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President’s Speech to Annual Conference

President’s Speech to Annual Conference

Tena kotou, tena kotou, tena katou katoa.

I extend a very warm welcome to our annual conference, the occasion where we gather every year to talk about issues of concern for us as secondary teachers. I am particularly pleased to welcome you at this time because we have more members than ever before. Over the last twenty months we have added over two thousand – and the numbers are still growing! Not that it is just about numbers. It is about the enthusiasm and the commitment that comes with them.

Over that same period I have visited well over 160 branches, as well as many regional meetings, and have discussed many important issues with you. Many branches have revitalised. Most remain sleeping giants – ready to provide collegial support and action when it is needed.

Whilst it has been a privilege for me to see some of the wonderful work teachers do for their students, it has been a greater pleasure to meet and work with so many of you with a commitment to contribute, debate and work for the achievement of a first class top quality public secondary education system for the our young people whilst establishing the best for our members and their health, welfare and interests of our collective. Valuing is what it is all about – although there are many forces working against us; and our vision.

We come together this year at a portentous time. The New Zealand election, (complete with its side shows) is being conducted against a background of global unease and uncertainty as financial institutions collapse with international losses now numbering in the trillions. At home many New Zealanders have either lost their savings in a number of dodgy companies or have had their funds frozen.

The commentators are assuring us that the tsunami washing over the international financial institutions won’t affect us. But they would say that wouldn’t they? Remember they are also the ones that have been assuring us for years that every problem can be solved by leaving it to market forces.

They really do have some explaining to do! Trevor Evans from the Berlin School of Economics points out that as well as pushing poor people to take on more and more debt – a group they defined with the name “ninjas” - no income, jobs or assets – banks like Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley - have been the drivers of the worst trends in the American economy…

pushing excessive pay that has spread like a cancer throughout corporate America, even reaching into universities and non-profit (organisations). Additionally, they have peddled the shareholder value paradigm that has pushed companies to emphasise short-term gain over long-term investment and contributed to the ripping up of America’s social contract.

While 15 million American households now have mortgages worth more than their houses and over 2.5 million are looking down the barrel of mortgagee sales, the Merrill Lynch chairman Stan O’Neal retired with a departure package of at least 161 million US dollars! Meanwhile the ordinary workers in the company were rewarded in stocks and shares which are now worthless and as well have lost their company-provided pension plans and family healthcare insurance. Ironically the same free marketeers who have loudly demanded less regulation, smaller government and lower taxes have been quick to seek the assistance of the American government to bail them out with taxpayer funding.

The US Government is estimated to be pumping in over a trillion dollars to bail out collapsing financial institutions. The annual Gross Domestic Product in America is $2.5 trillion, so sucking that amount of money out of the public accounts to spend on private institutions that no longer have any assets of value is certainly going to hurt ordinary Americans sooner or later.

You can explain all this economic turmoil in the words of the American Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson (and, in an excellent example of crony capitalism at its worst, the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs), as “the correction of excess” or you can use the old-fashioned word I prefer: greed, unrestrained greed.

The epidemic of bankruptcies that is affecting our financial institutions is the consequence of the moral bankruptcy of the market model.

I have been talking about the USA which has long been held up to us in New Zealand as a beacon of unfettered market freedom that we should seek to emulate. New Zealanders who have funds invested in the $5.6 billion being held in the 41 financial institutions which have either gone under or have frozen deposits, might beg to differ. These are bitter lessons, following on as they do from the leaky homes debacle, where the dodgy developers who caused the problem have mostly managed to avoid responsibility. And we have had the salutary experience of having to buy back our own airline and railways at several times the cost we sold them for and, in the case of the railways, only after they had been cynically asset stripped! Selfish and greedy privateers are also alive and well in New Zealand.

