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National Education - 23 June 2006

23 June 2006

Slash and Burn at NZQA

Talk about a hospital pass. Karen Poutasi has to implement a decision by Steve Maharey, Karen Sewell and the NZQA board to cut NZQA spending by $9 million or 11%. An internal staff memo puts a stop to all hiring, tells staff to wind up contractors earlier if they can, and says that long-term savings will "require more fundamental work". That's code for R and R - restructuring and redundancies.

NZQA have been told they have to claw back their large unexpected loss from last year. And the loss is a sad tale of incompetence. They double-counted GST. Everyone else knew foreign student numbers were dropping, but NZQA grossly over-estimated the exam fees they would pay. And it cost them an extra $3.5 million to pay for last year's enquiries and to set up Scholarship again so it would work.

Ms Sewell reassures staff by saying she doesn't want to over-dramatise the situation and that NZQA is not headed for bankruptcy or crisis. Which means it is.

More Snow Than Canterbury

In their advice to Maharey about the Operational Grant Review, officials were worried about anything that "may move the focus of the review towards adequacy of funding and away from the key priority of how funding is used to support the Government's educational priorities". So forget any new money coming from it.

The review is a classic Maharey snow job - nice words, conflicting expectations, keep everyone on message, and a mess in the end. Michael Cullen is taking a hard line on no new money now that he believes everyone in health in education is ungrateful after such a big spend-up over the past six years. In the absence of a big cheque, Maharey has to manipulate the Operations Review Group to sign up to his priorities and sell them to the education sector while he holds out the promise of a bit more money if everyone behaves. It's cynical and it will probably work for a while - and then fall apart.

Ratemyteachers.com getuse2it

After a few weeks, Ratemyteachers.com has 45,000 ratings of 13,000 teachers. It's here to stay. Maybe it's all gossip. Or, if you believe in the wisdom of crowds, it will provide a balanced assessment of teacher's skills. Either way, it fills a vacuum of public information. The media go silly about information on schools because their readers and viewers are very interested, but information is so scarce. If teachers are worried about ratemyteacher.com they should support efforts to make good information more available to the public.

The Internet makes information ubiquitous and cheap. Isn't that what children already know and parents are learning as the world goes digital? Unions may be able to help a minister to hide Schoolsmart but they can't beat kids on the Internet, and the promises of legal action against this website are an embarrassment. Why does the education sector believe it will be exempt from the digital tide washing through our community?

So it's a choice between gossip and hype over the titbits that the public can get, or sensible debate about widely available data and judgments. My advice to schools and the unions about information on schooling is to get running or get run over.


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