Red Alert

Posts Tagged ‘Schools’

Surrender and retention in schools

Posted by on April 12th, 2013

Today the Education Amendment Bill was reported back to the House. While much of the debate on the Bill will focus on the establishment of charter schools, there are some very important changes to the powers of schools around search and surrender of student property.

As a committee we spent a lot of time debating these issues, and I think the position we reached is sensible. Schools have a very difficult job balancing the rights of individual students with the rights of all students and staff to work in a safe environment. The clearer the rules and guidelines are, the easier it will be for schools to tread that fine line appropriately.

Here is a quick summary of some of the key provisions of the Bill (paraphrased):

  • If a teacher or an authorised staff member has reasonable grounds to believe that a student has hidden or in clear view on or about that student’s person, or in any bag or container under the student’s control, an item that is likely to (a) endanger the safety of any person; or (b) detrimentally affect the learning environment,  they may require the student to produce and surrender that item. If the item is contained on a computer or electronic device they may require them to reveal the item or surrender the device on which it is stored.
  • Where there are reasonable grounds to suspect a student has a harmful item (one that poses an immediate threat to the physical or emotional safety of any person) in their possession and the student has refused to produce or surrender it, the teacher or authorised person may ask a student to remove a jacket or outer clothing so that it can be searched (but this would not be allowed if they had no clothing underneath it); require the removal of a head covering, gloves, footwear or socks (but this specifically excludes tights and stockings); require a student to hand over a bag or other container and allow it to be searched.
  • Such actions need to be done with sensitivity and so as to afford the student maximum privacy and decency; and that where possible the search be carried out by a teacher of the same sex as the student, in the presence of another teacher or authorised staff member of the same sex.
  • A school may allow a contractor to bring a suitably trained dog onto their premises to search school property such as desks or lockers (but not to search students).
  • The legislation also requires the Secretary of Education to issue rules regarding the surrender and retention of property and searches by schools. These rules will need to spell out requirements for written records to be kept, how any property confiscated is to be dealt with, the procedure for authorising staff members, and so forth. These rules are treated as regulations and can therefore be disallowed by the Regulations Review committee.

The Bill makes it very clear that students are not allowed to be strip searched, nor is any property they possess allowed to be forcefully confiscated. If a student refuses to comply, the school may take appropriate disciplinary action, for example stand down / suspension from school. While the legislation authorises a teacher or authorised person to ‘require’ a student to do the things above, they cannot be ‘forced’ to do it.

If a student refuses to show a teacher an item on an electronic device (eg. a cellphone, laptop or tablet), the teacher can ask them to hand the device over, but they couldn’t then search it without the students consent.

It’s also important to note that there need to be reasonable grounds for suspicion, and that the power to require students to surrender items is limited to items that present a risk to safety or to the learning environment. The very limited powers around search are even further limited to only cases where there is an immediate risk to safety.

Schools should be safe places, free of drugs and weapons. Teachers shouldn’t be required to act as ‘police’ but they should have the ability to deal appropriately with the very real challenges they face on a daily basis. I think the new provisions, as amended by the select committee, get the balance about right.

They’re joking, right?

Posted by on November 15th, 2012

Please give me a moment while I drag my jaw off the floor. As the Novopay debacle continues to roll on week after week, as teachers and support staff continue to be overpaid, underpaid, or just not paid at all, some genius at the Ministry of Education has decided now would be a good time to restructure the Payroll Services Unit. Checked the calendar, it’s not April fools, they’re serious about this!

In their infinite wisdom the Ministry has decided to reduce personnel in the payroll team from 23 to 14. These staff need to be focused on fixing the Novopay mess, not wondering if they are still going to have a job in the New Year. They’ve been given two weeks to comment on whether or not they should still have jobs.

Maybe the top managers at the Ministry of Education should get their pay via Novopay. Perhaps if they went a couple of months without getting paid correctly they’d get serious about sorting this mess out.

It’s the job of whoever authorised this restructuring that should now be on the line, not the jobs of the people working to get things back on track. The senior leadership at the Ministry of Education need their heads examined.

