Thursday, April 14, 2005

A Big Lead Balloon

National's just announced Education policy speaks volumes about that Party's inability to move on from the failed policies of the 1990s.

It is pure right-wing theoretical nonsense and will cost them any chance of gaining traction with any of the key education sector groups, or the public at large.

The central plank of the policy is a phalanx of measures designed to force a competitive model on schools that no one is asking for. On offer is compulsory bulk-funding, site agreements for teachers, and bizarrely, the proposal that elite schools could launch 'take over' bids for other schools.

The bulk funding proposal is simply amazing. The vast majority of schools rejected bulk funding during the 1990s, despite the fact that the government of the day offered the bribe of extra funding for those who accepted it. Bulk funding provides schools with a disincentive to employee experienced staff, and leaves the school budget incredibely vulnerable to subsequent cuts in government funding.

The policy is designed to smash the teachers collective agreement by allowing schools to negotiate site agreements - the result of this of course is different pay and conditions for teachers across the country. That means rich schools gain the ability to pay more than poorer schools, creating staffing difficulties for those schools where good teachers are needed the most.

Overall, teachers would suffer. Pay and conditions for the profession have only progressed in recent years because the government has recognised the right of teachers to negotiate nationally. Without the clout of national bargaining, small groups of teachers on individual sites would have little ability to establish the fair terms and conditions needed to make the profession attractive. Brash tackily criticises the teachers who have fought for a fair deal as "cloth cap unionists" - I say good on them for ensuring that their important profession is recognised.

Then there's the compulsory testing for seven year olds. Those who fail will be given vouchers which may only be spent on remedial classes in the private sector. The last time I checked, it was the job of government to ensure that public education is delivering, not to subsidise private businesses out to make a buck. New Zealand has an internationally recognised remedial reading programme which would be severaly undermined by the diversion of public funding into the private sector.

And here's the best of all - Brash promises to cut wasteful 'bureaucracy' in the Ministry of Education. My understanding is that the vast majority of non-teaching staff employed by the MoE since 1999 are working on delivering special education programmes to children with learning difficulties. That's the problem with drifting into fuzzy sounding populism, the fact that you're actually talking about real people tends to get overlooked.

It's no wonder that the School Trustee's Association, the Principals Federation, the NZEI, and the PPTA have all condemned these recent announcements. I find it interesting that it is Brash, rather than the Education spokesperson Bill English who is fronting this. I smell more internal dissension as the Leader attempts to wrest control of policy and drag it as far to the extreme right as possible. Watch this space!


David Farrar said...

Bulk funding was rejected due to the intimidation campaign run by the PPTA against Boards who said yes. It was one step abaove thuggery.

Saying bulk funding provides a disincentive for schools to hire ewxperiences staff, means that hospitals must also have a disincentive to hire experienced doctors, government departments a disincetive to hire experienced staff etc etc. Bulk funding is not some extreme concept. It is how almost every other organisation in NZ is funded.

As for the amusing speculation about the Leader fronting the policy. Well the Leader fronts every major policy announcement.

Graham Watson said...

Your post Michael is nothing but text book Labour mantras woven together.

I would rather see good teachers paid better than have the one size fits all approach.

And 'smash' the collective. Reminds me of our socialist worker friends. PPTA will still exist and hold as much power as its members give it.

And why shouldn't good schools be able to manage poor performing ones?

If this leads to a better education for our kids that is great.

As a parent I am more interested in the educational needs of our children than to some sort of left wing theory designed to protect unions. The unions can stand on their own two feet. No wonder JT was getting annoyed with the union influence.

Hopefully the public will see through this Labour spin and do what is best for the kids

Anonymous said...

There was a disincentive to hire experienced staff under bulk-funding as it operated in the 1990's, when teachers in bulk-funded schools still had to be employed under the collective employment contract - which determined experienced staff as more expensive. The 1990's bulk-funding was quite half-cocked/halfway house in that respect - the long-run agenda was always to do away with the collective employment contract when the politics allowed it. If in the 1990's they had tried to do away with the collective at the same time there would have been next to no take-up at all.

Therefore, National's announcement this week is at least honest.
But it's bonkers, and an undeniable recipe for widening socio-economic inequality.
Schools with wealthy parents will be able to raise their voluntary donation levels, and so then able to pay highers salaries than those schools whose parents are not wealthy. The best teachers and in secondary the teachers in the hard to staff subjects will be milked off to the wealthy schools, as night follows day.
Even if a decile component were introduced into the bulk-fund for staffing, it would get outstripped by this process.

It's silly to say so-called successful schools should be able to take over other schools.
Brash is a monumentally narrow man -I wouldn't trust his definition of success as far as I could throw him. And - if Rangitoto took over Glenfield, Long Bay and Birkenhead and made tham all into mini-Rangitotos, where will have the diversity the right claim to value in social policy nowadays have gone? It would just like old Department of Education conformity.

Bad, bad policy. It ain't best for 'the kids'.

michael wood said...

Given that todays leaked documents show that Brash was seriously contemplating a policy which would have involved changing the decile funding system, resulting in a shift in resourses away from poor schools to already well off schools, it is difficult to see where the genuine will to do "what is best for the kids" is.

Oliver said...

You're absolutely right, Michael. The fact that Brash is so ignorant about my old 'alma mater', Grammar, exposes his idiocy. The school is a rotten, backwards hole that doesn't allow anyone to reach their full potential apart from the richest students, who coincidentally all become prefects :).