Saturday, August 30, 2014

Left or Right -- What Kind of NZ Do You Want?


Love it or loathe it, all of us are caught up in the political fall out one way or another because as citizens of our country, what happens when those polls close will have an impact on us all.  Some will be happy, some will be disappointed and some probably won't care too much as they go about their daily lives.  

I have had some interesting conversations and online experiences in recent days, two in particular have stuck in my mind.  Both had origins in the #dirtypolitics saga.  One in a cafe with a group of colleagues where one of them made a passing comment that 'well the opposition don't (aka Labour) look like a viable option now do they', and the other with a friend who made a comment about how Labour would have done better if they had picked a leader with 'a spine'.  I suspect the latter comment was an attempt to wind me up!  Now, theres nothing that odd about either comment (I don't agree with them for the record but its still a democratic country so they are entitled to their opinions), but they are interesting in that they come from people who have been left wing, or are left wingers that are attracted to the right wing side.  

It has had me wondering and thinking about the way people view politics, how they vote and which group they fall into - theres a longer post coming that will tease that out a bit more.  More relevantly to this post, it got me wondering WHY do they swing from left to right, or right to left.  It had me looking at my own motivators and my political drivers.  In particular because I struggle to understand a swing from left or right or right to left.  Fundamentally, we are not talking about apples with apples - left dogma vs right dogma is quite philosophically different.  

I appreciate the concept of centre politics muddies the water for those who drift between left and right, and both Labour and National skirt within the boundaries of the centre, which assists in mudding things.   Not because, I think, they believe in the moderate ideas of both left and right but because they are courting the affections of the 'undecided swinger'.  This pretending to be moderate and centralist is incongruous.  It flies in the face of what each party basically believes and I think it confuses voters.  It is beautifully sneaky in that voters are lured into a false ideal of what a party will do or not do.  

I understand how people are sucked into a more moderate approach.  Especially when it comes from the right.  The promise of tax cuts seems alluring, and there have been times when the lefts dogma of equity via taxation (to pay for polices that benefit all of society) leaves me wishing I could keep more of my hard earned dollars.  Tempting as it seems to make a quick vote to the dark side on purely selfish motivations it is squashed when logic returns.  

I am especially surprised when people make their decisions on personality and not policy and political values.  I agree that you need a PM that you like, but it should not be the only factor you hang onto it.  It is how policy that is bad for society happens.  If you are too busy being lured by personality you fail to see the insidious things that are happening around you.  Add in a culture such as has been revealed in #dirtypolitics but is unnoticed by the public and the media, then as a country you are heading toward a disastrous fall.  Left or right, personality reliance is not enough.   It comes down to what motivates you to vote. 

My motivators are simple really.  Despite the lures of tax cuts, pretty baubles and false personalities, I am predestined to vote towards the left.  I believe in fairness, equity and success for all who seek it, not just a handful of high end rollers.  I remember the times when the communities I have worked alongside have been thriving and they are always when the left is in Government.  

If I was tempted this election, I would simply remember the quarter of a million children in our country who are hungry and in poverty.  I would think of the families who are essentially holding down two or more jobs and are the 'working poor', struggling to meet everyday escalating costs.  I would think about the assets we had, but have been sold, and I would remember the many services that have been lost, broken or taken away so that the Government can push its privatisation agenda.  Most importantly, because it is so close to my heart, I would think about how our education system has systematically been undermined, dismantled and neo liberalised.  

These are my bottom lines.  

I would find it hard to live with myself If I allowed myself to be tempted to ever flitter to the other side.  I can't sell my values like that.  Please don't misunderstand me - I have friends and family who vote differently, and we still love each other.  I don't always disagree with particular policy from the right and I don't always agree with the polices of the left.  We live in a democracy and as such, I respect those who think differently to me.  

In my ideal political world we would have bipartisan agreement about the important issues - but until that day, I will fundamentally have to follow what I know is best for everyone, not just me.  

I know what my motivators for the way I vote are and they are born from the work I do and the people I interact with - have you thought of yours?  Do you have a bottom line, or a wider vision for the community you live in and the children who live in our country?  Vote the way you feel is best, because after the 20th of September, it will be too late to have your say.

Left or right, I won't judge - just vote!

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Paradox of Pseudo Consultation

This week, the Primary Teachers Union NZEI has released its results on the IES vote.

93% of teachers and principals voted they had NO CONFIDENCE in the policy.

73% voted to dismiss the policy outright rather than go back into the 'pseudo consultation' tent to renegotiate.  

In the last few days there have been a number of articles about NZEIs stance and interviews about it from the PM and the Minister.  Several statements that have been made have stood out for me.  This is my response and any wonderings about them. 

1. From 3 News

"One of the most puzzling aspects about the position being taken by the union is that they negotiated themselves in their collective agreement last year four positions for allowances for accelerated classroom expertise – the very kind of approach that this initiative is built on," she says.

My first wondering is, why did the Government just not use the career pathway the teachers all negotiated in the first place?  Seems to defy logic that the Government would go to all the trouble of coming up with a different process when the profession had already developed one that had the professions buy in.  To suggest that IES is based on what NZEI developed is, at best, a smoke screen for the public, and a fair stretch of the reality in terms of what eventuated.    

