Education: do we want ingenuity and freedom, or standardisation and control


I have been left confused by a recent article by Andreas Schleicher.

In it he begins by singing the praises of  “New Zealand’s liberal and entrepreneurial school system.”  He speaks very highly of the benefits of school autonomy, reflecting that “It would be hard to imagine [principals doing the same] in one of Southern Europe’s bureaucratic school systems” and ends with triumphant praise of the Kiwi schools that “have moved on from delivered wisdom, to user-generated wisdom, from a culture of standardization, conformity and compliance towards being innovative and ingenious”

Wow, I thought.  He gets it.

He understands that autonomy beats beaurocracy, that creativity beats standardisation, and that Kiwi schools are doing a good job.

Then I remembered, this is the same man who, in a visit to NZ recently, sang the praises of National Standards, and alarm bells started tinkling far away in the back of my mind, but I read on…

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Principals’ concerns

Schleicher says there were Kiwi principals complaining to him that they have difficulties attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers, yet he doesn’t address this at all.  Surely that’s a hugely important issue if we are to improve our system further?

Just ponder what school leavers and graduates might be thinking  if they consider teaching as a career:  Why join a profession that is being battered world wide?  Why take a job that is used as a political football?  Why pay for training when some are being paid to jump into the classroom with little or no training?

Because, really,  if teachers can now go into schools after just 6 weeks’ training over the summer holidays while schools are shut or, in the case of charter schools, go into the classroom with no training at all, surely that will put a fair few off paying fees and taking years to get a teaching degree?

Are we slowly but surely giving up on the idea of trained teachers?  And if so, how does that help raise the bar?  Just how does it help principals’ concerns over attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers?  Maybe that’s why he glossed over the issue – it’s easier for him to ignore it than address it?

But I would love to know what the principals think.

There is no discussion, either, of why teachers are leaving the profession in droves.  Maybe it’s easier to gloss over serious issues like that?  But you would think, wouldn’t you, that it might be worth a few lines?

No, because all Schleicher is really interested in, is promoting National Standards.

National Standards – a coherent system ?

Despite our own Prime Minister admitting National Standards data is a crock, and despite parents, teachers, professors, psychologists and lord ony knows who else saying the same, Schleicher applauds New Zealand for bringing in a “coherent system of educational standards”.

This also despite the latest results having to be tinkered with and moved down by the Ministry because they were so very incorrect (after being garnered in the first place using Ministry approved assessment tools).

Schleicher must have got a  top notch sales pitch when he met with Hekia Parata,  if he still thinks National Standards are coherent after that.

But he is sold, that much is clear.  He says National Standards now allow teachers to “monitor how individual students progress”.  What the hell?  Is he seriously implying that teachers only monitor progress because of NS?  Truly that is the most ridiculous remark.  Teachers monitor, record and test all the time in all key areas, so that they know where students are at and where they need to go next.  They always have.  All that NS has added is another layer of faffing and inputting, taking time away from that which teachers would spend planning, marking and teaching.

Schleicher’s views become all too clear when he decides to throw in a jab at the teachers’ unions, saying that they “contest the implementation of standards and any notion of public transparency vigorously”.

Let’s be very honest here.  National Standards do not add transparency.  What is being opposed is a tool that is being put in place under false pretences, not for students but to allow performance pay and bulk funding.  The plan is clear from the Ministry’s own documents.  I have the paperwork here on my desk.  Maybe Mr Schleicher would like a copy?

Do we want ingenuity and freedom, or standardisation and control?

I would say, Mr Schleicher, that you might be better served in judging New Zealand schools if you listened to principals’ and parents’ concerns and addressed those honestly rather than ignoring them and producing a party political broadcast for the National Party’s education reforms.

Because those reforms have little to nothing to do with innovation and ingenuity and everything to do with standardisation and control, in fact they are totally contrary to the very things you profess to love.

You are right when you say that New Zealand’s liberal and entrepreneurial school system gives teachers and principals the space to make great things happen.  Sadly, if you and Hekia and those like you have your way that won’t be the case for very much longer.





  1. Well said, Dianne. Standardisation and control; teachers monitoring and moderating themselves (the all-present eye of ERO/MOE/NZQA); and the drive towards bland, assessment-driven performance-related pay has been a shadow hovering over education in Aotearoa-New Zealand for quite some time. Like a thunderstorm waiting to deliver its payload, PRP has hovered menacingly. After a failed pre-emptive strike by Lockwood in the 90s, it is back with a vengeance under Hekia. My understanding is that NZEI have capitulated and accepted some form of PRP in the latest contractual round. Now the Ministry will target PPTA . . . sadly the divide and conquer methodology is working all too well for this Govt.
    Education is likely to succumb to further New Management ideologies because it is a divided, and consequently weakened, sector.

