Wednesday, August 31, 2011

National's National Energy Strategy Shocking


The Government's National Energy Strategy differs little from the shocking draft that was released prematurely, fossil fuels remain prominent in the strategy and it even spends time promoting the value of such resources.


While it has to be accepted our reliance on oil and coal can't be totally ignored a weaning process should be an important part of any strategy and this document appears to ignore this. There is a deliberate drive to exploit our carbon based resources to the maximum and make as much profit as possible while the going is good. 

"The Government wants New Zealand to be a highly attractive global destination for petroleum exploration and production investment so we can develop the full potential of our petroleum resources."

While all the content on energy efficiencies, energy conservation and promoting alternatives exists,  it really does appear as if they were things that "politically" should be mentioned but the key strategy is elsewhere. It is obvious that for the near future the money and governmental direction will be focussed most heavily on fossil fuels. This will only encourage and continue our dependence on this diminishing resource and put us into an even more vulnerable position in the future.

The promotion of "best practice" as a way of ensuring environmental responsibility has some serious flaws. Best practice means the best from current practice and in many industries the best falls short of good practice.  A local environmentalist recently asked Minister Nick Smith for examples of best practice for lignite mining and got a silent response. Shell and Petrobras would probably claim that they operate using best practice but for many reasons I wouldn't feel reassured by such claims. 

The strategy's answer for the management of over-charging electricity companies is just to create more companies. It seems when there is a poorly functioning market the answer is to open it up even further, direct regulation of electricity markets is not an option for this government, even when market models are clearly failing. In fact the National Government continues to rely on business to self regulate despite the failings of the mining  industry to ensure mine safety or the building industry to avoid the leaking building debacle:

"The Government encourages development and use of voluntary industry standards to rate building energy performance."


It is a real worry that this is the determining document for our nation's energy future when Venture Southland produced a provincial strategy that appears to have come from a far more reasoned and researched perspective. 

Idiot/Savant describes the National strategy well when he says:

"This isn't a "strategy". Instead, its an abdication of responsibility. The lack of targets is a commitment to doing nothing, to business as usual. While that does produce slight improvements in energy efficiency, the government - and New Zealand - should be demanding more."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Invercargill Principals Send Open Letter to Minister


The Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, was in Invercargill today and was visiting the school where I currently teach special needs children on a part time basis. I had hoped to pass on an open letter on behalf of Invercargill primary principals voicing concern at the flawed nature of the National Standards. Unfortunately the Board decided they did not want any political statement made during the Minister's visit to my school and I was not able to pass on their letter in person.

12 out of the possible 13 Invercargill primary principal's signed the letter.


30 August 2011


Open Letter to the Minister of Education, Hon Anne Tolley

Invercargill schools express their concern about the National Standards system

Minister, Invercargill has a proud tradition in providing quality public education for our children. We come from a city that has learned not to rely on support from further north and to become an independent community that responds well to the needs of its people. The Invercargill Licensing Trust leads New Zealand in the way it manages alcohol sales and directs profits back into the community and our Building Society rejected potential mergers with Australian banks and is now one of our stronger New Zealand owned financial institutions.

Invercargill is also highly innovative and future focused regarding education. We independently support our teachers and students where we see practical needs not being met through nationally funded provisions. Our Licensing Trust sponsors a biannual education conference that provides valuable professional development to ensure our teachers remain at the forefront of education in the digital age. Some years ago the Trust ensured all our schools and classrooms had interactive whiteboards when they were still considered an expensive luxury elsewhere in New Zealand.

We are determined that all our children who struggle with their learning are able to access high quality, individual support for numeracy and literacy. While there are itinerant  teachers for literacy and remedial reading there is no national provision for such support in numeracy, so a number of Invercargill schools pooled their resources to fund a team of numeracy support teachers in this area. This initiative has had huge success in raising the achievement of children struggling in numeracy and has provided useful professional support for classroom teachers.

The local primary principals’ association recently saw a need for providing targeted learning opportunities for our gifted and talented children and this resulted in a centre established for this purpose funded by our licensing trust. Enrich  http://www.enrich.net.nz/enrich/Welcom_1./Welcome.html has extended and enthused large numbers of our most able children and has potentially helped develop many of our nation’s future leaders.

It was into this local education environment that the untested National Standards were forcibly introduced. Our teaching professionals attended the early, shambolic, professional development  sessions provided at the beginning of the implementation and have followed the progress of the Standards ever since. While there is some professional value in the work around OTJs (overall teacher judgements) the Standards themselves cannot do the job they were purportedly designed for. We are hugely concerned with the arbitrary nature of the standards and their lack of consideration for the normal range of child development. Those schools that have attempted to implement the standards have had to devote huge amounts of teacher time to provide information that could already be established using existing measures.

Tested and proven programmes like Ka Hikitia, that directly deal with those children in most need of support, have taken a back seat during the Standards implementation and the introduction of our rich and exciting curriculum has suffered through the termination of the bulk of our advisory services. Children now have fewer opportunities to experience success in valuable curricula such as science and technology and this seems shortsighted, given our nation’s current and future needs.

Our concerns regarding National Standards aren’t because of protecting the interests of teachers, nor are they driven by unions or the Labour Party, they are driven out of concern for the children in our care. Implementing these flawed standards is taking time away from teaching to children’s needs and supporting those who need help now. We value our already great education system and in Invercargill we are striving for excellence. National Standards will only damage what we have spent considerable time and money developing.

Up to this point you have refused to discuss the flaws in your National Standards or allow a properly conducted trial. Rather than punish school communities that have real concerns with the Standards we hope you may begin to properly engage with us and work towards a professional solution that will put our children first.

Yours sincerely 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"The Spirit Level" Deserves Attention!



Richard Wilkinson did not sell his book well on Q&A and highlights the point that scientists and researchers are not necessarily the best promoters of their work and in this age of informercials its not about the quality of the goods but the quality of the sales pitch.