2. Radio NZ

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she was disappointed with the decision but that its policy would not be dumped.
"If we're honoured to be returned for a further term of government, it is our expectation that we will be implementing from day one, term one, next year with those communities of schools who opt in to participate," she said.
Read More:

When I see this, it sums up perfectly 'pseudo consultation'.  The message from NZEI members that the policy is inappropriate and unwanted was made clear to the Government this week by the results of the vote.  What this statement says to me is that the Government is not interested in what the primary teachers and principals think or feel about this policy.  Irrespective of the tens of thousands of members voting against it because they believe it won't make a difference to improving equity and outcomes for students, and by doing so turning DOWN money for members, the Government will disregard their voice and plow on ahead.  How democratic, said no teacher ever. 

3. The Herald 

"The actions are sadly predictable in election year. The sad thing is, the only ones that will lose out from this political stunt are your children."
Mr Key said the Government would push on with the Investing in Educational Success (IES) policy.

This is perhaps the most disappointing statement so far. In this statement, I read that the PM is trying to imply that primary educators are trying to manipulate things just because its an election. Frankly, I am surprised the PM didn't say 'It's a left wing conspiracy and at the end of the day.." at the beginning of the above statement. (Best I not get started on 'that' particular bandwagon) Teachers and principals cross the political divide. To spin the line 'sadly predicable in an election year' is manipulative and dismissive of the real issues behind IES. Instead, the PM should have been asking WHY, not questioning motive in a way that incites further distrust with the public.

The myth that teachers are all card carrying members of the Labour party is just that - a myth. Teachers and principals want the best for their communities and their students. They too, are parents and they are professionals. They have a vested interest in public education for the same reasons the public do, only, as professionals, they know what will work and what won't. To not take heed of their advice and thoughts on policy is insulting and ignorant. To not take cognisance of the professions opinion is arrogant and I wonder if the reason they discount the professionals opinion is because it is in the interests of students rather than corporate privatisation.

Furthermore, if you read the last statement then it echoes what was stated above - it was never going to be about real consultation - this was a done deal and it doesn't matter what the majority of the profession charged with implementing it thinks.

4. Breakfast TV1
On Breakfast, the Minister stated that the Primary sector had been involved in the process all the way along including trips overseas to places like Shanghai to look at systems for lifting teacher practice, and that by being involved in the tent they had fully involved in its consultation and development, so she was 'puzzled' now why Primary teachers and principals had voted to not be involved.  Or words to that effect. You can watch more here.
This is one of those situations where 'being in the tent' was always going to be a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't.  In Like Lambs to the Slaughter,  back in April, I blogged about how  going into the tent and being beguiled by the baubles of 'pseudo consultation' was always going to be used against the profession.  By the Ministers comments above, it would seem I was right.  I appreciate that the difficulty was always going to be that to not be involved in the process would also be just as risky.  But this has never been consultative or transparent.  The moment the groups working on it were told not to advise their respective members of the details should have been the point at which all parties said 'not good enough', and walked away.  That is the paradox of pseudo consultation.

No teacher or principal I know is opposed to spending money on education.  No teacher or principal I know is opposed to doing what is in the best interests of students, and not one of them is against improved outcomes and lifting the quality of teaching in our schools so that all students and communities benefit.  So, if the profession stands up and the majority turn down a policy in a resounding wave, then the wise politician and member of the public would ask why, and they would listen.

This is not about blue or red, this is about what is in the best interests of our countries children.  

More reading:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What do I want for my child?

This election you have a choice.

You can choose Neo liberal policy from the right or Child Centred policy from the left.  

Today I watched the Current Education Minister Hekia Parata and Education spokesperson for Labour Chris Hipkins on The Nation, go head to head.  They both debated their aspirations for students in New Zealand and for the first time in a long time, the public could see a clear difference between the two parties.  You can watch the debate between the two here. The Nations Debate:

I have previous blogged about Labours policy here, and I have outlined the concerns with Nationals IES policy here.  You can make your own mind up, whats most important is that they are very different, and the public can see a clear division between them both.

In a nutshell, when you break down the policies the clear philosophical differences are:

If you vote for status quo and the right, you get:

- Charter Schools (where schools can make money out of children) 
- Privatisation
- National Standards which are neither consistent, national or standard
- IES - where 359 million is invested into paying a small amount of teachers and principals substantial sums of money to leave their own schools and classrooms for several days a week to 'help' other students i.e. money for wages for a small sub group of educators, but nothing for alleviating poverty or inequality 
- A deliberate deconstruction of public education by undermining the status of teaching and educators through the continued manufacturing of a crisis of underachievement
- A continued move away from our world class curriculum and self management model to that of a model that is more central government red tape and managerialist meddling 

If you vote for "positive change" and the left, you get:

- A repeal of the Charter Schools legislation (note Chris Hipkins stated on The Nation that that did not mean those alternative schools did not have a place supplementing current provision in the system but that they would not be for profit)
- The abolishment of National Standards and a return to NZs world class curriculum 
- Smaller Class sizes and more teachers so schools can be flexible about improving the quality of teaching and learning within their community 
- Return to the Advisory Service which will support schools and teachers on the things they need
- An emphasis on 21st Century teaching, pedagogy and practice for 21st Century children, where IT and modern learning environments will assist schools to help their students be all they need to be for the future 
- Funding for school donations to assist schools to even up the inequalities between school communities 
- Collaboration with the sector and a genuine belief that educators and the government can work together to improve things for communities 

This is not a definitive list of the differences between the two, but the above does highlight core philosophical lines in the sand.  Irrespective of whether you stand on the left or the right, there is now a clear choice that voters can make.  Not so long ago, policy rhetoric between left and right were quite similar.