Another Hekia Parata train wreck

Posted by on September 26th, 2012

Today in the House I questioned Hekia Parata about the consultation process around school closures and mergers in Christchurch. It would be fair to say it took quite a few attempts before I got any answers, and even then I’m not sure I’m any clearer after her comments such as “I consulted the submissions that had been submitted”.

The government’s current consultation process around the future of schooling in greater Christchurch is a total sham. Hekia Parata began an ‘open consultation’ on 13 September but confirmed in the House today that she will be writing to school boards within days to formally begin the legal process to implement her plan to close and merge schools.

To make matters worse, documents from the Ministry of Education tabled in the House today suggest they only envisage a formal consultation process of five to six weeks, which just so happens to coincide with school holidays and senior student exams.

There is no way the Government can get meaningful information from teachers, parents and children during the exam and holiday period. This whole process looks like a sham and sounds like a sham, because it is a sham. Hekia Parata has clearly already made her mind up.

This is another classic Hekia Parata botch up. The people of Christchurch have been through enough trauma in the past two years. Rather than engaging in a meaningful way with those affected, Hekia Parata seems determined to add to the stress.

Need more time… really?

Posted by on September 4th, 2012

A few weeks back I revealed how the government’s new public:private partnership school in Auckland is actually costing more than it would’ve cost if it had been built using the traditional approach. Since then I’ve been asking a few more questions. Here are a couple of recent answers:

Question: What is the total annual budget for the Ministry of Education to oversee government use of Public Private Partnerships within the education sector, in each of the next 3 years?

Answer: The Ministry of Education has appropriated a budget of $100,000 per year for the next three years.

Question: What is the full list of Ministry of Education staff positions that oversee government use of Public Private Partnerships within the education sector?

Answer: The team for the Hobsonville Point Schools’ Public Private Partnership (PPP) includes a Project Director, Policy Analyst and Project Co-ordinator.

Question: How many people working for the Ministry of Education to oversee government use of Public Private Partnerships within the education sector have been redeployed from other areas and how many are new recruits?

Answer: I am advised that that there is one new recruit. No one has been redeployed from other areas.

Now either the Ministry has found an ingenious way to hire 3 staff for less than $100,000 per year all up, or something isn’t quite right here. It’s also not clear how they can have put together a team of 3 people by only recruiting one person and not redeploying anyone else. Perhaps these are some of John Key’s ghost jobs?

I asked for a bit more information. The answer to one of my follow-up questions came through today:

Question: Further to his answer to written question 06416 (2012) Does the $100,000 budget for the Hobsonville Private Public Partnership project cover the full salaries of the 3 staff working in the team?

Answer: The question cannot be answered in the timeframe and I will resolve to answer as soon as practicable.

Really? It’s a pretty simple question. I suspect the answer is going to be no, given 3 project management staff are likely to have salary packages that collectively add up to significantly more than $100,000 per year. How on earth can he justify taking more than 5 working days to come up with an answer to this one? Certainly doesn’t inspire confidence that the taxpayer is getting value for their money from this lot!

PPPs save money – yeah right!

Posted by on July 18th, 2012

A few weeks ago I revealed in Parliament that the National government have spent $3.5 million developing the business case for a new school in Hobsonville to be built under a Public-Private Partnership. That school is forecast to save $2 million over the 25 year lifespan of the contract, in other words, a lot less than the Business Case cost to develop in the first place.

At the time Craig Foss, the Associate Minister of Education, argued that the blowout in the cost of the Business Case was justified as it could be used as a template for other PPPs for schools. Interesting to note, therefore, that Hekia Parata confirmed at the Education and Science Select Committee this morning that her Ministry will be employing a $100k a year Relationship Manager to oversee the new project in Hobsonville. Over the life of the PPP, that would equate to another $2.5 million.

There is simply no way this PPP is going to save the taxpayer money. In fact, quite the opposite. This school is proving to be considerably more costly than if we’d just built it using traditional public sector practices. Will every PPP school have one of these managers paid for by the taxpayer?