The panel responding to Wilkinson's interview did not appear to have read the book or give it much thought and on the whole were very dismissive of his conclusions. I can not see how you can really argue that Wilkinson and Pickett's research does not have a sound basis in fact. All the developed nations that have unequal societies suffer a range of negative consequences:

  • Lack of trust for others in their communities and a drop in perceptions of personal safety.
  • Higher levels of drug use and poor mental health.
  • Deteriorating levels of health (obesity, third world health issues reoccurring).
  • Growing disparity in educational achievement.
  • Higher levels of teenage pregnancies
  • Growing levels of violent crime.
  • High levels of imprisonment. 
  • Social mobility restricted and those less advantaged less likely to advance themselves.
All the above are being reflected in New Zealand as our society continues to become more divided. Currently the top one percent of New Zealanders have the same collective wealth as the bottom 60% and with the most wealthy seeing a 20% increase in their wealth over the last year, the bulk of New Zealanders are finding their incomes aren't keeping up with the rate of inflation.

We need to get back to building healthy communities and healthy families and a good part of that is ensuring that all New Zealanders are financially secure.  We should not have 250,000 children living in poverty at the same time as we have a record $480 million (approx.) spent on new Bentleys. Wealthy businesses and employers should value their workers and share the profits amongst all who have had a considerable contribution in making them.

New Zealand was known as being a clean, green and egalitarian society, this is no longer true and I wonder what will be a more accurate description of us five years from now as we follow the current path of governance?

National Wrecks My Children's Future!


The sun was shining and the bagpipes sang as the gowned graduates pranced (marched seems a too regimented verb to describe their progress) their way along George Street towards the Town Hall where they were to be capped. Watching the parade in Dunedin today made me think of all the talented young people we have coming out of our Universities, ready to engage in futures full of promise and possibilities...

...but this National Government is a wrecker of futures and a dasher of dreams. Rather than embrace the talent and skills of our young graduates and use them to help shape and create a sustainable and exciting future they are turning to the fuels and philosophies of a previous era. More and more New Zealand is becoming a modern embodiment of the industrial revolution. Our farms and factories are focussed on wringing huge profits from the "white gold", with lignite powering the factories and effluent flowing steadily into our waterways. Profit, progress and export markets power our country and coal and lignite are deemed to be fuel of the future, come hell or high water (both likely as carbon emissions soar).

This Government cuts taxes to the already rich and pours money into the businesses and corporates of a bygone era by deliberately cashing in on what rightfully and morally belongs to the next generation. 
It will be my children who will have to pay back the money borrowed to rebuild Christchurch.
It will be my children who will pay dearly for the carbon emissions created by the planned lignite mines and the loss of productive farm land. 
It will be my children who will have to pay the costs of restoring our rivers, lakes and aquifers.
It will be my children who will have to catch up with the rest of the world in the use of alternative energy sources, sustainable technologies and efficient public transport systems.
It will be my children who will have to manage the ongoing costs of children brought up in poverty and put right the huge inequities of income that splits our society as never before.

Sadly my children's generation are already becoming collateral damage from this government's agenda: 25% live in poverty, 27% are unemployed, many are committing suicide (at the highest rate in the OECD) and many will leave our country so they can fully utilize their training and skills and be paid a living wage. Of course, those that remain and can't find work will be demoralized even further with draconian forms of welfare that will limit financial independence and self determination. 

The National driven juggernaut is building up lignite fired steam and we need to slam on its brakes before it smashes too far into our children's future. Party vote Green!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Carers Deemed a Low Value Occupation


After watching the "Campbell Live" item about the mother who couldn't access financial support for caring for her disabled son (non family carers are supported), it made me realize even more the sort of society we have become. Despite the value they provide in human and economic terms, caregivers languish at the very bottom of the employment spectrum. I would like to tell you about three amazing women I know whose contribution to society is probably greater than your average financial advisor and yet their collective pay would probably be many times less (I have obviously changed their names).

Heather worked for many years as a carer in a rest home. She was well regarded for her work ethic and the  empathy she had for the residents. Heather was able to appreciate the importance of treating the elderly in her care with respect and even if they suffered from dementia she gave recognition to the people they once were. She loved her job and was valued for her wide ranging contribution to the smooth running of the home, but the pay was minimal and she had to look for other employment. She is now working in a management position with responsibility for a number of staff, when she visits the rest home where she once worked she is concerned at the limited skills and knowledge of the workers currently employed. Sue Kedgley and Winnie Laban's findings in their report on elderly care was reflected in a recent Consumer report where both expressed concern that government funding to rest homes was primarily spent on buildings rather than investing in quality or qualified staff.

Beryl has worked as a teacher aid in the same school for around 12 years. She is an extremely capable woman whose dedication to children with special needs is exceptional. She researches the various disabilities afflicting the children in her care and spends many hours of her own time creating practical resources to support them. Due to her capabilities and skill in working with these children she was asked if she would consider teacher training but she dismissed this possibility because she preferred the one to one nature of her work and the relationships she was able to develop with children that was not possible for classroom teachers. Beryl recently had her hours cut because the school couldn't afford to employ her on her previous hours and she lost her time with one child whom she had worked with for four years. Support staff pay is minimal and any increases haven't kept up with inflation and Beryl has taken on a cleaning job in the school to make up the difference and is reluctantly looking at other options.

Nola works in for one of three local agencies that provide home support for the elderly. She is a widow in her fifties, previously lived on a farm and has a range of practical skills including gardening. She has a range of clients and as she is often the most regular contact that her clients have with anyone and she quickly becomes aware of their wider needs. Her work is generally supposed to be helping with cleaning and general household tasks but she does whatever she sees as providing the most useful practical support, even if it outside her job description. She attends to garden work, small shopping errands, friendly advice and emotional support. She brings flowers from her garden and distributes secondhand magazines and free newspapers she picks up from the local information centre. Even though she is on a minimal rate and is only employed by the same agency she is employed as an independent contractor. This means that the agency does not have to guarantee set hours of work or cover the full costs of transport etc. Nola also has to do many courses at her own expense to update her knowledge of first aid and the health and safety aspects of her job. When the DHB had a budget cut for home support Nola found her client list and hours drastically cut and her income greatly reduced .

