Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Why I protested Hekia Parata at the ULearn Conference

Last Thursday, 7 October, I did something a bit bold.  Something that would either be supported by the fifteen hundred plus educator colleagues in the room or something that would make me look like a prize wally.

I protested Hekia Parata as she addressed the largest annual education conference in New Zealand, ULearn16 held at the Rotorua Energy Event Centre.

In the previous week the two education unions, NZEI and PPTA held their annual conferences.  They have always been held in the first week of the third term break (except 2011 due to the Rugby World Cup), and prior to Minister Parata, every single Minister of Education has attended NZEI's annual conference.  The Minister has always been invited.

Minister Parata attended her first NZEI conference in 2012.  This event came up in my Facebook memories the other week.  She thanked us for our work as teachers and then smacked us - she told us we were doing a poor job at teaching reading and writing and science.  What she had failed to notice was that we no longer had science advisors to support teachers after her predecessor, Anne Tolley, killed off the Advisory Service at the end of 2009.

In 2013, Minister Parata was invited again.  She declined as she was going to an education conference in Istanbul.  That conference started on the Thursday, the day after our conference finished that week.  She had plenty of opportunity to visit our conference before leaving on a jet plane (to quote an old song).  Instead she sent us a video address.  I'll let you imagine how well that was received.

In 2014, no Minister.

In 2015, we were told the Minister had declined the invitation.  At the President's Dinner on the first night, a number of former NZEI presidents were in attendance.  One noted the absence of the Minister from the programme in his speech and said this was the first Minister to treat NZEI with in such a manner.  The attending invited senior Ministry of Education official was seen texting someone in the following minutes.

The next day, in the early afternoon, NZEI received a phone call from the Minister's office advising that the Minister would be attending the conference the following afternoon at 4:00pm.

After her introductions and greeting it was then that I knew she had seen my tweets about her coming.  Dianne Kahn had made similar tweets.  She also pointed referred to these tweets a few days later when she spoke at the PPTA conference.  Below is the Storify of tweets of that day:

In the days after the conference, I called Minister Parata out on her Facebook page for lying to the NZEI Conference when she said she was never invited.  For my efforts, I was blocked from commenting on her page.  This is a common tactic that Minister Parata uses with people who challenge her on her Facebook page.  We teachers and the parents of special education students call it our badge of honour.  Below are screen shots from the interactions before I was blocked from commenting on Hekia Parata's Facebook page:

Please note in the picture below that I have circled the last name the Minister used for me, which is incorrectly spelt.  A bit of a horror really after she had admonished PPTA members that week for mispronouncing students names.

Please note that I have tried to be very cordial in my posts.  I was not abusive in anyway, I was merely pointing out the facts of the events.

And this, circled in red, was when I figured out I had been blocked from commenting on the Minister's Facebook page.

The Minister conveniently scheduled a trip to look at the education systems of Massachusetts and Israel during the 2016 NZEI and PPTA annual conferences.  Apparently the fact that both these education systems rank well below New Zealand in the OECD rankings is of no consequence to Minister Parata as long as it is a valid excuse to avoid speaking to teachers, principals and support staff who are affected by her actions and policies.

I have attended every ULearn since 2011, and since 2012, despite not being on the programme, either Minister Parata or Associate Minister of Education Nikki Kaye, have turned up and taken some of the time of an invited Keynote speaker.  I was particularly annoyed in 2013 that Nikki Kaye was allowed to speak before Dr Anne Salmond at Dr Salmond's scheduled time, and therefore I missed a large chunk of Dr Salmond's address due to having to go to a very important appointment.

So when I found out that Hekia Parata was yet again disrupting the programme, I made a decision to make a protest, make a stand for teachers, students and our quality public education system, where she could see me.

When Hekia was introduced and walked up onto the stage, I picked up my chair, placed it so I would have my back to her and I sat down and held up my #betterfunding disc from our Paid Union Meetings last month.  I did not stand to waiata, against every fibre of my body because I 'get' tikanga and respect it.  I did not clap.

I am usually very anal about protocol, tikanga and respect. My body that day was very unhappy not to stand and waiata - but I was not the only person in the room to not waiata in protest on Thursday.  I found out from people who came up to speak with me later.
My protest was silent because I recognised the right of Hekia to speak as the Minister of Education and the right of my fellow attendees to hear the Minister speak, as well as the fact that we have paid a thousand dollars to attend this conference as professionals and we need to show decorum.

However, this does not negate my rights as a citizen in a democracy to send a pointed message to the Minister about her actions and policies in this role. I decided that picking up my chair and placing my back to her and holding up my #betterfunding disc was the most effective polite form of protest I could do in this setting with a Minister with plastic ears and "one eye" (in her words - referring to wearing only one contact lens during her speech).

I think we have to take every opportunity to show Hekia what we think since she does not listen.  Hekia is quite fond of calling teachers hysterical (during the speech on the day) and premature (in reaction to the #betterfunding bus launch on Monday 10th October), but I think NZEI and PPTA are actually being proactive.  There is no point protesting after the decision is made and announced - we have to be heard while the process is still (supposedly) happening and building support from the other most affected group: whanau and their children we teach. 

I know of people who did not attend or walked out of the room because Hekia was there... but there are so many people in the room no one would have noticed anyone walking out in protest.

But everyone noticed me.

I choose this form protest because I still respected the rights of other attendees to listen to the Minister and the efforts of Core Education in putting on such a high quality conference.  

This is not a cheap conference.  I know, I have personally paid the last four times I've attended, so it is pretty much a $1,200 plus (at least) outlay for me including accommodation, meals and travel.  Schools have paid a fortune to send staff members, so I'm not about to spoil that financial investment made.

The feedback has been 99% positive.  Tweets and Facebook posts at the time were positive.  People I spoke to afterwards were positive.  Many regretted not having their #betterfunding disc handy in their car (mine are on permanent advertising duty in the back window).  A lot of people on social media and in person thanked me for my protest.  No one from Core Education came to speak with me during or after the event.  I believe they thought that interfering would create a scene.  

