Monday, April 23, 2012

Lesley Longstone's Management Style Revealed


I was surprised when someone was appointed to lead the Ministry of Education from outside New Zealand, given that our education system performs amongst the top five internationally and that we have a number of very capable educationalists who could have competently carried out the role and had an in-depth institutional knowledge of our system. I have no doubt that Lesley Longstone is a capable administrator and I can understand why National would wish to appoint someone whose background is implementing government policy and promoting Free Schools (the equivalent of Charter Schools), but I have serious concerns about her ability to lead our quality public education system.

In the days when the Education Ministry was a Department, and had less political interference, it was managed by some astute and forward thinking individuals. Clarence Beeby and Bill Renwick were hugely instrumental in shaping the philosophies and pedagogical approach that led us to being one of the top education systems in the world. Both men were driven by meeting the educational needs of our children so that they would be equipped with the skills and attributes necessary to do well in life and contribute meaningfully to a rapidly changing society. Beeby especially recognized that systems driven by assessment, stifled creativity and the ability of teachers to meet the varying needs of students. He saw teacher education as a key to enhancing the learning process and allowing it to become more accessible to a wider range of learners.

The culture of the Department of Education developed into one that promoted good teaching practice  informed by evidence and research and this culture largely continued when it became a Ministry. The current curriculum was an excellent example of evidence based development and the co-construction process ensured that teachers were fully involved in writing the drafts and the reviewing and critiquing that led to the final document. This collaborative process meant that teachers fully accepted the new curriculum and were committed to the implementation. Beginning with the leadership of Beeby and Renwick, there has developed an implicit understanding that educational change can't be embedded without teachers being fully committed to the process.

Within one parliamentary term the National Party has managed to ignore and sidestep over 70 years of educational history. What little autonomy or professional ethos that had existed in the Ministry has now been squeezed out and what remains is an under staffed, bureaucratic organisation that largely exists to implement the ideological whims of the government. When a good deal of its energy will now be devoted to introducing Charter schools, ostensibly the idea of a Party that got around 1% support in the last election, it demonstrates how little professional integrity must be left in those that remain.

Words like consultation, collaboration and facilitation used to drive educational change now we hear political mandate, dictate and legal prerogative as the dominating language used. Lesley Longstone's response to Moewera School's NCEA results was very simple; poor results, shut down the classes. There was no consultation, no proper assessment of the school's capability or community support. The Principal's requests for meetings were ignored as was her openness for professional support. When the community responded in frustration by continuing with the senior classes, the board was sacked and a commissioner appointed. This action seems cold hearted and overly severe, especially considering the last ERO review of the school praised the leadership team and the efforts of the board and community in meeting the needs of their decile 1 students:

"Since the 2006 ERO review, significant progress has been made in student achievement. Most students in mainstream and immersion classrooms are now achieving at or above nationally expected levels for their age in reading, writing and numeracy. Successes are celebrated and students with learning and developmental needs are catered for through both internal and external support systems. The senior managers are now reviewing the selection and use of assessment tools so that they can report, consistently and over time, to the students, trustees and school community on the achievement of students at the school in comparison with that of students nationally. The school has established a relationship with Northland College to enable the Year 9 and 10 students at Moerewa School to gain NZQA (New Zealand Qualification Authority) credits in a range of subjects.
The principal leads the school effectively. Senior managers, teachers and support staff form a collegial and cohesive team, with a focus on children's wairuatanga, education and achievements. Teachers within whānau teams evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching and have established classroom environments in which good practices of whanaungatanga and atawhai enable students to focus on learning. Teachers plan collaboratively and cater for the different groups levels within the class. It is timely for teachers to increase students' involvement in the learning programme to ensure that all students are reaching their potential.
The board of trustees is supportive of the principal and staff and is committed to improving outcomes for students. Self-review systems are now in place and are beginning to impact positively on the strategic planning and management of the school."
Moewera School is situated in a small, poor rural Northland community and I would have thought there were ample reasons for why NCEA results may not be as strong as other schools. The punitive response from Lesley Longstone will destroy the good will that obviously exists in the community and considering the short time the school had catered for senior classes some professional support should have been the first step if there were any concerns.

I had reserved my judgement of our new CEO, but now that I have witnessed Ms Longstone in action my previous despair has changed to horror. Lesley Longstone, this is not how we do education in New Zealand! 


Postscript: I have just chanced on an article that claims Lesley Longstone's salary is $660,000 a year. There was some criticism of a $20,000 increase to the salary of the  previous Secretary of Education, Karen Sewell, which lifted her to around $500,000. To now know that Longstone earns another $160,000 on top of that is a real concern. Her performance so far hasn't indicated that the government is getting good value for our money.  

7 comments:

ianmac said...

The National Standards introduction, marked the first time in the last 100 years or so, that politicians have interfered directly in education. The huge body of educational knowledge that teaching had amassed was largely grown from the ground up and based on good research and trial. It has now been crushed from the top down. Lesley Longstone is not here for teaching. She is here as a political mouthpiece. Sad.

bsprout said...

Ianmac, I agree that the National Standards introduction was one of the most intrusive initiatives to be forced on education for some time. However, to say it was the first time probably isn't quite true when you consider Merv Wellington forced schools to fly the NZ flag and blocked sex education. David Lange's Tomorrow's Schools could also be described as direct interference in Education with far reaching consequences. The big difference with the implementation of National Standards has been the total disregard of the profession and and the underlying attempt to undermine NZEI and the status and reputation of teachers. There is a total lack of good faith and professional respect.

I share share you despair about the huge body of knowledge and research that has been shelved.

I think Lesley Longstone is also less of a mouth piece, Parata is more than able to do this job, but she has been employed as an effective bureaucrat.

Anonymous said...

Pretty pathetic if i'm completely honest. The state services commission headhunted Mrs Longstone to do a job. You clearly dont have any real understanding of the current issue for the nz education system which is the massive contrast in educational achievement for Maori.

bsprout said...

On the contrary, anonymous, I am fully aware of the concerns around maori achievement. I am also aware the the Prime Minister's office and parliamentary review of the Education Ministry's performance was fairly scathing about the level of support for proven programmes to address this issue like Ka Hikitia http://www.minedu.govt.nz/~/media/MinEdu/Files/TheMinistry/KaHikitia/English/KaHikitia2009PartOne.pdf
Maori education and kura have been underfunded for years and yet the NCEA results from many kura have been very good.

Anonymous said...

BSprout, I see you've listed fair pay in your interests. How do you feel about Novopay's approach to fair pay, and Lesley's view on Campbell Live tonight regarding how fair Novopay is?

bsprout said...

Novopay may eventually work out alright (the old system was probably heading towards its use by date), I have few problems with the actual system but like everything the Ministry does at the moment it reeks of short staffing and general incompetence. I think most people who had any institutional knowledge or integrity probably left some time ago.

bsprout said...

Since I wrote the above comments it appears that there are probably flaws with Novapay itself.