Red Alert

Archive for the ‘Teachers’ Category

Cut the education red tape!

Posted by on December 4th, 2013

If a child comes to school hungry, putting them on the scales every day to see whether they’re gaining weight won’t help. The same principle applies to their learning. Constantly testing their level of reading and writing ability won’t do anything to improve it – quality teaching will. That has to be the main message we take from our staggering decline in the latest OECD educational rankings.

For the past five years (during which time the dramatic decline has taken place) the National government have been obsessed with testing, assessment, and ranking. The result has been schools and teachers that are so tied up with red tape and ‘reporting’ that they don’t actually have the time to do the main thing they are there to do – teach!

We already know who the kids are who are falling behind. Every teacher can tell us which kids in their class are struggling. What we should be doing is focusing resources and attention to actually fixing the problem. What National are focusing on now is how they can get their assessment results more consistent – what’s that cliche about repeating the same mistake over and over?

There are programmes that we know work. Last year Labour announced that we will extend Reading Recovery so that all the kids who are falling behind in their reading can catch-up. We’re also going to develop a Maths Recovery programme and improve professional development opportunities for teachers so that they can improve their own skills.

Let’s cut the red tape that is tying our schools and teachers in knots and get back to the basics – teaching and learning.

National Standards are the problem

Posted by on February 16th, 2013

This week’s Listener has an article (unfortunately pay-walled online) about supposed ‘grade inflation’ in primary school tests. The allegation comes as a result of changes to the marking guides for key assessment tools teachers use to measure student progress in core areas like literacy and numeracy. Principals are reporting vastly different results that they claim over-inflate the amount of progress students have made during the year.

The tools concerned, e-asTTle and STAR, are used by schools to assess writing and reading respectively. The issue at hand appears to be that the underlying assumptions used to produce test ‘results’ have changed. For example:

The old e-asTTle test looked at the piece of writing each student did during a test, and gave results purely on face value. The new one uses that piece of writing as a starting point, and extrapolates to what the student could probably do with support from his or her teacher and without the pressure of the test.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with this change. e-asTTle is only a tool, and the results it produces need to be weighed up against a number of other things including teachers observations, interviews and a child’s written work. The problem comes because e-asTTle and STAR results are often used in the reporting of National Standards progress to parents.

…some principals are worried that less-scrupulous schools – or those whose staff simply don’t understand how the tests have changed – could be using the results to artificially boost their National Standards results. That in turn could give schools a higher ranking in the public league tables.

Paul Drummond, principal of Tahunanui School and outgoing head of the New Zealand Principals’ Federation sums up the problem:

“I’d like to think there was professional integrity around this, [but] there are going to be enormous pressures to the contrary – to actually spin your data. There is so much pressure put on for schools to look good in those judgments, those scores.”

I have a lot of faith in the integrity of our teachers, and I don’t think they would deliberately inflate student results. However, if the National government go ahead with the plans they’ve got Treasury working on at the moment and introduce ‘performance’ pay for teachers, things could well be different.

If a teacher’s pay at the end of the week is going to be determined by a narrow range of student test results, there will be every incentive in the world for them to use every means available to make those results look as good as they possibly can.

The fundamental problem is that National Standards are narrowing the focus of teaching and learning too much. There are no national standards in science or art for example. Linking teacher pay to National Standards results is only going to make that problem worse.

Instead of taking such a narrow-minded approach, we need to replace National Standards with a requirement for schools to report to parents regularly and in plain language how their child is progressing against the whole curriculum. Instead of attempting to measure teacher performance by looking at a narrow range of test results, we should be focused on encouraging ongoing professional development and establishing a robust attestation process that factors in all elements of effective teaching.

10 questions for Hekia Parata

Posted by on August 17th, 2012

There are still a lot of unanswered questions about Hekia Parata’s practice of dobbing in teachers who write to her to complain about government policy to their board of trustees. Fortuitously have an ability to ask them of her! Today I’ve lodged the following Written Parliamentary Questions. I’ll post the answers when I get them here on Red Alert.

