EMBARGOED UNTIL 11AM TUESDAY 27 SEPTEMBER
President’s Speech to PPTA Annual Conference 2016
E ngā mana, e ngā
reo, e ngā hau e whā.
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.
Kia orana, Talofa lava. Taloha Ni, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Ni sa bula vinaka, Malo e lelei.
When we were last together at annual conference, we might have been forgiven for thinking that with a settled agreement, IES underway and working parties on teacher supply and workload on the horizon, we were headed for a busy and productive year. I guess the only sign that that might not quite have been the case was the attempt by the minister, the Honourable Hekia Parata, to lecture PPTA members for their principled opposition to charter schools.
That particular pleasure won’t be repeated this year. The minister accepted our invitation, but then, a few weeks ago came back to us to say she was actually “unavailable”. This coincided with the announcement of joint NZEI/PPTA PUMs. You might think the two events are connected but I couldn’t possibly comment. This will be the first time in living memory that there will be no address from a government minister at a PPTA conference.
Fortunately there will be no gap in the programme because the education spokespeople from the opposition parties have welcomed the opportunity to come and talk to members of the profession at this conference and we certainly look forward to hearing from them.
I should note at this point that the Honourable Nikki Kaye, who has previously addressed this conference, was unavailable. We have always found her great to work with, straight up, consultative, considered and thoughtful. We wish her all the best in her battle with cancer.
So ….how did the river that we were paddling our waka in – upstream and with some dangerous rapids, admittedly - turn into such toxic sludge?
I think it comes down to one word. Vision.
You wouldn’t be at this conference in your well-deserved break if you did not believe, with every fibre of your being, that public education is the way we build a better society, a better country and a better world. Universal public education is one of the greatest social achievements in human history and it was hard won. At every step of the way - education for girls, compulsory primary education, compulsory secondary education, comprehensive options for kids in rural areas and education in Māori for Māori, there has been intractable resistance. This is hard to fathom because common sense (and the OECD) says that more educated societies are wealthier, have better health outcomes, greater happiness, less violence and are more likely to contribute to civic activities including voting. What’s not to like?
Well … you have to believe in something outside your own narrow self-interest - if you think all that matters is making money and accumulating power and control over others then you will have little time for a society that is built around the notion of the common good and a fair go for all. The richest 1 percent of people in the world, who hold almost half of the world’s wealth, didn’t make their fortunes by advocating for equality and strong public services.
For people whose sole aim is to maximise whatever advantages they have, the notion of an education system that attempts to give opportunities to all kids, no matter what their life circumstances, is completely foreign. The idea, moreover, that they should pay taxes in order to open doors for the less fortunate, appears absurd. If human existence is simply a rat race with everyone competing for the spoils and the devil taking the hindmost, there is no logic to ever collaborating because everyone is your enemy.
There are many problems with this analysis but perhaps the worst is the egotistical assumption that wealth is created by individual endeavour. The reality is that without public investment in social structures such as the legal system, communications and energy networks, health systems, schools and welfare networks, no one would make any money.
As a pundit noted in relation to the pathetic taxation contribution companies like Apple, Google and Uber make to national treasuries, this would be ok if they never used any taxpayer-funded services. If they built their own roads, never expected to use an ambulance, hospital or sewage system, didn’t employ anyone educated at the taxpayer expense, dealt with burglaries themselves rather than calling the police and never anticipated any assistance in the event of an accident or disaster. But it doesn’t work like that - they want the stability and certainty which organised societies provide but they don’t want to contribute their fair share. Unions have a word for people like that, but I’ll just call them freeloaders.
For a long time, thanks in a large part to the profession’s sterling defence of public education, the robber barons have been not been able to plunder the public education system. They nicked everything that wasn’t tied down – bulk funded early childhood education and support staff, private schools, private providers in the senior secondary school, privatised PLD and of course charter schools but they have not been able to persuade New Zealanders that they should be allowed wholesale access to the taonga that is the compulsory sector.
I don’t have to tell you how that is all about to change. What we have seen over the last few months is a carefully constructed plan to sell public education off to the highest bidder.
