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Parliament A Unique Workplace – Can Be Better

Posted by on May 21st, 2013

Have you ever noticed how some women just seem to have it all sorted? I didn’t realise how multi-talented women really were until I became a mum.

Since the birth of my third child I have appreciated my mother even more, admired other mothers tremendously and realised not only do I have a passion to make a difference in the lives of others, I want to be a good mum.

There are a number of conversations you start having by virtue of carrying out ‘mummy’ duties. Breastfeeding in public places can be as political as protesting or standing on the picket-line. Some people frown, or turn away and look a bit embarrassed and others give a reassuring smile as if to say ‘Good on You!’

Women share quite openly their experiences of Breastfeeding, when they made the choice to go back to work, how to manage illness when the whole family catches a bug, coping with the pressure of achieving work-life balance. This world of conversation can be as foreign to some people as a different language but it’s a perspective into which I have now been inducted.

The fact remains women who choose to Breastfeeding are doing so because they want their children to have the best possible start in life. And we shouldn’t assume that all  women who bottle feed didn’t try to breast-feed. It’s not easy business persevering with the right latch and getting the timing right, expressing, producing milk like a well run factory. It can be hard and I support every mum who makes the best choices she can to provide a healthy loving environment for bubs.

Returning to work is a decision that causes a whole heap of stress. If I had a dollar for every moment that I questioned myself on this single issue, there would be a tidy sum put away.

I have heard horror stories of women who returned to work with no consideration about their change in circumstances but I must say that they are the exception not the rule. New Zealand has come along way. We can chalk up many gains for women starting with the first country to give women the right to vote. Progressive change towards family friendly workplaces is considered a requirement for the modern labour market, improving productivity, overall job satisfaction and loyalty of employees.

Labour’s introduction of the Paid Parental Leave entitlement for 14 weeks sought to recognise that there is no greater job than that of being a parent. Sue Moroney’s Bill proposing to extend that leave to 26 weeks is a step in the right direction. Sadly though not surprisingly the Government is seeking to Veto the move, the fact that its on the radar of many families around the country will build momentum and it certainly ‘an idea whose time has come’.

Employers in each workplace should be encouraged to consider what level of flexibility is reasonable and achievable according to their circumstances. In Parliament, if you have the privilege of serving as an MP there are some important obligations that must be met to achieve the required outcomes of the role. But we must remember that MPs have working conditions, hours, workplaces and performance indicators that are very unique.

Our job requires a lot of travel, a high level of public interaction,   long hours sitting in Parliament, long meetings, more travel, advocacy and community work, and regular weekend obligations. The performance measures are peculiar consisting of re-election, public visibility, media profile, performance in the House and attendance in Parliament. It’s no wonder that many women get turned off by the whole scene. The whole idea of having children while serving as an MP can be even more daunting.

The short answer is that many women in our Parliament have done this in stoic fashion Ruth Richardson, Whetu Tirikatene and Katherine Rich all had their children while serving as MPs. They for me are examples that it is possible. Politics aside (for a moment) each one made progressive and subtle changes to the Parliamentary environment to accommodate their needs and those serving after them have benefitted.

My call is simple. Consideration of leave provisions for nursing mum MPs during exceptional circumstances where Members are required to sit in the House under urgency. No mum should be required to take their child to their workplace during the evening especially if they have no care provisions. They should be able to have their vote cast in a way that preserves their ability to perform a necessary duty for the role of MP without prejudicing their Party. This is a matter for Parliament to consider.

One small baby step for Parliament would send a signal to all workplaces that working mums are an asset to the workplace not a burden and if they choose to Breastfeed, then that has to be good!

A Rocky Road To Asset Sales

Posted by on November 27th, 2012

National has failed to reach its target of selling of shares in State Owned Energy Companies prior to Christmas 2012. They underestimated the broad public consensus opposing the move and they overplayed the level of ‘support’ from iwi leaders that did not equate to real votes on the ground for the Mixed Ownership Model (MOM) being promulgated.
Today the New Zealand Maori Council (NZMC) will present their case in the High Court. There are several strands to the arguments being debated about water, the rationale builds on the firm belief that;

➢ The Crown has a moral obligation to recognise the tino rangatiratanga that Maori assert over their Taonga and a fiduciary obligation to protect those rights and interests

It seems to me that this argument was the initial premise that built the case for the New Zealand Maori Council who sought to object to the Sale of Shares in SOE’s and the Mom model being promoted by the Government. That the Tribunal went a step further and suggested a ‘shares plus’ model to resolve the disputed action was, in my view, a pragmatic step to try and reconcile a way forward.

It was unhelpful and has become a red herring to the real issue that is that Maori do have proprietary rights and interests in water albeit undefined.

➢ That the common interest that all New Zealanders have in water is not prejudiced by Maori seeking greater protection of their proprietary rights and interests in water

Insofar as water is concerned, Maori accept that there is a common interest in water and that the Crown must take steps to preserve and protect those bundles of rights. The assertion that’ no-one owns water’ is offensive to Maori who see the hypocrisy of a water management framework that ascribes rights and interests through resource consents and allocation models.

This is why iwi have sought greater input into the RMA framework and the current management regime to accommodate the generic interests of Maori as kaitiaki and the co-existing rights of iwi insofar as localised Treaty Settlement outcomes.