  1. How many letters did she receive expressing concern about her government’s plan to increase class sizes?
  2. How many letters did she receive from teachers expressing concern about her government’s plan to increase class sizes?
  3. How many of her responses to letters she has received from teachers expressing concern about her government’s plan to increase class sizes were sent to the Board of Trustees that employs the teacher concerned?
  4. Is it her policy to send replies to any correspondence she receives from teachers to the Board of Trustees that employs the teacher, if so, why?
  5. How many letters did she receive from teachers expressing concern about her government’s plan to increase class sizes where the teacher did not identify the school that they work at, and how many of those teachers received a direct response?
  6. How many letters did she receive from teachers expressing concern about her government’s plan to increase class sizes where the teacher did not identify the school that they work at, and how many of her responses to those letters were sent to that teacher’s employer?
  7. If she sent a reply to a letter from a teacher who did not identify the school they work at to the Board of Trustees that employs the teacher, how did she identify which school board to send the letter to?
  8. Who prepared her replies to letters she received from teachers expressing concern about her government’s plan to increase class sizes?
  9. Did any of the people involved in preparing her replies to letters she received from teachers expressing concern about her government’s plan to increase class sizes access any government database or record system to identify the school the teacher worked at?
  10. Why did she send replies to letters she has received from teachers expressing concern about her government’s plan to increase class sizes to the Board of Trustees that employs the teacher concerned?

Bullying tactics an abuse of power

Posted by on August 16th, 2012

Today in Parliament I asked some questions about Hekia Parata’s conduct in responding to letters from teachers expressing their concerns about bigger class sizes. In response to those letters Hekia Parata has written to the Boards of Trustees and Principals employing those teachers, rather than responding directly to their correspondence.

That in itself is a real breach of the teachers privacy, but it gets worse when we learn that some of the teachers didn’t identify which school they teach at in their letters. So how did Hekia Parta know which Board of Trustees to send the responses to? If Hekia Parata accessed teachers personal records to identify which schools they worked at, that’s a very serious abuse of her position.

Every citizen has the right to send a letter to a government minister without fear that their concerns will be taken to their employer. But bullying looks to be a deliberate tactic for Hekia Parata. Earlier this year she threatened schools that were using newsletters to inform parents about the effect National’s plan to increase class sizes. Parents have a right to know that information. Hekia Parata’s attempt to bully schools into silence is disgraceful.

How can members of the public have confidence that their views are respected by this government, when teachers have had their privacy breached by the Minister of Education, when beneficiaries have had their personal information splashed all over the media by the Minister for Social Development, and when claimants to ACC can have no confidence that their sensitive information won’t be emailed all over the country?

Clear as mud

Posted by on May 31st, 2012

Hekia Parata was asked a number of questions in the House today about her decision to increase class sizes, particularly for intermediate schools. I’ll blog a bit more about the insights we got from these questions over the weekend, but for now you can take a look and judge for yourself.

Ministers just didn’t do the work

Posted by on May 30th, 2012

It took nearly 10 minutes of back and forth in the House today for the Education Minister, Hekia Parata, to admit that she hadn’t even asked for a list of the schools that would lose or gain more than one teacher as a result of her changes to teacher:pupil ratios before she took her proposal to Cabinet.

Quite frankly, this is just not good enough. Hekia Parata took a policy to Cabinet, and it was approved and announced in the Budget, without any Minister taking the time to look at what the actual impact would be on individual schools. If that’s the level of scrutiny the National government are applying to their cost-cutting proposals, it’s no wonder it’s all turning into such a mess.

It simply defies belief that Hekia Parata would come up with a policy that could spell and end to intermediate school education as we know it without doing the most basic analysis. And this from someone who has spent a lifetime as a senior public servant. She should know better. Too much more of this and she’ll end up making Anne Tolley look positively competent by comparison.

