Red Alert

Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

Contempt for democracy

Posted by on March 2nd, 2013

Even supporters of National’s Charter Schools have asked for changes to draft legislation currently before the Education and Science Select Committee. While the overwhelming majority of the 2,000 or so submitters have opposed the idea, and presented compelling research, facts and arguments against them, a handful of supporters have put forward suggested amendments to the Bill that are practical and sensible.

I don’t agree with the whole concept of Charter Schools, and will continue to oppose them. Nothing I’ve heard from submitters has convinced me that we need them, or that our existing publicly-owned and operated schools can’t deliver the supposed ‘flexibility’ and ‘innovation’ these new for-profit schools are supposed to showcase. But if the government is determined to plough ahead, they could at least work to knock the rough edges off the legislation they’ve hastily cobbled together as payback for the Key/Banks ‘cuppa tea’ deal.

Sadly, the government isn’t listening. They’ve already kick-started the process of setting up these new privatised schools before the Bill has even been reported back from select committee, let alone debated and voted on by the whole House. We only finished hearing public submissions on Wednesday. The committee hasn’t yet had the chance to consider what changes to recommend based on them.

This whole process has been a sham. New Zealanders don’t want to see schools set up as profit making businesses. And they certainly don’t want to see Government funding used for schools that employ unqualified teachers, and don’t have to teach to the New Zealand curriculum.

The composition of the Board to oversee the schools establishment, announced yesterday by John Banks, makes it crystal clear that the Government’s real aim is the commercialisation of the school system – not lifting student achievement. National and Act are obsessed with the idea that competition will somehow improve educational outcomes. Even the Treasury doesn’t believe that.

We should be focused on making sure every school is world-class, instead of wasting time and effort on the ideological experiment of Charter Schools. There are some positive changes in the Bill to other areas of education policy (for example more flexibility around school opening hours) but they are being well and truly over-shadowed by National’s ideological experiment in privatising education.

Novopay Issues #1

Posted by on February 25th, 2013

Plenty has already been said about the Novopay shambles. The system was never ready for implementation, it never should’ve been signed-off, and the safeguards and contingencies that should have been in place weren’t. I’ll keep holding the government to account for their failure, but I’ll also be picking up specific issues and, where I can, working to ensure that people aren’t disadvantaged in the long-term because of Novopay.

Last week in the House I asked the Minister Responsible for Novopay, Steven Joyce, some questions about Novopay not handing over Kiwisaver contributions to savings providers. The money is being taken from employees pay packets, but it’s not showing up in their Kiwisaver accounts. In some cases I’m aware of, this has been going on for months and months. Not only are the employees concerned worried about where their money has gone, they’re also missing out on the returns that would otherwise have accrued had their money been paid over on time.

The most important comment Steven Joyce made was this one:

Chris Hipkins: Will employees who have had KiwiSaver or other superannuation contributions deducted from their salaries but not paid over to their scheme provider be compensated for lost returns that would otherwise have accrued, and if not, why not?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: My understanding is that yes, they will be made good in those regards.

I welcome this commitment by Joyce. It means that not only will people affected get their money back, they will be compensated for any returns that would’ve accrued in the meantime. I’ll be interested to see the details of exactly how they’re going to calculate that, and will ask some more questions in that regard.

There are other specific concerns about Novopay that I hope to address in coming weeks, including people defaulting on child support payments, justice ministry payments, student loan repayments, and so on. I’ll blog more about those as the answers come through.

Performance Pay for Teachers

Posted by on February 7th, 2013

Treasury documents released this week talk about exploring new ways of ‘holding teachers accountable for their performance’.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that the National government want to put performance pay back on the agenda.

My good mate and former (and hopefully future) colleague Kelvin Davis wrote an excellent post on Red Alert back in 2010 pointing out some of the pitfalls of performance pay for teachers. Here are some of the salient points:

So what happens in those schools and regions where students enter a classroom at the beginning of the year well below the national standard? Why would a teacher want to teach in a school like that where despite his/her best efforts the student makes heaps of progress but fails to get over the National Standard ‘line’.

There are some excellent teachers working really hard in schools where the students are struggling. They get incredible results, and often the students in their classes learn a lot more in a year than a child at a school with better test scores, yet because the kids are still behind some of their peers at the end of the year, these schools are labelled as ‘failures’. Why would a great teacher work their guts out at a struggling school when they could get more ‘performance’ pay by working in a school that wasn’t struggling?

Is a teacher good or bad if they focus on ‘number’ over statistics, algebra, measurement and geometry? Are we saying these other strands aren’t important? If my receipt of a performance pay bonus depended on me making sure kids were numerate over statist-erate, or measure-ate, or algeb-rate or geome-rate, I would focus on numeracy – statistics and everything else can go to hell.

This comes back to one of the major flaws with National Standards. It’s all very well to say we want teachers to focus on literacy and numeracy, but what if that comes at the expense of other areas like science, technology, or social studies. If teacher pay is going to be based on a narrow set of targets, that’s where they will focus their efforts, rather than teaching a broad curriculum.