The moment the Crown seeks to privatize rights in water through exclusive shareholding interests in water companies, transferability of water permits or the like, then the game changes and iwi/Maori are forced to ensure that their collective interests will not be disenfranchised.

In many respects, if New Zealanders who believe that Energy Companies should be operated for the benefit of all New Zealanders, they would support the actions of the NZMC to stop the sale of SOE’s and seek greater clarity over the nature and extent of proprietary rights and interests in water.

➢ That s.9 of the SOE Act was a mechanism used by Maori to protect their interests vis-à-vis Crown actions and the new clause inserted in the Public Finance Bill does not ascribe the same level of protection

This legal mechanism was intended to be Nationals solution to soften the Maori sentiment towards a share sell-down of 49% in SOE’s. But the Government failed to consider whether its actions fundamentally breached the Treaty of Waitangi and the fiduciary obligation to protect the ‘rangatiratanga’ of Maori in relation to water.

The Maori Party a close ally and coalition partner tried to dance on a pinhead by saying that they supported consultation with ‘the people’. They hid behind a small group of iwi leaders who showed some interest in the MOM model and transferring the s.9 clause of the SOE Act into a similar provision of the Public Finance Act. Yet they opposed Assets Sales. This is a confused position and reeked of political maneuvering rather than principles and should the NZMC be successful it will be despite the action of the Maori Party.

Once again, the take home point is that while the Government believes it may have a political mandate, 3 Maori electorate members of the Maori Party does not constitute a broad consensus or mandate from iwi or Maori on the issue and the Government should be concerned if the Court pursues the fiduciary obligation that the Crown has to protect the interests of Maori insofar as Article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi.

➢ That the Treaty Settlement process does not adequately provide for Maori proprietary rights and interests in water that may be specific and localised to whanau and hapuu
The Waikato River Settlement is a case in point. It is a historical settlement that has affirmed co-governance and co-management mechanisms in the ongoing management of New Zealand’s most utilised waterway. That settlement does not, however, ascribe proprietary rights and interests to hapuu or whanau who may have a puna, aquifer, lake, waterfall or stream in many parts of the rohe.

The NZMC court action may assist those hapuu and whanau whose interests may not be captured in the Treaty Settlement but have an important bundle of rights that need to be protected.

➢ That the final determination of the extent of Maori rights and interests in water will need to be accommodated in Resource Management legislation alongside Treaty Settlements
Whatever the outcome of the NZMC case, change is inevitable insofar as the Resource Management Act, water catchment management, co-existing rights vis-à-vis efficient allocation models. The Land and water Forum has been a constructive process to focus many minds on the challenge of sustaining more efficient water management regimes to enable productive enterprise, be cognisant of Maori rights and interests, protect the ongoing quality of waterways and sustain community utilization.

A post Land and Water Forum should lead to more sophisticated water-management tools and frameworks that bring together ‘competing interests’ with greater coherence around the sustainable use and allocation of water.

➢ That the Crown does not have the moral mandate of Maori to sell 49% of shares in State Owned Energy Companies because it prejudices the ability for Maori to assert their tino rangatiratanga over a significant Taonga that is managed in the common interest of ALL New Zealanders
Last but not least the political point to be made time and time again in relation to the Governments Asset Sale Agenda and the rights and interests being asserted by Iwi and Maori alike is that the Crown must assure itself and the Court that their actions do not prejudice the Article 2 interests of hapuu and iwi.
If they cannot demonstrate this high threshold based on proper consultation or a significant and broad-based mandate from hapuu and iwi then it would be safer to retain that common interest that all New Zealanders have in water by holding onto New Zealand’s Energy Companies for the ‘Public Good’.

I remember a kaumatua once saying that:
“…the trick to walking on water is knowing where the rocks are…”

Now is a very good time for the Government to rethink its SOE Asset Sales Agenda….

Look to Local Success for Maori and Pasifika students

Posted by on October 11th, 2012

Attending the Raise Pacific Education Conference held at the Auckland Museum was an opportunity to consider what success looks like for the growing number of Maori and Pacific young people. I highlighted the importance of looking towards local exemplars in our public schools that are working and improving the engagement, retention and achievement of Maori and Pacific students. There are alot of great examples in our local schools in Auckland that are raising the bar and showing the way such as Otahuhu College, Kia Aroha College, Massey High School and Western Springs High School to name a few. The problem is that they are spread out and it takes a long time to roll these innovations across the system so more students benefit from ‘what works’. This is an exciting time to be Polynesian and living in the country’s largest city, the growing reality is that the demographic mix is becoming more diverse and more polynesian. So our communities, schools and city of Auckland will have to shift the way in which planning for the future incorporates Maori and Pacific values and identity.
Its important to recognise that in education more should and must be done to lift achievement outcomes for all our children. There are two distinct paths, under the current Government, National standards, league tables and performance pay will seek to push polynesian kids down a path that will create winners and losers. It will create a culture of teachers “teaching to the test”, ultimately schools will treat all kids the same as if they are forcing round pegs into square holes. This is not the model for a high performing system.

Its disappointing that the government is using private sector models like charter schools as a solution to the challenge. All those schools will do is take from the public purse and privatise profits with little or no real gain in outcome for Maori or Pacific kids. Its time to dismiss empty rhetoric and invest in quality public education. By tackling the causes of poverty and inequality Labour will bring together solutions that exist outside the school gate to support the good work that teachers and school communities achieve to support their children within the school gates.

Getting more parents involved in their local Boards of Trustees and owning educational outcomes can make a huge difference. We must guard against the inclination of the Government who wants to pull decision-making back to the centre and tell parents and communities what works best.

We need only look at the sweeping reforms being proposed for the children of Christchurch to see that the Government is not serious about consulting with the community for the best schooling opportunities for children.

It looks like the ‘one size fits all’ creep could be a real prospect for young people in South Auckland if that behaviour continues.

Labour is looking to the future and wants to work constructively with parents, teachers and communities to ensure that every child no matter where they come from can be assured of a great education in their local community. The future for New Zealand urges us to think and act differently to ensure that success in education belongs to all our children. That does mean a different way of doing things and it will mean shifting the ‘norm referencing’ that currently occurs in our education system.

National Promotes Divide and Rule – One Size Fits All for Christchurch

Posted by on September 28th, 2012

The National Government appears to have adopted the age old tactic of divide and rule in Christchurch. Proposing sweeping education reforms of schools closures and merge options totally contradict the message that the Government will ‘consult with’ and ‘listen to’ the community. Yeah Right!

Unless you live in Christchurch it is very hard to comprehend the daily stress families cope with to carry on in a ‘new normal’ scenario. Many continue to wait for insurance claims to be confirmed, rebuild projects to commence, and for some greater certainty about job security. This is just a surface snapshot as there is so much more happening in peoples lives.

Instead of listening and working with the community constructively, the Minister of Education bowls her way though with an inefficient consultation process, questionable data and shallow analysis of submissions to justify broad sweeping changes. This is a trend that should worry any community.

There is no coherence to the network provision of education from early childhood options, through to schooling and tertiary pathways. This is a problem. The rebuild in Christchurch will be done over a number of years, if done well, the city will be an attractive place for business, to live, raise a famility and pursue tertiary education offerings. It doesn’t seem like the Minister has her eye on the future. Her short-sighted cost saving approach will lead to an educaiton network that is ill-equipped for 21st century learning or the prospect of coping with an influx of people prepared to rebuild and possibly live in the city.

What is particularly disturbing is the Economic Recovery Plan for Christchurch has not been revealed. It doesn’t make any sense to address the education issues without having a clear picture of the economic growth potential of Christchurch.

More cause for concern all the way around! The good people of Christchurch deserve more than political window dressing and opportunistic point scoring. Childrens futures hang in the balance. They need a well thought through system of education network provision.

Things can be done differently. The community want to be engaged in 21st solutions for the city rebuild. Parents want greater assurance that their aspiration to have a world class education for their child is not thwarted by the Government using the earthquake as an excuse to save money. Children in Christchurch deserve more – how different will the final proposal for Christchurch schools really be? Your thoughts?

Government Mandated Data Promotes “Shon-key’ League Tables

Posted by on September 28th, 2012

The media need to be more accountable to parents who are looking for robust and reliable data about how well their children are doing in school. Over the past two weeks the media have collected national standards and compiled this information as a league table ranking local schools – sadly the information used is ‘ropey’ and will not give an accurate picture of what really matters to parents.

The Minister is pushing ahead with her agenda to report ‘ropey’ national standards data, she is stepping back from any responsibility for league tables being promoted by newspapers and will push to have performance pay based on limited student achievement data.

I received a concerned email from the Principal of Porritt School in Hawkes Bay. The figures used by Hawkes Bay Today (HBT) were very different from the actual data held by the school. In reading for example the media derived figures reported the level at 37% when the schools verified figures were 77%. In reading and math HBT reported 42% when in fact the verified data was 84%.

Sadly the damage has been done, the impression of where Porritt School ranks alongside other schools will be negative and this is the unfair aspect of ranking schools.

Parents deserve reliable and robust data about how well their child is doing at school, parents also deserve good information about how their local school is catering to the education needs of their children.

National standards and league tables will do nothing to improve a child’s learning or tell the real story about what happens within a school.

For Porritt School the need to set the record straight is important because their children deserve the best. Instead they are in damage control trying explain to parents how badly their school information has been misrepresented.

National’s agenda in education to establish national standards, league tables and performance pay will erode confidence in the public education system – in readiness for a Charter School model that will privatise profit from the public purse.

Join our fight to expose this destructive attempt!

A Place That Gives All Children A Good Start

Posted by on September 11th, 2012

I’m proud to be from Aotearoa/New Zealand and just like my parents before me I believe that it’s a great place to bring up kids. We have a fantastic public education system where any child, no matter what their background, or where they are from, can expect a good education from their local school.

In the last few years however, our education system has been undermined. The National Government believes that by introducing more competition and privatisation into education, somehow everyone will be better off. Like many parents, I am not so sure.

Incredibly, John Banks’ charter schools will not be required to recruit registered teachers. This will create competition in the teaching profession – but it will do nothing to reassure parents and students that professional standards are the same across the board. And what’s worse, money will be taken from the public purse and put into these schools with little or no accountability to parents or taxpayers. Education should be for our kids, not for profit.