Within two to three minutes of starting my protest, another young teacher came over and asked if she could tweet a photo.  She expressed remorse for not having her #betterfunding disc with her.  So I lent her one of mine to use.  So I wasn't too lonely.

The odd person on Facebook did not like my protest and were bold enough to say so - respect to them.  One person accused me of politicising ULearn with my protest. I contend that Core Education politicised their own event by having the Minister speak.  Others have called me disrespectful and that I was disruptive.  I'll own that to the regard it did cause a stir - but I conducted my protest in a manner to allow proceedings to continue.  

One person asked me if I bothered to listen to Hekia Parata rather than "just listening to NZEI's side of the story".  I pointed out I've been a qualified teacher for 21 years and I'm currently studying Education Policy for my Masters of Education.  I am also an administrator for Save Our Schools NZ on Facebook, so I consider myself fairly well informed on education issues and policies.

As Ms Parata progressed through her speech I know she could see me.  I know she wasn't happy to be protested at this event.  I could hear the hoha come out in the tone of her voice.

Maybe one person taking a silent but visual action was more effective than many people making a big noisy fuss, which would really have reflected poorly on the context of the event.  I would certainly risk it again to drive home the point.

Below is the Storify from the morning Hekia Parata disrupted my professional learning:


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Global Funding - Bulk Funding in fancy dress - why it's a bloody bad idea.

On Tuesday 9 August a momentus event happened.  NZEI and PPTA launched a joint campaign to educate the wider public about the Education Funding Review.  They also announced there will be fifty joint Paid Union Meetings held around the country from Monday 5 September.  We are currently in the middle of them.
And I will be attending my Paid Union Meeting in Hamilton with bells on this Monday 12 September.
The review was set up by the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, due to the decile funding system currently used to fund schools being seen as "a blunt object".  Many different groups were asked to participate in the review, including Louise Green the NZEI Te Riu Roa president and Angela Roberts the PPTA president.

To date, no one from the Education Funding Review Panel has stood up and said publicly: "Global Funding is great and we support it".  Absolutely no one.
Hekia Parata is disappointed in this action and she told journalists that no decisions have yet been made, that consultation is continuing.  She claimed that NZEI and PPTA had left the Review table.  A no point did either Louise or Angela say that either organisation was withdrawing from the Review. 
On the Paul Henry breakfast show (8/9/16) Hekia said that teachers had had many opportunities to be consulted as the Ministry of Education had run 80 roadshows around the country outside of school time.  Where was my personal invitation Ms Parata?  I was aware of a couple of meetings - during school time when no working teacher could attend.  Teachers simply were not enabled to attend these meetings, so Hekia is once again reinventing the reality of the situation (not unlike how she "has the  support of the Special Education Association").  These Paid Union Meetings have been the only opportunity for teachers to be consulted.
Watch Hekia Parata with Paul Henry here.  And Paul Henry, these are Paid Union Meetings, not strikes.
When the Education Funding Review was announced, Hekia Parata said that the panel would be reporting back to her before the end of August/first week of September.  We expected an announcement from Ms Parata over this at the end of last week. 
No announcement.
She said on Paul Henry's show she was still awaiting the report and recommendations.
I had been suspecting the Education Funding Review panel had reported back last week (not that she only received the report last night or this morning as she claims in the House today) and recommended that her proposals were rubbish and the panel would not support them.  Hekia Parata has engaging in a round of PR opportunities over the last two days (Paul Henry 8/9/16, Radio NZ's Nine to Noon 7/9/16) trying to swing public support her way as NZEI and PPTA have garnered the lion's share of the media over the last few days.
As I was in the middle of writing this, Hekia Parata released the recommendations of the Education Funding Review panel in Parliament during Question Time this afternoon, which I will discuss further down.

While Hekia claims that NZEI and PPTA are being silly in holding these meetings, this is the two education unions being proactive because we don't trust Hekia and we want to make sure our voices are heard before it is too late.  Louise and Angela sit on that working party that is to advise the Minister and are obviously concerned by what is being presented to them and what is being said.  Hekia can say that nothing is set in concrete, but that is not the case.  We can not afford to wait as Hekia suggests, because to do nothing is to let the public think we agree with these proposals.
Teachers and support staff gather at Nelson College hall to hear from union representatives against government funding plans. 
(http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/84023412/education-unions-blast-global-funding-proposal-at-nelson-meeting 8/9/16)
These meetings were planned for school time to send a very strong message to the Government as well as the wider community about the seriousness of the concerns NZEI and PPTA hold about Global Funding.  It was considered that the inconvenience to parents and students for two to three hours was better than the long term, over a generation, that Global Funding would create due to under funding, higher class numbers and less teachers.
The eighteen members of the Education Funding Review Panel went into the first meeting expecting a blank slate and the ability to brainstorm proposals.
What they got was a wad of paper on the table by the Ministry of Education representative who said "This is what we will be looking at.  That is the proposal."
Hekia Parata can protest all she likes and say what she says to the media, but that was the reality of our representatives on that Education Funding Review Panel.

