is the Govt investing in educational control??
Published on Wednesday, 25 June 2014, 8:32 p.m.   Print Article

Rose Patterson thinks that it is misguided of the primary teachers' organisations to give a thumbs down to the Government's $359m policy on new paid teacher and principal roles announced by John Key in January. On the contrary, the New Zealand Educational Institute and the New Zealand Principals' Federation have made the best call. There are all kinds of problems in the so-called 'Investing in Educational Success' policy (IES). A fundamental issue is that for all the sugar-coating currently being applied, the policy is really about investing in educational control.

The policy will undoubtedly allow for greater government steering of schools. The briefs for the new roles and the criteria for undertaking them successfully will require close adherence to Government perspectives, policies and targets. This is what those in the roles will then be driving into the classrooms and schools they are allocated to work with.

This would be fine if you think teachers and schools need more monitoring to make sure they carry out government policy. But what it you believe that most of the Government's approach to the school sector has been harming rather than helping? And that there is likely more damage on its way because of reviews and changes still in the pipeline?

In that case the IES programme becomes something that will help push bad policy into schools. This is what many primary teachers fear and they are being quite realistic. When it comes to schools, the Key Government has been something like Roald Dahl's 'Enormous Crocodile', hanging around and making a nuisance of itself with all its 'secret plans and clever tricks'.

Anyone who thinks the reservation of primary teachers is just about their self-interest or political stripe needs to think again.,Ironically, the international research points to how altruistic and compliant to government policy primary teachers tend to be. They are normally very willing to give way to experts in the best interests of the children they teach.  

But what has happened in New Zealand is that primary teachers have lost confidence that this Government has good intentions for children. This is because of damaging policies such as the National Standards, the development of charter schools and cuts to other resources for public education. It is too similar to the disasters that have unfolded in the education systems of other countries such as the US and the UK.

Like lots of commentators, Rose Patterson points to the greater willingness of the Post Primary Teachers' Association to work with Government on the IES as a sign that the primary teachers and their organisations have got it wrong. But as someone who has been researching in primary and secondary schools for more than 20 years, I know it is much more complicated than this.

 Primary schools need to be defended against the threats raised by the IES. It could be the death knell of good New Zealand primary schools, which are more child-centred and holistic than secondary schools. These are wonderful characteristics for schools for our young children. We should be listening to the concerns of the primary teachers and principals because they are the ones that have got it right.

Martin Thrupp is Professor of Education at the University of Waikato

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