National Standards, league tables and performance pay are a formula set to position New Zealand as leading a race to the bottom of the OECD in education. The US, UK and Sweden are classic examples where the emphasis on high stakes testing has done nothing to improve teaching or learning outcomes of students. The best education systems in the world, such as Finland, stay away from high stakes testing, league tables and performance measures and their ranking speaks for itself!

Sure we have unique challenges. But we need to work with the best elements of our own system and strengthen those aspects that will give our children the best opportunity to realise their true potential. New Zealand is becoming more diverse and this is reflected in the make-up of our classrooms. We must innovate in our schools and classrooms to respond to this reality. We must shift the “one-size-fits-all” thinking that has so heavily dominated education policy so more people get through the doorway of opportunity.

David Shearer’s speech about Labour’s vision in education set out our ambition to confront the hardest issues that require significantly more attention.

Many Kiwis just don’t like to admit that poverty exists in a country like ours. Well, the sad reality is that it does. 270,000 Kiwi kids live in poverty, and that’s not just an economic and social problem – it’s an educational issue too. We must do more. As caring Kiwis dedicated to building a prosperous future we simply cannot be spectators. Labour will partner with the community and business sectors to make food available at our poorest schools.

Children should not go to school hungry. A kid with an empty tummy is not ready to learn. We must ensure they are fed and ready to make the most of their education. Critics will say that this is a parents’ job – and yes, it is. But it is not the kids’ fault. Too often children suffer because of choices beyond their control. School is their first window into what a caring society full of hope and opportunity can look like. Under Labour schools will have the capacity to transform lives by putting children at the centre of everything they do.

Reading recovery is another important focus, because all the research and evidence shows it works. Extending the availability of this home-grown programme to all schools means that all learners have access to reading recovery. Currently it is only offered in two out of three schools, with pupils at many low decile schools missing out. We can also look towards other programmes that support reading in the home which introduces the added advantage of whanau literacy.

Labour’s aim is to ensure that the world’s best education will be available at your local school. It’s a lofty goal, and to achieve it we will need to focus on what works in the New Zealand context.  We will work with the education sector to lead effective teaching and learning practices in our schools and classrooms. We are reaching out to engage across all sectors, from early childhood, schooling, tertiary and adult education pathways, as we believe learning is a lifelong pursuit.

In the days and months ahead, our education team will be reaching out to communities, parents, teachers, principals, the business and tertiary sectors to discuss our vision for education. We look forward to hearing your views on this very important issue.

Our vision will invest in a lifetime of learning opportunity for everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from. All boats must rise, our future depends on it!



Filed under: education

Education @ Inequality #3

Posted by on August 30th, 2012

Kids from low income households are only half as likely to achieve university entrance as those from high income households.

Education & Inequality #2

Posted by on August 29th, 2012

National cut $114M from public schools and increased private school funding by $35M

Education & Inequality #1

Posted by on August 29th, 2012

Charter smarter? I have my doubts.

Posted by on August 20th, 2012

The Government has recently announced its framework for charter schools to be introduced into our education system. It would be convenient to believe that this is an initiative solely driven by John Banks and ACT.  However information released under the OIA shows National was considering this model well before the election.

Much of the research I have read – especially that coming out of Stanford University –  tells us that any ‘gains’ from charter schools are nominal and inconsistent, plus there are major concerns around quality. Such schools also suck money from the public purse and privatise the profits, while having less accountability than their wholly public counterparts.

So Charter Schools can:

  • Pay teachers whatever they like
  • Employ unregistered teachers
  • Establish a governance board that is not necessarily made up of parents
  • Screen which students may or may not attend their school
  • Vary the delivery of an education curriculum or not draw from the NZ education curriculum

Charter Schools are  particularly attractive to adherents of faith-based schools and private sector interest groups. One only needs to ask why such schools were not established under existing provisions of the Education Act as ‘special character’ schools. Could it be that these schools do not want to conform to the same obligations as other taxpayer-funded schools, or be accountable to the wider public who want to promote tolerance through diversity of opinion and faith rather than the prospect of ‘closed community’ thinking?

National is promoting charter schools as a fix for  the ‘long tail of underachievement’  (read Maori and Pasifika) and a remedy for the significant issues faced by network provision in Christchurch post-earthquakes. However, aside from local forums in South Auckland (where the government plans a charter school) and Christchurch, there has been a deafening silence when it comes to wider consultation.

New Zealand already has an education system that caters for diversity – we have  public schools, private and integrated schools, kura kaupapa and wharekura. If we want to improve outcomes for ‘underachieving’ students then let’s look at shifting the mindset around the ‘norm’, so that curriculum content, relationships between student and principal, recognition of the corresponding importance of language, culture and identity align to educational and vocational pathways for young people.

All of that can be achieved through the public school system.

Filed under: education

Charter School Model Found Lacking

Posted by on August 18th, 2012

The Government has recently announced its framework for charter schools to be introduced into our education system. It would be convenient to think that this is an initiative solely driven by National however information released under the OIA shows that National was considering this model well before the election.

From the research I have read especially that coming out of Stanford University tell us that the gains are nominal, not consistent and there are serious quality issues. It’s yet another way to suck money from the public purse and privatize the profits without the same accountabilities as public schools.