I’m pretty sure there will be a number of boards and principals around the country who will be shaking their heads at this. The government have argued that PPPs could ‘free up’ boards and principals by reducing the amount of time they spend managing property. I’m sure every public school in the country would argue they could ‘free up’ quite a bit of time if they were given an extra $100,000 a year to manage their facilities…

Making stuff up #3 papering over the (broadband) cracks…

Posted by on May 23rd, 2011

Fresh from his massive backdown/ flip flop (whatever you want to call it) on the regulatory holiday;  the central element of his broadband Bill, Steven Joyce’s latest stuff up in his flawed broadband scheme means hundreds of NZ schools… err… miss out on broadband.

More than 100,000 school students from up to 470 schools have somehow fallen into between the cracks into something called Zone 3 which isn’t covered by either scheme (Hogwarts???)

Several hundred communities miss out; such as Roxburgh, Gore, Cromwell, Alexandra, Westport, Dannevirke, Huntley, Kaitohe, Kaitaia, Matamata, Morrinsville, Opotiki, Orewa, Papakura… the list goes on.

Last week, questioned  in the House Steven Joyce said this:

The reality of the situation is that there was always a boundary between the ultra-fast broadband network and the rural broadband network, and it has always been the intention that schools within that geographical area would be tendered separately.

in response to this question from me:

Why is he using the $15 million that was allocated to connect the most remote schools in New Zealand to broadband, to now connect up to 108,000 New Zealand school students from up to 470 schools who were mistakenly left out of both his urban and rural broadband schemes, as identified in a report written by independent consultant Jonathan Brewer, and is this not just another almighty screw-up in his broadband scheme?

Steven Joyce is just making stuff up.

The NZ Herald reports on it here. The Ministry reckons it’s closer to 300 schools. Could they please find out? And could Steven Joyce tell us what he’s going to do about it?

And how it happened in the first place? Somebody stuffed up. Could it have been Steven Joyce?

See the list of schools here and the letter written to Steven Joyce and Anne Tolley from Internet NZ, Fed Farmers and TUANZ expressing concerns about it.

And see here and here for the reports written by Jonathan Brewer which exposed the issue. The map says it all.

Seems the broadband’s scheme’s full of cracks. Keen to know where the extra money’s going to come from to paper over these ones.

What’s next I wonder…

Minister for school privatisation

Posted by on September 8th, 2010

I see Rodney Hide’s new delegations as associate education minister include responsibility for public private partnerships in schools.

Is this another instance of the Nats using Hide to front stuff they would like to do but don’t have the cojones for? And Key giving Hide the opportunity to play to his right wing base?

For a while there it looked like that strategy might work with the super city.  When the public reacted to unpopular decisions Key could just shrug and say “well, that’s Rodney”. But things got so out of control, and Hide’s brand so damaged, that his low standing with the public and close association with the super city has done a great deal to tarnish the whole project.

I wonder how successful he will be at convincing the public that PPPs in schools are a good idea.

Civics and Active Citizenship

Posted by on July 7th, 2010

We are coming towards the end of Youth Parliament.  I managed to hear a bit of it this afternoon, and there were some incredibly talented young New Zealanders on show.  From my point of view the Youth Parliamentarians are both typical and atypical of their generation.  They are confident, articulate and questioning as I see from most people aged under 20.  But they are for the most part atypical as the vast majority seem well aware of the way Parliament operates and how the system of government works. 

Overall I think many New Zealanders have limited knowledge of how our system of government works, how decisions are made, who are the key players, what are the roles of different  people, branches and levels, and perhaps most importantly how they can influence decisions.  This is not the fault of everyday Kiwis, we simply have not focused on it as a country. I have been thinking for a long time now that we need to see more civic education in our schools.

The notion of civics is seen by some to be laced with a reactionary flavour- as if it will be some modern day version of cadets, with everyone saluting the flag each morning.  What I am thinking of is very different.  It is about giving people some tools to be active citizens.  For me being an active citizen is participating in your community be it through volunteering, being on a school board, sports club committee or simply making your views known about issues that affect you and your family. 

