Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on the turmoil in education

June 1st, 2012

Article – Gordon Campbell

Cartoon by Martin Doyle

The Budget changes in education are following a pattern, which seems to have been learned at the Murray McCully School of Management. On the basis of what seems to be a personal animus against the professional staff involved, a relatively small amount of savings is being pursued regardless of the impact on morale and efficiency across the entire education sector. In this case, the current turmoil in education is the result of a crackpot Treasury idea that changing the ratio of teachers to students and creating bigger classes would have no fallout for the quality of education, and the money saved could then be diverted to reward teachers competing with each other on performance.

In its original form, the equation involved would have seen 90% of schools losing (or gaining) one-full time equivalent teacher, while 10% of schools would lose or gain more than one. Some intermediate schools however, would have lost as many as seven positions. Uh oh. Once the government realised the problem they had created, a “review” and a “contingency fund” was set up to provide assurances that at most only two FTE positions would be lost from the schools affected, at least over the next three years. (And after that? There would be a further “policy review” at that time. We’ll figure it out somehow.)

And this is supposed to be a rational policy based on the best educational outcomes for the children involved? What we have instead is a Treasury theory aimed at squeezing the last drops of cost savings from the sector in order to fund its own ideological ideas about teacher performance – which, in its opinion, should be about promoting competition and individual payment rewards, within what has always been a highly collegial profession. (And since the best teachers can cope with anything you throw at them, who needs to care about class sizes? Only the losers won’t be able to cope, and they’re best driven out of the profession.) On top of all this, the Education Ministry seems to have been incapable of doing the relevant modelling in a competent fashion:

The new funding formula ratios were announced in the week before last Thursday’s Budget but the crucial piece of information affecting Years 7 and 8 (form one and two) was not admitted until after the Budget was delivered.

Under flawed Ministry of Education modelling, an extra one-teacher-to-120-student ratio normally given to schools providing subjects such as art, cooking and woodwork, was attributed to contributing schools rather than to provider schools. Ms Parata told the Herald this week: “What has become really clear in that is that the Year 7 and 8 have had a 10-year provision for technology, the provision of which was not fully modelled.”

You bet. This turmoil was meant to save $43 million – which is peanuts, as Vernon Small pointed out in the Dom-Post the other day, in the context of a $70 billion Budget. As Small also suggested, couldn’t we have both – more money for teacher performance and smaller class sizes – given that all it would take to afford both would be the deferment of a few kilometres of the roading funds set aside in the Budget ? From that initial $43 million, we can now subtract the cost of the $10-20 million transitional “contingency fund” needed to assist the schools worst affected – but at this point, the government has no idea what net savings (and how many fresh costs associated with the two FTE positions cap) will finally eventuate:

Today Ms Parata said the contingency fund had been set aside prior to the Budget and the exact cost of the teacher cuts would not be known until school roll counts were received in September.

The $43 million a year the Government had anticipated would be saved and diverted to improve teaching quality as a result of the increase in class sizes will be cut because of the new cap on teaching losses but yesterday Ms Parata did not know by how much. Neither she nor Prime Minister John Key have admitted that mistakes were made in calculating the effects of the new policy and yesterday she announced the cap as “good news”.

Good news? Somewhere, Murray McCully must be smiling. Over the years, McCully has become the old master of promoting self-generated turmoil and related incompetence as a salutary exercise. Although McCully doesn’t seem to have been involved this time, it bears the hallmarks of his style, as demonstrated in the ongoing debacle at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Namely, you begin with a deep-seated disdain for the professionals in the sector, develop an ideological fixation on a course of change, foster a climate of fear, and demonstrate a readiness to put the entire sector at risk for illusory gains – mainly because you feel like shaking things up. While the current government likes to think it is best represented by John Key, he is so often only the fix-it guy who comes around afterwards. On a day to day basis, McCullyism is the real modus operandi of this administration.


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    1. 11 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on the turmoil in education”

    2. By Grant on Jun 1, 2012 | Reply

      Maybe the incompetent modelling is an impact of “efficiency” measures in the Ministry removing the experienced and competent (read high paid) staff?