This is about the government abandoning their commitment to staff schools appropriately and provide the best education for all children. 
Under the current system there are formulas for staffing according to the roll. Under Global Funding that goes. The result is that teachers will be seen as a fiscal risk and no new teacher appointments will be permanent - every teacher will have to reapply for their position every year and have no job security. 
Think about how this will impact any teacher's ability to get a mortgage to buy a home or plan a family. 
It also means that as an experienced teacher at the top of the scale I would be unemployable as I would be considered expensive. 
This will result in less teachers so then there will be a higher number of kids in every class as teacher:student ratios would go out the door. Less teachers mean a narrowing of the Curriculum. 
Hekia Parata argues that she is not wedded to anything yet, that how it will work has not been worked out.  It is fully expected that Hekia will be taking her recommendations to Cabinet in October.  How can she take a half baked proposal to Cabinet?  How do I know it is half baked?  Because every question asked to her by one of her political opponents or a journalist asking the detail gets the reply that details have not been worked out yet!  This is the typical National Party approach to developing policy:  put forward a half baked idea and make it up as we go - that's how we got National Standards, Charter Schools, Investing in Educational Success not to mention the current housing crisis, climate change, employment law, health and safety....
As I mentioned further up, as I was writing this, Hekia Parata released the recommendations from the Education Funding Review panel (which I bet she has been sitting on for a week).  This was published by the Education Review magazine (8/9/16):
Six out of seven of the School Funding Review proposals will go forward for further work following the Funding Advisory Group's report on the proposals. The unpopular global budget proposal was rejected by the group, following intense opposition from teachers who feared a return to the days of bulk funding. 
The six proposals the majority of the Group agree should proceed for further work are:
  • Taking a per-child approach to funding
  • Additional funding for those most at risk of underachievement
  • Supplementary funding for small and isolated schools
  • Proposals over the way property funding is delivered
  • Better accountability for student achievement
  • Supporting a diversity of education options
Education Minister Hekia Parata says she was ‘not surprised’ by the Group’s recommendation that the proposed global budget not proceed to the next stage of policy development.
“The Group’s report, and together with feedback from around 90 regional meetings with teachers and principals, will help inform my report to Cabinet on the options to take forward. The insight from staff right on the frontline of education is invaluable”, says Ms Parata.
“I want to make sure that we take the time to get these vitally important decisions right. That is why our timeline for implementation at the earliest would be 2019.”

Well there is a surprise - NOT.  No one wants Global Funding that was on the group.

It was announced during Question Time in Parliament today.  Here is the video, with an initial patsy question from David Seymour, ACT's only MP and the Under Secretary for Education, so watch if you have a strong government.  Bright note was The Speaker telling David Seymour his questions slagging off our Paid Union Meetings were out of line.

You can read what the wider media has reported on the release of the Funding Review recommendations here:
Even though Global Funding was not in the recommendations to the Minister, this section from the above Newshub coverage should cause the education sector to continue to be wary:

And the Funding Advisory Group agrees say in its report that it'd be too costly and risky. 
"Schooling sector representatives of the Advisory Group do not support the introduction of global funding for state and state-integrated schools and consider any potential benefits are outweighed by the costs and risks of implementation."
However some of the group did note that with tweaks the plan could work and alternatives couldn't be ruled out in future.  
"If the risks around loss of clarity around staffing entitlement could be addressed in the global budget, there may be merit in exploring an alternative." 

This portion of the above Stuff article should also have the education sector on continued alert:

Parata acknowledged strong opposition to the measure but was not prepared to take global budgets off the table ahead of a discussion by Cabinet. 
"We all know that children are different, therefore there will be different challenges in different schools, so the underlying theme is how do we give schools choices and flexibility.
"The global budget is purely a mechanism for paying. It isn't about how we put together how much a school should get."
Asked if it was too soon to say global budgets were "dead and buried", Parata responded: "Yes it would, because that isn't consistent with Cabinet process."

I do not believe for a second that Global Funding is dead and buried in Hekia Parata's mind as indicated in the NZ Herald.  That writer must be very naïve to take what Hekia says to be gospel.

For Hekia Parata to push forward with Global Funding any further would be a folly.  It is not just teachers wanting to have a "row" with the government as John Key implied on his morning breakfast TV rounds on Monday, it is a whole sector backed by parents who are not happy at the potential outcomes of Global Funding being implemented. 
I love Rod Emmerson cartoons.  They cut to the core of the issue.  This one is from 2012.

If Hekia Parata has not learned from her failed battle with class sizes in 2012, she really has failed the standard as a Minister of Education.

My biggest fear is that the drama over Global Funding is a smokescreen to bring in performance pay and make PaCT and Communities of Learning compulsory... but that's another post another day...

Hekia had 46 kids in her class and she was taught well - how would that go in today's classrooms?

On Sunday morning I woke up to this article in my Twitter feed, an opinion piece from Jonathan Milne titled: A good teacher can inspire anywhere - but small classes help (4/9/16, www.stuff.co.nz).

A read through soon showed me a bunch of out of date clichés, such as the outdated phrase "stop work meeting", but this one from Minister Hekia Parata was particularly galling:

"I went to Manutahi School in Ruatoria," she told me. "I got in touch with my old teacher there recently, and he told me there were 46 children in my class, and that wasn't the biggest class in the school. We got taught well."

This is a classic that is often thrown out by people who think they are experts in how school should be because they went to school.  My grandmother went to school in the 1920s and often told me she had 50 odd kids in her class.  But to know that the Minister of Education is saying this is horrifying because that shows she understands so little of what goes on in schools today and how teaching works.

Minister Parata is currently 57 years old (I checked, thanks Wikipedia) so began school I expect in November 1963 when she turned 5 years old.  Back then I assume it was not to dissimilar to when I started school in late 1978, wooden tables, wooden chairs.  As you moved through the school you got a wooden desk with the lift up lid and the hole where predecessors put their ink bottles, and an incredibly uncomfortable wooden chair.  My teacher had our class sitting in our year groups.  Maybe Hekia's teacher did too.  Maybe her teacher had them lined up in rows.

Today I walk into a class and there are not enough desks and chairs for all the students - on purpose.  In a modern learning environment, students do not necessarily have to sit at the desk.  They may be on cushions on the floor or standing at a standing desk, all their possessions stored in a cubby or tote tray.

I just thought though after reading Mr Milne's opinion piece that Ms Parata needed a reminder of what having 46 students in a class today would be like - she needed a reality check.  So I tweeted her, 34 times, to get my thoughts across.

So let's look at what is different from the 1960s when Hekia was at primary school to 50 years later when my first nephew started school, following by another nephew and niece.  Let's compare their realities to Hekia's golden memories of her school days.

Well first of all, the biggest change, is we have a lot of assessment now compared to the 1960s and we have National Standards which means more reporting and graphs and stuff and it's all very intense compared to what Hekia's teacher did 50 years ago when s/he was teaching Hekia.  And I did a bit of maths to explain this.