These women are paid minimal wages because their jobs lack status and they are inclined to think of those they support before their own pay packets. The fact that their jobs are generally done by women has meant an historical bias as to the value of their work and a reluctance to address glaring inequities. Few of these women are members of  unions (many feel they can't afford the fees) and are generally dictated to by their employers and their employment contracts often provide the minimum required by law. None of these jobs are appropriate for inexperienced young school leavers and I struggle to understand why we should pay them as if they are.





Monday, August 22, 2011

Jane Clifton Sucked in by the Spin!


In the latest Listener Jane Clifton reveals the extent of her journalistic impartiality. The following statements   from her column are gobsmacking (using her own description of teacher's actions):

"Whatever one's view of the national standards system in primary schools, it is the Government's policy. Teachers are the Government's employees, so they must implement it."

"That a quarter of schools are failing - either through competence or in defiance - to implement national standards is gobsmacking."

"It's clear that teacher unions want to be the ultimate arbiter of educational methods and standards, over the heads of parents and voters.

Jane also calls NZEI Te Riu Roa's TV commercials "expensively sanctimonious".

My reply:

The Editor
Listener

New Zealand’s education system is ranked by most international assessments in the top five in the world. Countries that achieve above us do not have the same disparities of income or the levels of poverty that we have. The fact that we do as well as we do when 1/4 of our children live in relative poverty and we spend less on early childhood education than most OECD countries makes our achievements even more remarkable. We have a great education system and with the right support and investment we could make it an excellent one.

The introduction of National’s National Standards is an appalling waste of money and teacher’s time that will deliver nothing positive and are already having a negative impact on our schools and children. For Jane Clifton to suggest that opposition to the Standards is just a power play from the unions is ignoring the widespread opposition since the untested and professionally suspect assessment system was introduced. The Minister of Education has ignored the serious concerns voiced by New Zealand’s education academics, including John Hattie (the Government’s key education advisor) and discredited the negative report from the Parliamentary Library. The New Zealand Council for Educational Research revealed inconsistency and confusion due to the rushed implementation and high levels of concern from parents and teachers.

A recent review of the Ministry of Education by the State Services Commission, the Treasury and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet revealed many areas of poor performance. The review document expressed concern at the ineffective support for Ka Hikitia, a strategy that would have a positive impact on Maori students, who are a proportionately significant group in those who struggle academically. It is initiatives like Ka Hikitia that will raise the tail of underachievement, not a poorly researched assessment system.

Rather than accept the Government spin that it is just a few disgruntled unionists behind the opposition, how about this magazine approaching the 350 or so school communities who would rather break the law than impose National Standards on their children.

Yours sincerely...



Child Poverty, NZEI Te Riu Roa Special Report


(image from http://www.theawarenessparty.com/?page_id=2195)

One in five New Zealand children is living in poverty. Māori and Pasifika children are disproportionately represented in these statistics.
The income gap in New Zealand – the difference between high and low or no incomes – is the sixth most unequal of 23 rich countries (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2009)
In New Zealand we are lucky to have very few cases of absolute poverty – a complete lack of basic human needs. Unfortunately, for some time now relative poverty – the condition of having fewer resources or less income than others within a society or country, or compared to worldwide averages – is on the rise.
The statistics tell us that the proportion of children living in hardship in New Zealand (defined as below 60% of median household income after housing costs) fell from 26% to 19% between 2004 and 2008 (Perry, 2010). However, hardship rates for sole parent beneficiary families remained steady at around 55% and since 2008, the economic recession and Government policy have contributed to a widening of the gap.
Looking at the statistics close up, hardship rates for sole parent families were around four times those for two- parent families (39% vs. 11%). By 2009, 49% of all children living in poverty were in one-parent households (Perry 2010) – but the problem is not just one of single parenting. We currently live in a society that makes good parenting increasingly difficult. Work hours are long, wages are low (and have stagnated) and very few jobs outside the state sector have generous – or even easily accessible – parental leave benefits.

Poverty and Education – Not an Easy Mix
What children are saying
What educators are saying
Early Childhood Education (ECE) can do much to reduce these disparities. Unfortunately there is no right to ECE in New Zealand. ECE is not affordable for many families, and poor children are more likely to miss out. Any child starting school without ECE is significantly disadvantaged and is unlikely to catch up. Addressing inequalities must begin early on. In order for a child to reach school with a good level of development they need a good start in life, from a healthy pregnancy, to being raised in a home where there is good quality and quantity of interaction.
Addressing continued inequalities in early child development, access to ECE, educational achievement and acquisition of skills, sustainable and healthy communities, social and health services, and employment and working conditions will have multiple benefits that extend beyond reductions in health inequalities
While low income in a family is a strong predictor of poor educational achievement (Cassen, 2007; Hirsch, 2007, St John & Wynd, 2008) it is not possible to draw a straight line between poverty and poor educational achievement. Some children living in poverty do well at school; other children from wealthier families do not. What we do know however, is that poverty attracts a cluster of conditions: poor housing, poor health and hygiene, lack of access to ECE, addictive behaviours, lack of technology for learning in homes and lack of support for education. The baskets of support that children of the poor bring with them to schools and centres are mostly empty.
At every stage of schooling, children living in poverty do worse and make less progress than their “better- off” classmates. The persistence of this achievement gap is of great concern. Poverty, the resources parents can bring to their children’s schooling, and the aspirations and expectations held by both parents and their children all count (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2009, CPAG, 2011).
“Poverty is...going to school and no-one understands the difficulties families are having – shame and embarrassment ... Kids playing up at school and getting in trouble because of family issues... Being bullied... Schools reacting to kids’ behaviour and not why they are acting that way and maybe kicked out of school...not being able to do things and getting in trouble...not being able to get to school” (From children and young people’s group definition of poverty, Palmerston North)
“It’s clear that more families are struggling financially in the past two – three years than previously...many parents are defaulting on fees/donations...more children are requiring support (like breakfasts in schools) or not having adequate lunches...more children are without appropriate clothing or resources when they come to school...more children are unable to go to camps or take part in extracurricular activities (NZEI OCC survey on issues impacting on children’s learning).

