Sunday, June 8, 2014

IES - Insane Educational Shambles

$359 million dollars!!

Let me type that in for you again - slowly - so you understand just how much money we are talking about.

Three hundred and fifty nine million dollars.

In words or in numbers it is a lot of money.  A LOT.

It is money that has been magically found for the governments new flagship educational policy IES - Investing in Educational Success.  When it was first announced to the world early in the new year, I wrote a post with a warning that The Devil is in the Detail.  In that post I outlined what we knew of the policy and my wonderings and concerns based on the small amount of information that I had at the time.   I am pleased (well actually displeased) to provide an update.

Earlier this week the government lifted its embargo on the IES policy and published its working party report(s).

It is quite big.  You could not accuse the working group of sitting on their collective hands and not doing any work on it in the last few months.  On the surface, the report appears comprehensive, detailed and padded with plenty of words.  There are two reports - the working groups report part one which is the main report and the working group report part two, which is titled 'Advice and Members Independent Background Papers'.

I read it.  It has taken me some time - in places I have read it in more depth and in others I have skimmed it.  I reiterate, its quite big.

The more I read of it, the less I see it as Investing in Educational Success as touted, and more of an Insane Educational Shambles in the making.  Let me explain further.

1. 359 million dollars is a huge amount of money to spend on only a small amount of teachers and principals.

Many people think that this money is going to go directly into the schools and students that need it the most.  This would be an incorrect assumption.  Most of this money is going on a small select group of teachers and principals to 'lead'.  Unfortunately, only a very small amount of this money is actually going on anything that remotely looks like a student.  I repeat, most of this money is for wages.  Take off the 33% tax (as pointed out by a colleague the other day) and in fact the government gets at least 1/3rd of it back.  So its a false promise to begin with.

2. Any policy of this magnitude needs to be implemented with wise, careful consideration.

Unfortunately this is not the case here.  The process is being rushed through faster than a speeding bullet.  This is being touted as one of the biggest, most fundamental changes to our education system since Tomorrows Schools in 1988.  Not only has there been limited consultation and support from the sector, it has not had the kind of quality debate something of this magnitude needs.  The timeframes for this are tight.  Most of the policy still has much work to do and this is all expected to be done in the next few months.  The new roles are 'to be advertised for the start of 2015'.

3.  There will be no trial first.

This policy is intended to be rolled out for the whole sector to embrace and engage with without having first been trialled to see if it actually has potential.  None of us should be surprised, they set a precedent for not trailing things first, we just need to look at National Standards.

4. It requires signifiant variations and additions to the teachers and principals collective contracts.

These things take time.  The key word here is collective.  The majority of teachers and principals are employed under collective agreements.  In order to change these the Ministry needs to produce a claim to the Union which then gets presented to the members and any counter claim presented.  (This is the simplistic version)  These things should not be rushed.  The concern if you rush something this important is that mistakes can be made.  The experts that are experienced in these things need time to look at all the variables and what possible unintended consequences might occur.

5. There are still so many unknowns and big questions that remain unanswered.

Despite a working group, much of the report states that there are still many areas that need to be figured out yet.  So much of the detail is still undecided and undetermined that trying to figure out just how the policy will work on a practical level leaves me wondering if there was any thought that went into this in the first place.  For example, just how do they anticipate leading a cluster over a large geographical area?  Have they factored in the cost of travel and accommodation?  How does a smaller school sustain releasing lead teachers and principals to assist other schools when they do not have the pool of expertise to take over their roles?  Who pays for that?  The fact that the profession has more questions now then they did at the start, surely points to concerns over the actual policy itself.  A rethink might be smarter - a rethink where you actually asked the profession what they needed would be nice.

6. There are mechanisms for rewarding teachers already.  I wonder why we are not just strengthening those.

Boards of Trustees and Principals already have the ability to pay lead teachers of nominated areas units to recognise the additional work they do.  This process could be strengthened and tagged to leading literacy or numeracy within schools and for clusters.  That way there would be more flexibility.

7. Good effective models of successful clustering exist already - why are we not doing what we know works?

EHSAS and the ICT clusters were very successful models of schools working together.  My biggest wondering is why the powers that be didn't take those models and modify them to fit the IES process?  That way there would have been better buy in by schools and the profession.

8. There are claims that this policy will assist in 'professionalising' education.   Really.  Silly me, I thought teaching was a profession. 

Apparently, paying a small handful of principals and teachers more and calling them lead, expert, change and executives will 'lift education into a profession'.  This will provide a career structure and ensure teachers are 'professional'.  Hmmm.  One of the most offensive things I have ever heard was when our Minister told a group of principals that EDUCANs and the work in this policy would finally mean we were professional.  This implies that teachers and principals are currently not.  Hmmmm.  I do have some wonderings about this.  Since when does the amount one is paid constitute professionalism?

9.  NZEI were working on a career pathway.  How is this better than what the membership approved I wonder?

If IES is meant to be a career pathway, what was wrong with what NZEI was proposing.  That career structure was a far better structured process that teachers had bought into.  This on the other hand, seems add hoc and rushed.  For principals, it seems less a career opportunity but more a retirement pathway process.  Due to the difficulties of a smaller school principal/teacher being able to be released to do these jobs, there are big murmurings that this resource will get just get captured by the secondary principals and teachers.