Running records to assess reading were not around when Hekia began school.  But imagine if her teacher had to do 46 quality accurate running records for 46 students.  I estimated, conservatively, that this would take up more than a week of teaching time.

Then there is gathering writing samples.  The assessment and moderation with colleagues could eat up at least a week of teaching time if you all had 46 kids, because that would be 138 assessments to moderate.  And some schools expect you to do this twice a term, which would be up to two weeks of teaching time to do a quality assessment of a student's writing ability.

I reckon it would take at least another week to get through 46 kids to do either the full Numeracy assessment or JAM or Gloss accurately on every child... plus the time to monitor an IKAN assessment and mark and level those.

Plus there are the administration of assessments like spelling, basic facts, Burt Word Test, PATs, STAR, and possibly e-asTTle for triangulation purposes and the time to mark and level all these assessment and record the data in a Student Management System (SMS) along with the data from the reading, writing and maths.  That is at least another week of teaching time.  And don't tell me PaCT will make life easier Hekia, because that will still be just as time consuming and an 'add on' rather than an 'instead of'.

So far I think we have racked up four weeks of quality assessment of 46 students (conservatively) taking up important learning time.  Who is going to release a teacher for four weeks to do assessment every term?  Imagine trying to get quality assessment for that many students AND manage the class learning and behaviour at the same time!!

So times for some times tables.  If it takes me four weeks every term to get the assessment done for 46 students, that would be 4x4=16 weeks over the year of assessing instead of teaching.  A teaching year is roughly 40 weeks, so 40-16=24, so that is only 24/40 weeks used for learning and teaching to get my 46 students to the Standard.

Here is some more maths, putting those weeks into actual days:  I have 200 (approximately) real whole days to teach.  If I am assessing for 5x16=80 days and only teaching for 120 then I am using up 60% of my time with these children on assessment.  It should only be 10% maximum.

Now I have already mentioned that a teacher has to input the data collected on the SMS for their school.  But there is a heap of other stuff you have to consider would get bigger if they have 46 students: there is collating the data, report writing, planning, updating records, PaCT (if you get it past the gate, but that is another story)...

Then there are the meetings.  Teachers are always going to have staff, syndicate, curriculum and appraisal meetings, but do not forget about the meetings they have with parents and caregivers, RTLBs, RTLits, Special Education staff, speech language therapists (if you can get one!), and other outside agencies.  Several years ago my class of 19 Year 4-8 students had six students with special education needs - Downs Syndrome, Global Development Delays, Dyslexia - a third of my class and this is not unusual in many other classes!  With 46 students I would estimate 15 students would have special learning needs - that is a lot of meetings with parents and supporting agencies and a lot of writing and assessing of IEPs.

Hattie, Hekia's favourite academic, argues that class size is irrelevant and quality feedback is what counts.  So I am supposed to give all 46 students quality feedback every day.  Good luck with that!  When will I have time to develop my relationships with them, develop trust and know their little quirks and what they need when I have 46 students at once?  How do I support the wellbeing of 46 individuals?  How fair is that on the students?

Speaking of wellbeing, let's talk about the wellbeing of teachers.  Teachers are wilting under the workload of their current classes.  Imagine the chaos of teachers collapsing under the workload of 46 students.  Imagine the damage to their mental health, let alone the damage to their relationships with family and friends. 

In December 2012 a mental health worker told me she had seen five teachers that last week alone.  It's progressively becoming a bigger issue.  Every week I see posts on NZ Teachers of people who are over worked and worn out, seeking support or claiming they are leaving the profession due to the workload.  Personally, I am happier not to be doing the workload this year - studying is hard enough.  We are losing great teachers out of the profession because the workload has become what two teachers should be doing - yet you think we could have 46 in a class!

So how will one of your Teach First NZ teachers with their eight weeks of intensive training to be a teacher cope with 46 students in their class Hekia?

So back to the classroom furniture we talked about earlier.  Most schools struggle to fit 30 students and their associated desks and chairs into a standard classroom, let alone 46 students!  And I'm not sure that you noticed Hekia that kids are generally bigger than what they were 50 years ago, so fitting 46 students in would be a big challenge.... but I guess you will solve that with Communities of Online Learning, aye Hekia.

Ultimately, you need to remember that the teaching conditions of a teacher are the learning conditions of a child.  So if we flipped all of these arguments to the child's view, it means less individual time with the teacher, as teacher who is not teaching as much, too many assessments, lost in a crowd of other students and having a teacher who is stressed out to the max.

And this is what Global Funding could present to our schools.

But that's ok according to Hekia.  She was in a class of 46 and she was taught well.

Thanks to the fabulous cartoonists of New Zealand for the illustrations.  Hekia is giving you a lot of material, that's for sure.  Love your work.

Monday, 5 September 2016

My little rant about what is wrong with the current direction of education policy and what needs to be done.

I've been privileged in the last few months to be a Twitter commentator for Waatea 5th Estate, a current events talk show on Face TV (Sky Channel 83) also live broadcast over the web via The Daily Blog.  The show is hosted by either Martin Bradbury, Willie Jackson or Claudia Hauiti and covers the big issues of the day with a variety of guests from the various political parties, unions or relevant interest groups (e.g. Auckland City Council, Te Puea Marae, Salvation Army, etc.)

Friday night was the last show for 2016, but the discussion continued long after in response to some of the comments and then tweets by Marama Fox, co-leader of the Máori Party.  This was my response to Marama which sparked another conversation and then this post:

It was then that @mokai77 asked me to tell them more about what I am studying... and this wee rant happened...

I have to tell you that once I get started it's hard to stop me.

Essentially I am doing my Masters of Education this year.  It isn't easy.  Study is hard.  Most other people with my level of teaching experience tend to go the Leadership route of Masters, but I decided to study Global Education Policy as I am very dissatisfied with where New Zealand education policy has been heading since 2008's election night.  I greatly fear for the viability of our quality public education system and I honestly believe that there will be very little left of the quality and public part of our education system by the 2017 election and even less if National gets a fourth term in government. 