There is a growing base of international research and evidence (Goodman and Gregg, 2010, UNICEF, 2011) that shows that the gap in attainment between children from the poorest fifth and the richest fifth is already large by the age of five, and grows more rapidly during the primary school years.
The cost to the nation of child poverty and failure in school is high. The Christchurch Health and Development Study (The Children’s Social Health Monitor NZ, 2010), suggests that exposure to low family income during childhood and early adolescence may increase the risk of leaving school without qualifications, economic inactivity, early parenthood and criminal activity. Adjusting for mediating factors (e.g. parental education, maternal age, and sole parent status) reduces the magnitude of these associations somewhat, but they do not disappear completely, suggesting that the pathways linking low family income to long term outcomes are complex, and in part may be mediated by other socioeconomic variables” (Perry 2010, p. 55).
Inadequate income leads to low quality, poorly insulated housing, which contributes to poor health and for children, low educational attainment. There is also a direct link between inadequate income, stress, self- stigma and poor health. Poor health and low educational attainment increase the likelihood of long-term support on social welfare benefits (Welfare Justice in New Zealand, 2011). There is a general consensus that the relationship between poverty and adverse educational outcomes for children is not linear. However the impact of poverty plays out in lack of achievement and attendance in schools, and in ECE, in access, lack of transport, attendance and illness. The lack of clear cause and effect between participation, achievement and poverty means that children’s vulnerability is less visible and therefore it receives less attention in setting the policy responses. The current Government’s cuts to public services impacts on vital front line services. Proposals for reforms to welfare are highly likely to negatively impact on children. ECE cuts have already had an impact with a 12% rise in fees and several centres facing closure as result of lower enrolments because of the fee increases.

What helps
We know quality ECE is linked to better educational outcomes later in life, and is a powerful ‘equaliser’, helping to reduce educational disadvantage among children from low-income households. Both New Zealand and international research confirms that attendance at good-quality ECE has lasting effects on educational attainment during school years. The countries that have maintained low child poverty rates tend to be those with a high rate of participation in state-supported ECE (Wylie and Hodgen, 2007).
An impressive body of research confirms that returns from quality early childhood education are high and long-lasting. Therefore, this is one of the most important investments a country can make (ECE Taskforce report, June 2011).
Early childhood services must be available and must include universal services, such as access to early childhood education, as well as targeted interventions, including: economic hardship, childhood disabilities, child maltreatment and parental substance abuse and mental illness. Programmes that combine child-focused educational activities with explicit attention to parent-child relationships appear to have the greatest impact. Longitudinal research indicates that generic programmes are less effective for families facing significant risk (Gluckman, 2011)

The Salvation Army Report Card had this to say about ECE in New Zealand:
To those that have, more will be given. The early rapid and now slowing expansion of spending on early childhood education has failed to bridge the educational disadvantage around unequal and unfair access to ECE opportunities. The current review of ECE by the Early Education Advisory Group ... should aim to provide ECE policy-makers with some insight as to why their policies have failed so miserably for Maori children and other children from poor communities. (Salvation Army, 2011, p.15)
We know that while schools and centres cannot completely overcome the devastating effects of child poverty, they can, make a major contribution to breaking inter-generational poverty, if they have resources in cross- agency strategies.
We know that unemployment, low-paid work, and the accompanying social, health and family issues - including child poverty - occur disproportionately in Māori and Pasifika families. Māori and Pasifika young people are at increased risk of a wide range of adverse outcomes, including educational underachievement, antisocial behaviours, problems with alcohol, mental health disorders and suicidal behaviours. We also know that part of the solution is to promote the great programmes and activities that are happening for tamariki Māori and tamaiti o Pasifika in schools, kura, kōhanga reo, language nests and early childhood centres throughout New Zealand. The provision of learning opportunities and resources in first languages encourage families to participate, assist children to learn and their families to feel valued members of school and centre communities.
Participation in high-quality early childhood education “can make the difference between having a life of poverty and dependence or a life characterised by on-going self-development and positive social engagement”. (Early Childhood Education Taskforce, 2011, June p.13). Good quality ECE, building on the foundations for literacy and numeracy in school are powerful antidotes to the risks associated with child poverty and deprivation (Fletcher & Dwyer, 2008). Schools and centres can be effective bases for non-stigmatising provision of nourishing meals and health services, and for engaging parents in their children’s education and care. School programmes can counteract deprivation by enabling children and young people to participate in cultural and sporting activities, homework centres and computing equipment (Early Childhood Education Taskforce, June 2011).
But the provision of these services comes at a cost – a cost that can no longer be met by the goodwill of boards of trustees, parents, schools and centres, educators and communities. Government must not promulgate policy that abrogates its responsibility towards children and families.