With self-governing schools there are limitations as to how this could be done. There is some acknowledgement of these issues in the excellent New Zealand Curriculum that has come into force this year. It includes community engagement and the Treaty of Waitangi among its underlying principles. Also within the Social Sciences learning area there are broad references to the issues.  However I would have liked to see a more direct reference to civic education, and certainly hope that happens in any review. For now a possible way forward is the development of specific teaching resources in this area, so that schools are supported to highlight cvics within the social sciences

As politicians we need to do better to open up the system of government, hence #OpenLabourNZ, and show that we really want include the public in how decisions are made.  The other half of the story is ensuring that the public have the tools to be active citizens.

Schools, the community and National Standards

Posted by on November 8th, 2009

dsc02080dsc02082For me one of the most enjoyable and satisfying parts of my role as an MP is the time I spend in schools.  Schools are dynamic hubs in our communities linking together children, their parents and families, teachers and support staff, and all of us in the surrounding neighbourhood.  I am constantly amazed by the talent in our schools and the real effort being made by so many to deliver positive educational outcomes for our children.

This weekend along with Phil Goff I attended Three Kings Primary Gala Day.  Phil is an old boy of this school and until the boundary changes in 2008 the school was in the Mt Roskill electorate.  It was lovely to hear Phil’s fond recollections of the school and  to learn some of its history (for example walls throughout the school are made of local volcanic rock and the work was undertaken in the 1930s depression).  Obviously Phil, like most of us, values the experience he had at school.  It was great to see the warm reception Phil received from staff and parents alike. The gala would have been a raging success with hundreds of people, many of whom did not have students at the school, taking part in the fun.

I believe that most people really value their local school and they are confident in the efforts made by the staff, the Boards of Trustees and the Parent Teachers Association.  In the debate on national standards I find it deeply concerning that the views of Principals and teachers are being marginalised, certainly by the Minister Anne Tolley but also by the Prime Minister.  I heard him being interviewed on Morning Report last  Friday. He was reflecting on what the Government had done in their first 12 months and he referred to National Standards.  When Sean Plunket noted the significant opposition to what the Government are doing  John Key stated there are a few people who oppose the changes.  When it was noted that teachers and principals were overwhelming opposed to the changes he tried to argue that it was just their unions and implied that they were out of step with parents.  I think he is well and truly wrong on that.  Teachers, support staff and principals are generally respected by parents who see first hand the efforts that the local school makes to educate their children.  The principals, teachers and support staff regularly communicate with parents and the wider community.

On National Standards I see Professor John Hattie has released a discussion paper.  I haven’t read the paper yet but this article indicates he has major criticisms of what is being proposed.

Cell Phone Tower – lose lose situation for Waitara school

Posted by on October 22nd, 2009

Sue Kedgley ask the Minister for the Environment questions in relation to the location of cell towers today which I was particularly interested in.

A few months back when Labour had a full caucus visit to New Plymouth the issue of cell phone tower locations came up when we visited Manukorihi Intermediate (one of my old schools in Waitara).

The problem there has been that the cell phone tower was on there grounds but was removed because of the National guidelines that outline that cellphone towers cannot be located school grounds.  While it was on their grounds, the school received a sum of money from the owners of the tower.  The school had no problem with the fact that the tower needed to be removed due to that National guidelines (guidelines which reflect the research on associated health risks) BUT then the tower was moved only to the other side of the fence! 

So the tower is no longer on the school grounds but is virtually in the exact same vicinity.  Now the school gets no money from the company and is just as exposed to the radiation as it was before!  This can hardly be deemed fair.

I’ve asked a number of written questions on this issue and will continue to look in to this.

Upper Hutt meeting on ACE

Posted by on September 11th, 2009

Last night we held a public meeting in Upper Hutt about the National government’s decision to axe funding for Adult and Community Education courses, including night classes. About 50 people came along to hear Maryan Street and Paul Quinn outline their respective party’s policy on the cuts. We then had an opportunity for questions and discussion.

I was really moved by some of the personal stories people shared, particularly the young woman who talked of how she had dropped out of school to train as a hairdresser. Unable to find work and feeling depressed, she signed up for a night class in cake decorating. She went on to win awards and has since been inundated with requests for her services. Anne Tolley refers to these kind of courses as ‘hobby’ courses, but for this young woman it was a step up to a job and she is now keen to take more courses and continue learning.

