|This is an important statement that highlights the differentiation between left and right wing educational policy.|
This weekend the Labour Party has been meeting in Wellington for its Election Year Congress. Whilst there were a number of big announcements over the week for Labour, the area I am most interested in and the one that I have been hankering for in terms of real vision for New Zealand, is the Education policy. To say it has been long awaited by many educators, is an understatement.
The wait, for the most part, was worth it.
Finally, we are seeing policy from our main left wing party that stands out from the right. Complaints in the media about how Labour have just been a red version of National, with shades of uninspired boring, have been prevalent in recent months. This policy should finally put a stop to it.
What you notice straight away is how it differentiates itself from the current trajectory.
Labours policy is about strengthening public education. In this weekends announcements you can see a deliberate attempt to begin to level the playing field, to restore the areas that have been systematically dismantled over the last few terms of Government, and a start to putting in place structures and strategies that will enable all New Zealand students to excel and exceed their potential.
Looking at what has been announced, as an educator, I get a sense that Labour has been listening to the sector and has at the top of its priority list, a real sense that they will begin to restore equity, trust and collaboration. This should be of no surprise, when you consider the core values of Labour are about ensuring an equitable, quality public education system. Furthermore, Labour is attempting to link its policies together - you can not address education without thinking about poverty, and here Labour is saying it is a joint responsibility. You can read more about my wondering on this here.
As with all policies there will be plenty of detail that can be dissected and debated over time. Today I just want to focus on the highlights, the things that I think are headliners and worth sitting up and looking at, as a taxpayer, a parent and as an educator.
Here are my 8 top headliners...
1. Repeal Charter School Legislation.Labour Says:
“Labour will repeal the legislation allowing the creation of charter schools immediately upon becoming government.”
2. Scrap National Standards
"Under Labour, we will work collaboratively with the education community to replace National Standards with something that is meaningful, broad, and that will work."
The sector has been wanting to see the back of National Standards since its rushed and badly designed inception. Many people have written about why, its flaws and their concerns for why National Standards are actually Nationals and not National, and most certainly not standard. In saying that, there have been positives and this includes the discourse around assessment, what we don't want, reporting to parents and moderation practices. For me, the positive thing about this release is that Labour are saying that we don't have to be stuck with them, and we can collaborate together with professionals and parents to work out what we actually want instead. This is good and welcome news.
This is not about throwing everything schools have worked on out - but it does mean we can actually devise a world class system that compliments our world class curriculum. Hallelujah that we can focus on our National Curriculum in-depth again and not be sidetracked/bullied into a narrow focus. What is not clear is what they intend to do about the reporting requirements we currently undergo to the Government.
3. Smaller Class Sizes
"Reduce the average size of secondary school classes from 26+ down to 23.
Reduce the size of senior primary school classes (Years 4-8) from 29+ down to 26."
This will be a welcomed move by many teachers and principals. Current ratios are:
1:15 for year 1 (stays same)
1:23 for 2-3 (stays same)
1:29 for years 5-8 (changes to 1:26)
1:26 secondary (changes to 1:23)
1:15 for yr 1 (stays same)
1:18 for 2-3 (stays same)
1:18 for 4-8 (stays same)
John Hattie suggests in his Visible Learning research that class size has a minimal impact on quality of teaching and learning. He goes on to say that the debate on class size is a distraction to the argument about successful teaching because it is a structural thing and has a minimal effect on making a difference. To Hattie, class sizes are irrelevant if the teacher doesn’t change their teaching style. I note the current Education Minister quoted just this on tonights news.
I don’t disagree with the rhetoric, but in a busy classroom, with a wide range of needs, behaviour and high priority learners, the difference between 26 students and 29 to 32 is marked. I don't know any teacher who would not welcome less students in their busy classrooms. As for the statement around teacher quality and teacher style, less pressure in the classroom will make it easier for those teachers who may be struggling to work on the professional development needs that are identified and allow for innovation to thrive. For some classrooms, 5 less students is virtually one group less. I can not over state to you what it means to be that many students less in a class. My educator and my parent hat approves - and my taxpayer one also approves of this as a worthwhile investment. We are assisting in the growing and development of our society here and that is critical work.
4. 2000 more teachers in classrooms
This follows on from the policy announcement above. The ratios mentioned above are to be staggered in terms of lowering them, so this will happen over a three year period. This is smart in terms of paying for the policy and in terms of making sure there is enough staffing to accommodate this. I would have liked this to have been rolled out a bit sooner than over 3 years, but I am impressed with the commitment. They have also made a commitment to training which I will discuss shortly.
5. Digital Technologies and Internet Access
"Put in place a programme that provides an affordable option, available to all schools, for Year 5-13 students to have access to a portable digital device, in the classroom and at home."