What’s needed
Probably the best barometer of national policy is the status of a nation’s children. The negative effects of poverty on all levels of children’s lives and in particular school success have been widely demonstrated and accepted. The critical question for us must be – can these effects be prevented or reversed?
In response to growing concern, the Government is now initiating yet another ‘national discussion around what’s in the interest of children”. This follows a budget that delivered little and promised nothing substantial for children (Else, 2011). NZEI believes that this is not the time for more “conversation” or months of public ‘consultations’ that reveal little that is not already known.
NZEI believes that there is no ‘magic bullet’ to cure the systemic nature of educational underachievement by children in poverty – but there is clearly a need to focus on developing a strategy that addresses factors both in and outside of the education system.
NZEI calls for a cross-party national commitment to raising the educational achievement of children living in poverty. This must include a celebration and promulgation of programmes which have been proven effective and the provision and resourcing of coordinated, sustainable wrap-around, cross-agency approaches and investment in our children – and our future.
NZEI believes the Government must develop and implement non-punitive policies and programmes specifically targeted at reducing poverty. This means a coordinated approach that relies as much on social assistance, health and housing improvements as it does on education.
NZEI believes the Government is doing little to combat child poverty. Casting stones at individual agencies, schools and services will not alleviate the problem. By ignoring it or throwing piecemeal solutions at it, Government is only supporting the growth of inequality and child poverty. Failure to address this issue will ultimately come at a huge cost to society as a whole.

Recommendations for Government

Child poverty requires a bold approach. This must include:
·      A fair and universal approach to supporting children to participate in society.
·       The development of a coordinated and audited cross-party/cross-agency approach that targets child poverty and audits the impact of Government policy on children.
·       A specific focus on quality public services for the early years to prevent poor educational outcomes which must include investment in high-quality publicly-funded universally-available early childhood education, particularly in disadvantaged areas, staffed by fully-qualified early childhood teachers who can deliver the ECE curriculum.
·       Investment in extra resources for schools and centres to support children in poverty to succeed.
·       Investment in parenting support programmes that support parents to engage in their children’s learning.
·       Investment partnerships between Government, schools/centres and the local communities to ensure freely-available food programmes and healthcare for low decile schools and centres so that all children have access to basic foods and healthcare regardless of the capability of their parents.
·       Investment in the provision of a living wage for all New Zealanders. The minimum wage should be 60% of the average wage.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

When is Civil Disobedience Justified?


The introduction of National Standards into our schools was a shock to the teaching profession. We had developed a professional culture where an evidence base and an inquiry approach determines our practice. Our curriculum was developed using a co-construction process between the Ministry of Education and practicing teachers over a period of five years. The Ministry also produced a series of Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) publications where different areas of professional practice were defined and analysed based on existing research.

To suddenly have an assessment system forced on us that was politically driven, had no research base and did not fit with anything else we were working with was a real shock. The initial reaction from the profession was to look at what was being introduced to see if it was actually fit for the stated purpose (raising the academic achievement of our struggling children). Our leading educationalists and academics studied what was being proposed and unanimously rejected them.

A open letter expressing serious concerns from four academics, including John Hattie (the Government's main education advisor) was ignored and a report expressing concerns from the parliamentary library was dismissed and removed . A petition with around 40,000 signatories asking for a trial before implementation was also ignored and the Standards were legislated into law.

The Minister, Anne Tolley, refused to address the flaws in the standards and was only interested in discussing issues around implementation. She claimed on numerous occasions that the Government had a mandate to introduce the Standards and as they are now law all teachers (as servants of the state) are bound to obey . Rather than a trial using a small number of schools the Government has decided to spend $26 million to implement it across all schools in a three year "bedding down" period. When at least 80% of our children were doing well academically, and wouldn't benefit greatly from the Standards, many felt that the money would be better spent targeting those children who needed the extra support and were easily identified using existing norm referenced assessments.

The National Standards have taken considerable time for many schools to implement in any marginally meaningful way and most teachers, principals and school communities are struggling to see how the Standards will add value to what their schools were already doing. There are huge professional and ethical concerns for teachers when they are compelled to rate children below or above an arbitrary standard that has no professional basis. The introduction of the standards has effectively shifted time and energy from implementing our internationally regarded curriculum to spending time on an initiative that many teachers believe will deliver no benefit to their children.

For school communities to align their learning targets to the National Standards, with the knowledge that to give effect to those targets would have a detrimental consequences for their children, created a professional and ethical dilemma. They were left with two choices either follow a legal requirement and then just pretend to follow through, or make a stand and refuse to comply.

A refusal to comply has to be supported by a school's board of trustees who operate in the best interests of their school communities. It is a brave decision when the Minister has threatened to sack noncompliant boards and replace them with statutory managers and withhold professional development and ministry resources. The fact that at least a quarter of all schools have taken this extreme step is a telling indictment on the true nature of the standards.

Primary teachers are not a particularly strident group. The New Zealand Educational Institute started life in 1883 as a professional institute and only became a union when it began to represent teachers in agreement negotiations many years later. I think there have been only two times in the 128 year history of the institute that it has reluctantly gone on strike to progress a claim. It takes exceptional circumstances for primary teachers to put their neck out to make a stand and to break the law on a point of principle has been unheard of until now.

The process of introducing the National Standards has been hugely frustrating for teachers who regard their profession as one that should have similar professional autonomy to that of doctors, where the onus of duty is to those in their care. After being dictated to by a Minister who ignores all professional advice, sees no point in consultation and any attempt to reach any form of compromise has been dismissed out of hand, the only course of action left is civil disobedience.


Monday, August 15, 2011

A Child's Life.


Harley's mother was eighteen, when he was born, unmarried and no close family where she was living. Harley was her first child and she struggled to breast feed. Hospital midwives tried to give support but after  two days she was sent home. Plunket provided some home support and noted that Harley's mother was barely coping, was bottle feeding and the flat that they were living in was cold and damp.

Harley suffered from respiratory problems throughout his early years and had a several stays in hospital due to asthma. His mother had a series of part time jobs and couldn't always afford childcare, so Harley would be left with a friend who had a number of small children of her own. The children spent much time watching TV, there were few toys and little interaction with adults.

Harley's Mother had a relationship with a man for a few years, who showed little interest in Harley, and would often become violent after prolonged drinking sessions. Harley witnessed a number of violent attacks on his mother.