Around the world, what we call Edubusinesses are making inroads into state budgets everywhere, through a range of what the CEO of Pearson Education calls ‘entry points’; teacher training, PLD, charter schools. Once established, these corporate interests quickly spread their tentacles into curriculum, legislation and ultimately the full privatisation of public education. And they are voracious. Because they are driven by profit and the largest cost in providing education is teachers, they look to employing untrained (low cost) teachers. The next highest cost is typically the physical infrastructure, that is, school buildings. Their solution is to deliver ‘education’ online.
The underfunding of public education is one hallmark of countries that provide access to corporate players. Not only does the reduction in funding have catastrophic implications for the public system and for parents’ confidence in that system, typically the transfer of public money to private interest is accompanied by other sweetheart deals such as tax refunds, decreased regulatory oversight and other ‘flexible’ benefits.
In the U.S., state education institutions become so underfunded that the quality of education is a national shame. Sadly, the privately-run charter schools have performed little better than the public schools (while returning ballooning profits to their corporate motherships).
Online educational provision has also failed spectacularly - students who learn online are described as sometimes being years behind students in mainstream classes. Furthermore, because these schools have the ‘flexibility’ to set their own curricula and operational processes, they frequently restrict access for the most needy and freely turf out children with complex needs. That leaves the underfunded state schools to try and pick up the pieces - and to take the blame.
Across the African continent a string of schools titled APEC (a subsidiary of Pearson Education) provide ‘education’ within a tightly controlled curriculum (on the taxpayers’ dollar) that provides all the education these students need to prepare them for …minimum wage positions in call centres owned by APEC themselves. Not only this, but Pearson Education which sponsors charter schools in other African and South East Asian countries is lobbying for governments to abrogate their obligations under the United Nations Special Development Goals on education by allowing ‘low cost’ rather than ‘free’ education. That will mean they can collect money from both the state and the consumers – and keep out the children of the poor.
The proposal to cap school operating budgets and devolve responsibility for staffing to boards and principals is a cynical strategy for anchoring and reducing costs. It follows the model of private and charter schools who pay their managers more and staff less, narrow the curriculum or increase their class sizes to reduce staffing costs. The minister has no problems with this. She has said in the media that her COOLs proposal is an opportunity to “open up access to New Zealand's education market”.
She has been backed up by the overpaid, underwhelming, under-secretary for education, David Seymour, who is proposing that all schools should be able to become charter schools and is positive about the prospect of New Zealand kids being taught in fully online schools run by foreign corporate players.
The government is attempting to say that if you oppose this badly thought-out proposal, you’re a Luddite. I am from a rural secondary school and I promise you, I am no stranger to on-line delivery. We couldn’t do the best by our students without it. And that’s the nub of it – we start with the kids. What subjects do they want? Is it available? What is the best balance between online delivery and face to face teaching? What extra support will the student need?
We don’t start by asking ourselves how we can make money out of kids.
Significantly, the current education update bill also proposes that the CEO of Te Kura no longer needs to be a teacher. You can see where this is going – jobs for the boys. If the main responsibility a school has is to turn a profit there is no need to have a leader who knows anything about education.
This is the government vision for education - a factory production line that takes in “customers” at one end and delivers “outcomes” at the other, for the cheapest price per unit and with a taxpayer-funded return to the shareholder. There is no need for a trained and qualified teaching profession because education becomes just transmission of content. There is no longer any place for those who believe that compulsory education is about personal growth and empowerment and the development of creative, empathetic and informed citizens.
While the public may see our struggle as a battle against bulk funding, we know it is much more than that. Our fight is not just about how schools should be funded but for an education system where everyone works together to help kids be the best they can be.
That’s why NZEI and PPTA were able to come together with a common cause at the recent paid union meetings. We are united in our determination and conviction to defeat the government’s plan to asset-strip our schools. You will hear more about the next steps in our resistance in the political update slot on Wednesday afternoon.