  2. NZ schools are hugely transparent and accountable, and NZ teacher unions do not complain about things like the function of ERO (in fact, the unions pushed for more proactive advice and feedback to teachers from ERO) or the fact that any individual can stand for election to a school Board of Trustees, sit in on Board meetings or access NCEA information. What is contested is the use of simplistic measures to compare individual schools or individual teachers, and there is good reason for this. The most challenging teaching jobs are not necessarily those that create the best data profiles for individual teachers or schools, and across the world performance pay for teachers has resulted in a narrowing of the in-class curriculum and exclusion or downgrading of the students who are the most challenging to teach (usually because they face huge challenges in their own lives).

    I’m sick of my profession being under attack. I long for a day when the automatic response to the revelation that I am a secondary teacher will be, “Wow – that must be really satisfying,” rather than, “I wouldn’t have your job.”

    • Too true, Suz. I also hope for a day when teaching will be perceived as a profession of first choice rather than seen as a last resort (those who can’t, teach).
      Personally it is what I love doing and what I want to do – more than any other option. We are truly privileged – we help to shape the future.
      Sadly, the neolibral politics of distrust means that the shape of the future is being prescribed by business interests and Govt aspirations for controllable workers rather than free-thinking liberal-minded citizens.
      Still, we live in hope – and teach for a different future.

  3. I’m waiting for the penny to drop amongst younger kiwis who have lapped up the lie that boomer activism was ‘just limp wristed liberalism (amerikan sense) from self-entitled bourgeois twats’ which suits their current youthful self-indulgence, but will cost big in the future.
    If they don’t wake up to what is going on fairly soon it won’t matter because the wholesale introduction of neoliberalism across the planet has meant a wholesale adoption of current amerikan systems for delivering health education and welfare.
    The education leg of that tripod is particularly vulnerable since its effects aren’t immediately observable, which is to say by the time that destruction of public education is evident it is too late to apply any sort of immediate fix.
    So if we do live in a so called enlightened society where everybody participates in decision making by way of choosing the person/political movement that best represents their own worldview, that society is dependent upon citizens having sufficient grasp of what is going on around them to make good decisions about who should represent them.
    IMO there is a causal link between the deep decline of amerikan public education since the 1980’s Reagan prezdency & the rise election victories by ‘representatives’ who immediately act against the best interests of their electors and, rather than get castigated for it, actually get applauded by the very peeps they just shat on.
    Instead of making any attempt to analyse what policies would be best for them & their families increasing numbers of voters take their lead from the spokespeople for ancient superstitions who profit by herding voters into anti-humanist mind-sets, then delivering those ignorant & misled drongos to the highest bidder.

    That is bad enough and many kiwis will imagine that aotearoa is immune to such obvious manipulation because the introduction of MMP delivered them from the neo-liberal duopoly that rules most of the western world still tied to a first past the post system of government.
    E.g. In practise it is impossible to build a third political movement in the US because so many state legislatures have been suborned by self-interested deals between dems & rethugs which outlaw alternative movements by restrictive regulation. The Green Party was the last to attempt it and a mixture of corporate money & dem/rethug underhandedness delivered that political movement to the democrats & back into the political mainstream.
    So it is more difficult for that to happen in aotearoa, there is a next step after using the popular ignorance resulting from poor public education to unwind representative democracy.
    The moves have begun in amerika and are well underway in European states such as Greece & Italy.

    When most citizens make election choices that seem ‘logical’ to the self-interested bourgeoisie who do vote and who make a point of taking an interest in politics, that self-interested bourgeoisie, who more and more are being separated from any contact with less fortunate citizens thanks to the movement to private education, will largely support the concept of universal suffrage, but should the bourgeoisie believe that the ‘ignorati’ are making stupid or ignorant choices then that support withers up, and seemingly ‘normal’ citizens begin considering the notion of restricting the vote.

    The attacks on African American voting rights across most states in amerika are a classic example. In that case it was media driven campaigns about beat ups like Ebonics and the sorts of attack on unwhite representatives that have become commonplace in NZ, that have left the non-African american majority unmoved by the removal of voting rights from African Americans.
    Most states have passed laws preventing felons from voting -sounds fair enough but in practise this means that any African amerikan who turns up at a polling booth will have his/her right to vote challenged in a manner that doesn’t require the challenger (usually a republican party scrutineer) to prove the voter is a felon, the onus is on the African amerikan voter to do the impossible prove a negative and show that he/she is not a felon.
    Some states have taken this shit even further as this huffpost article explains.

    The steps to these types of voting restriction are often obscured by emotion; people don’t see the inevitable outcome on the current easy line taken by virtually all political movement in aotearoa of getting quick headlines by sledging Maori politicians. I cannot think of a single Maori politician in the last 50 years in NZ who hasn’t been subjected to vicious personal attack in the pakeha dominated media, the subtext of which is always that the pollie has some deficiency: loose on corruption, doesn’t understand the system, is too fat, too radical, not radical enough, doesn’t love kittens – Wha kittens? Sad but true see John Tamihere’s sleaze filled file at the Listener.
    The attacks on Maori pols have been diverse & yet have one common feature they are easy to sell to a media reliant on pakeha customers/listeners/readers. The common subtext is always that their Maoridom makes them insensate to the nuances of pakeha culture. Yes even when everyone acknowledges that (in the case of Maori seats) they are only there to represent Maori voters.