“And what’s the connection to PPTA?” I hear you ask. Well, for years secondary teachers and PPTA have been mocked for upholding values such as transparency and collegiality rather than secrecy and performance pay; a decent wage for all teachers and not excessive windfalls for a few; a commitment to a fair deal for all students not bulk funding mechanisms that set schools and teachers against each other, a focus on equity and fairness for all students rather than the interests of a privileged few, social responsibility and restraint rather than individual excess and selfishness.

Not just teachers either – I want to commend those secondary principals who have stayed true to the vision of the professional leader, committed, as a public servant, to acting in the best interest of all New Zealand students. Such a vision stands in stark contrast to the view that schools are atomised companies and principals are CEOs with entitlements to enhanced salary packages complete with cars, clothing allowances and life membership of the Koru Club. Don’t say it wouldn’t happen here because it has, and it has had to be specifically forbidden by the Auditor-General.

You will be hearing from the chair of the PPTA Secondary Principals’ Council, Graeme Macann, tomorrow, and no doubt he will talk about how important it is that secondary principals and secondary teachers work together, with PPTA as the mechanism that facilitates that collaboration.

It is for this reason that PPTA is opposed to the Secondary Principals of New Zealand initiative of setting themselves up as a separate union. It cannot possibly be in the interests of students, teachers or principals to divide and weaken the sector in this way. I also think SPANZ is naïve in the extreme if it thinks it can bargain a principals’ collective on the cheap. Collective bargaining is an expensive business and it’s unwise to attempt anything like that without strong collective backing and resourcing you can call on. Remember last year when the PPTA Executive committed up to $200,000 for a media campaign in support of bargaining for the Secondary Principals’ Collective Agreement. Could SPANZ provide principals with that level of backing?

Perhaps they don’t need it. The SPANZ Operational and Strategic Plan aims to have boards of trustees rewarding “performance with salary packages which could include vehicles and sabbaticals.” How can that be fair to those principals in poor communities where such generosity is impossible? More concerning is the objective SPANZ has in mind for you! It plans to:

“Influence the next teachers’ collective negotiations to give boards of trustees, through the principal, autonomy to reward high performing staff.”

It rather seems that SPANZ subscribes to the maxim that if you want the rich to work harder you pay them more and if you want the poor to work harder you pay them less.

That’s not our way. We, along with the majority of ordinary New Zealanders, have fought for an education and health system that upholds these values. We believe in the basic notion of education as a public good that is equal for and accessible to, all members of our society. We have endeavoured to keep the notion of a social contract alive in times when the financial contract was being championed. Unfortunately, there has been damage. In their efforts to squeeze maximum value out of social institutions like schools and hospitals, the politicians and the privateers have reduced human relationships to contractual relationships and by so doing have undermined the sense of commitment and goodwill without understanding that it is not money that holds societies together but that goodwill.

The good news is that the battle against overt privatisation in this country has been won! We know that, because it is now such an unpopular term, it has had to be re-branded. The brutal implications of privatisation have been replaced with the warm fuzzy title, public private partnerships - PPPs. How reassuring - no more privatising the profit and socialising the loss but a benign and collaborative partnership. Who can argue with that?

Well I can – in the current popular phrase “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

Michael Cullen and John Key are both talking about PPPs with John Key proposing to use them for building schools. That will certainly mean big Australian companies coming in and doing the work. The Australian bank, Macquarie, which is one of the largest non-government owners of assets in the world, is an obvious contender. It’s easy to see what’s in this for the privateers – risk-free profits - but harder to see the benefits for anyone else.

There have been some spectacular failures with PPPs in Australia. If you “google” the Lane Cove Tunnel, the Cross-City Tunnel in Sydney or the BrisConnections Brisbane toll roads float you will see how the ordinary members of the public are left carrying the can when these deals go sour.

The extra system costs associated with negotiating the contractual arrangements for PPPs are high. Mark Binns, the chief executive of Fletcher Construction has cited as an example that the $2m cost of bidding for something like the Auckland central motorway junction project would skyrocket under a PPP process because of all the additional legal arrangements needed.