Anyhow, I figure if I dislike the direction so much I need to attempt to make myself more desirable as a person to help fix the education system once we enact our 2017 election plan to #ChangeTheGovt.

I was at high school as a student when Tomorrow's Schools came into being (showing my age here), and fees to go to University were put in place in either the second to last or last year of me being at high school, so I ended up with a lovely big student loan, or though possibly not as big as others due to not needing it in my first year or to finish my last two papers (I took two years to finish my fourth year of my Bachelor of Education because I was working in schools teaching).

My first year of teaching as a newly qualified teacher was in 1996, so I lived the 'excitement' of bulk funding and a new Curriculum document every year.  I lived Labour coming into power in 1999 and sweeping away bulk funding and a few other undesirable aspects of education policy under National.

The 2000s to me were wonderful years to be a teacher.  Lots of professional development and the use of ICT in education was really taking off.  I had the freedom to teach pretty much what I wanted as long as I could fit it in with the achievement objectives of the curriculum and I met the needs of my learners.  I knew my learners well.  I assessed them, I talked to them, we worked side by side, and many of my classes were well oiled machines in the sense that they loved learning and took every opportunity offered.  We had bright colourful rooms full of art and projects and charts they had made.

I cried for New Zealand, education and my career on election night 2008.  I had spent two years getting a Graduate Diploma in Information Technology in Education (GDITE) with the goal of becoming an ICT Cluster facilitator.  I knew that dream was dead in the water as soon as National got in; it didn't take them long to say that 2009 was the last year for all the programmes Labour had put into action to develop teacher confidence in ICT as well as literacy and numeracy to run, because they wanted to put all that professional development money into National Standards.

In the nearly eight years since that night every prediction Paul Gaulter, National Secretary for NZEI, made has come to pass for education in some form or another, leading me to do what I am doing this year.

One of my papers focuses on the New Zealand education reform experience since 1984 under the neo-liberal theory of policy.  Every lecture and reading has been reading my history of life.  Most of it I remembered with reasonable clarity; some bits were clarifying; and a few bits were shedding light on something I hadn't realised.

For example, I didn't know that the international tests that rank countries on education performance started in the mid 1990s; that National had been planning a form of national testing for primary students in the 1990s (thank goodness Labour won in 1999); and how even the Clark government was unintentionally edging us even closer to National Standards than what we thought during the 2000s.

So let me be blunt about what I do not like about our education policy and where it is going:
  • I oppose Charter Schools - overseas they have been shown to often have financial mismanagement, had money sucked out in profits, often hire unqualified 'teachers', use Teach First, their 'teachers' tend to teach to a script, high level of students expelled, unrealistic discipline, some have shut unexpectedly leaving students without a school to go to, achievement is no better than local public schools, some schools have 'fiddled the books' on their achievement statistics... just not good at all.
  • National Standards have to go!!  They do not lift achievement.  They label children.  Every
    country which has introduced a form of national testing has gone down the international rankings.  The US and UK have had their system for years before we did and were so far below us you really had to wonder why our politicians insisted on chasing them downwards.  In the ten years or so Australia has had Naplan, their rankings have plummeted and their students are becoming more and more disengaged in education.
  • League tables sprang up in our newspapers as a result of National Standards.  Make them illegal.
  • Global funding is just bulk funding in drag.  It will, just like it did in the 1990s, result in Boards of Trustees being pitted against principals and principals pitted against staff.  Experienced teachers, like myself, will be deemed to expensive to hire, and to save money less experienced teachers will be hired instead of teachers like me.  Under this scheme there will be no minimum staffing ratio, so class sizes will rise, and that is not good for students or teachers and will make parents most unhappy.
  • Communities of Learning aka Communities of Schools is just the IES pig with lip stick and blusher.  Any changes to it this year merely add eye shadow and mascara to the pig.  I don't agree with how they have been set up because the whole manner of the set up makes it ripe to fail.  The government has cherry picked the ideas of Michael Fullan and then come up with an idea ignoring two key ingredients: relationships and trust.  To get these going requires time which this format does not have.  The idea of executive principals and expert teachers leaves me cold.  Personally, I believe, any person who takes on these roles is doubling their workload for not much money at all.
  • Initial teacher training programmes like the 8 week intensive Teach First NZ (University of Auckland) before being given your very own class and the one year Masters of Teaching and Learning (University of Waikato) displease me as much as allowing an untrained unregistered 'teacher' to teach.  This devalues the profession, my BEd and the Masters I am currently doing.  It is the complete opposite of Finland which sees teacher trainees in at least five years of study before they become teachers - that is how much the teaching profession is valued in Finland.
  • The fact that so many 'teachers' in ECE are not actually teachers because they are not trained with a teaching qualification or are registered.  This is just a way of making sure that they cut costs on ECE by putting untrained staff in looking after children while charging the parents heaps as well.  We have the most amazing early childhood curriculum that untrained people are at a disadvantage because they have not had the training in that curriculum.
  • Our tertiary institutions are starved of funding.  They are cutting courses left, right and centre, and staff are running around trying to keep their own jobs intact.  The voice of the academic is cut down and discredited by members of our government whenever they do their job and speak out about bad policy or dirty water or how earthquakes work.  Research commissioned by various Ministries is shelved and embargoed if it doesn't meet the brief the Minister has laid down.  This isn't the hallmark of an open democracy.
  • There are concepts in the Education Act that have a lot of implications such as when children will start their primary schooling; allowing a principal to be a principal of more than one school; one BOT covering several schools; how PaCT will be used; performance pay taking a step closer...
  • There is a lack of quality professional development in everything for all schools, especially in the arts, science, technology, social sciences...  And now with the advent of COLs, if you are not in a COL then your opportunity for PLD is even more limited.  ECE teachers are even more disadvantaged when it comes to PLD.
  • Workload has made the job as a teacher too big.  Teachers are now feeling like they are data collectors.  Teachers are trying to cling onto the joy of working with students, developing the relationships and fostering a love of learning.  But the grind of too much assessment, paperwork that doesn't directly relate to learning and onerous planning to justify their classroom programmes on top of far too many meetings takes its toll on a teacher's mental and physical health as well as their relationships with their family and friends.  The rate of mental distress in the teaching sector is rising every year as a result and many are looking for a way out.  Currently, being on study, I am the healthiest I have been in years, only just getting my first cold for the year towards the end of August, when I would have normally been on my fourth or fifth cold and probably on a second lot of antibiotics by now if I was full time teaching.
  • Support staff are the backbone of every school, and they are the forgotten education workers when it comes to the government.  They are not paid in the holidays as they are only paid for the hours they do each week.  For most, their maximum hours will be 25-30 hours, so it isn't really a full time job.  Many only work three hours a day... so 15 hours a week.... not much when the hourly rate is so poor and the majority are on a rate below the living wage.  There is often no PLD for support staff, no career track, and little job security because when the school budget gets tight often it is support staff losing hours or their position all together to make up the difference.
  • Special Education funding needs to be upped.  Too many kids are missing out and a report released today shows (again) that students are being denied the right to their education due to a lack of funding, support staff, teacher education and opportunity to attend their school of choice.
So what needs to be done?
  • First and foremost a change of government with a new policy direction is needed urgently.
  • Get rid of National Standards and stop the obsessive testing regimes - let teachers teach.  They will still assess, but it will be to inform them, not to keep some bean counter at the MOE ticking a box.
  • Get rid of Charter Schools and redirect the money to our schools.  Instead, start up some kura kaupapa and resource them properly and give the founding staff the ability to be innovative, just like the new state schools like Rototuna Junior High School and Hobsonville Secondary School have been allowed to do.
  • Let's work towards that goal of having 100% of ECE teachers trained and registered.
  • Let's not make PLD for teachers a contestable service - let's have knowledgeable and experienced advisors of curriculum available to be in schools and run courses that teachers need to be the best they can be.
  • Let's up the wages of Support Staff to the living wage as the starting rate, provide job security and a career pathway for them.  These people are often working with our most vulnerable students who need the security Support Staff provide.  Our office staff are the welcoming committee of our school, so they should be valued as such.
  • Improve the Special Education funding pool and make accessing it easier and more transparent for the children who need it.
  • Give education back to teachers.  You want innovation, flexibility and inclusion... well politicians won't deliver that.  The other week I went to the #edchatNZ Conference at Rototuna Junior High School in Hamilton and I came away convinced that if you put education in the hands of those people who attended it would be a revolution.  Finland doesn't have politicians messing with their education system.  They trust their principals and teachers to get on with the job, and they are top of the pops when it comes to education rankings.
  • For a more in depth look at how I think we can make the education system better, go to this post I did in 2013 that still stacks up today.
While we continue down the current track we are failing our students.  Our politicians are failing us as educators and parents by following this current policy.  Our education policy really just fails to meet the standard it really should be.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Where are those wrap around services, Hekia?

