People often say about such reports and recommendations that “the devil is in the detail”. In this case you don’t have to look that far. For each of the eight recommendation areas, these are the main concerns that should have people off the couch:
- Schools/communities would no longer get to employ their principals or teachers – a Ministry of Education “Hub” would do that for them.
- Schools/communities would no longer have the right to provide boundaries to their discipline framework through stand-downs. Suspensions and exclusions – the “Hub” would do that for them.
2. Schooling Provision
- This section is simply an exercise in missing the point. Schools exist and are funded to bring about change and enhance the life opportunities of the students who attend. They recommend nothing here that would significantly enhance the outcomes for those students who are currently doing poorly. Somehow the Correspondence School (Te Kura) becomes a major focus.
3. Competition and Choice
- Here they suggest throwing out the bathwater with the baby by ignoring the fact that many schools are doing well and should be left to do so. By limiting out-of-zone enrolments they will further limit choice for Maori and Pasifika students and those that can afford to move to what they consider to be better schools will simply shift house. Not only will that cause more “white flight” but may even further stratify communities. The simple answer here is to leave the performing schools alone and improve the failing schools.
4. Disability and Learning Support
- In this section their obsession with State agencies gets in the way of seeing solutions. They generalise about how students needing learning support do, while in many schools they are actually well provided for. They also place all responsibility for improvement with the Ministry and the “Hubs” while ignoring a very capable private sector in the learning support area – and/or enabling parents to exercise more choice and to be directly funded to seek assistance for their child.
- Their first recommendation here is that: “We recruit a diversity of teachers/kaiako which matches the diversity of students as closely as possible.” I am not even sure what this means. As a parent and teacher I have always wanted the best qualified and most highly capable teachers in the classrooms I have been associated with. There is nothing in their recommendations about higher entry levels for primary teachers or how to really go about getting highly qualified graduates into secondary education. Does their recommendation mean that in predominantly Maori schools they only have Maori teachers? In predominantly European schools... Surely the right approach is to get the very best people in front of our students and provide the incentives and professional development to work with each child, regardless of “diversity”. This is simply slogan making with no educational substance.
6. School Leadership
- There is almost humour in one of the recommendations under this heading: “Ensure that schools in challenging circumstances get leaders with recent proven leadership experience.” How do you do that in a free and mobile labour market? You cannot force people into positions that they don’t want to take up.
7. School Resourcing
- Here they propose an “equity funding index”. When this is combined with limiting donations that schools can ask for their view is that there should be significant funding differentials for those schools serving students from lower socio-economic families. There is some truth in that but there are two problems. Firstly; if everything goes through the “Hubs”, the professionals may end up with very little ability to use the resources as they think best. The Labour Party and Union view of bulk funding clearly shows that principals are no to be trusted. Secondly – in a free society (of which NZ is fourth in the world) – there is no practical or ethical way to limit business or personal donations to any school. These are unworkable recommendations. They would have sounded good to Hugo Chavez.
8. Central Education Agencies
- This comment is simply frightening: “Because schools are self-governing, agencies have lost the capacity and capability to deeply influence schools in their core business of teaching and learning.” This is the heart of their report. It is about seeking mechanisms for State control in education. Not only is that repulsive in a free society and completely opposite to all of the positives from the original Tomorrow’s Schools proposals but it would be exactly the opposite of the free and creative thinking that families, children, teachers and school communities should be able to explore in the 21st century. Their recommendation on: “The creation of a new independent Education Evaluation Office” sounds, frankly, Orwellian.
It's time for the sector and New Zealand families to quickly and fully reject the report.
* For the alternate argument in support of Tomorrow's Schools please click here.