If the Government were to underwrite riskier projects it would then end up with a significant proportion of the ownership risk, so why would it not fund the project itself at a cheaper cost of capital than the private sector can provide?

And who is going to pick up the tab for any disaster when any school-based deal comes unstuck?

We may know the answer very soon because there is a case study on our doorstep. In recent times, the Australian Company, ABC Learning, has embarked on a very aggressive buy-up of New Zealand early childhood centres and now owns 116. ABC Learning is one of the four companies that are now being called the “bad boys” in Australia because they have borrowed too much leaving the Australian banks (particularly the ANZ) who were unwise enough to lend it to them, with a $10 billion exposure. NZEI, the union that covers early childhood workers has called on the Government to nationalise the 116 centres. Will it? We shall have to wait and see. Will John Key guarantee to nationalise any secondary schools that have been built under a PPP when the private part of the PPP goes into meltdown?

I’m an English teacher not an economist but I know that entering into deals with private companies to build schools and own them threatens the educational interests of all New Zealand children.

We know our members are likely to have strong views about this issue. So we have postcards available, from the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa, that people can mail to their local MP or to a candidate who aspires to be their representative. These cards enable people to express views on the issue of privatisation and if you don’t like the wording you can even write in your own words if you want to.

And mailing these cards won’t be breaching the Electoral Finance Act because you are doing it individually, which you are allowed to do. This speech isn’t a breach either, because editorial comment is permitted so I don’t anticipate having to pass the hat around to collect contributions to pay my $40,000 fine.

You’ll know that PPTA hasn’t registered as a third party under the Act because we believe we should be able to do what we do – advocate for secondary teachers and secondary education – regardless of whether it’s an election year or not. And as we said in our submission on the Electoral Finance Bill,

3.1 The Association is purposefully apolitical. It is not aligned to or affiliated with any political party, nor has it ever been. Equally, the Association does not support or endorse any particular candidate, nor has it ever.

It is our responsibility to work with all political parties to represent members’ interests as effectively as we can. All governments and governments-in-waiting are the paymasters for secondary teachers so we have to keep dialogue going. We are also very aware that we draw members from all parties. Maybe not so many from the ACT Party! (We did go to see them once. But when the spokesperson at the time responded to our polite query about what they would do in education by saying she would first of all like to get rid of the PPTA, it seemed that the relationship was not promising!)

Besides, we are not impressed with the dishonest way they promote education vouchers as some social justice mechanism. “It works in Sweden” they chorus fatuously – ignoring the fact that because Sweden has tax rates of around 60% it has nationally well-funded schools not the disparity of rich and poor that we have here, which is partially responsible for the national obsession with choice. And no way does Sweden allow schools to do the choosing – they have to take all comers. Just imagine that – Kings College having to accept all the local disadvantaged students along with the children of privilege it was designed for. I doubt that’s ACT’s intention; more likely, its support for vouchers is nothing more than a device to get the taxpayer to pay private school fees. Anyway, and I’m indebted to Bill Ralston for pointing this out on his blog, Rodney Hide isn’t going to abolish zoning (which is what a voucher system requires) because one sure-fire way of losing the seat of Epsom would be to remove the real estate icing that living in the grammar zone gives those voters.

And please can I put to rest once and for all the rumour that we are in bed with the Labour Party. We are not affiliated to them and we don’t give them money. Having said that, because they are at least nominally committed to equity in education and to a public education system, we often find common ground between their policies and ours. For example, we commend the Labour Party for refusing to increase subsidies to private schools.

We also have to acknowledge the changes Labour has made to industrial law. Setting up structures that encourage good faith and resolution of problems at the lowest possible level is a no-brainer. We commend Trevor Mallard (who has not always been our favourite minister) for the government’s new legislation requiring employers to provide breast-feeding breaks and meal breaks.