Contrary to the popular perception in the media, which likes to portray every issue as a conflict between an irresistible force and an immovable object, we are really open to a discussion about funding mechanisms that are more equitable and efficient. We are always up for the debate but we expect that debate to be evidence-informed, consultative and transparent.
And a debate that deliberately excludes any discussion about the adequacy of funding is probably not going anywhere useful. Certainly the ministry’s idea of funding any changes by removing base staffing and funding from small secondary schools and thereby ripping the guts out of rural communities, isn’t a goer.
The sort of evidence-informed debate that should have underpinned the funding review, starts here. I welcome our paper, Real equity funding: resourcing schools to support at risk learners. This paper tells it like it is. If you want to make a difference to equity of achievement in New Zealand, 2-3 percent of the funding won’t cut it. It needs to be at least ten. Either there has to be new money or let’s be brutally honest and tell parents that their children will miss out on the support they need, because the government sees greater electoral advantage in tax cuts and a budget surplus. Alternatively, we can suggest places where taxpayer funding is washing down the drain in vanity projects - $50 million to charter schools for a start.
I look forward to hearing the discussion and your insights on the important ideas raised in this paper.
Another evidence-informed discussion that probably should have been part of the funding review is the conference paper from our establishing teachers’ network and the Auckland region on fixed term employment. The paper, entitled Teachers in the precariat: fixed-term contracts and the effect on establishing teachers, outlines the negative impacts for the profession, schools, students and the individual when new teachers, in particular, are not offered permanent employment. It is very timely to be talking about this now, when the funding review proposals envisage a future when pretty much all teachers will become members of the precariat.
Interestingly another of our papers, The middle leadership problem on which we have been gathering data for two years also has a link to the funding review. The paper tells us that middle leadership jobs have become too big and demanding for people to want to do them. What is needed is more staffing to provide non-contact time and more money to make the job more attractive but one suspects the minister is visualising the last maths head of department in New Zealand delivering to thousands of students via a COOL. Watch our maths result skyrocket then!
At some point in this conference the data gathered for the middle leaders’ paper will be supplemented by presentations from the supply work group and the workload work group, both of which have confirmed our concerns about recruitment for middle leaders.
The supply and workload reports also confirm the ministry’s complete failure with respect to workforce planning. Workload is driving people out of secondary teaching and exacerbating the supply problem. You have to fix one before you can hope to fix the other. Astute members have wondered out loud to me whether the minister’s exciting adventures in the land of COOLs are actually a strategy to avoid facing the very crisis she has created around supply and workload. I think there’s something in that.
Career paths in secondary schools are the subject of another paper, From the top corridor to the back field: supporting senior leaders to lead effective change. It has been prepared by the PPTA Senior Positions’ Taskforce and considers the support senior managers need to be effective in their jobs.
Lastly, the paper, Draft Principles for Partnerships between secondary schools and initial teacher education is the result of collaboration between PPTA and teacher educators. It is quite inspiring to think that despite the pressure from our political leadership to turn the education sector into warring factions, we continue to work professionally and collegially with the teacher education sector. This paper was born out of some negative experiences teachers were having as a result of the changing expectations around the practical part of teacher education preparation. It has not been a simple task to develop guidelines that meet the needs of all parties so it is a very positive achievement.
A range of speakers will share their perspectives on educational issues and broaden our understandings about how all these things fit together. We look forward to hearing from Chris Hipkins from the Labour Party, Tracey Martin from New Zealand First and Catherine Delahunty from the Greens on Wednesday morning. I’ll put money on it that none of them have come here to give us a telling off and a list of things we could improve on.
Of course, the most important work of conference often happens outside this room – the networking, catching up with old friends, making new ones, arguing, plotting… It’s all good!
This will be the last time I address this conference as president so thank you for all the support and advice, criticism and kindness you have given me over the last four years. It has been a privilege to serve you. I won’t be going far – back to Taranaki, back to the classroom and still on PPTA executive as the senior vice president where I look forward to supporting Jack and working with all the other members of executive to defeat the bulk funding zombie and all its nasty little offspring.
No reira. Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.