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National Education - Comments from Bill English

National Education - Comments from Bill English, National's Education Spokesman

The Strange Case of David Benson Pope

No matter what he does, David Benson-Pope can’t shake the impression he was involved in behaviour inconsistent with his professional obligations, and that he has been economical with the truth in Parliament. Helen Clark and Steve Maharey have staunchly supported him to the point where his credibility may be permanently damaged. Each time he denies allegations, students have appeared in public to confirm them. This week a further complaint about bullying another teacher surfaced. He is now caught in a pattern of aggressive behaviour, which is consistent with Parliament’s perception of him. Remember that Helen Clark took the initial allegations so seriously that he was effectively removed from the Education portfolio. It’s hard to see why his continued tenure in Social Development is any more viable.

Government Smarts over SchoolSmart

You get a feel in Parliament for how a story line will run in public, and it didn’t feel right as the Government scrambled to defend “SchoolSmart”, its secret website rating for schools.

Trevor Mallard, answering on behalf of Steve Maharey, said the website was secret because the Government had made undertakings when the data was collected. So let’s find out what those undertakings are. Can any school tell me if they have an agreement with the Ministry of Education to keep their roll numbers, suspension numbers and proportion of first year teachers secret?

Mallard also confirmed that some of the information is publicly available. In fact, most of it is public information. You can view the data collected here. It doesn’t look dangerous.

If Mallard is right, the Government has an agreement to keep public information about schools secret. I suspect Labour’s fear is not the information itself, but its use to compare schools, even anonymously. Inevitably, the Government will have to open up the website to parents. Schools should look at the validity of the information they are providing to the Ministry so they can be sure it is valid when the website is opened.

The Stranger Case of Paul McElroy

Mr McElroy is CEO of UCOL, the polytechnic in Palmerston North. His council agreed before Christmas to appoint a joint CEO to run the polytech in order to allow Mr McElroy to spend more time in Wellington influencing Government policy. He appears to represent the larger polytechnics who have designs to take over the running of small regional poytechs. I asked Tertiary Education Minister, Dr Cullen, about this and the recent capital injection for UCOL. Cullen told the House he doesn’t know Mr McElroy and hasn’t met him. After five months in the job, the polytechnic sector chief peddler of influence hasn’t met the Minister? So UCOL and the Tertiary Alliance might not be getting value for the second CEO salary.

Plumbers Go Ocker

At the time when there is high public interest in trades, the plumbing trade is about to dump New Zealand trades qualifications in favour of the Australian qualification. There’s bad blood between the Plumbing and Gasfitters Board and the newly established Plumbing ITO. What does it mean for confidence in the industry training system when a large traditional trade wants to dump it? There are grounds for concern. Official figures show that as at 1 July 2005 (even allowing for four years for apprentices to finish), only about 25% of modern apprentices complete their qualification.

Control Cheaper than Pay Rises

Two events in the past fortnight show how the NZEI and PPTA working with the Labour Government are extending their reach into the daily operation of education. The Government and the PPTA have agreed to a formula where teachers can now claim back from schools transport and childcare costs for compulsory teacher-only days. So schools are going to have to pay the bill when they weren’t party to the collective contract.

The NZEI and the Ministry of Education have agreed that kindergartens will only be able to diversify with NZEI’s agreement. The Government’s new funding system in early childhood education is forcing kindergartens to look more like full day-care operators. For the next 12 months NZEI can effectively veto kindergarten association operating decisions.

Dr Cullen has told the civil service to lower their expectations about pay rises. Expect to see the Ministry of Education in its industrial negotiations to trade off lower pay for more control. It’s an insidious trend. Schools and early childhood providers already get the bill for pay negotiations they aren’t party to. Increasingly they will also be paying the bill for operational authority negotiated between the ministry and the unions.

There’s No Such Thing as Independent Research – is there?

A breeze of fresh air is about to blow through the highly political education research community, which is traditionally constrained by ministry power, union ideology and institutional fear. Multiserve makes money from payroll services and overseas consultancy. They are a trust obliged to return their surpluses to education in New Zealand so they are setting up the first ever research fund completely independent of government. Within a few years the trust, called Cognition Education Research Trust (CERT), will be spending several million dollars annually commissioning independent education research. Miraculously and uniquely this new body is free of the dead hand of Wellington. The board at CERT has no NZEI, PPTA or Ministry people on it.

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