The latter will be one to watch in schools where the notion that workers might be entitled to a break in duties of half an hour for lunch has been in retreat for years. And no, scoffing your sandwich with a baton in one hand while you conduct the orchestra doesn’t count and nor does sipping your soup from a thermos while you run up and down the sidelines at a sports practice. 107 years after Samuel Parnell won the battle for an eight-hour day with an hour lunch break, we are pleased to see the partial victory of a mandatory half-hour for teachers in what is usually a 10-hour day. May we live long enough to see Samuel Parnell’s vision renewed in its entirety!

At this conference, delegates will have the chance to move us closer towards that nirvana. The conference paper on duty, if passed, will begin the process of collecting data about the onerous additional tasks that are imposed on teachers. My suspicion is that the funding and staffing pressure on schools causes them to respond by constantly increasing the demands on teachers. I look forward to data which will provide evidence about schools’ practices in this area.

We do feel let down by this government on a number of issues. We cannot forgive them for what they did to G3 teachers and for their reluctance over a long period of time to work willingly with us to find solutions for these teachers. We also think this government has been deeply cynical in deliberately using the primary teachers’ entrenchment clause to hold down all teacher salaries without any concern for the disastrous effect this is having on specialist secondary teacher retention and recruitment. While we appreciate the 1800 new teachers Labour put into secondary schools at the start of this century we remain frustrated that it has chosen not to implement the last steps of Staffing Review Group staffing while continuing to expand the expectations it has of secondary schools and its teachers.

On top of that, Labour is complacent about the effects of large classes on learning and is inclined to blame teachers and schools for the problem of difficult students, a distracter designed to avoid having to front up with resourcing and support.

For example, it has just introduced an education amendment bill with a section entitled Accountability for student attendance and engagement in the compulsory sector into the House which, if it is passed, will remove the capacity for the Secretary for Education to provide exemptions for 15-year-olds and will legally compel schools to contact parents on the first day that unexplained or unjustified absence is identified and to ensure students receive, as well as guidance and counselling, specific guidance on career choices and pathways. It’s a pity that the Labour government thinks that coercion and regulation are more effective in changing behaviour than professional support and resourcing.

Three of the papers to this conference, The Class Size Report, The Needs-based Staffing paper and the paper from the members of the Hutt Valley on disruptive students, all signal that members’ patience with this situation is wearing thin.

We have expectations too, and when we hear from the Prime Minister tomorrow we will be expecting something more tangible than what we have heard so far about their hopes for Schools Plus.

Another area where Labour just manages to get an Achieved is with NCEA. Their policy has been to avoid spending any money on it until a crisis develops, and then they rush in with the fire hoses and give everyone a good hosing down. A case in point has to be the mean-spirited decision to get rid of the senior subject specialists, leaving teachers all at sea. It wasn’t a huge cost in the scheme of things, and the attempt to shift the cost into our collective agreement was truly reprehensible. Remember Benjamin Franklin: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. There is still time, Minister, to reinstate the positions!

We are hopeful of being able to assist whatever government we have after November the 8th with a least a kilogram of prevention as a result of conference discussions about NCEA.

It wouldn’t be a PPTA Conference without an NCEA paper, would it? This time, the paper has been preceded by extensive consultation in the form of day-long seminars in all 24 regions of PPTA.

Remember the test we set in the Te Tira hou, Qualification Framework Enquiry in 1997! A valid qualification system needs to be:
• Fair
• Inclusive
• Cumulative
• Clear
• Motivating
• Coherent
• Constructive and
• Manageable

Most of these criteria are on a continuum so, for example, the fairness must be tempered by what is manageable. In the end, we are talking about a fine balance and are seeking the best compromise in the circumstances. We need to listen carefully to the debate and avoid doctrinaire positions if we are to find a way through. As foremost New Zealand assessment expert, Terry Crooks, has observed, New Zealand teachers know more about the technical aspects of assessment than teachers anywhere else in the world because they have to work with the concepts on a daily basis. I am confident that if any group in New Zealand can make sound progress on these difficult issues, it’s this one.