I have a very sad story playing out for a friend with her son.  It's been ongoing, but the last three years have been a train wreck. 
The education system has washed it's hands of him as the MOE won't cater for him.  He was excluded from his local high school before the end of his first term of Year 9 despite the best efforts of senior staff to support him and get funding. 
He's too old for health camp, and no one would put him in a residential school like Halswell, probably due to funding and a lack of placements available since Hekia has cut that funding dramatically.  He is too old for that option now. 
Youth mental health services are ineffective.  CYFs won't help, despite the impact of his actions on his younger siblings.  The police and fire service have tried their best, are sympathetic to this lad's mum and would like to do more, but are constrained by law as he is 15. 
If the mum tried to get him to go to a drug and alcohol treatment programme, despite the fact he is a minor, he can refuse.  Alternative education has provided him with delinquent associates who are teaching him how to break the law and encouraging to consume alcohol and drugs.   
This kid has a label: oppositional conduct disorder.  CDC say that he'll never fit into a traditional education setting. 
His mum is convinced she will be putting him in a box or he'll be in jail by the end of the year after he has committed several crimes and been given a 24 hour curfew.  She has resorted to getting a Section 333 on her son - that's a full psychological assessment.
Two years ago I sat in a meeting in the St Peter's Cathedral Hall in Hamilton listening to another desperate mother tell Education Minister Hekia Parata about her battle to keep her intelligent child in the education system despite him not fitting into the mould of the education landscape.  He was not attending school as a result and was doing Correspondence School instead.  This mother explained the processes of the schools with her son, of how the Ministry of Education said that he did not fit their definitions for assistance.
And Hekia Parata's response to that mother, in front of a room full of principals, BOT members, teachers, politicians, unionists and officials was: the BOT of your son's school has the power to sort this out.
There was a collective groan.
Since then, Ms Parata has trumpeted the role of the wrap around services for students who struggle in the mainstream, particularly as she has knobbled the ability of Salisbury School to enrol the girls who have traditionally needed the help, support and education they provide.
So here's my question:  Where is the wrap around services for my friend's child and his family, Hekia Parata?

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

When should a child begin formal schooling in New Zealand?

Currently New Zealand's education system is going through its biggest shake up in nearly thirty years.  It currently feels like every day we are having new revelations come out of Minister Hekia Parata's office to see how much higher she can push an education professional's blood pressure and heart rate!