Harley attended a kindergarten for a short period but due to constant changes in work commitments his mother struggled to get him to the enrolled sessions and the Kindergarten had to remove him from their roll because his of lack of attendance. It was noted by the Kindergarten teachers that Harley was developmentally delayed and sometimes displayed aggressive behaviour to others but little was done because of the short time he attended.

When Harley started school his delayed development was again identified and teacher aid support was provided. Harley enjoyed school and had a good relationship with his teacher and especially his first teacher aid and he was obviously upset when a change of hours, and the school's restricted funding, meant the teacher aid could no longer be employed. Harley's teacher noted that Harley did not manage change as well as other children and his aggressive behaviours were becoming more common.

Harley still suffered from periods of poor health and seemed to catch any bug that was doing the rounds. His mother's employers made little allowances for parental leave when Harley was ill and there were few options for care in these situations. Often Harley was sent to school when he was ill and he would spend the day or two, on his own, lying in the school's medical room. His mother would get quite defensive and aggressive when the school demanded that she take him home as she knew it would mean a day without pay and a risk of losing her job.

When Harley's aggressive behaviour and lack of progress with his learning became more concerning he received support from an RTLB (Resource Teacher for Learning and Behaviour). An excellent programme of support was put in place for Harley that focussed on his interest in music, this was a passion for him that he had few opportunities to develop. The shift to a dominance of literacy and numeracy, compounded with the introduction of National Standards had seen the music programme in the school reduced to singing in assembly once a week and the occasional music related activity in class. Harley's teacher was not confident in music and as the music advisors had been disestablished there were few opportunities for professional support. The initial gains through the music focus were gradually lost as the teacher's lack of confidence in this area meant she was not able to sustain the programme and the intervention eventually failed.

When Harley was eight his mother was able to afford the rent of somewhere better than their substandard  flat and managed to find another at the other end of town, so he was enrolled in a new school. Harley found the adjustment to the new school difficult, he became withdrawn and could not make new friends and his aggressive behaviours became progressively worse. His mother had a risen to a managerial position in a fast food outlet and Harley attended an after school care facility (OSCAR) based at the school because his mother could not finish work until 5:30 pm. The OSCAR carers had difficulty managing Harley's aggressive behaviours and another child was badly hurt during a confrontation.

Harley's new school was attempting to implement National Standards and curriculum areas outside literacy and numeracy had also lost emphasis and music received just token coverage. Harley's natural ability for music wasn't identified or recognized and he was assessed at well below the National Standards in Maths, Reading and Writing. In a self review activity Harley described himself as stupid and could not identify anything he enjoyed or was good at.

Harley was now almost ten and his deteriorating behaviour had him referred to  GSE (Group Special Education) and an IEP (Individual Education Programme) was developed to support Harley. The IEP was developed through a collaborative process involving a team that included Harley's mother and teacher. Harley's mother struggled in her parenting role because of work demands and lack of parenting skills, she recognized that her relationship with Harley was compromised by her hours of work and that the amount of time that Harley spent at home, unsupervised, was unacceptable. She decided to resign from her managerial position so that she could be at home for Harley when he finished school, but this meant a loss of income and a shift to cheaper accommodation.

Their new house was as poorly insulated as their first home and Harley's Asthma immediately became worse. His ill health meant his mother had to spend more time caring for him and although her employer was able to accommodate her time away there was no income generated on those days. Harley's absence from school affected his learning even further and his difficulty establishing and maintaining friendships became even more pronounced.

Harley was caught shop lifting not long after his tenth birthday and for the first time he came to the attention of the police...

Harley is a fictional child but his situation and background is an amalgamation of many I have experienced in my teaching career. I wanted to use this narrative to highlight the areas of failure in supporting many of our children and point out the potential issues around current government policy. Our poor international record for child welfare will continue unless we address the following:


  • Young mothers who have little whanau support are identified and supported.
  • Struggling parents are identified early and useful interventions are available.
  • Ensure Employment law and employers recognize and accommodate parents .
  • Being a good parent is regarded as equally important to being in paid employment, if not more so.
  • Access to quality early childhood centres and kindergartens can address many issues related to disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Well qualified early childhood teachers are more likely to successfully accommodate and support at risk children than untrained carers.
  • There should be minimum standards for rental housing that is effectively enforced.
  • Minimum pay rates need to be increased so that most young families are able to have household incomes that are livable (over 1/4 of our children live in poverty).
  • School support staff are centrally funded so that continuity of support in schools is ensured.
  •  The pay and conditions of teacher aids recognizes the importance of the position to attract and maintain quality people who will then regard the job as a secure and viable career.
  • Stop the implementation of National Standards so that the breadth of the curriculum can again be taught and support for other curricula can be funded again.
  • Allow children to improve their sense of self worth by establishing their areas of strength and allowing them to develop their potential in all areas, not just numeracy and literacy.
  • Release the millions of dollars spent on implementing the standards and provide direct support for those children already identified with high needs (we don't need National Standards to do this).
  • Stop demonizing poor and unemployed parents by making sweeping generalizations about what kind of people they are. The average time spent on the DPB is actually less than five years and the importance of being at home when the children are young should not be diminished.
It is about time we valued our children above economic growth and recognize that investing in our children is actually an investment in our future economy and a healthy, vibrant society.



Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chris Trotter Holds Fast to Past


My debate with Chris Trotter regarding his claims that the Green Party is deliberately purging itself of leftwing MPs and taking a softer more centrist position continues. Chris criticizes me for inaccuracies of political history but continues to make sweeping judgements with little basis in fact. His arrogant responses to my requests to provide some substance to his arguments demeans his status as genuine commentator of the left. I cannot be confident that he will allow my last comment to appear on his blog so I have published it own my own as well.