In particular Charter Schools will:
• Be able to pay teachers whatever they like and not require them to be registered
• Establish a governance board that is not necessarily made up of parents
• Screen which students may or may not attend their school
• Vary the delivery of an education curriculum or not draw from the NZ education curriculum

National is promoting Charter Schools as a fix for ‘the long tail of underachievement’ and the significant issues faced by network provision in Christchurch post the earthquake. Local Consultation did not take place although forums have been held in both South Auckland and Christchurch.

Are Charter Schools a better option than the current system?

We are not starting from scratch, we have homegrown solutions. New Zealand has an education system that has public schools, private and integrated schools, kura kaupapa and wharekura. In maori mainstream and some english mainstream schools, innovation and leadership have resulted in great outcomes for Maori and Pasifika students but the system does not cope well with rolling these innovations out or rewarding success. The shift in mindset should be to change the ‘norm’ where curriculum content, relationships between student and principal, recognition of the corresponding importance of language, culture and identity align to education and vocational pathways for young people. All this can be achieved in the public schooling system without the need for Charter Schools.

It appears that Charter Schools will be particularly attractive for faith based schools and private sectors interests. One only needs to ask why such schools were not established under existing provisions of the Education Act as a ‘special character’ school? Could it be that these schools do not want to conform to the same obligations as other schools funded from the public purse? There will be greater difficulty in keeping these newly designated Charter Schools accountable to the wider public who want to promote tolerance through diversity of opinion and faith rather than the prospect of ‘closed community’ thinking.

The Government has to recognize that socio-economic background does have an impact on children’s learning outcomes. Having a warm home, kai on the table, a stable job for parents, affordable access to ece and a quality public education system is critically important for the great majority of young people. Charter Schools will introduce greater competition on public monies at a time when we need to lift expectation across the system so all public schools deliver to those children.

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A Poke and a Prod on National Standards and League Tables

Posted by on August 15th, 2012

I asked a question in the House yesterday on the Government’s quest to embed National Standards based on ‘ropey’ data. I received criticism that Labour’s position on National Standards and League Tables was sounding fuzzy. A prod and a poke led to this post from that criticism.

Just so I am clear from the outset, Labour does not support National Standards and League Tables. The Government has told parents on the one hand that they deserve good information about student achievement but are happy to mandate and post ‘ropey’ data on the Ministry’s website.

Minister Parata recently announced that the new Parent Achievement Information (PAI) database would be a quick online reference tool for parents detailing information about National Standards at their local school. On the one hand National is promoting these standards as a measure of how well children are doing in school. Yet there are huge variations between teachers and schools in Overall Teacher Judgements (OTJs) and the moderation process. National Standards do not give a good indication of how well a child’s learning progression is for the time that they are at school and they cannot be used as a comparative measure across schools. More alarming is the prospect that teachers who stress themselves out with the OTJ process start to second guess themselves and the way in which they are ranking children. This is the precursor to a change in teaching culture that may eventuate in a ‘teach to the test’ response. Through no fault of their own, teachers have had National Standards imposed upon them with haste. This has been quickly followed by Government expectations of mandated reporting and the potential for league tables to follow. The Government has not invested any funding into the OTJ or moderation process which demonstrates an inherent recognition that variability of data will remain a feature of the system.

But let’s get back to the real question: Will National Standards and League Tables improve the learning and achievement of young people to be well rounded citizens?

Simple answer: No.

National Standards are a blunt instrument to assess our young children and do not give an accurate picture of how well a child progresses; how successful interventions within a school, effective teaching practices and parental involvement can accelerate learning and make a difference.

Children are whole people, they are not widgets that must be tested periodically to assess their ability to retain and regurgitate information. National doesn’t get that. Yet their soundbite resonates with parents and the myth should be debunked.

To be well rounded, happy, resilient, competent, well socialised, innovative problem solvers and knowledge seekers a whole of curriculum approach is imperative. Connecting with young people to teach core subjects requires a skilled teacher who can teach math through sport, english via music, reading via kapahaka… all manner of innovative experiences for the learner.

I often think about how demoralising it must be for a little child who tries really hard at school, takes home their report and looks in their parents eyes when they read “below standard”… demoralising on a number of fronts. If a quality public education is valued in our society, we need to be mindful that children are whole people, from diverse backgrounds and family settings. School should be the one place where their dream to do and be more can be ‘achieved’.

They need their lights to be turned on… not snuffed out Minister Parata!

Te wiki o te reo Māori 2012 – Rāhina

Posted by on July 23rd, 2012

Whakanuia tahi te wiki o te reo Maaori me te roopu Reipa!

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If it’s not one thing it’s another in Education.

Posted by on June 20th, 2012

There is no seed of a doubt in the Public mind that National is bungling through the Education system and are creating a great big mess along the way.

First we see the bungle from the Government of introducing National Standards in our schools. The teaching profession informed the Minister at the time that testing of our Primary School children in reading, writing and math was a narrow measure of learning progress and had the potential to narrow the way in which NZs rich curriculum could be delivered.

Many schools are meeting the reporting requirements of the Ministry not because they think it makes a huge difference to learning outcomes for children, but because they have to.