Earlier this year Ms Parata raised the possibility of more "flexibility" with the age of starting school to give parent more "choice" and allow schools to set "expectations" for their community.  This may mean the following could happen:
  • a school could still receive children from the day they turn 5 years old, as happens now.
  • a school may decide that children will start schools at set times.  This may mean one intake a year at the beginning of the school year, or twice a year (terms 1 and 3), or at the beginning of each term.
  • children may need to already be five and start at the next intake of new entrants.
  • children may start earlier than five years old to met the date of an intake of new entrants.
At the website for the Education (Update) Amendment Bill I found the following:

Currently, most children start school on their fifth birthday or soon after. Some schools are encouraging parents to start their children at school as part of a cohort on set dates during the year.
Under the current Act, however, schools must allow any child who has turned five to start school on the day requested by their parents.
The Education (Update) Amendment Bill (the Bill) proposes to enable schools to implement a cohort entry policy whereby new entrants could only start school at the beginning of each term. The earliest that children would be able to start school is at the beginning of the term closest to their fifth birthday.
Before introducing a cohort entry policy, school boards of trustees would be required to consult with school staff, parents of current and prospective students of the school, and local early childhood education services.

The website then goes onto explaining the details more:

When will these changes take effect?

The Bill is expected to come into force in 2017.

Who will these changes affect?

These changes will affect schools with Year 1 students, children starting school and their parents and whānau, and early childhood education services.

What are the benefits of cohort entry?

Some education professionals consider that cohort entry enables them to support better transitions to school, simplify school and classroom planning, and minimise disruption for existing new entrant children.

When will children be able to enrol in a school with cohort entry?

Children will be able to start at a school with cohort entry at the beginning of the term closest to their fifth birthday, or the beginning of a later term. This means that some children will be able to start school up to eight weeks before they turn five, while other children will have to wait up to eight weeks after their fifth birthday before they can start school.
The precise cut-off dates for each term will be published in the Gazette and on the Ministry of Education’s website. Children turning five before the cut-off date for a term will be able to enrol in a school with cohort entry at the beginning of that term.
  • Hana turns five in week eight of term one. As her birthday is closest to the beginning of term two, if she was enrolling in a school with cohort entry she would need to wait until the beginning of term two to start school.
  • Tom turns five in week six of term four. As his birthday is closest to the beginning of term four, if he was enrolling in a school with cohort entry he could start school at the beginning of term four, or the beginning of a later term.

How will parents know which schools have cohort entry policies?

Schools will be required to publicise their cohort entry policy at least a term before implementing it. This could be done through their website, for example. Parents will also be able to find out whether a school has a cohort entry policy or not using the “Find a School” function on www.educationcounts.govt.nz

Will this change affect the compulsory age for schooling?

No. Parents will continue to have the option of not starting their child in school until their sixth birthday, irrespective of whether or not the school they enrol in has a cohort entry policy.

If a child is unable to enrol in school until after their fifth birthday, will they still be eligible for ECE subsidies?

Yes. Any Ministry of Education ECE subsidies, including 20 Hours Free, are currently available up until a child turns six or enrols in school. The Ministry of Social Development will be making changes to the childcare assistance regulations to ensure that children who are not able to start school until after their fifth birthday will continue to be eligible for the childcare subsidy.

If a child enrols in school before their fifth birthday, will they be eligible for the OSCAR subsidy?

Yes. The Ministry of Social Development will be making changes to the childcare assistance regulations to ensure that children starting school before their fifth birthday will be eligible to receive the OSCAR subsidy.

Naturally this topic encourages a great debate.  There are a number of concerned parties:  children, parents, new entrant teachers, principals and early childhood educators.  Let's look at how this impacts on all of these groups and various views they may have.

Every child knows that they can start school on their 5th birthday.  It has been a long established custom in New Zealand to do so, and children will look at other children whose birthdays fall in the school holidays with pity. 

Last year my nephew turned five and began school the day after his birthday (he wanted to have his cake with his day care mates on his birthday), and he was very excited.  In the tradition of my family, my mother went to see him off to school as his Nana.  This is a tradition as my great grandmother saw my mother and myself off to school when we turned five.

So changes to when a child starts school may dampen the excitement of the ritual and anticipation of beginning school for children if this is changed.

The change in the culture of when children begin school will have to happen for children and their parents if changes are made.

Many parents welcome their child turning five and beginning school. 

First there is the knowledge that they and their child have achieved the milestone of starting school. 

There is the ritual of the fifth birthday and the giving of a new school bag, lunch box, drink bottle and pencil case loaded with goodies to help them learn (or lose on the first day of school). 

The anxiety of taking them to school and leaving them there... the amount of parents who cry themselves back to their car and home/to work usually outnumber the tears of the child!

And then there is the joy in no longer forking out for day care fees (my brother's biggest joy when his son started school) for working parents.

Any change to the starting age/time of a child being a new entrant to school will affect parents.  It either means they may end up with their child at home or in day care for longer, or it may mean they are required to start their child at school earlier than the established New Zealand custom.  Many will feel the need to "keep up with the Jones'" so they can "give their child a head start" by starting their child as a new entrant before they turn five, so this needs to be carefully considered and will require parents to be educated about the options that will be open to them if changes arise.

New Entrant Teachers
The debate about when it is best for children to start their school journey is long established in the world of a new entrant teacher.  Some enjoy and celebrate new ones joining them as and when they have their fifth birthdays, other lament the disruption of settling in a new child every few weeks and having to start all over again.

Some teachers support having set intakes, either annually, at the beginning of the school year and mid year, or at the beginning of each new term.  Some welcome the idea of an intake at the beginning of each month.

New entrant teachers will roll with what happens, but their main concern is that the child has had a practical amount of pre-school visits before they officially enrol at school so they can become familiar with the teacher, class and other children as well as some of the routines.

Principals currently have a big headache.  While they will endeavour to collect the appropriate information about who is a pre-schooler who is likely to attend their school well in advance, there is often a surprise enrolee who may pop up out of the blue to start on their fifth birthday without warning.  This can play havoc with class numbers, teacher:child ratios and space considerations for classrooms.

Early Childhood Educators
Children legally currently do not have to enrol in a primary school until their sixth birthday.  But if we start having children enrolling in primary school before their fifth birthday, this will have implications for early childhood providers. 

On one hand there will be less children, and this could affect their funding.  Then again, it frees up a place for a younger child to come into the early childhood facility. 