Chris
I'm sorry, bsprout, but if I responded to every comment demanding I do this, that, and the other, I'd never do anything else.

If you are interested in learning why I think the way I do about your party, then I suggest you read a few of my many postings about the Greens on this blog.

Remember, you're the guest here.


Myself

I have read all your posts on the Green Party over the years, Chris, and they all reflect a great fondness for the original leadership. Your open admiration for Rod Donald also comes through clearly to the extent that I am concerned it has clouded your objectivity  when evaluating our new leadership. In your criticism of Russel's Tibetan protest you forgot that Rod's right to protest was support by a security guard and two police whereas Russel got no such protection. Chinese security were blocked from interfering with Rod while Russel, although standing in a similar fashion to Rod, was manhandled and his flag forcibly removed.

I have concerns that you are making assessments of our new MPs and leaders based on your attachment to those with whom you had a close relationship. As someone who has connections with the "old guard" of the party and the new, rather than  feeling a sense of loss for those who have gone before and concern for the continued direction of the party, I feel encouraged and confident.

There will never be another Rod but I see his infectious enthusiasm bubbling out of Gareth Hughes and his political pragmatism present in many of our MPs. What you admired in Rod in terms of his positioning of the party outside of the left/right continuum and working across parties you now appear to criticise.

The connections between the generations of our party are strong and the relationships ongoing. When debates at our AGM are around semantics rather than philosophy there is obviously no shift in core direction or weakening of purpose.

When Holly Walker states "I am motivated primarily by a strong commitment to social justice and an understanding that this is inextricable from environmental and economic justice. In particular, I have a strong focus on reducing inequality for the benefit of the whole society." I see no difference in what motivates Holly to what motivated Rod.

Another generation from now, political commentators will be lamenting the loss or retirement of another dynamic and respected Green leader and expressing concern that those following will never truly replace them...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Intelligent Cities/Intelligent Economies


This Time magazine article on Stockholm provides a model for where Christchurch and New Zealand should be heading:

Northern Star. Stockholm runs on green energy and wants to export it to the world
Call it recycling opportunity. After their failed bid to host the 2004 Summer Olympics, Stockholm city leaders decided to turn a would-be sports village in the Hammarby Sjostad district into one of the world's most successful eco-villages. The practices of powering buses with biogas, recycling rainwater for irrigation and using organic waste for fertilizer spread to other districts of Sweden's largest city. Today the city's water is so clean that fishermen actually stand on bridges in the central business district, catching fresh salmon and trout.
Stockholm was named the first European Green Capital in 2010. Since then, green innovation has become a pillar of Swedish national competitiveness. With its target to become a fossil-fuel-free city by 2050, Stockholm hopes to turn green into gold by exporting smart power to an energy-conscious world.
Construction has just begun at the new Royal Seaport, where a smart grid will allow renewable energy (including solar and wind power) to flow among the homes and offices of residents. Buildings will become "green houses" that not only use but also store green energy and then feed it back into the grid whenever possible. This should enable yearly carbon emissions to be reduced to less than 1.5 tons per person by 2020 — well below the U.S. average of 20 tons (New Zealand's per capita carbon emissions are similar to the US about 19 tons). Ships will be able to plug in and charge up using the onshore electric grid, meaning they can shut off noisy engines, making the harbor area more attractive to live in.
Delegations from nearby Copenhagen and Helsinki and places as far-flung as China have become regulars in Stockholm, taking notes on how the city government is building out its grid through public-private partnerships involving Finnish utilities and Swiss engineering titan ABB. 
The next step is to export Stockholm's smart energy to the world. Denmark, for example, is connected by underwater cables. There's talk of using such physical connections to enable development of a pan-European energy grid that would theoretically allow all of Scandinavia to export wind and hydropower southward. Swedish historian Gunnar Wetterberg made waves when he called for the five Scandinavian countries to form a United Nordic Federation in the next 20 years. There'd be plenty of votes for Stockholm as its capital.
This should be our national vision, to become a major exporter of green technology and this can't be achieved until we embrace it within our own country first. Christchurch provides lots of opportunities to redevelop along the lines of Stockholm and be recognized as another world leader in green technology.
The current vision from our National Government is to be a world leader in the export of coal and lignite....


Monday, August 8, 2011

Chris Trotter and Conspiracy Theories


Chris Trotter, well known political analyst and media commentator of the left, has made some bizarre claims about the Green Party. His suggestion that a coalition deal between National and the Greens is not that unlikely drew this response from me and the following discussion:

     Me
     I can imagine Key making that call, but when trying to imagine Russel (or Metiria)
     making a positive response, images of flying pigs and frozen flames come to mind
     instead.....


     Chris

Well, bsprout, I think you need to give your imagination a bit of a workout.

Ask yourself why the Greens have, over the past three years, very sweetly, but quite ruthlessly, purged themselves of their left-wing MPs?

Ask yourself why their image managers have consistently repositioned their leaders as mainstream, non-threatening, politicians?

Ask yourself why their conference, flying pigs and frozen flames notwithstanding, refused to rule out a coalition agreement with the National Party?

Believe me when I say that, having asked yourself those questions - and answered them honestly - you will read my posting in a very different light.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

My speech: A choice between two clear futures!



Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this public meeting to discuss the future of our New Zealand environment.

I want to talk about the political context around our environment. This is an election year and in less than 3 months we will be deciding on how we want our country to be led for the next three years. I would like to briefly cover where we are heading under the current National government, the potential impacts on our local region if National wins another term and what a Green alternative would look like.

How will we be if we continue under a National Government?

According to the polls New Zealand now regards politics as a presidential style competition than one based on policy. People would rather have John Key as our Prime Minister although they feel more comfortable with other parties’ policies. However the cost of maintaining a likable guy at the top will be huge environmental degradation.