"Put in place infrastructure that will allow students, particularly those from low-decile schools, who do not currently have internet connections to use their portable devices to access the internet at home."
"Commit $25 million to provide teachers with professional development during the 2016 and 2017 school years to assist them to make the most effective use of digital devices in the classroom."
In theory I really like this policy. It is based on a very successful cluster of schools project called 'Manaiakalani'. This would allow many schools the perfect opportunity to assist their communities with becoming 21st Century learning communities with the environment set up for success. What is critical here is that there is professional development being provided alongside the policy to assist schools whose classrooms are not yet ready for that level of IT engagement. But, the fact Labour has a plan to address this is impressive and another example of levelling the equity playing field for students.
6. Modern Schools for Modern Learning
"Develop a comprehensive plan for rebuilding out-dated and worn-out school buildings, so that every school has access to modern learning environments by 2030."
I applaud this. Currently, getting classrooms updated is like pushing the preverbal uphill. Mostly in part because the property division is risk adverse and also because leaky school buildings is a massive sink hole of wasted money. I do wonder if Labour have realised just how dire the situation of school property is? I could write about the pitfalls, concerns, lack of vision, inconsistent application of policy and general headache that is school property for hours. Suffice to say, in theory I am highly supportive of the rhetoric behind this policy announcement. I am particularly interested in the long term vision and a approach that is transparent.
In addition Labour have made a pledge to look into leaky building remediation to ensure schools and communities are not being ripped off - and that taxpayers money is being well invested. This is long overdue.
7. Professional Development
"Support professional development for our teachers.
- raise the standard of entry into the teaching profession by pre-screening entry into all initial teacher education programmes.
- establish a comprehensive school advisory service to share best practice and act as mentors and advisors to teachers throughout New Zealand.
- establish a democratic process for appointing the Board of the new Education Council.
- re-direct resources spent forcing “National Standards” on schools into teacher professional development programmes"
Good professional development for teachers is a critical component in ensuring successful teaching and learning outcomes. The last few years has been problematic in terms of schools accessing quality provision that they don't have to pay for themselves, and that is outside the Ministry of Educations prescribed and very mandated process. Schools have been given the short stick of PD in recent years and the sector is crying out for positive change. Bringing back the advisory service is not only a no brainer but it is something principals have been wanting since its demise. Redirecting National Standards resources is a welcome policy development and raising the standard of teacher training is something close to my heart, but that is a post for another day. I am very interested in what they have to say about the Education Council because as it currently stands, it needs to be far more democratic if teachers are to embrace it. Again, that is another post for another day.
8. School Donations
"Labour will tackle school donations head on. State and integrated schools that agree not to solicit donations from their parents will be given an additional $100 a year of funding per student. For most schools, the $100 payment will be more than they receive on average per student in donations. On top of that, they will save the costs associated with soliciting, banking, and accounting for donations."
This policy announcement will be received by the majority of schools as a welcome cash injection that is desperately needed to assist with day to day running of our schools. For some, it will mean that if they take up this option then they will be less well off. Those are the schools that can charge $250 - $400 a year in donations and parents will pay it. I can only imagine what that must be like. For my community, it could potentially bring in well over $20,000 extra to what we get now. It is a game changer. I am sure our higher decile colleagues would not begrudge us that money when they know their ability to fundraise is so much higher than their lower decile cousins. Watch this space - no doubt there will be much debate on this one at my next professional meeting. I wonder if collective good or self interest will win out...
Those were my top 8 policy headliner announcements for education, from Labour, this weekend. The most important message here is that finally we can see a clear difference in educational policy, and the public can finally make a decision about which educational direction they see as best for our society - one that dismantles, privatises and competes against itself for resources or one that builds on best practice, equity and success for society.
There were a few other smaller highlights which I will leave you to mull over.
Other Headliners in brief:
- Labour will work with NZEI/NZPF/PPTA etc to look at career pathways, school advisory and collaborative models that are designed by the sector for the sector
- 100 new special education teachers to support students with special education needs, in collaboration with the sector
- Increase the availability for bonded scholarship for Maori, Science and other teacher shortage areas
- Support schools more with beginning teachers
- Establish a college of leadership
- Allow schools to use 5 ya funding to invest in IT infrastructure and tech
- Continue SNUP and N4L
- Invest in community hubs (yay)
- Reinstate funding for adult education
- Remove the barriers preventing schools – including many of those who need it the most – from offering Reading Recovery.
- Develop a parallel ‘maths recovery’ intervention, so that children struggling with basic numeracy skills can receive one-on-one assistance by age 7 or 8.
- Partner with community and voluntary organisations, incorporating the most cost-effective approaches currently operating, to provide free food in every decile 1-3 primary, intermediate school that needs and wants it.
More detail on Labours Educational policy can be found here: