Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Appropriate Decision Making Lacking


One of the four principles our Green Party charter is "Apropriate Decision Making" and this is recognised in how we operate throughout our membership structures and at caucus level. When I first became involved with the party I did find the use of consensus decision making on major remits ponderous and protracted at times, however, after many years of being involved in the process, I totally support it.

I have been involved in many different organisations at a governance level and have seen how decisions that are based on limited consultation and are rammed through by a quick vote and a narrow majority generally have negative consequences. Even those that use a 75% majority vote for major decisions often end up with the 25% feeling disgruntled and the decision having to be revisited at a later point. A consensus decision doesn't have to mean 100% agreement but it does mean that those who disagree are prepared to recognise they are in a minority and will support consensus. Decisions made in this way, though time consuming, are hugely useful in maintaining unity and stability, and probably save time and energy in the long run.

For this National led Government such a process would be a total anathema. For them, democracy (for what its worth) ends after the election and then once in the seats of Government they appear to develop a sense of position and entitlement that does not require any further engagement with the voting public. Consultation or evidence based decisions are rarely used unless there is unavoidable necessity (like consulting iwi regarding Section 9 and the asset sales).

The past four years have seen numerous examples of where blind ideology has dominated decisions and an unhealthy haste has been used with disastrous consequences. We have seen the ACC debacle, the Mfat chaos, privacy breeches and systems failures because of poor consultation, short staffing and fast tracked processes. Much legislation has been passed under urgency with limited use of select committees and total the disregard of submissions.

Education that has been under siege more than most, with almost continuous change being forced on a sector which was probably the least deserving of such attention. The way decisions have been made regarding education have seen a huge shift from the collaborative, evidence based approach teachers have got used to, to one that is dictatorial and ideologically driven. When National first took power our education system was ranked in the top four internationally but a recent international assessment has seen us drop to eighth.

If we look at the major changes that have been forced onto our education system, or attempted to, over the last four years we can see total disregard for good process.

National Standards
  • Claimed that 2008 election provided a mandate although no detail was provided to voters on what the Standards would look like.
  • Refused to trial the Standards as requested by the profession and they were legislated and implemented before they were fully developed.
  • The profession was blocked from having input in shaping the Standards themselves and were only consulted on the manner of implementation.
  • Professional development was poor at best and there were constant changes and adjustments during the first two years.
  • All advisors (science, techonology etc) were sacked except for those supporting the Standards.
  • The first information sent to parents was printed by the National Party, not the Ministry of Education.
  • Schools, principles and academics who raised concerns were dismissed as having political motives even though all 750 principals attending a professional conference voted no confidence in the Standards. 
  • Schools who refused to set targets based on the Standards were threatened with commissioners replacing boards.
  • Principals who voiced concerns were personally threatened with "random" audits. 
  • League tables were allowed to be published after initial assurances that they wouldn't be and despite the "ropey" nature of the data.
Funding Cuts to Early Childhood education 
  • $400 million cut from early childhood budget.
  • Government lowers target of 100% trained Early Childhood teachers to 80% and centres are no longer funded for qualified staff over the 80% thresh hold.
  • Government claims untrained teachers are as good as qualified ones and ignores advice from the Science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman regarding the importance of early education.
  • New Zealand spending on the early childhood sector lower than OECD average of 1% of GDP (New Zealand spends .6%, just over half).
Ministry of Education funding cuts and leadership change
  • $25 million cut from Ministry funding "to improve frontline services".
  • New staff appointed appear to have a background in government service (bureaucracy) rather than education.
  • Frontline Special Education staff find reduced staffing and increased workloads.
  • New National Secretary for Education appointed from the UK with a background in implementing Charter Schools (Free Schools) and this strangely predated the Act agreement. 
  • Ministry of Education rated as one of the most poorly performing ministries by the Prime Minister's Office, State Services Commission and the Treasury.  
Charter Schools
  • Charter schools not mentioned by National nor by Act during the 2011 election campaign (despite the prior appointment of Lesley Longstone).
  • Charter Schools strangely appear as part of the Act/National coalition agreement and John Banks appears to lack detail when questioned about them in initial interviews.
  • John Key doesn't even try to justify the system and claims it was just part of the Act deal. That major change can be dictated by a Party that gets only 1% of the vote is a concern.
  • Non registered teachers will be allowed to teach in Charter Schools and they do not have to follow the National Curriculum. Destiny Church shows interest.
  • Act stalwart, Katherine Isaacs, is chosen to lead the implementation. 
  • The first detailed assessment of Charter Schools by Stanford University revealed that on average Charter Schools performed the same or worse than public schools.

Increasing Class Sizes
  • Hekia Parata decided to increase teacher student ratios to support better student outcomes. 
  • They reasoned that if the lower performing teachers were to leave the system we would have less teachers but a higher quality (and they would save on teacher salaries). 
  • The policy was imbedded in the budget and not promoted and it was soon obvious that the implementation had not been well considered when it was revealed that intermediates would lose their technology teachers.
  • Protests around the country and from parents as well as the teaching profession, forced a backdown.
  • It was obvious that the true reason for the class size increase was fiscal rather than educational when Key stated that the $43 million that would have been saved from teachers' salaries would have to be found elsewhere
Christchurch Schooling Plan
  • Education Minister and Ministry produce a schooling plan for Christchurch based on limited consultation and data that was highly inaccurate. It appears that fiscal considerations drove the process and much of the data was shaped to support the plan.
  • It was suggested that Schools and communities couldn't be involved in formulating the initial plan because they wouldn't be objective. 
  • Schools with rolls of 150 or less were immediately targeted for closure and 'mega' primary schools of around 600 pupils were supported.
  • Greater consultation allowed after mass protests, but only two months provided at the busiest time of the school year. 
  • The Government  claims it wants to provide greater educational choice but plan provides substantially less choice.
Closing of Residential schools
  • The Government decides to close a number of residential schools in favour of mainstreaming the disabled and behaviorally difficult children that attended them.
  • While there are some good arguments in doing this, the "wrap around services" that are being claimed will provide the support for these children are seriously underfunded. Many of the children mainstreamed will find instead of specialised support every day they may only have the same kind of individualised support a few hours a week. 
  • The decision to close Salisbury School in Neslon for girls with high needs has been deemed unlawful by the High Court because the Minister had not given proper weighting to the potential risks of putting adolescent girls with intellectual and emotional disabilities into a co-educational environment. 
  • The fact that the Minister has not appealed the decision demonstrates the lack of justification for the original decision.
Novapay
  • The Labour Government signed up to Novapay as a replacement for the Datacom system that was used to manage the wages and salaries of the education sector. A change was probably needed and as the sector has got great complexities, with a range of employment agreements and different kinds of jobs, the transfer to a new system was always going to be a complex process. 
  • Again fiscal considerations dominated the decision to launch the new system. There had been numerous delays and having to pay both Datacom and Novapay for a longer period than planned  was creating pressure on the budget. Despite ample evidence that the system wasn't ready the Ministry decided to launch it anyway and the resulting debacle has meant hours of time and stress for schools and well over 10,000 errors. 
  • The initial attempt to lay blame on schools for not being able to operate the online systems was quickly dismissed as pay after pay revealed even more systemic problems. 
  • The intention to save money by launching the Novapay before it was ready in the hope that initial teething problems would be quickly resolved has not worked in practice. Schools should be entitled to receive financial compensation for the huge staffing hours accrued in trying to fix problems for their staff and had also having to shift their focus from meeting the educational needs of their students. Many schools and boards found their school budgets compromised while having to cover non payments for staff members.
  • Relieving teachers were particularly affected because they often worked with a number of schools and had no way of having their lack of pay compensated to cover financial commitments. 
Budget Priorities

While the Government claims they are investing millions more in education, simple analysis shows that there have been cuts to areas that will actually lift student achievement while much spending is going into areas that has no direct relationship to teaching and learning. It is teachers, specialists and support staff that will make a real difference and yet the money available for remuneration is being continually squeezed and we have increased spending on the following:
  • Fixing the leaking school buildings that were built when the industry was deregulated under an earlier National Government is costing $1.5 billion.
  • The National Standards are costing around $60 million to implement.
  • The provision of ultra fast broad band to schools has not factored the cost for schools to use it. High decile schools have children supplied with ipads or laptops while lower decile schools can't afford the charges nor have the tools to use it.
  • The $30 million Novapay system is costing huge amounts of time and money to mitigate the failures.
Imagine if the same $2+ billion had been spent on directly supporting our most vulnerable children.

Chris Trotter attempted to portray the Green Party as naive in a recent post Appointment With Reality when stating: "Greens really do believe that that the way they arrive at major decisions is every bit as important as the decisions they make." It is fairly obvious to me that both Labour and National suffer from the same kind of arrogance when disregarding the fact that the journey to a decision is actually important and the power to make that decision shouldn't be taken lightly.

New Zealand's education system may have actually ended up leading the world if we approached decisions very differently:
  • Use professional evidence and research (we have lots in the old Ministry's BES documents) to guide change rather than political and ideological whim.
  • Fully collaborate with the profession. No change can be properly implemented unless the profession feel that the change is justified. Changing the law and using threats and bullying tactics will not support enthusiastic engagement with change.
  • Build professional capacity and skill by enhancing the status of teaching rather than continually blaming the profession for under achievement and all of society's ills. Even the best education system can't rectify the damage caused through inequities in family income and poverty.
  • Model education systems ranked above us not below us. Finland is generally regarded as the most success education system and yet we are ignoring what has proved successful there and adopting systems from the UK and the US that in 2010 were ranked 11th and 17th respectively (when we were 4th). 
  • Employ the best people to lead education who are informed and innovative and focussed on teaching and learning and do not just support political agendas. The Minister of Education also needs to receive sound advice from an independent Secretary of Education in the tradition of Clarence Beeby.  
  • Recognise the successful elements of our education system, like our current curriculum, needed much investment in time and goodwill to be properly realised. 
  • Understand that education is an investment, not a cost. Properly prioritised spending in education provides long term economic value and penny pinching in early childhood education, for example, will mean struggling children will need even more expensive support as their unattended needs become more complex and ingrained. 
  • Place the learner and communities at the centre of decisions not short-term Teasury driven demands.
What concerns me most is that after six years of a National led Government the education culture in New Zealand will be so altered and corrupted by poor process it will take us another six years to rebuild and get back to where we were. While the sacking of Hekia Parata is probably justified, given her shocking performance, it is a change in Government that we really need. 


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