10. Where did the money come from?

I repeat - $359 million is A LOT of money.  Apparently, money does not grow on trees, but yet here we have $359 million to invest into education.  Its kind of ironic when you think of how often educators seek funding for programmes that we know will address inequity, achievement disparity and social and emotional needs that impact of academic achievement.  No money for proven methodology but here we have $359 million.  I wonder what the trade off was.  Treasury reports on the education sector over the long term indicate that future governments may reduce spending and that there were ways of doing this without compromising quality.

11.  Is anyone actually confident it will assist students who are 'high priority learners'.

I am not.  Let me explain why.  Its all in the wording.   Initially when this policy was launched my understanding (and that could have been incorrect) was that schools, particularly those with high priority learners (HPL), would be required to participate.  Now, it would seem that clusters are voluntary, and that leaves me with the wondering, how will it meet the needs of schools with disproportionate levels of HPL?  In high decile areas, how does this voluntary measure ensure schools with HPL are part of these clusters.  A secondary wondering is around the following wording under the heading of Priority learners, in the Innovations Fund section.  "It is likely that most, if not all, Communities of Schools will include the need to lift the achievement of priority groups as part of their Community achievement objectives."  It is the use of the words 'most, if not all' that leave me running concerned.  How can this initiative ever hope to support HPL when there is no clear requirement to do so.  I do wonder what kind of project these communities might engage in if they have no students that are identified as needing support.  The working group have indicated that Communities of Learning should show consideration of HPL.  I would expect that this is a must have not a nice to have.

12. Change Principals/Principal Recruitment Allowance could go to inexperienced middle leaders. 

Granted the documentation says in rare cases a deputy principal could be the best person for the job.  I have met and worked with some exceptionally talented deputies over the years, but the job of turning a 'failing' school around is not one for the faint hearted.  The paperwork goes on to say that candidates need to be able to show evidence of turning a challenging school around.  The role of DP - even in bigger schools - is nothing like the role of principal.  Until you are sitting in that office, on that chair, with the weight of responsibility resting on your shoulders, nothing prepares someone for that.   It is a tricky job at your average joe blogs school - but a challenging school is rife with major issues that need addressing.  I am interested in how they are going to define 'rare'.   I think these kind of positions need to go to seasoned and proven leaders.

Talking about failing schools is like pointing to the elephant in the room.  We all know they exist but we pretend they don't.  Of all the elements outlined in the IES policy, this is the one bit that I think has some potential.  Not in its current form however.  What it might look like is a post for another time.

13. How is it all reported, monitored and who reports to whom?

There are lots of what ifs, maybes and could dos throughout these reports.  It is still very unclear who the executive principals report to, if they have any statutory powers (especially if things are not going well within their community of schools), let alone how they monitor and feedback progress.  There is mention of ERO and the MOE monitoring IES, but no actual details about how this looks.  Again, there are too many questions that remain unanswered which makes me wonder about its workability for schools and Boards.

14. A managerial model versus a leading learning model

At a meeting to discuss this policy, a colleague of mine made the point that IES is a managerial model, not a leading learning model.  I agree.  IES puts yet another layer of bureacratic red tape around our jobs as educators.  It is quite ironic considering this is designed to be about 'leadership'.

15. Is this really the best way to spend such a huge amount of money, or could we come up with far better solutions that would make a difference to more students.

This is the most important question and point of this entire post.  $359 million dollars works out to be around $140,000 per school.  Imagine what Boards of Trustees in consultation with their communities, could do with this kind of money.  I have posted on what I would do with this money based on discussions with my team and colleagues.  I am pretty confident that if you told parents that this money could be better invested in assisting students with special needs (like the ones that are not supported or funded such as dyslexia and students on the spectrum), supporting those students with behaviour issues in the classroom, assisting communities with counselling services, Teacher Aide time, specialist literacy and numeracy support and other such practical resources that actually make a difference, then they would rather the money be spent that way.  It is not rocket science.  Funding wage increases for a handful of teachers and principals to lead 'something' (we don't know what that is yet) to support a cluster of schools to improve learning without any money to actually spend on children and programmes that make a difference, seems a bit wasteful.  I acknowledge that there is a tiny pot of innovation money (but it is tiny) but it seems impractical in terms of making a difference.

Finally, these are just some preliminary thoughts from my reading of the reports.  I have pages of annotations, questions and wonderings.  I have no doubt that I will post on this again.

Really, if it was up to me, I would say - enough is enough.  This is such a fundamental change to our education system and such a huge amount of money, that my advice to my colleagues would be to say that in its current form, we don't accept it.  To stand firm, to learn from the class sizes and Intermediate Schools policy work and make a stand.   This is an election year, and if ever there was an opportunity to have our voice heard then now is it.  Let me be very very clear, if they are successful in September then not only will this policy rocket through, but other, even more destructive to public education policy, will be rolled out faster than you can say 'what happened to education in NZ'.

We can spend this money better.  I am confident if we asked parents to support us to spend this money on our students in a professional and responsible way, that they would agree.  This is not Investing in Educational Success, this is more of an Insane Educational Shambles.

We can do better than this.

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