Many members of the same Spanish course attended the meeting and spoke of how much they valued their weekly classes. Some have been taking the class for many years and have built up a very strong bond with their fellow students. They regard each other as family and their weekly class has become and integral part of their world and helps them to feel connected to their community.

I’ve also had feedback from a recent widow who attended cooking courses after his wife passed away. His wife had previously done all the cooking and housework and he was left to fend for himself after she died. He got sick of eggs on toast and decided to do something about it. Not only did he learn to cook for himself, he also made new friends. It was an important part of his grieving process.

The total cost of these courses is about $13 million a year. Not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but the impact on the people who will be affected by these cuts will be huge. And before anyone says that they could chose to continue their classes by paying the full cost I’d point out that every secondary school in the Hutt Valley has indicated they’ll be axing all night classes from next year.

On a final note, I had to laugh when Paul Quinn pointed out that the new National government are spending $30 million upgrading Upper Hutt’s two state secondary schools and two intermediates. I think that’s a great investment, but isn’t it a shame those fantastic new facilities will be used less than 25% of the time. For three quarters of the time they will sit empty. All that money tied up in buildings that for the sake of a very small marginal cost could be used by a much wider group of people.

Reconnecting #2: The education community

Posted by on August 12th, 2009

As part of my work in the electorate I spend quite a lot of time in school staff rooms. Every Friday I visit one of my local schools, speak to the principal, take a look around and then chat with the teachers over morning tea. I’m always impressed at how well connected with their local communities our schools actually are. That’s one of the reasons I find these visits so useful – it’s like checking a social barometer.

Prior to the last election I encountered quite a few teachers who were a bit grumpy with Labour. Although they had enjoyed several years of respectable pay rises, many now found themselves in the top tax bracket and yet they felt anything but rich. The school network review in Upper Hutt left a bad taste in the mouths of some, and the fact that it took nearly four years to finally decide the future of the intermediate and secondary schools is still a bone of contention.

Thankfully, Anne Tolley has been doing her very best to drive the entire educational community into Labour’s camp. The mere mention of her name in school staffrooms sends eyes rolling towards the heavens, and not in a kind way. Her national standards policy and the potential for league tables has primary teachers really worried. In secondary schools, nobody can understand why the government chose to cut night class funding and then spend $35 million more on private schools.

The feedback I’ve been getting suggests there are still some meaty issues for us to deal with in the education area. Support for students with special needs is a growing area of concern and I’m not convinced that we have the policy right. A whole bunch of our schools are also struggling to work with buildings and facilities that are well past their use by date – but that’s an expensive problem to fix.

Then of course there is the issue of overall funding. Education spending increased hugely under Labour, although schools still argue they need more. So how much is enough, and is it a question of needing more or asking whether we are spending it in the right places?

Politics 8 Education 0

Posted by on August 11th, 2009

Anne Tolley has discovered much more quickly than I did that it is almost impossible to rationalise our school network. School buildings are where communities used to be,  and are often more valued than what happens in them.

Hundreds of millions of dollars a year are spent maintaining buildings and grounds that are badly underutilised while Anne Tolley totally cuts the funds for the physical therapy of the most disabled kids in the country, the funding for gifted kids, brilliant environmental education programmes and 25% of all professional development programmes for teachers.

The results when the cash from reviews is used to improve the quality of teaching (and therefore learning) are stark. Lower decile primary schools perform at way above the national averages. Kids who were bussed out of town stay. Teachers line up to teach in those schools when previously they wouldn’t risk their careers by getting into schools with declining rolls.

I closed lots of schools following reviews. I started with the school 200 metres from home where I was a foundation pupil. That made me cry. I read submissions – always hundreds sometimes thousands on each review. I drove and sometimes biked the controversial routes. I often rejected reviewers’ advice. I always fronted to communities.

But in the end the politics was too hard. It is always easier to defend a building that someone can see and touch than to sell a dream of kids who could read and write better – no matter how compelling the evidence.

Anne Tolley learned that more quickly than I did.

Filed under: education