for clarification or further information regarding your situation.




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Much was said about what the $26 million spent on the flag change debacle could have been better spent on. However, the argument that some worthy cause missed out in order for that money to be spent on the flag is hard to prove.

Not so with the funding of Charter schools.

The budget allocation for 7 new Charter schools (and a support group to help these private interests not make the same disastrous mistakes as happened in Whangaruru) does come from somewhere – it comes out of the education budget.

Meanwhile, Special Education is underfunded.

The Operations Grants to schools are insufficient and have actually decreased this year, while the tap for accessible and relevant professional learning for teachers is about to be turned off (for most) by the Ministry of Education.

Establishing Charters in the same communities as state schools means those schools lose funding, including operational funding and their staffing entitlement which can mean they will struggle to offer curriculum and other critical educational resources to the students left behind.

Despite all this, the clamour of professionals and educators who know where the money could be better spent appear to be being ignored - again.



(Published in Dominion Post Letters to the Editor 25 May 2016)

Larry Cuban site - charter school cartoon

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