We have to look behind the rhetoric and do some spending comparisons to see where this government’s priorities really lie. National always talks about how many million they have spent on this and how much more they have spent on that but we need to compare spending on individual projects to see what they really regard as important.

The increased tax cuts to the wealthy has reduced government revenue and we now have our wealthy and big business making an average of 18% profit over the last year. Around $480 million was spent on new Bentleys in 2010 and for the first time New Zealand’s spending on luxury cars is such that it has seen us gain a Roll Royce dealership, which was not regarded as viable before. The money passed on to the rich has not resulted in new jobs or increases in wages. We now have one of the largest disparities between rich and poor in the OECD. It is more important to this government to support the lifestyles of the rich than raise wages or grow jobs. 

We have had a cut in funding for environmental organisations and DoC will lose more than 100 staff as they deal with an $8 million dollar shortfall. At the same time the government has paid the International Rugby Board $120 million for the privilege of hosting the World Cup. It is more important for this government to host a successful world cup than manage New Zealand’s conservation estate.

The Waituna Lagoon is at the point of flipping and Nick Smith has told Environment Southland to apply for money from a contestable fund of $15 million set aside for cleaning our country’s polluted waterways and yet they have donated $36 million to the America’s Cup Challenge. It is more important for this Government to support an elite overseas yacht race than clean up our rivers.

The National Government is also averse to regulating business to protect the environment or the safety of people. The estimated $11.5 billion it will cost New Zealand to put right the leaky building catastrophe is a direct result of a past National government changing the building regulations in 1991. The Pike River Mine disaster is being blamed on National lowering mine safety regulations in 1993. Yet they have not learned these lessons of the past as it was revealed that National had no agreement with Petrobras to ensure it would take responsibility for any drilling accident off our coastline and the cost of any major spill would have be absorbed by Maritime New Zealand or in other words, the taxpayer. It is more important for this government to support business growth than consider the safety and wellbeing of our people and environment.

Despite the fact that 90% of our lowland rivers are significantly polluted the Government’s new Water Management Strategy puts the onus on Regional Councils and gives them 30 years to achieve a reasonable level of compliancy. Where is the urgency and the leadership? More has been budgeted for subsidising irrigation (up to $400 million), to encourage dairy expansion, than protecting our water from intensive farming.

This National Government also produced an incredibly backward energy strategy that puts investment in mining fossil fuels at the top. There is support and encouragement to mine lignite out of some of our most fertile farmland with no attempt to tighten environmental regulations. Solid Energy’s Don Elder has publicly claimed that they will only deal with the millions of tonnes of carbon emissions if the New Zealand Public wants them to. He has also criticised Southland’s Draft Energy Strategy for promoting renewable and sustainable energy sources.

We have evidence that this government puts a low priority on protecting our environment and it is telling that many Blue Green members are frustrated that the original green friendly rhetoric has turned into green wash.

So what would the effects at a local level if National continued in power?

We will see a continuation of water degradation as intensive farming is being supported to expand. We will see the Mataura Valley covered in huge opencast lignite mines and the expansion of Fracking. Fracking is the forcing of water and chemicals into coal beds to force out natural gas and the contamination of aquifers and triggering of minor earthquakes are common side effects.

We will probably witness the flipping of the Waituna lagoon and lose our most important and internationally regarded wetland. We will see increased costs to taxpayers as the external, environmental costs of intensive farming will have to be absorbed by local authorities. We will see the loss of habitat of many indigenous species and possibly even the extinction of some.

Swimming in local rivers will be a risk to our health and recreational activities like fishing and whitebaiting will be noticeably affected, even more than they already are.

We will see an on going shortage of clean water for domestic use. In Northern Southland many bores that have been used for generations are contaminated and Gore has suffered water shortages due to the growth of irrigation in Northern Southland.

The jobs gained through the growth in the mining and dairy industries will only offset the jobs lost from government cuts, 63 people from Invercargill’s IRD office alone.

We will also see a loss of sovereignty as our farms and state assets are increasingly sold to overseas interests and more profits head offshore.

So what does the Green Party offer?

The Green Party has been an effective force while never actually being in Government and we have managed to get ruling parties’ support for a number of worthwhile projects.

Many of the DoC staff soon to be sacked were employed through the $8 million five year initiative we got under a Labour Government to support wetland areas. Much of the science and funding to support local farmers to protect wetlands came from this money. Our waste minimisation legislation has seen huge changes in how we manage or recycle our waste and what was thought impossible a few years ago is now daily practice for most of us.

Even under National our home insulation scheme has improved 100,000 homes, and the health of as many families. We gained $4 million to fund a pilot project to develop more effective ways of protecting our forests and native birds from pests and we led the campaign to keep mining out of our National Parks.

It was the Green Party who exposed the planned factory farming in the McKenzie basin, brought public scrutiny to MP’s spending and have pushed for the end of secret lobbyists. We also question the purchase of a fleet of BMWs with heated seats, each costing the same as a new ambulance, to carry our MPs around.

If the Green Party were to have enough MPs to be the government or substantially influence the government we would see a huge shift in spending priorities from $11 billion on Auckland motorways to sustainable jobs and actually being the green country we claim to be. We will use our talented scientists and technologists to lead the world in sustainable technology and find better ways of managing our farms. There are many farms that already operate in environmentally better ways including one that I attempted to stop gaining a conversion consent, it was an environmental winner this year and should be regarded as a model for others. We can have a prosperous country based on green principles that will give us an even stronger export brand overseas and will allow us to be economically secure and debt free well into the future.

By reducing our carbon emissions and investing in more efficient transport networks and sustainable industry we can reduce the environmental and economic debt for the next generations. Why put all our hopes in technology and energy forms of the past, it seems bizarre that a country that produced the father of nuclear science, the inventor of the jetboat and the jet pack should turn to mining lignite to take us into the future.

If you want genuine change and a commitment to a sustainable and prosperous future for us all, and not just an elite few, you must party vote Green in November!