    Those who stupidly attack Hekia Parata rather than the national party policies she is implementing are in effect providing assistance to the pakeha supremacists who advocate the abolition of Maori seats. Many of you will disagree and claim that you have long been advocates of Maori culture when you should really be asking yourself why it is much easier to get headlines attacking Hekia Parata than you would if you launched an attack on any of the dozen other non-Maori cabinet ministers who are probably more corrupt & incompetent than Parata.
    Novapay you say? Yeah right Novapay has been bad for kiwi chalkies but Paula Bennett’s incompetence and petty politicking in the welfare portfolio has been far more damaging long term to all kiwis than Novapay (incidentally introduced by politicians from the party supported by many in here) could ever be.

    Charter schools? Yeah right cept charter schools, a sop to Act, would have been brought in to aotearoa by any national party education minster.

    The reals issues in health education & welfare, the policies which are rapidly reducing all to sausage factories of incompetence has been the neo-liberal strategy adopted by both major parties which have these agencies spending their energies on endless worthless form filling. All decision making has been centralised and ‘coal face’ parts of the organisation spend most of their time gathering arcane statistics on process. This treasury driven initiative forces health education & welfare to stop nearly all useful work with their customers/patients/students instead of wasting resources achieving an outcome, staff spend all their working hours engaged in worthless processes that achieve nothing of merit.

    In the same way that ineffective politicians across the political divide have turned citizens off politics, the incompetence and inefficiencies in health education and welfare caused by the centrally driven focus on process has destroyed citizens’ confidence in those three institutions.
    So when state funded health education & welfare are inevitably abolished it will be impossible to raise any sort of reaction from the population at large.

    Most of the bourgeoisie will be reliant on private education, medical insurance and employment insurance so they won’t care. As for the poor it will be as it was in medieval times where the poor accepted dictatorial rule because thanks to lousy public education, they had insufficient grasp of the issues to conceive of themselves having a role in decision making.

    Once the bulk of voters have been disenfranchised the introduction of a total corporation controlled tyranny will be simple. And no I’m not saying that all this is the result of some dark cigar smoke filled room of capitalist plotters. Quite the reverse in fact it is the inevitable consequence of politicians decision to take their hands off the tiller and ‘let the market decide’. When punters insisted that Victoria Park market be allowed to trade on Sundays no one was plotting an annual post Xmas retail boom. Aotearoa’s slip into tyranny is as much an inevitability of uncontrolled capitalism as electronics stores full to the gunnels with eager consumers every Boxing Day is.

  4. Dianne – I may well have it wrong but it was my impression that Andreas Schleicher said there needs to be some forms of comparative assessment to assess the ongoing quality of education. That has probably always been recognised and acted on throughout the history of education in NZ. However, it is unlikely he advocated National Standards and league tables – this was more likely the self-serving spin of Hekia Parata on what he advocates. Schleicher will be well aware that NZ ranks more highly than most on the PISA rankings at less cost than those above and below it. He will also know that NZ ranks well above his own country and that Finland, the only comparative nation more highly ranked than NZ, has very highly qualified and paid teachers who are socially treasured. Finland does not buy into a National Standards approach to performance evaluation. The way forward for NZ education is best served by enhancing the skills, resources and professionalism of its educators.

    • Did you read the article? And others quoted in our own NZ press? He most certainly does support National Standards. In the article I link to above, he says “The government is trying. Having successfully introduced a coherent system of educational standards – first of their kind in New Zealand – it is now providing schools and teachers with the tools they need to implement these standards in their classrooms and to monitor how individual students progress.”

      And here, “That is no surprise as, during the interview with the Herald, Mr Schleicher says he backs some of the National Party’s more controversial initiatives such as National Standards.”

      In fact he supports them sufficiently for old Kiwi Blog to be trotting him out. Sad, but true.

    • We used to have NEMP which served the purpose very well and was world acclaimed. Now they only review Lit & Num.

      • NEMP by any other name? We now have NMSSA which is the new acronym for what was NEMP. They came to our school last year to look @ Science and are due back again this year – can’t recall the focus of this year’s study. Much better systemic assessment than Natzi Stds.

  5. The other issue is that of his credibility. His claim to fame is the development of the PISA testing regime, which has been challenged by reputable educators all over the world, such as Professor Stephen Heppell. Given the dubious nature of PISA, how can he then use this to offer advice and comments on education systems? Finland, for example, places very little store in PISA results. There are far more authoritative figures whose observations on NZ education would carry far more weight. Let’s look at home grown experts, for a start.

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