We have since found that there is a huge variance between schools and within schools as to how the Overall Teacher Judgment impact on a student’s assessment. Parents want to know how well their child is doing while they are at school, their rate of learning and what can be done to improve their progress.

New Zealand needs well rounded engaged resilient and creative learners confident in who they are. National just don’t get it! And they are proving it day-by-day!

Classrooms around the country are full of children with diverse learning needs and the Ministers response this year – cram them into larger classes – it won’t make much of a difference! Well the parents knew that things had got out of hand and mobilized.

When their children came home from school saying that they might not have a technology, science, art, drama, kapahaka, music or extension teacher, parents became very angry with the National Government. Many of these parents were possibly National voters and now they question that support.

Labour tabled research in the House which showed that larger classes for our youngest, most vulnerable and disadvantaged learners did not improve achievement outcomes. Labour committed to reversing such a silly policy.

Vigourous lobbying, damaging polls and finally common sense prevailed and the Minister had to back down and turn around her decision on larger classes.

That initiative it was supposed to make a savings of $114m over 4 yrs and be used for Teacher Quality and now the Minister is scrambling around looking for funding to invest in Quality teaching – stump up with the funds Minister!

Quality teaching does matter and should never have been considered as a trade-off. Get rid of the Charter school initiative, cap the amount of funding for independent schools, reverse tax cuts for the top 3% of income earners and you will have the resources necessary to address the ongoing needs of professional development, mentoring and training supports for teachers.

Hot on the heels of this bungle was another blunder, a rush of blood to the head saw the PM promote league tables, ‘but it would depend on the shape of the reporting so that schools would not be disadvantaged’ we hear. Whatever that means?

League tables and ranking schools based on reading, writing and math confirms exactly what education professional thought would happen after National Standards.

League tables will end up changing the culture of teaching from a collaborative to a competitive environment, drive teachers away from vibrant decile one communities, narrow the teaching curriculum and further stigmatise our most challenged learners. Under National the education system will be designed for winners and losers rather than developing the potential of diverse learners and all children.

Round pegs into square holes that’s what National want.

A fine example of National saying one thing before the election and doing the complete opposite after the election. Who is driving education is it Treasury?, Bill English? Or the PM? – Because it certainly isn’t the Minister in the seat.

The Bungle Bluster Education Bus is the name for it they want you to get on board, that’s Nationals plan for a brighter future.

National Systematically Destroying Public Education

Posted by on June 4th, 2012

The Post-Budget 2012 fall out from Education announcements continue to highlight in the compulsory sector that the current Minister is heavily reliant on Treasury-led interpretations of education research. That interpretation was that class size does not matter, instead the quality of the teacher is what really counts. Parata failed to pass that view through an important litmus test – the many principals and teachers at the coal-face who understand the complexities of the modern class-room and the needs of diverse learners.

A former Principal passed on the following analogy:

“Its like saying to the All Black Team…’right blokes you’ve got a game coming up and you have the skill advantage so we’re going to take four players off the field from your team and the opposition get an extra 5 players on their side’…by any measure the elite All Black Team will struggle to deliver a satisfactory outcome”

On hearing this, it further highlighted that the Minister just didn’t do her homework. Some fundamental questions were left unanswered until after the Budget was announced. Parata pointed out that new teacher/pupil ratios will result in a loss or gain of one or two teachers. She failed to highlight the impact for schools of including the funding of technology teachers in the new formula. Intermediate schools were quick to highlight the real impact where some schools would see a loss of between 3-6 teachers per school. This impact appeared ironic at a time when National said that they were aiming for an economy that valued science and innovation while at the other end of the spectrum they were doing away with the subjects that grow our creative, innovative and scientific talent. Principals, teachers, parents and some students flooded our email system with their outrage over the loss of technology, science, art, drama, kapahaka and accelerated learning subjects because of the new staffing ratio.

A blunder for the new Minister of Education where she had to partially retract from her initial position and guarantee that no school will lose more than two technology teachers and this will be funded from a contingency fund to the tune of about $20m. But she just doesn’t get the core message supported by evidenced Labour tabled in the House that larger class sizes for young and disadvantaged learners will not produce better outcomes. Primary schools are concerned that in years 2-4 our youngest learners in some communities will be significantly disadvantaged and the capacity to teach reading recovery and remedial math will suffer at a time when the Government has placed increasing priority on National standards. If our youngest learners do not have the best start in education, how does the Minister propose to lift the success rates of Maori and Pacific learners who largely fall in the disadvantaged or vulnerable category? All children deserve the very best conditions for learning in their early years. National seems more intent on following its ideology rather than “what works in the New Zealand context” and “what is supported by evidenced based research”.

Thankfully kura kaupapa and Wharekura are not affected by the new teacher/pupil ratios and that is because their model works for Maori students who are more likely to succeed as Maori in a modern and changing world. But the reality remains where more Maori learners are in english immersion schools and they struggle to provide the same context for success to those learners, larger classes will exasperate the problem.

Labour has not lost sight of the effort to invest in effective teaching practices and the conditions that determine a quality environment for teachers to ‘weave their magic’. New Zealand has a world class education system and we have some serious challenges that require a circuit breaker but National standards, larger classes, performance pay, charter schools and the shifting of more public funds into private education will erode some of the very aspects that put our education system in the top quartile of schools in the OECD.