The ideal class size

Posted by on May 21st, 2012

Allan Peachey … a man who put kids first

Posted by on November 7th, 2011

It was both very sad and a surprise to hear about Allan Peachey’s death today. I worked on the Education and Science Select Committee with him, some of my family taught at Rangitoto College under his reign.

He impressed me with his deep understanding of education and real commitment to getting the best for kids. Ultimately for him that was the test. He was no friend of National Standards. For his passion and understanding alone, he should’ve been the Minister.

He chaired the Select Committee in a true spirit of bipartisanship and was unfailingly polite to those who came before us. We differed in our politcal views – sometimes quite a bit – but that’s politics. We are poorer for his parting.

Our condolences go out to his family.

Putting Kids First

Posted by on September 17th, 2011

This week I had the privilege of announcing Labour’s plan to lift achievement in primary schools – or more accurately, years 1-8. We called it “Reaching for the Stars – Whakamaua Nga Whetu” and it spells out the way forward from the debacle that is National’s national standards.

Our policy ensures that parents get plain language information they require on their child’s achievement, progress and next learning steps without schools having the flawed national standards imposed on them. Labour will require schools to use recognised assessment tools and teacher judgement to assess children against the celebrated NZ Curriculum. Simple really – no major drama.

Meanwhile, the Government has resorted to having the Ministry write national standard targets for the non-compliant schools. So much for self-managing schools! As we speak, those school boards are now being threatened with the sack if they return those charters to the Ministry with the words “under duress” on them. This Government seems determined to go to war with the education sector, rather than work with them to get good outcomes. As Labour’s policy shows, its all so unnecessary.

It is telling that Mrs Tolley hasnt been able to work out how to attack our policy. She started off with ” the policy is written by the unions,” but then changed tack later on to say it was a “watered down version of national standards.” Of course, neither is true – but the contradiction in her statements demonstrates how Crosby Textor are struggling to find the attack line on our policy. Which all adds up to it being just more great policy from Labour.

I prefer for our educators and school boards to be focused on providing excellent education for our children, than going to war with the Ministry of Education. Labour’s policy lets them get on with the job, while making sure parents are kept in the loop too. After all, we know that our kids’ education thrives when parents and teachers work in partnership.

education leaders speak

Posted by on July 27th, 2011

Sir John Graham and John Taylor have a great column in the Herald today.

It is about creating far more respect and dignity among our teaching profession so that it can once again become the desirable and satisfying career which attracted us into it many years ago. It is about reinforcing the importance of inspiring students through their teachers’ passions for the subjects they teach, as well as the thrill of seeing another side of difficult students through their extracurricular talents.

Most importantly, it is about promoting a sea change from excessively boring, mechanistic and assessment-driven teaching, to the celebration of whole subject expertise, the inculcation of good values, and the importance of all round student involvement beyond the classroom.

I’ve worked closely with these guys in the past. They are seen as being at the conservative end of the principal spectrum but both ran very good schools. Respected by staff and students. While there are a few matters of emphasis that we would differ on this is a damn fine column.

I especially agree with their view that subject fragmentation and over assessment together lead to a major problem that we must address.

And yes I’m prepared to take responsibility for more than half of what has happened in education in the past twelve years.

New Zealand’s first tertiary high school

Posted by on June 29th, 2011

Met with Stuart Middleton at the Manukau Institute of Technology today, the driver behind NZ’s first tertiary high school where students are simultaneously enrolled at school and MIT. The idea is that they transition from school, where most are about to leave anyway, and pick up a course at MIT. It’s a model that deserves copying.

Mainly because students can see some outcome of their learning – and therefore get really passionate about it – the Tertiary High boasts impressive success. Their latest results for NCEA Level 1 for Maori and Pasifika are below, and remember this is from a group that otherwise were on the path to dropping out of school.