I appreciate my lists are quite basic and I admit somewhat biased to the left.   However,  I preface my bias with that of the experience of having lead schools through both philosophical systems, a clear understanding based on the chalk face delivery of these policies, and what I believe to be in the best interests of children - mine (as a mum) and those of NZ (as an educator).  Furthermore, having had a little to do with policy development for the last two elections, I know these things are not made up overnight.  The fundamental tenants are costed, researched and thought out.

Given the recent developments that have come out from the book  'Dirty Politics', I worry that the focus on policy and which policies will assist our communities to thrive has been clouded over as the public, via the media, get distracted by scandal and mud.

With this in mind, I ask you to do one thing before you vote - ask yourself the following question...


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Novopay - An Election Story

This week saw the announcement by the Government that the Novopay payroll system that has been nothing but trouble since it was inflicted on schools in 2012, would be 'taken over' by the Government.   This takeover is due to take place in October.

It appears that Talent2, the Australian company who won, but should never have been given in the first place, the contract, is refusing to spend anymore money on the system.  Together, Talent2 and the Government have worked out a deal that will see a new government owned company set up to take it over.  

You would expect that all the schools and payroll administrators across the country have all let out a collective sigh of relief, right?  

Well sort of.  Allow me to elaborate. 

The takeover of Novopay is akin to a double edged sword.  

One one hand, it's long overdue.  Despite the Minister in charge stating it's better now and within allowable error rates (cough excuse me while I quietly disagree and suggest that if it's 'fixed' then why are you taking it over cough), the reality at the chalk face is not quite as rosey, with issues that still plague payroll.  Not only is it most certainly not fixed, but there are still historic issues that have not been sorted.  Fixing, finally, our schools payroll system is a matter of 'about time!'.  That's the positives taken care off. 

On the other hand, there are some negatives. 

Firstly, the timings odd.  It is blatant electioneering, to claim otherwise would be niave. No longer can the opposition parties claim the Governments failed to do anything - the Minister in charge will be able to stand up and proudly tell the public that he's solved the issue and taken it under Government control.  Sounds fabulous doesn't it?  Let's scratch the surface of 'fabulous' a little and see what lies beneath. 

I come back to, and start with the timing.  Why October?

If Novopay is the 'dog' it's been reported to be, then why wait until October?  Surely if the Government was going to address it they would start right now.  Waiting until October is problematic for schools.  It is so close to end of year payroll handling, that at schools across NZ, administration officers in charge of payroll and Principals are going to get anxious.  If they are not, then they should be.  October does not give the new payroll company appointed by the Government (a company as yet undisclosed) adequate time to make sure any issues are ironed out.  End of year payroll is complex, fraught with issues at the best of time, and comes right before the start of year payroll.  It is the worst time of the year to be 'experimenting' with a new payroll provider.  

One can guess why they chose October.  It's after the election so when it all goes belly up, it will be too late to impact on voters (and if it's a new Government it will be their issue) and to leave it until after the election has meant the general public will think they've finally sorted it. Am I being cynical?  Perhaps.  It doesn't change the fact that the timing is going to cause grief come the end of year and the start of year payroll mechinisims.  

Then there's the issue of the software.   We are stuck with software that's proven to be inadequate and not up to the pressures of a schools payroll.  As already coined by the PM, it's a 'dog'. You can house it in a new kennel, but at the end of the day it's still a 'dog'.  

Finally, there's the issue of this new company.  Apparently the Government owned company that will be taking over Novopay will be a new one.  I have concerns over this.  Despite assurances that current staff will be employed by the new company it's still going to take time for the new company to get to grips with the software (the software that's a 'dog' remember) and the unique challenges that schools face.  A schools payroll is not like a business payroll.  It's quirky, complex and has employees with a range of complicated payroll directions.  To explain would take its own blog! It's one of the reasons Talent2 failed.  You can not take an average payroll system and think it applies here. I wonder how many mistakes will be made during handover?

Once again real people with real mortgages and commitments are going to used as guinea pigs at the most complex time of the year to start tinkering.

Frankly, it's not smart and it's not in the interests of schools, which leaves me to believe its only in the self interest if the Government and the puppeteering that takes place during an election.  

Which leads me to the original premise that taking Novopay off Talent2 is not a story about wanting to ensure a stable payroll for the education system, but a story about political manipulation and electioneering. 

That, my dear reader, is not ok!