The other area in which Labour has been amazingly timid is in reviewing Tomorrow’s Schools. When Steve Maharey was minister, he offered a stocktake of Tomorrow’s Schools but there was such a hue and cry that he watered down the terms of reference so that it became a pointless exercise – even the Ministry lost interest, leaving the School Trustees’ Association to pull something together. But that document doesn’t go near the tough questions that the public needs answers to, thus the PPTA conference paper, Tomorrow’s Schools: Yesterday’s Mistake? We have raised these questions, we think New Zealanders are entitled to participate in an honest appraisal of Tomorrow’s Schools and we have offered to underwrite the review that the Government should have done.

We will also be hearing from the National Party spokesperson on Education, Anne Tolley, at this conference and we will want to know where National stands on things like class size school funding and access to senior school programmes. Does National really believe it’s fair to subsidise private schools, pump money into enabling rolls at small, expensive private schools to expand and allow them to integrate while ignoring the state school down the road struggling with large classes or trying to deal with the demoralising and debilitating effects of a falling roll? If it intends to allow students to range between secondary schools, polytechnics and private providers does that mean secondary schools are going to be funded at tertiary rates? We certainly hope so. Secondary schools can obviously do with more funding.

I have already indicated that we are unlikely to have a meeting of minds with National on their privatisation agenda but I have to say that in our discussions with them we have found them to have a much better grasp of the problems of recruitment and retention, particularly in respect of Technology teachers, than anyone in the current government.

One of the reasons for this is that National does not constantly conflate secondary and primary teaching vacancies in order to minimise the problems in secondary. There are distinct problems at both the retention and the recruitment end of the secondary spectrum.

The PPTA YANTS network (Young and New Teachers) has brought a paper to conference which suggests ways to better value young teachers in an effort to stem the outflow of these teachers from the service. It asks us to consider how schools can make the induction experience a more positive one for new secondary teachers so they will want to stay in the service. The current situation where beginning teachers are employed in “trial” positions, don’t get their requisite non-contact time, don’t get adequate advice and guidance and may not even be paid the correct salary shames us all. It is also quite unreasonable that if a school fails to provide an adequate induction experience for a beginning teacher, she or he could face the severe consequence of possibly being denied registration by the Teachers Council while the school gets off without repercussions. The paper offers some suggestions for how young teachers can be better supported as they move towards full registration.

Another proposal for addressing recruitment and retention issues come from the Auckland region which suggests that we need to look more closely at the way housing costs affects the capacity to attract teachers to certain regions of the country. I can’t resist saying at this juncture that twenty years ago there was an extensive network of school houses available to teachers for a minimal rent in hard-to-staff areas. The twin ideologies of Tomorrow’s Schools and the free market combined to run down the stock and eventually (with Trevor Mallard’s connivance) the houses were transferred to boards of trustees and rents were raised or the houses sold off.

Thanks for your attention and for giving up the first week of the holidays to represent your colleagues in this forum. Your involvement and dedication is acknowledged and applauded.

My term of office as your president is coming to a close and I need to say what a wonderful and exhilarating experience it has been. It has been an honour to represent you and advocate on your behalf. The understanding of the nature of the huge support that is with your elected members when they negotiate or represent you, gives huge power to those representations. Above all it has been a pleasure to work with so many talented and dedicated people - in paid as well voluntary capacities.

The job has always been interesting and stimulating, but the frustration is often unbearable and overwhelming. When good practice and common sense hits political expediency we know what usually wins. I look forward to the day when governments, ministers and ministry officials refrain from providing education ‘on the cheap’. We all live in hope that one day there will be a real valuing of education, of students and for those delivering our quality specialist secondary education!

Work hard, play hard and smile hard and let us look after each other.

I wish you well in your deliberations over the next few days.

Kia kaha!

29.09.09


ENDS

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