National standards, larger class sizes and performance pay will move the teaching fraternity to a more competitive rather than collegial and collaborative profession. Some of the very best teachers I have met and talked to were never in it for just the money, they had a passion for teaching and working with young people and their greatest accolades were knowing that the influenced the next generation to do and be more. Some of the very best teachers I met deliberately stayed in decile one schools because success gained from those children in their communities were well ‘worth their weight in gold’. Some of the very best teachers I have met engendered self-belief and inspired a love of learning and knowledge.

Success and achievement for Maori and Pacific learners must be a key driver to strengthen the already valuable parts of our quality education system. But lets consider those exemplars in the current system which makes more coherent links between what occurs ‘inside the school gates’ and what happens ‘outside the school gates’ to innovate home grown success!

Nationals lack of a plan in education is systematically destroying the very best of our public education system at a time when we need all our children to reach their potential.

Breaking News!!!

Posted by on May 23rd, 2012

A group of private schools have launched a campaign to increase their class sizes after the government revealed bigger might actually be better, or at the very least, the same.

“How stupid are we?” a spokesperson said this morning. “For years we’ve been selling ourselves on the fact that smaller classes result in better educational outcomes, yet apparently it’s the quality of teachers that make the difference.

“We’ve even had to ask the government for taxpayer-funded hand-outs because our rolls are so small, when all along we should have just upped the number of kids in each of our classes and pocketed the extra fees,” she said.

The schools were now updating their websites, many of which emphasised the low student teacher-ratio and the opportunities they offered “for individual attention, expansion of capabilities and teacher-pupil interaction’.

“There’s no arguing that New Zealand kids deserve the best teachers, but those teachers obviously don’t need to be in an environment that actively fosters excellence. Any old environment will do,” the spokesperson said.

It was expected the group wouldn’t be lobbying current Finance Minister Bill English, who, as National’s education spokesperson said in 2004 that the then Labour Government was wasting an opportunity (with projected falling rolls) to shrink class sizes “to have better relationships between families, teachers and students which research shows is really important for achievement, particularly disadvantage kids.”

“I mean, seriously, what does that tell you? The Government knows nothing, yes, that’s right, zero, about what really goes on in our schools.”

The campaign, titled More Is Better But Only If I Say So, would be rolled out across the country over the next few weeks, she said.

NB: Any resemblance to any characters living, or otherwise, is purely coincidental.

Filed under: education

Watch This Space!

Posted by on April 14th, 2012

A very interesting development on the political landscape emerged last week.

The Government had made some critical decisions to ‘reassign’ Family Start contracts for a small number of providers. On the surface one might have been tempted to go for the jugular and criticize the Government for cutting services to assist the most vulnerable families in our communities.

When you consider some of the providers involved it appeared that the Government was set to buy a fight with players like; Te Whanau o Waipareira, Turuki Health services and Papakura Marae who service vulnerable communities. A closer look at this decision leads to more questions.

Was it really about not meeting auditing requirements? Or was it a case of putting the whanau ora cart before the family start horse?

Perhaps neither but Te Whanau o Waipareira was blindsided at a time when they were also establishing themselves to deliver the Governments much promoted charter school model. This same organisation has been a staunch advocate of the Governments ‘whanau ora’ policy and leads a significant National Urban Maori cluster which has secured ‘whanau ora’ funding.

Whatever the case may be, certain ‘dots’ have not been connected by the Government. If there is a serious ambition to lift the educational opportunities for more Maori and Pacific learners then what happens outside of the school gate is just as important as what happens in the classroom.

In order for more Maori children to succeed in life the basics must be taken care of; a warm and loving home, kai on the table and a stable job for the parents.
Family Start is an initiative that works with vulnerable whanau to assist them to model a lifestyle where they all thrive, parents and children. There is a lot of baggage to get through and several challenges that cannot be ignored.

‘Reassigning’ these contracts to other providers was a big call and the new providers will have to deliver. It just seems odd that there will now be a separation between Family Start providers and some Whanau Ora providers when there is a natural fit for both initiatives to work in conjunction with one-another.

This move echos National’s ‘hat-trick’ of promoting competition in the marketplace of social service providers.

No one will really benefit least of all vulnerable whanau.

Why Compete for Crowded Space?

Posted by on February 8th, 2012

In a Parliament where the Governments majority looks shakey and decisions may get through on a slim margin of just one vote can we operate differently in Opposition?

On the opposition benches there will be a number of Parties who will vote against Asset Sales. Labour was unequivocal at the 2011 election SoEs were Not For Sale. But the country has voted and National will drive ahead with its agenda, despite widespread concern from Maori about inadequate protections as affirmed in s.9 of the SoE Act.

Rather than delve into the debate, I wanted to raise whether there was an opportunity for a culture shift in the way opposition parties attacked the Government on specific BIG ISSUES like Asset Sales, like Growing Inequality, Like Children Living in Poverty. Some may consider this a broad coalition of the opposition, and to be frank post-election it will be an organic exercise.

Could it be an opportunity for doing things differently in opposition in an MMP environment – your thoughts?