Nationally – 60.8% at MIT – 80%


Nationally – 54% at MIT – 71%

Pretty good results. We have a 20% drop out rate in NZ – 20% of 16 year olds are no longer at school. The big factor, according to Stuart, seems to be that once kids drop out it’s really difficult to pick them up again. Instead if they move to some other learning, it doesn’t matter which so much, but one that gives a qualification, the chances are incredibly high that they go on to another qualification.

Not rocket science, perhaps, but a scheme that’s based on principles worth instituting into policy.

Teachers tell me how things really are…

Posted by on April 11th, 2011

I met with a Henderson household on Saturday – they’d asked me to go over to see them.  They’d received a survey I’d sent them and wanted to discuss their concerns in person.

Two of the members of the household were teachers, one was a teacher aid and the sole male in the household works in Insurance.  I really enjoyed my time with these people – they were great people and had requested to meet with me on a Saturday because they are genuinely concerned about what they are seeing go on around them. 

Their views on National Standards and what’s happening in the education sector…

If it were about ‘value added’ then it may be of some worth but as it stands it is only serving as a distraction from their core business.  If there were a change of Government, they wouldn’t want it turfed out all together but would rather some work and more importantly TIME go in to developing National Standards properly and changing the focus to ‘value added’. 

They articulated very clearly that they and other teachers are getting worn out.  One of the teachers said that if she was completely honest, she’s only able to give her classroom pupils about 50% of what they deserve (in terms of innovative teaching, one on one time etc etc).  This is all due to the additional work they are expected to do because of the ineffective National Standards they are being forced to implement.

At the moment these teachers stated, they are not getting home till 7 pm most nights.  They said they have an increasing number of colleagues who are opting out of the teaching profession because the expectations are unreasonable and the work load is damaging their own home/ family lives.

They are concerned that under the National Government the focus has moved away from what should be core business – ‘teaching kids’.  It’s not only the National Standards that has been a cause for this detrimental shift in thinking, but also the funding cuts and subsequent under-resourcing which is impeeding their ability to TEACH.

They discussed in detail their concern with some of the parenting skills that their childrens parents are demonstrating – saying that they believe these parents need additional support.  They have also observed an increaing number of children come to school not having had breakfast and without any lunch – they are unsure of how these parents are surviving given how much the are struggling financially.

They provided me with an insightful view on a number of different areas but I’d have to write a very long post to get it all down.  The things that they did say – that I have written about in this post, really should be of concern to all of us.


Posted by on April 6th, 2011

This is what we did at Kaitaia Intermediate School in 2001 to reduce bullying/ violence by 90% in 12 months.

1. We got GSE personnel to observe in classrooms over three days (about 5 hours in total) to note every incident of ‘violence’ (anything from taking a rubber without asking, name calling, pushing, shoving, fighting etc) so that we had baseline data on the extent of the problem. There were 40 incidents in that time.

2. We surveyed all students asking them two questions. (1) Have you been bullied in the last month? (2) What is the name of the bully?

3. We were able to identify the same 3-4 names popping up and worked with them and their parents. (In some cases when working with the family it was easy to see where the bullying/ violent behaviour comes from).

4. We sorted out our discipline system, so there were instant consequences that the students understood, and teachers didn’t have to spend teaching time dealing with misbehaviour.

5. We provided professional development for teachers to improve their behaviour management strategies.

6. We provided professional development so that teachers improved their teaching. A lot of bullying/ violence occurs when there is ‘down time’ in class.

7. We tidied up our ‘systems’. e.g. walking in quiet lines around the school, lining up for buses after school, sitting down to eat lunch. basic stuff really, but children appreciate order. Disorderly behaviour in an ordered environment stands out.

8. We invited the same GSE people back 12 months later to observe in the same classes for the same amount of time.

9. Bullying/ violence had reduced by 90%. (4 incidents were noted in that sameobservation time).

My concern for the $62m set aside to address bullying is that it will be squandered on high level and complicated ideas when simple solutions based on what works on the ground are required.

