Friday, November 21, 2014

The IES Elephant in the Room

It has been a busy week for me, with a board meeting, community consultation evening, IES combined cluster and boards of trustee meeting and a fabulous Pasifika Festival.  All of these things have been part and parcel of what it is to be involved in educational leadership, and all of them require teams of people to work together, to collaborate and to work towards a common understanding and vision.

Of all the events I participated in this week, it was the meeting on IES (Investing in Educational Success, the Governments education flagship policy) that left me shaking my head in disappointment, wondering where our next move could possibly be.

At the meeting were two important Ministry of Education officials, one the Director of Education, the other a Manager of the School Teams, both of whom were, I found, genuine and open to questions, feedback and happy to facilitate our collective discussions.  In attendance were board members and principals from our cluster.

Soon after the election I posted 'And So it is Done', where the key message was...

"For those of us in Education, it won't be an easy road, especially in those communities where its not all white middle class roses in bloom.  However, like all roads, there will be opportunities and little gems along the journey.  It will be our job to find the opportunities, capitalise on the gems and ensure success reigns supreme for our communities.  Easy it won't be, but it is possible - no, I retract that - it must be possible and it is our job to make it so."

I stand by the statement above, and it was with an open mind that I went to this meeting.  I am fortunate to work within a cluster of hardworking principals who run successful schools, and who have a willingness to collaborate for the collective benefit of our communities.  Designing a collaborative work stream is neither foreign to us or something we can't do.  How it fits into the IES policy, is however, a different story.

At this meeting, my colleagues and I raised our collective wonderings, concerns and asked the 'due diligence' questions.  We expressed our concerns about how much of this money was tied up in wages, when in actual fact, if we could only spend that money on the innovations, experts and researched based practices that we all have going in some way, shape or form (or wish we could if we had the cold hard cash), then how amazing that be.  As one of my colleagues kept saying, 'just show us the money'.

All the while we sat there knowing that there were two rather large elephants in the room that were hanging over our conversation.  Furthermore,  that these elephants would really need to be addressed before we could move forward to '...find the opportunities, capitalise on the gems and ensure success reigns...' regarding the IES policy.   At the heart of addressing these elephants, would be finding the balance between collegial efficacy, professional morality and developing a process that would mean collaboration would prevail.  To understand why this is important from a primary principals perspective is to understand what the two elephants are.

The Elephants in the room relate to the basic premise that IES is based on, which are meeting the needs of students who are failing to achieve at expected rates, in particular Maori and Pacifika students, and collaboration across sectors and educational pathways.

Elephant One:  

That despite this policy coming into being to improve educational outcomes for students at risk of not meeting cohort, in particular Maori and Pacifika students, some of the 'communities of schools' that are currently seeking expression of interest don't appear to have many of these students within their communities.  When IES was initially set up, its original set of criteria included one that said schools that put a 'community' together needed to ensure they were going to make a difference to this group - with that removed, a wondering some of us have is that, like other resources, it will be 'captured' by schools who really don't have achievement issues, and just another way to deepen the equity divide.  Whilst this wondering is anecdotal, it does have precedence, and sits like a sullen elephant, sulking in the corner, desperate to not be noticed, but prepared to snarl in its defence if its discussed.  When raised with the MOE, they acknowledged that this was a risk but there were no checks or balances in place to address it.

Elephant Two:

Collaboration is touted as one of the biggest drivers of this policy, and on the face of it, it is a fabulous driver that no sane educator would argue against.  BUT, and this is a massive but, collaboration has already been dismissed, denied, disgraced and ultimately spat upon by the actions of PPTA.  Their actions, whilst understandable (they are alway about what they can get for their members and I have always admired their militant approach for their teachers) has done nothing to bridge the divide between our sectors.  Instead, they have made the divide wider by voting on including the variations to the contract, all the while knowing full well that their NZEI colleagues in the primary sector had voted to not do so.  

It seems both counter intuitive and morally reprehensible as a principal to form 'communities' with other schools, expecting our teachers who all voted (overwhelmingly so) against IES, to just ignore what they voted on and get on with it.  To do so discounts their voice, makes a statement that as principals we don't really need to consult with them, and its another smack in the face regarding collaboration.  The irony does not escape me - that if we as primary principals join a 'community' and just expect our teachers to participate - and collaborate - with their secondary colleagues who, by their actions already made a statement that they don't care about their primary colleagues, then we are just as bad.  For them to participate as it currently stands, they will most likely need to go on individual contracts, which undermines parity with their secondary colleagues, and most importantly, undermines the protections they have under NZEI membership.  How is this ok?

Now heres the real rub that PPTA seem to have forgotten in their rush to settle so their teachers can get more cash in hand - they can't form these 'communities' without primary.

So, where to from here?

It seems that right now we are at a bit of an impasse and seeing the way forward so that it is indeed collaborative, making a difference for those students who are most at risk, and most importantly, equitable, is a big ask.

In an ideal world, PPTA and NZEI would have climbed into their own tent first, nutted out a collaborative way forward that was beneficial to all players, then approached the Government from there.  Sadly, theres a real missed opportunity here to have been in a very strong position to get the changes they needed to get done, done.  Most of all, this should have happened right from the get go and before PPTA or NZEI members were approached to vote, they should have had a pathway sorted first.

If they had indeed tried that approach, then I guess its a bit odd that none of us charged with making this policy work, knew about it, so therefore I can only surmise that it didn't happen.

I made the point above that we need to get on with it.  This policy won't go away and we need to move forward so that our students can benefit.  Time is marching on and I am left wondering where it will lead.  In the meantime, my colleagues and I are stuck between a rock and a hard place, where on the one hand we want to do what is best for our schools and communities, but on the other we need to be mindful of our teachers position.

Let us hope the elephants in the room find their way back to the wild where they belong.

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