Do they deserve performance pay for – 1) doing duty?, 2) coaching sports teams? 3) being associate teachers of student teachers? 4) being tutor teachers for beginning teachers? 5) liaising with parents, whanau and iwi? 6) taking after school music or art classes? 7) after school tutoring? 8) leading professional development and appraisal of peers? 9) organising school discos? 10) fundraising? 11) organising the school play? 12) organising the school fair? 13) organising sports trips? 14) organising the school library? 15) organising the swimming sports, athletics day, 40 hour famine, breakfast club, buses, cross country, art exhibition, assemblies, class camps, community problems solving, peer mediators, restorative justice programme, assessment moderation sessions, interschool quality learning circles, professional development programme, etc, etc, etc.

As Kelvin points out, there is a lot more to teaching than making sure kids hit an arbitrary and narrowly focused set of standards. The fundamental problem with ‘performance’ pay for teachers is that a narrow range of student achievement statistics alone aren’t a reliable measure of how good a teacher is. Can we do a better job of rewarding great teachers? Undoubtedly. Should we provide more incentives for teachers to undertake professional development and continually strive to be better teachers. For sure. Will ‘performance pay’ based on student achievement help achieve these things? No.

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.

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?

Counting the lost teachers

Posted by on June 5th, 2012

Last week Hekia Parata tied herself up in knots trying to explain why neither she, nor any Minister in Cabinet, studied the actual list of schools that were going to lose teachers as a result of her change to teacher:pupil ratios. Despite a week of questioning in the House from my colleague Nanaia Mahuta and I, by the end of the week we were still none the wiser as to how many schools stood to lose more than 2 teachers, how many stood to gain teachers and so forth.

Today I pulled up a spreadsheet of every school in the country from the education counts website. A quick calculation of teacher numbers at each school based on the current teacher:pupil ratio and the new teacher:pupil ratio allowed me to get a very rough idea of the scale of the gains and loses schools might experience. I say rough because there are a few very important caveats:

  • Enrolments will be different next year, so any analysis applying the old and new formulas to existing student numbers will naturally be indicative only
  • There are currently some extra staffing entitlements for schools with less than 175 students in order to guarantee a maximum average class size of no more than 25 students. It’s unclear whether this ‘top-up’ teaching will continue. Expect more questions on this…
  • Technology teaching for Years 7&8 is complicated because it presently goes directly to the technology provider (usually an intermediate school) whereas under the new formula it goes to the student’s actual school. This means a crude calculation like the one I’ve done can understate the loses for intermediate schools and overstate the loses for the schools who don’t directly deliver technology programmes.

With all of those caveats in place, there are still some pretty obvious conclusions that leap out:

  • When ranking schools according to the number of teachers they stand to lose, almost all of the top 100 are intermediate schools
  • Around 300 schools stand to lose more than one teacher as a result of the new ratios
  • Fewer than 20 schools will gain more than 1 teacher, and those that do gain are more likely to be in wealthier areas (deciles 8-10)

It defies belief that the Minister of Education took this proposal to Cabinet, it was signed-off and made it all the way through the Budget process without the school-by-school impact being adequately considered. It didn’t take me long to do a very rough analysis, and I’m sure that with all their information and expertise the Minister’s officials could’ve produced her a far more accurate picture in no time.

This doesn’t just reflect poorly on Hekia Parata either. Where were all of the other Ministers when this went through Cabinet? Where was John Key? This was a big decision and it clearly didn’t get the level of scrutiny it should have.

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.

Strike One, Strike Two….

Posted by on August 30th, 2010

The news that secondary teachers are set to strike within the next two weeks sets up an interesting situation. The Ministry of Education do the negotiating on behalf of the government with teachers. My sources tell me that industrial action is looming in the Ministry of Education itself, with pay talks stalled and the mood souring.

Will Anne Tolley soon have on her hands not only the teachers on strike, but her Ministry staff out as well? And will the negotiators for the Ministry of Education be able to come back to the table if there is movement from the teachers, or will they be on strike as well?

Hands up for learning

Posted by on October 30th, 2009


Like several Labour MPs inclding Phil I went to a school today to celebrate World Teachers Day by putting our hands up for learning. I was at Pukeatua School in Wainuiomata.

Good to have a special opportunity to tell teachers that we value them.

I am finding that more and more parents are making it clear to me their view that their local school does a good job and that they get good quality reports on their kids progress.

More on this over the next few days.

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?

Raising achievement

Posted by on July 22nd, 2009

So how do we raise educational achievement?

Well, actually anything a classroom teacher does makes kids learn because almost everything works to some degree or another. There are very few teaching strategies that make kids dumber. So that means all the other strategies work to some extent or another.

So which teaching strategies make kids learn faster and to higher levels?

I said yesterday that the secrets to raising achievement are no longer secret. I doubt if there is a teacher out there who can’t name some of the best practice teaching strategies proven by research to make kids learn fast.

The question is – do they use them, every second, of every hour, of every day, they are teaching – if not, why not?

Excellent teachers will raise achievement. It is the right of every child, in every class, in every school across New Zealand to have an excellent teacher.

The government’s responsibility is to provide the conditions where those excellent teachers can weave their magic.

In parliament we need to debate the following two educational issues:

  1. How do we ensure every teacher is excellent?
  2. What are the conditions that excellent teachers need in order to make kids achieve?