Offending teachers names continue to be hidden – thanks to Key Power and Tolley

Posted by on December 18th, 2010

Last Saturday John Key, Simon Power and Anne Tolley voted against an amendment to the Education Act that would have moved to a presumption that teachers who are before the Teachers’ Council Disciplinary Tribunal would have their names published and the power to suppress victims names would be enhanced.

Some recent cases according to stuff :-

May: A married male teacher was deregistered after an 18-month sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female pupil.

June: A married male teacher who had an intimate relationship with a year 8 girl he called his “first true love” was deregistered.

August: A male teacher was deregistered after having a sexual relationship with a depressed 16-year-old female pupil.

October: A female teacher deregistered in Britain was censured in New Zealand for inappropriate sexual conduct with a male pupil and allowing pupils to drink in her home while she was employed in New Zealand.

I’m not sure that publishing names would stop a lot of abusive teachers but if it saves a kid or two then it must be a good thing.

I just don’t understand why the Nats didn’t support it. And as for Act – they have certainly changed since Coddington led the charge against suppression orders. Though we saw that with Rodney’s defence of Garrett.

A way to help identify offending teachers – comments invited

Posted by on November 18th, 2010

 Media – mainly on Sundays – and bloggers especially Cam Slater have been frustrated with Teachers’ Council rules that make it very hard to hear cases in public. I share their concerns. There is almost no way to have suppression orders because the maximum fine for a breach is $1k which deters no one.

The Council is understandably reluctant to risk identifying victims especially of sexual abuse but their rules don’t let them identify accused and not the victim – and won’t change with the current fine level.

This breeds rumours and false conclusions.

I’ve got two SoPs one very simple which increases the fine to $100k and would leave the Teachers’ Council to rewrite the rules. The second, below, is more comprehensive and adopts the position that Simon Power is promoting for the Courts. It has a presumption of an open hearing.

A month or so ago I tabled an earlier draft at the select committee , and sent  one to the Minister – received and used advice from officials.

Will be interesting to see if Anne Tolley is prepared to move on this or whether she is prepared to continue to protect abusers.

Likely to be voted on next week – interested in comments on both policy and drafting.

Education Amendment Bill (No 2)


Proposed amendments

Hon Trevor Mallard, in Committee, to move the following amendments:

Insert new clause 18A:

“New subsections for section 139AW

The following subsections (4) to (7) are inserted after subsection 139AW(3):

(4) Subject to the provisions of subsection (5) and of any other enactment, every sitting of the Disciplinary Tribunal dealing with any proceedings in respect of serious misconduct shall be open to the public.


Stuart’s Sunday Serve – teachers and Mr Key

Posted by on September 5th, 2010

Have been visiting a few schools over the past week.  Last Tuesday morning I walked into the staffroom of one school to an open Dominion with the page 3 headline ‘Teachers out of touch with reality – PM’.  Wow.  Gave me the perfect introduction, but I was surprised at the audacity of the PM in criticising such an amazing group of professionals. 

There are just 2 things I wish to say re Key’s comment:

1. as far as I am concerned, teachers are more in touch with reality than almost any other profession.  Especially in the lower decile schools where they do far more than simply ‘teach’. 

2. The govt’s strategy / plan / goal (whatever) is to catch up with Australia re wages and salaries.  Inflation is running at 3% this year, up to 5.9% next year, and the govt wants to give teachers 1%.  Hmmm.  That’s no way to catch the Aussies.  Teachers don’t earn million dollar salaries (but most deserve them).  They are, however, the guardians of the future: if they excel, so do our communities; if they fail, so do our children.  Quite a responsibility.

Mr Key’s comment was insulting.  A man worth $60m calls teachers out of touch with reality for wanting a pay rise that at least keeps pace with inflation.  A man who has just spent over a billion in tax payers money to bail out investors who pumped significant money into SCF knowing all investments were risk-free, and yet he can’t find more than 1% for our teachers. 

Perceptions of reality differ substantially between Mr Key and a whole lot of people. 

PS – definition of reality in the staffroom: a whole lot of pissed off primary school teachers at the way national standards has been rolled out.