No Room for Dithering on Treaty of Waitangi

Posted by on February 6th, 2012

Happy Waitangi Day! Throughout the country people will be celebrating a day that reminds us who we are, and how our country was founded – at least I would like to think that is the case. At Waitangi there will be celebration, but only after the intial flexing of ‘treaty right’ muscle most notable from those who feel offended by the lack of progress.

Perspective is a great moderator of opinion and even though our nation can still be consider a young 172 years in the making – the way forward remains very clear.

Our path as a nation predicates itself on the Treaty of Waitangi as a founding document which in its time has been the focal point of debate that has shaped our sense of nationhood. Maori as tangata whenua, continue to assert a prerogative for doing things differently. Perspectives regarding environmental stewardship are most keenly asserted by tangata whenua who want to preserve our natural resource inheritance for future generations. This year we might expect evidence of this in debates regarding increased mineral use, oil exploration and growing angst in the reliance of our economy on fossil fuels and thermal power generation. On this front the great majority of Maori opinion would see itself at the centre of a renewable energy programme of action and potentially helping to lead the low carbon economic agenda. Now the Crown might do well to see how Treaty claimants and post-settlement iwi might partner investment in this area rather than looking offshore. Even in the research and development space, some iwi should be approached by the Governments CRIs to partner ‘cutting edge’ projects as a real opportunity to do things differently.

A strong driver of opinion on s. 9 of the SoE Act will be the potential impact of the National Governments agenda on natural resources. A case in point from my own electorate is the process Genesis is currently embarking on to renew its 35year consents to take water. Waikato-Tainui may do well to consider their position on consents against a backdrop of any proposed sale of energy companies. Shorter consents may prove no certainty for private interests. But, if the National Government in selling SoEs presume they have the absolute right to divest 49% of their shareholding on behalf of Maori – think carefully. Tainui tested s.9 in the CoalCorp case which was a predecessor to the 1995 Waikato Raupatu Settlement. When the National Government undertook to separate ECNZ into 3 energy companies Tainui sought an undertaking from the Minister via the High Court that by doing so, the tribes interests in the Waikato river would not be prejudicially affected. The 2008 Waikato River Settlement contains a clause that gives Tainui first right of refusal over the Huntly Power station. No position on water rights was reached by the then Labour Government or the National government. This remains a live issue for many competing water users – but there are many roads to Rome and it could well be time to revisit water allocation and consent rights.

I would be very interested to see an opinion from Crown Law on the ability of the Crown to sell a 49% shareholding in Crown Assets without the full resolution of Treaty Settlement claims. At a political level one can only deduce that National has a high level of comfort in selling energy companies first because of the perceived interest from iwi like Ngai Tahu and Tainui. But as tribal members will confirm, no solid proposal or business case has been revealed. Neither iwi nor ‘mum and dad investors’ should be scapegoats for an over-zealous ideology.

These are interesting times and as we also enter the Year of the Dragon – the lack of political leadership on the Treaty of Waitangi may unleash a Taniwha….just saying.

Minister of Education sending Mixed messages

Posted by on February 3rd, 2012

BIM reports released yesterday gave a snapshot of where Government officials were at with National’s policy programme of action.

Interestingly in the Education portfolio, the Treasury report was more informative about planned intentions then the Education BIM itself. A suggestion to increase class sizes ignores previous evidence and experience which shows that benefits to students learning will be marginal at best.

The Ministry of Education BIM states that:

“Central to improving student achievement is the quality of the learning environment and the interaction between a student and teacher that takes place within that environment. Highly effective teaching makes the biggest difference to student achievement within the education system. First and foremost good teachers acknowledge the language, culture, and identity of a student and utilise that to support student learning. They establish respectful relationships with parents, families and whānau, and create learning opportunities for the student that match well to the student’s current capability and interests. They have high expectations for every student, provide high quality feedback to students and clear pathways to enable learning to progress. They use assessment both to track progress and chart future learning.
Our recent synthesis of research evidence has also underlined the importance of professional leadership. The evidence from the schooling sector is that leaders make their greatest contribution through planning, co-ordinating, and evaluating teaching and the curriculum and through promoting and participating in teacher learning and development. At present, professional leaders undertake a range of educational and administrative tasks.
Leaders also play an important role in creating a school culture that supports positive and respectful relationships between students and teachers and amongst students. New Zealand students report relatively high levels of bullying behaviour which can impede both successful learning and some of the social outcomes sought from schooling. Successful leaders create environments and learning that counter these issues.”

All this suggests that good quality teachers and focussed leadership will propel success in learning. So why does the Minister delete the part of the BIM which suggests increased class sizes.

NZPPTA were clear to point out that larger classes will increase stress on teachers – the Minister would do well to visit kiwi classrooms and hear first hand the types of pressures our teachers are dealing with on a daily basis.

There is a fundamental difference between the National Governments approach to education and a Labour approach. We believe that investment in a good quality public education system is our opportunity to give everyone the tools to contribute to the future of our great country. A high performing economy requires a highly skilled population – for everyone. In the New Zealand context recognition of culture, language and identity will form strong pillars for educational success and opportunity.

If the Government is determined to create more attention on cost saving measures in the public education system and drive expectation around achievement, they may be softening the entry of Charter Schools as a more plausible alternative…just saying.