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A Thing of Beauty - Bi Partisan Agreement

23 June 2005

A Thing of Beauty - Bi Partisan Agreement

I support the Minister's Extending High Standards in Schools initiative. I have no idea what answers it's coming up with but the project is asking the right questions - what makes for a very good school?

Mallard plans to award a 10% ops grant bonus to top 5% of schools that meet the EHSS criteria. However the project leaves out the parent factor. Any assessment of a school is going to have a subjective component, where a parent makes a judgement about its suitability for their own child. The project can't capture the judgement of parents exercising their fundamental responsibility for their child's welfare. It's academic for Labour who are doing their best to make sure parents can't act on that judgement by gradually closing the doors to choice.

Almost a year after the project was started the NZEI and the Principals Federation have finally figured out that differentiating between schools violates every tenet of state education they hold dear. They have correctly told the Minister the bonus conflicts somewhat with Labour's policy that every school is a good school. How did they ever agree to a scheme that pays schools a bonus for good performance? Imagine if National had proposed it. I hope Mallard doesn't duck this one.

Play Ground Robbery

The Ministry of Education is laying claim to $35m of school assets built and operated by integrated schools from their own money. The Audit office has decided to enforce law which says that any building funded by monies in the official school accounts belongs to the Ministry, even if that money was came from the proprietors or the local community. The Minister also wants to enforce a law that says any building by an integrated school has to be approved by the ministry. So the Audit office is tagging schools annual accounts with a breach where this hasn't happened. No one knew it should, so they didn't do it.

Coming on top of the debacle over bulk-funded buses, it shows the Minister and his minions tightening their grip over the whole school sector, enforcing more control whenever they have a choice. National will opt for less central control whenever we have a choice.

Who Will Calm This Growing Storm?

The tertiary sector is in the biggest mess in decades. Trevor Mallard has pulled the plug on five years of carefully crafted and dreadfully executed strategy. Confusion and depression reign, because no-one knows what the rules are any more, except in universities where they ignored the whole TEC business anyway.

Trevor's plans to cut low credit courses and community education, the A1-J1 reviews and the assessment of relevance for PTE's are turning competition into cannibalism. The Vice Chancellors want Trevor to slice a hundred million or so out of sub degree courses in polytechs and PTE's to help them pay for the university pay round, and so far he is obliging.

Half the Polytechs are headed for financial trouble and the PTE sector is headed for oblivion. About 80% of PTE courses have failed the strategic relevance assessment. In fact most tertiary courses would fail the criteria. PTE's believe they will get funded for higher relevance courses to replace what they lose. However I am advised they can't access alternative courses until 2007, so its curtains. Polytechs and the Wananga are relying on election year pressure to save them.

This is public policy stupidity laced with a desire for revenge. Labour are trashing the "lifelong learning " pathways they just spent hundreds of millions developing. At a lower cost, some of those pathways represented good value. And lovely caring sharing tertiary people aren't raising a peep about how these measures will disenfranchise thousands of disadvantaged New Zealanders who have been able to get started again. Well educated social consciences don't stretch far beyond self interest.

Pre Election Etiquette

* Get in touch with the Opposition spokesperson. In three months he might be the Minister.

* You can criticise but you shouldn't lie about a potential minister's policy.

* Polling shows that not all education spokespersons are equal. Greens, Act, and United Future will not provide the next Education Minister. So don't clutter up the political panels with them.

* Inviting the Labour Minister only to your conference is partisan and ineffective. He has been Labour's education spokesperson for 12 years and won't be the minister after the election even if Labour win. So what's the point?

* It is not 'political' to give the Opposition Spokesman time at you're conference - it's a service to your members. They need to know what might be government policy and he needs to know what your members think.

Bill English


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