My opinion
I think that a change in this custom of when children start school is a good idea.  However this legislation will make it messy.  Under this legislation no one will know what the preferred enrolment of any of their local schools are unless they do a bit of research.  How many parents are going to do that?  How many irate parents and distressed five year old will school office staff and principals be confronted by?

I think, for the sake of children, parents, teachers, principals and all other interested parties that there has to be uniformity in this custom of when children start school up and down New Zealand.

I believe the best way forward is intakes of cohorts.  Each cohort should start school at the beginning of each new term.  Every child should already be five, or turning five within two weeks of the first day of the term - no four year olds who turn school after two weeks of the new term - but if you want your child to be closer to six years old before they start, that is still your choice as a parent.  This gives every child a group of students they will move through school with.  It will allow principals to appropriately plan staffing and use of classrooms within their school to accommodate the group of children starting each term.  It will allow the new entrant teacher to start the term with all their students and plan accordingly for them.

This has great possibilities for improving the transition for school for many children and giving them the best start to their school journey.  But the Minister has failed the standard by making the proposal too complicated in allowing different schools to have different intake policies after consulting with their communities.  The Minister will be failing children and parents as well as teachers and principals if this continues in this form.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Special Education - Let's Change the Name and Solve Everything!!

Somewhere, in the dark depths of the Beehive:

"If we change the name of the outfit, Minister, it will look like we've fixed everything thing!" grovelled an MOE official.

"Hmmmmm...." mused the Minister. "I've heard of this strategy before... but where...?"

"Well, Minister, it's a strategy Mrs Tolley is using with her portfolio."
On Friday the Special Education Update (aka Review) was released... with a new fangled name, Learning Support Update.  You can view the report here and also the Cabinet Paper here.
By releasing it on a Friday, the Ministry of Education was trying to sneak it in under the radar.  But as many people have been awaiting it and also contributed through submissions and speaking at Select Committee meeting, with widespread consensus that many children are missing out and the funding is inadequate, this was never going to slip into obscurity.  Over the weekend, people have become more aware of this report, especially in light of the debate over another large pot of money, covering the Operations Grants of schools, with the looming threat of a form of Bulk Funding called Global Funding.

While Hekia Parata talks up the Update, Chris Hipkins from Labour and Catherine Delahunty from the Greens raised concerns they saw in the final report about the lack of financial resourcing and shifting money from other students with needs.  (See 'Special needs'' term singles out students and will be scrapped, NZ Herald, 22/8/16).
Essentially, this is what the Learning Support Update boils down to:
  • there is no more money.
  • there are more kids who need assistance.
  • a younger age band of children will be targeted to tackle issues earlier.
  • the money to do this will come from the older age band of children.
Can you see any educator or parent of a child who needs extra support satisfied with this?
While I agree that it is sensible and vital to target children as early as possible, it should not be to the detriment of the older children who are struggling to learn and achieve.  To do so it to fail these children yet again.  They already missed out due to a lack of an appropriate professional resources in their early years, such as a speech language therapist or a consultation at the Child Development Centre, and now they are being punished for being too old to fix by this change! 
We should be adequately resourcing all children to access appropriate support rather than rationing it and playing God over who should receive the help they need!!
Within the Cabinet Paper, the Minister discusses:
  • how there has been an increase in the school age population,
  • an increase in students requiring learning support,
  • approximately 10% of the school population requires learning support,  
  • that 95% of those receiving learning support are in mainstream schools,
  • and that there will be no extra funding until she has determined if the current funding is adequate or not and it is being used efficiently.
She also discusses redesigning how learning support is delivered and accessed.  Below is a Service Delivery Model for an Individual from page 13 of the Cabinet Paper:
And this is the Service Delivery Model through using Communities of Learning, also from page 13 of the Cabinet Paper:
Now the fact that there is a Service Delivery Model through the Communities of Learning (CoLs) concerns me.  Is the Minister considering pooling money for learning support with CoLs with a contestable pool for each school to compete for access to from their CoL?  Will individual schools, principals and teachers be over ruled or dictated to as to how to support the learners in their school?

While the above models talks about it as having a role of analysing and reviewing learning support provision and providing professional learning for classroom teachers, I am wary of putting learning support under the CoLs umbrella.
This phrase also concerns me:  "Improving investment decisions using social investment analysis".  It concerns me because it is taking indicators like the mother's lack of education, a parent being in prison, or being a long term beneficiary and labelling a child as at risk without actually looking at the child themselves.  The Minister often chastises teachers as having deficit thinking towards certain students - well Minister, this is the pot calling the kettle black, because using these indicators is deficit thinking too.

Another aspect that concerns me about this phrase the way it looks at children as their learning potential as an investment, that it all boils down to money, almost like widgets off the production line.  I baulk at this view.  While I agree we need to be prudent with money and we need to ensure it is used efficiently because there is not an unlimited budget, as a teacher it is off putting to think of children as an investment, that their achievement outcomes are all that matters.  We are not just there to ensure they can read, write and do maths.  We are there to ensure these children become effective communicators, are co-operative, can think critically and problem solve, and are kind people who can contribute and function in our society.

I am also concerned about where the support for students who do slip through the earlier interventions will come from.  Some children do not show their learning needs until after their first year at school.  By the time it is realised there is a deficit in their learning they may have moved out of the age band targeted for early intervention and therefore miss out.

I have grave concerns that money will be taken from the current Special Education Budget for use by the Ministry of Social Development to be used for vulnerable children.  With another Ministry using MOE money that reduces the slice of the pie for schools and MOE specialists.

As Chris Hipkins said about the money in the Operations Grant pool on Q&A on TV1 on Sunday, when more people are eating the pie there is less for all of them and more of them will go away hungry.

While I can see that the Minister has the intention of trying to improve how learning support is delivered to children, I can see many fish hooks and concerns.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not an answer.  Not adequately resourcing it so all students can be effectively helped to achieve is a concern.  The role of CoLs and MSD having access to MOE funds is a concern.  Changing the name from Special Education to Learning Support is a minor consideration and just creates confusion.
Quite frankly, I do not think the Minister has met the standard with this Learning Support Update.