    3. By Ianmac on Jun 1, 2012 | Reply

      Wish someone would tell me how the millions will be spent to improve the performance of 50,000 teachers. Will it be just Performance pay for the few? Will it be inservice courses? Anyone know?

    4. By LB on Jun 1, 2012 | Reply

      It will probably be spent on overpriced and useless Professional Development courses run by Hekia’s friends in the private sector.

    5. By hellonearthis on Jun 1, 2012 | Reply

      John Key wanted larger classes and this will help build a larger lower class in New Zealand.

    6. By Christine Kay on Jun 1, 2012 | Reply

      As it is well known that Harvey University students are not only over represented by the wealthy – numbers not to be mix & mislead to include the professional upper-middle – only and exclusively to the wealth the numbers are very are high. Further ado to Harvey factor is that first born to be also over represented as well.

      Knowing what it is like to have a surname that is near the bottom of the roll call & from a large family – born when there were already 3 other pre schooler (no twins). I was a constant underachiever at a high decile school & the primary school teachers thought I was dumb as I had auditory discriminatory issues coupled with poor hearing, dyslexia in literacy esp. writing, maths with such an attention span that was recommended by the dept of education psychologist to have drugs/medical intervention in the mid/late 70′s, but as I learnt this never followed out as the psychologist tragically died.

      So as we all known ‘dumber by the dozen’ good grief it would make one think that larger class sizes would be an obvious misadventure in the making. What about the teachers that have to mentor the learn disable or the kids who have social problems I would think that any ‘approximation’ to positive steps would be considered a success story for these students, but how do you quantify the more challenged students & teachers? Well if all things were born equal – not!

      Very well put ‘hellonearthis’ when the Nats want to build a larger lower class in N.Z.

    7. By David Jennings on Jun 1, 2012 | Reply

      It appears to me that the attack on the education system ,is like all other Government policies of the tories;and that is an attack on the working class .
      If its not housing ,its wages. But the political elite reward themselves handsome salaries ,and perks and expect the working people to go without.
      What arrogance!

    8. By Joe Blow on Jun 1, 2012 | Reply

      “McCullyism” – that’s priceless. It sounds like some kind of befuddled creature trying to find its own way in the dark. First came Rogernomics and then came McCullyism…

      You coined it Gordon!

    9. By KJT on Jun 1, 2012 | Reply

      Creating a two tier education system is a proven method to enable the “wealthy to keep their winning ticket”.

      It works in the UK.

      A mediocre overcrowded and limited education for the masses prevent them from competing with the well educated cronyism of the private school attending rich kids.

      A limited education prevents the “masses” from learning enough to know how much their “betters” are ripping them off.

    10. By peterlepaysan on Jun 1, 2012 | Reply

      I relish the McCully reference.

      As I recall it was him that made some comment that likened public servants to eunuchs or some such. A bit rich coming from someone who cannot decide whether or not he should have a moustache or not.

      Will Parata blame her CEO for bad advice?

      McCully had no problem blaming his CEO (after a much vaunted arrival).

      Behind all of this is joint Cabinet responsibility.

      What the hell has happened to that?

      Does this govt know what it is doing, apart from dancing to the tune of an Hawaiian based Wall street cowboy.

    11. By lyndon on Jun 2, 2012 | Reply

      Leaving aside all the other problems, I thought when the Treasury paper first came out:

      Rewarding teachers’ performance – if your goal is more good teachers and fewer bad ones – only works if you’re prepared in increase the salary fund as you get a ‘better’ pool of teachers. Otherwise it’s just a way of setting everyone against each other for no good end.

    12. By Penny Bright on Jun 2, 2012 | Reply

      Looks like John Key is going to be forced to do a big fat ‘U turn’ on increasing class sizes?

      Nearly 9000 Facebook ‘shares’ (as at 11.30am Saturday 2 June 2012)


      Kiwi DIY ingenuity! An innovative way of coping with increasing class sizes…..

      Penny Bright
      ‘Anti-corruption campaigner’

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